I have been thinking about the ideal church staff member. In a recent conversation I was asked what would be the one non-negotiable quality I would want in a prospective student minister. I immediately thought about all of the student ministers I have worked with over the years. My first was a volunteer (today she is a United States Senator). She was young and single and cool. The students flocked to her like she was the Pied Piper of Hamelin (NOTE: I am not at all insinuating that the students were like rats. Smile). Her greatest attribute as a volunteer student minister was that she absolutely loved the kids.
Then I thought about her polar opposite. He was young and cool, but he did not love the kids. In fact, he didn’t even like the kids. Or their parents for that matter. His “ministry” was a train wreck. So, when I was asked about the one non-negotiable quality, I answered, “He needs to love Jesus and love the kids.”
My answer was not incorrect. Calling, compassion and competency are essential qualities for anyone who serves in vocational ministry. But as I drove home from the meeting where I was asked the question, I reconsidered my response. Yes, I want staff members to be called, competent and compassionate. But the most important quality is what Patrick Lencioni describes as The Ideal Team Player.
Over the years I have served with more than fifty staff members in six different churches. I hired some of them. I inherited others. Almost all of them were competent, called and compassionate. Most of them were ideal team players. They were ideal church staff members. But those who were not ideal church staff members were often toxic, and their toxicity infected everyone around them. As one of my preacher buddies says, they brought on a staff infection!
As I wrote in a recent article, churches need to be concerned with establishing and maintaining the right culture. And the right culture begins with having staff members who exhibit the virtues of an ideal team player. Using Patrick Lencioni’s three virtues of an ideal team player…
The ideal church staff member is humble.
All three of these virtues are important, but hiring someone who isn’t humble can be a fatal mistake. Ask me how I know this! The worst hire I ever made was someone who lacked this virtue. He was not overtly arrogant. It wasn’t that he thought too highly of himself. Instead, he was insecure. He needed constant affirmation, and he could not take correction.
All of my favorite staff members have been humble. They don’t think too highly of themselves. Neither do they think too lowly of themselves. They know their value to the staff and the church. They put others first. They are teachable. They don’t need constant affirmation. And most importantly, they are submissive and loyal to authority.
The ideal church staff member is hungry.
Laziness is a problem in any organization. On a church staff, laziness indicates the staff member does not understand the urgency of the gospel.
All of my favorite staff members have been appropriately hungry. They understand the urgency of the gospel. They are self starters. They are highly motivated. They are passionate about what they do. And they don’t need a lot of management. My philosophy has always been, “If I have to constantly remind you of what you need to be doing, then one of us is not needed.”
I have also had to deal with a few staff members whose hunger was not appropriate. Appropriate hunger on a church staff is concerned with kingdom advancement, the gospel, the mission of the church. Inappropriate hunger is self-centered. It is self-promoting. A hungry staff member without humility will either be a runaway train or a manipulator. Both are destructive.
The ideal church staff member is smart.
Again, competency is important, but that is not the kind of smart Lencioni means. Being smart refers to a person’s emotional IQ. It speaks to awareness. It speaks to a person’s common sense about relating to other people. The smart staff member is a good people person.
Several years ago the church I was serving at the time was in the middle of an intensely busy season of ministry. There was a lot of stress. People were tired. And when a staff member lacks any of the ideal church staff virtues, the deficiency is magnified during times of stress.
One of our staff members was young and relatively inexperienced. He was hungry and smart. But he sometimes showed signs of insecurity as he “covered” for his inexperience. He had the desire to be humble, but his insecurity got in the way. As the lead pastor my goal was to build his confidence so that he would be more teachable.
His immediate supervisor had formerly served in the same position. I suspect this contributed to the younger minister’s insecurity. He tended to hear correction from his supervisor as, “When I was in your position, this is what I did and so should you.” To be fair, I don’t think his supervisor intended to communicate that. He certainly did not use those words. But his own lack of people smarts made him unaware of how his words affected his protege.
Just days before one of the biggest events of the year, the younger minister was dealing with a lot of last minute details. He was obviously stressed out and tired. When his supervisor asked about a particular detail, even offering to help, the younger minister erupted. It was ugly, and it was public. The result of one person’s insecurity and the other’s lack of people skills.
Incidents like that can destroy staff harmony and hurt the church. I expect staff members to be called, competent and compassionate. The ideal church staff member is humble, hungry and smart.