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How Should Church Staff Be Treated?

One of the fascinating aspects of senior church leaders blogging is that you get an opportunity to see inside their minds a little. Sometimes it is encouraging and sometimes it is not. Recently, I’ve been disappointed by some comments and principles that would be considered unethical or illegal in the professional world in relation to their non-executive staff.

It got me thinking about how churches treat their staff. Wouldn’t it be logical to think that a place which represent Jesus, the King of Justice and Mercy, would be generous to their staff? One would hope so yet we see over and over again that churches abuse the provisions of their charity status to avoid labor laws.

Instead what I see is that non-executive staff are seen as expendable commodities. They are asked to have absolute dedication. They are asked to do their jobs plus “other duties as assigned.” They are asked to work long hours for less than market value. They are told that if they aren’t 10,000% sold out, they should quit. Worse yet, they are hired at low levels and told that higher education is a waste of time and money, thus locking them into that role until the leader tires of them. If they question leadership they are fired. If they try to move up in the world they are fired. If they do anything except what the leaders say, they are fired.

Here’s why I am repulsed by this concept. This represents the very worst of business culture exemplified by the church as a best practice. This is aimed at short term gain instead of what studies consistently say… long term relationships matter in ministry. This leadership style says, “We have the right to hire and fire you at will, but you… as a low level employee… have no power to chose what you want.” This leadership style is confusing and hurtful to staff members and I can provide examples of hundreds of people who have been threatened, mistreated, fired, and manipulated into following a pastor’s will above God’s will.

I promise you this. Mark my words.

– The churches who will endure and endear this generation will be great places to work.

– The churches who prevail into the next generation will invest in staff members through thick and thin.

– They will pay for them to get higher education.

– They will create opportunities for advancement.

– They will constantly remind staff that the most important people are not the up-front speakers and performers but the front line servants.

– They will give staff members time to find freedom from the grind and encourage staff members to love their families above all else.

– They will work less that 50 hours consistently.

– They will reward for things other than numeric growth.

– They will facilitate innovation outside of the executive leaders.

– They will be known in their communities as great employers.

– They will pay a living wage and encourage staff to live within walking distance of the church.

What do you think? Where do you see injustices as a staff member? What do you think churches of the future will do with the staff that they have? Will they even need staff?

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17 Responses to How Should Church Staff Be Treated?

  1. Chris Dunagan November 10, 2008 at 10:34 am #

    Hey adam. Found your blog from your posting on TonyMorganLive.com. . .actually he’s my boss. Some of what you have perceived does not totally represent who we are as church. In fact, my wife and I spent the entire last year in pursuit of an opportunity to serve the Lord in Indonesia. Throughout our journey, I was encouraged to follow the Lord. At the very beginning, I sat down with Tony and let him know how the Lord was leading me, and we came to a mutual agreement that if I needed to leave, I could. I love working here, the culture is great, I work less than 50hour weeks always, family is very important, and professional development is happening for those who are interested in doing the work. After a journey to Indonesia to pray through our next step, it was clear that we needed to be here serving in SC. Perry took me out to lunch one day after our return and looked me in the eye and said, “don’t apologize to anyone for ambitiously following the Lord.” And, that he cares more about our success as followers of Christ than he does as employees. I’ve known Perry for almost 8 years now, and his character is consistent with who God has called him to be.

    Anyway, some of your quoted points from the above post are out of context. I’m sure that our staff meeting will be available online. I would be curious to hear your thoughts after you hear the rest of the talk.

  2. adam mclane November 10, 2008 at 10:42 am #

    Chris- while the post on Tony’s blog got this post to the front of my queue, don’t believe it’s attacking Tony or NewSpring.

    As I communicated to Tony, I love what you guys are doing. My questions there have merely been to ask the full strategy (because the post made it sound overly simplistic) and to flesh out exactly what you are talking about.

    I would like to think that my post had to do with the larger church… you know, evangelical church of North America. See, as I work with people all over I hear the horror stories of how they are discarded. And when I meet with churchgoers they are horrified that the church mistreats people in the name of efficiency, vision, etc.

    So the point of this post was to paint a vision for what the church should strive towards.

    Yes, I used two of Tony’s coins for the post. But it speaks to a much larger problem beyond the walls of NewSpring.

    I’d be happy to watch the video and let you know how I feel. :)

    Keep up the good work.

  3. Joshua Blankenship November 10, 2008 at 11:07 am #

    This is a good dialogue to have, and I appreciate your openness Adam.

    What’s most interesting to me is that all of the things you listed in your churches that will prevail/endure are things I see in my church job everyday (with the exception of the walking distance part; I’m actually only biking distance from the office, but that’s my choice.)

    I work in a great office culture, feel valued, have resources to learn (through books mostly), work 40 hours a week, know my team values my time with my wife, and have freedom and autonomy to innovate and create in engaging ways.

  4. Chris Dunagan November 10, 2008 at 11:29 am #

    I “grew up” in the church as the son of a Baptist minister, and yes, I spent all of my waking hours (so it seemed) at church or some church function. I agree that the model for most churches has been to engage willing servants and then burn them out and wonder why they fail morally or otherwise along the way. That needs to change. Thanks for spurring good discussion.

  5. adam mclane November 10, 2008 at 11:35 am #

    Joshua- and you are also relatively new. The whole thing at NewSpring is new! Again, I’m not out to attack anyone and I love what’s going on there. (Have I said that enough?)

    My concern is that people will take what is being said in snippets out of context.

    Zoom the lens back on the evangelical church and you’ll see something entirely unhealthy. What I am trying to do with this post is say… “What should the church be doing?” (Not NewSpring, “the church.”)

    Like I’ve said about 100 times, I’d hate for something to be taken out of context and people start getting fired because of something Tony/Perry didn’t really say.

  6. Gman November 10, 2008 at 11:52 am #

    Interesting dialogue. As I’m adding staff, my prayer is that I treat the staff better than I was treated and would I would like to be treated as. Adam, you’re right this is a much bigger issue than any one congregation. Too many “Churches” take a business mindset and if things are going well they shoot or fire the newest or youngest staff person whether justified or not …and usually that means alot of good and well not so good turnover in youthworkers.

  7. Joshua Blankenship November 10, 2008 at 5:23 pm #

    Adam, actually, I was on staff at NewSpring for two years, left to pursue some education in the marketplace (and my wife) and then returned about a year ago. I’ve been involved here since ’02. I’d say I have a much broader picture of NewSpring’s culture than most.

    That said, I completely agree that most American churches have a flawed model of staff structure and culture. I don’t think any church should do anything “because Newspring does.” That’s the definition of idolatry. It’s also stupid. I would hope they do things because they’re acting out of obedience to God’s direction.

  8. adam mclane November 10, 2008 at 9:33 pm #

    Joshua- great thoughts, thanks for your time.

    Having been around my fair share of “big churches” I think they have a responsibility to be perfectly clear. My point on that post was merely to ask for clarification to the point that a SP reading that post could know EXACTLY what was being said and what wasn’t being said.

    I’m glad it’s a fun place to work. I’ve got no beef. I’m a bit in shock at how defensive folks are…

  9. Uncle Dave November 10, 2008 at 9:48 pm #

    “I don’t think any church should do anything “because Newspring does.” That’s the definition of idolatry.”

    I understand that, but the fact is this. Other churches look up to bigger churches and take a lot of ideas from them. It’s the same as being in leadership. People look up to those in leadership and want to be like them. Same goes for churches, don’t ask me why but they do, so if something is indeed mistranslated that will have an effect on the children so to speak. If things are going to be said they should be said right, because the effects of mistranslation are so great especially when it comes to God and the Bible. Big churches, if they want to be bold, make sure they have every area covered, because if one mistake is made then that carries on down. And i for sure would not want to have that on my shoulders. ??

  10. milepost13 November 10, 2008 at 10:56 pm #

    “Having been around my fair share of “big churches” I think they have a responsibility to be perfectly clear. My point on that post was merely to ask for clarification to the point that a SP reading that post could know EXACTLY what was being said and what wasn’t being said.”

    But, what isn’t perfectly clear to one person IS perfectly clear to another. I understand exactly what Tony is saying (at least, I think I do, because I couldn’t agree more with what I understand).

    Big churches do have a responsibility to be clear in what they communicate with the public. But, they don’t have a responsibility to confirm that everyone will understand before they communicate something.

    Despite that, Tony has, IMO, bent over backwards to answer questions from those who don’t understand, and he has allowed the discussion to carry on (despite the silly comments from all sides).

    At some point, the responsibility of understanding the what and why has to fall on the person(s) who are trying to understand. Either figure it out, or walk away and live at peace with the fact that they don’t get it.

    Nate

  11. adam mclane November 11, 2008 at 12:51 am #

    Nate- I guess I really don’t get what your point is with this post. Did you mean to comment this over at Tony Morgan’s blog?

    This post isn’t about NewSpring, it’s about how the church will be expected to treat staff in the future.

  12. milepost13 November 11, 2008 at 9:04 am #

    nope…meant to comment to you on your blog.

  13. Gman December 1, 2008 at 7:29 am #

    Ah, too bad the Greatest Commandment wasn’t allowed, right? Treat others like you would want to be treated. Personally, if a staff member came to me or didn’t seem to be the right fit I’d either ask them what’s wrong, help them fit in or give them time to find another position …not Right away say the ole “You’re Fired” gimmick of TV. Though I don’t think that is what Perry was saying after viewing the responses and clarification in later posts on Tony’s blog.

  14. Ashley May 13, 2011 at 12:28 pm #

    This is a very good article. Having worked at churches, I know that not all churches treat their employees the way they should be treated. A lot of sacrifice is expected from the employees and employees are not really valued. Getting church membership numbers up in various departments is more important than establishing good relationships with the employees and treating them how the bible tells us to treat one another. This is wrong on so many levels. Many Pastors don’t even have a relationship with their employees. Often time the middle man or person in charge of the employees are not even people oriented persons at all. They are number crunchers and pencil pushers who could care less about firing people and often fire people carelessly.

    Pastors and churches who treat their employees well will prosper. For those Pastors and churches who don’t, God is going to get them.

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  16. kolby milton February 10, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    Preach it adam!  This is the problem with Church leadership in a postmodern culture.  The church usually is the last place to change when it comes to understanding what younger leaders want in a employer.  

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  1. UYN Newsletter #17 « UYN Newsletter - November 13, 2008

    […] – If you’re like me at all then you probably need some helping getting things organized. -“How Should Church Staff Be Treated?” – A sobering article for us all.  Let’s treat people well.  -“How to Write Better […]

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