“It was he [the risen Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists and some to be pastors and teachers…” Ephesians 4:11
“…speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:15
When I say that an ill-fitting church staff member is like an ill-fitting pair of shoes, most adults understand what I’m saying, because owning an ill-fitting pair of shoes is an almost universal experience.
Maybe your ill-fitting shoes were so attractive on the shelf in the store that you couldn’t resist buying them – and hey! They were on sale! Maybe your mother got you shoes that were too big, so you could grow into them. Or your shoes were too small because they’d been ordered from the Sears Roebuck catalog. Or they were stiff and miserable because your parents thought you needed “dress shoes” to wear to church. (You got your revenge by leaving those nasty “black heel marks” all over the church building’s tiled floors.)
I think you get the picture.
In much the same way, almost every congregation, sooner or later, is going to face the pain of the ill-fitting staff member.
Last week in The Ill-Fitting Staff Member: How Does This Happen?, I shared six actual stories and I lamented that I could share six more. I won’t do that, but I will give you a short summary of the factors that typically cause the phenomenon of the ill-fitting staff member:
- A poor hire. Whether caused by the church’s carelessness or the candidate’s lack of honesty or self-knowledge, the staff member was never – for one day – a good fit for the position.
- A changing church. When the youth pastor was hired, the church was full of teens. Now that the church is full of seniors, the youth pastor position doesn’t make any sense.
- A recalcitrant staff member. The church isn’t expecting a complete personality transformation – which the staff member can’t possibly achieve – it’s just looking for a reasonable degree of adaptation, and not getting it. More than likely there are other character issues in the staff member’s life as well. Just as a Christian can move from spiritual immaturity to spiritual maturity, I’m afraid it’s possible for the believer to move from maturity back to immaturity. Sadly, a once-delightful staff member can deteriorate into a dreadful Christian co-worker.
- A senior pastor with special needs or weaknesses hires a “compensatory” staff member and then moves on. I’ve seen this most often in the small church in which an underpaid pastor chooses to have the church make a significant investment on a part-time or even full-time staff member who performs duties that would normally be a part of the solo pastor’s job description. Most typically, the new hire focuses on pastoral care, ministry to seniors, basic administrative tasks or adult Christian education. Things move along smoothly until the senior pastor retires or resigns, leaving the church in the untenable position of having a sub-standard salary to offer to a new senior pastor, who will soon “inherit” a staff member that he neither needs nor desires.
- Any of the above situations is complicated by the staff member being (a) closely connected relationally to many in the church, or (b) biologically related to the current or former senior pastor (or to others in the church), (c) an object of pity, because he or she is seen as being a victim, handicapped or a poor prospect for a new position elsewhere.
It’s time that I share some solutions. I’ll save my second-best-case-scenario solution for next week’s post, because it is the most realistic outcome for many congregations and requires more explanation than the four I’ll share below:
(1) In the hands-down, absolute, best-case scenario, the ill-fitting staff member realizes – all by himself (or because somebody slipped him this post) – that he’s a poor fit for the church’s needs. Chances are, this brother or sister has not been having a good time for a while anyway, so with this resignation, everyone wins.
(2) Somebody goes to his brother – as in Matthew 18 – and gently confronts him with the fact that his position is wasting the church’s funds and the staff member’s life. Some godly but confused or weak staff members just need a bit of a “shove in the right direction,” or someone to point out what they’ve long suspected. Some staff members labor under the delusion that it’s always wrong to “quit” a position, even if it isn’t working out well for anyone.
(3) The staff member is dismissed – “fired” is the non-euphemistic term. In our largest churches this is not scandalous; members expect their churches to be run like businesses, and they are. I think we can safely say that the smaller the congregation the more dangerous it is to the church’s unity to actually dismiss an employee.
(4) Do nothing and hope that these brothers and sisters eventually come around to #1, all by themselves. This is the irresponsible and cowardly approach taken by too many congregations.
(5) Come back next week for a more complex but gracious and realistic solution to many ill-fitting staff member scenarios.