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Curbing An Epidemic
dmhall | December 6, 2012

There is a consistent theme in the conversations I have with clergy and laity alike about what frustrates or challenges them most. Without a doubt it is: STAFF.

Every pastor’s gathering in which we ask for issues that need attention inevitably leads to a conversation about some aspect of staff. Nearly every lay person who calls ends up needing help with a staff situation.

This epidemic of conflict and frustration holds true regardless of denominational affiliation, theological orientation, worship style, size, location, etc.  I recently conversed with a leadership team from a very large church (staff in the dozens) and their primary concern was staff communication/conflict. Later that week, the pastor of a small church pulled me aside at a meeting to voice concern about an issue with his only other staff member, who was part-time and his wife!

Dozens of books, workshops, coaching, degree programs and the like are devoted to this specific arena of congregational life. Why then, is it the part of congregational life that seems to be chronically ill?

As with any complex issue, there are no simple answers. Flawed human beings attempting to do divine work in an increasingly secular culture with limited resources is a start. Congregational models that seem imported from another era without adapting to a changing landscape don’t help. Leadership styles copied from corporate culture rather than built upon spiritual values don’t help. Too often our staff cultures mirror the disharmony and dysfunction of our culture rather than transform it with a vibrant alternative.

So, where do we start with a healthy alternative for congregational staff?

At the Center, we base our conversations in this realm on our conviction that healthy congregations/staffs/Christians engage in at least four consistent practices. We call them the Four C’s:

  1. They constantly Clarify identity and mission.
  2. They manage Conflict in a proactive and redemptive fashion.
  3. They Communicate clearly, regularly, and honestly.
  4. They build authentic Community intentionally. 

When a staff practices these four habits, they produce higher levels of satisfaction, effectiveness, and genuine leadership. When they fail to pay attention to any of the four, dysfunction is the result.

By the way, the first of the four is the most indispensible. It is the most internal and difficult to observe and quantify. It is the easiest to skip. It is the one we are tempted to assume is self-evident. It is also the one most frequently missing. Without it, you invite confusion and frustration into your life, your staff, and the life of your congregation.

Clarity of mission and vision for a staff member starts with a sense of personal and individual divine call. Your primary motive for ministry matters. If working at a church is simply a job, a way to make money, a way to work out your unmet needs, a way to impress your grandmother, or anything other than your response to God’s personal and profound call upon your life, then you will find ministry to be a source of constant frustration.

Even then, the life of a divinely called minister is by its very definition a challenging journey to bring hope and life into the hard and difficult places of life. Along with bringing deep joy and satisfaction, it will cause you to doubt your sanity, your calling, and your faith. Without clarity around his or her personal call, any minister is a candidate for a host of missteps.

The same is true for a staff team.

Being clear about why you are on the journey, where your congregation is headed, and what the objective of your congregation actually is will prove indispensible. When the mission and vision is fuzzy or unfocused, staff discord is imminent. When the mission and vision is lacking, others will supply it, and it will usually be self-serving rather than kingdom-serving. When mission and vision is incongruent with a church’s DNA or the biblical witness, then conflict will erupt.

Before a staff needs to worry about programs or strategies or creative ideas for being relevant, they need to get clear about the deeper question of clarity of purpose. Healthy staffs spend concentrated and regular time clarifying not only the broad mission of the Church, but the specific call of their church in their time and place of service. While it is easy to trot out the Great Commandments and Great Commission, what we are talking about is a deeper understanding and articulation of what those mean in your zip code. 

Healthy staffs quickly learn that such conversations must include the congregation if they are to be sustainable and truly shared. Once substantial clarity is reached in the larger community, then the staff assumes their roles and goals based upon this shared vision of the future.

Let’s start with this antidote for the epidemic of staff conflict: clarify your mission and vision.


Bill Wilson, October 2012


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