by Bruce M. Burkett
A few weeks ago, all of our staff at Lighthouse Baptist Church gathered together for some staff pictures. As we gathered together, God began to speak to my heart about how blessed our church really is with a wonderful staff. God has blessed us with genuine followers of Jesus with hearts to serve others in both our church and Christian school ministries.
When I first entered into the ministry, I had an egregious misconception about “church staff.” I thought that a church staff ought to be composed mostly of “Bible college students.” After all, I thought, Bible college students are the ones who have been trained for the ministry. Yet, after becoming a pastor, I discovered the absurdity of this thinking. No doubt, there are some advantages to having staff who have been trained for ministry work, yet that is far from the most important factor that defines a quality staff member.
Contrary to what many people think, some of the best individuals to serve on a church staff are the very people reached through the ministry of the church. In other words, there are some amazing blessings for hiring staff from within the very ministry God has placed you. Let me share with you a few reasons to explain why this is the case.
Staff hired from within are Passionate.
One of the most critical characteristics a leader looks for in someone being brought on the ministry team (in any capacity) is a genuine passion for the ministry. Yet, it is not enough to be passionate about the ministry in a general sense. Godly leaders seek individuals who will be specifically passionate about the ministry God has called you to serve in together.
One amazing blessing about hiring staff from within the existing membership of your congregation is that, in most cases, the passion for the work God is doing in your ministry is already in place. As God begins to move in your church, many times He will be moving in the hearts of specific individuals in your church whom He wants to use in a full-time or part-time capacity to further His work. Obviously, this passion is first developed through volunteer service as a part of the membership in your church. As this passion grows and the Lord opens up the door of opportunity, God often shapes the very people you serve alongside to meet the need for staff within His ministry.
“[Y]e know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints” (I Corinthians 16:15)
Indeed, it is possible for those hired from without to catch the vision of your ministry and to develop a passion for it. But, those hired from within often already share this vision and passion with you. Therefore, it is not something you have to hope they will develop after bringing them on your ministry team.
Staff hired from within are Planted.
Another critical characteristic a leader looks for in someone being brought on the ministry team is an intention of remaining. Oftentimes, leaders will even ask for long-term commitments from prospective staff members to ensure that this priority is met. It is unmistakable that a highly desirable attribute in a potential staff member is longevity.
This, I believe, is something that is clearly expressed in Scripture as well.
“For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:” (Titus 1:5)
A common risk with bringing in staff from without is that, oftentimes, it is difficult to get them to stay. So many people look at various ministry opportunities as “stepping stones” — where the next opportunity is just another chance to broaden your resume. But, in the work of the Lord, we ought not look at ministry opportunities the same way the world views secular opportunities. We are not seeking to advance ourselves, but the cause of Christ!
“And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24)
In the ministry, we do not seek to advance ourselves; we seek to advance the cause to which Christ has called us. Too many ministers cease to fulfill God’s call on their lives in their efforts to advance their own influence. It would be good for us to remember God’s calling trumps our own perceived opportunities for advancement in the ministry. (After all, God called Phillip from ministering to thousands just so he could reach one Ethiopian man.)
Another blessing about hiring staff from within is that the people who are in your church are also already planted in your area. In most cases, those whom you would hire from within have put in deep roots in your area. Their families are there. Their friends are there. Their future is there. Thus, you are not hoping they will find a future in your ministry; you are utilizing and investing long term in the very people God has called to your ministry!
This is not to say that God doesn’t call people away to further His work in the regions beyond your ministry. In Acts 13, God called two men from within the ministry at Antioch to be missionaries. When this happens, it is a wonderful and a Spirit-led thing. However, excepting this special call of God, those hired from within are significantly more likely to stay in your ministry for the long haul than those hired from without.
“And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves.” (I Thessalonians 5:12-13)
Staff hired from within are Pleased.
The next critical characteristic a leader looks for in someone being brought on the ministry team is a spirit of gratefulness and contentment. Every leader desires a team that is grateful to be a part of what is collectively being accomplished. Nobody wants to have somebody on their team who wishes they were on another team!
Often, what happens with people who are hired from without is that they are never pleased with what they come in to. For some, it will be that the ministry never really measures up in their minds to their home church or to some other iconic ministry. For others, it will be that they aren’t ever paid enough, aren’t ever given enough benefits, aren’t ever given the position they desire (and the list could go on and on).
As a young(er) pastor, I remember well the first time we had to bring on another staff member. When the time came to conduct interviews, I started with people from outside our ministry (based on my earlier faulty misconception that this was the “thing to do”). When I sat down with one of the first candidates who was about to graduate from a Bible college, I remember distinctly being immediately confronted by them with questions like this: “How much will you be able to pay?” “What are the benefits?” In essence, I walked away from that interview feeling like the general attitude was, “What does your ministry have to offer me?”
Someone with an entitled attitude cannot simultaneously have a grateful attitude. Sadly, those who have gotten an education for the ministry often pick up an entitled attitude in the ministry. (Hint: If you think a particular ministry, pay grade, or task is “beneath you,” you may have picked up on this entitled spirit.) In saying this, I realize this certainly doesn’t define every person to be sought from without your ministry, but it certainly does apply to many.
Yet, another blessing about hiring from within the membership of your local church is that such individuals are already grateful to be a part of your church. They aren’t expecting your ministry to “measure up” to another perceived standard of what a church is supposed to be because they are grateful for the local church God has blessed them with! Also, such individuals are serving for the right reasons. They have already been selflessly serving the Lord through your local church as volunteers. When the opportunity is presented to actually “get paid” to serve the Lord, for many of them, it is a dream come true.
“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;” (I Timothy 1:12)
Staff hired from within are Pliable.
A final critical characteristic a leader looks for in someone being brought on the ministry team is teachability. It is difficult to lead and to work alongside someone who has the mindset that they already know it all. A teachable spirit is a critical characteristic of any staff member.
The Bible is clear that we are to have a spirit that is willing to continue to learn and grow.
“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.” (II Peter 3:18)
Someone who thinks they know it all the Bible labels as worse than a fool. Such a person is unhelpful and unwilling to be helped. They will be nothing but detrimental to any ministry.
“Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him.” (Proverbs 26:12)
Perhaps the greatest blessing about hiring from within the membership of your local church is that you are bringing on people who already view you as their pastor. It is not that you have to become their pastor; it is that you are their pastor. Thus, they will continue to allow you to have that influence in their lives — to teach them, lead them, counsel them and pray for them.
Often, when you hire from without, the individuals you bring in resort to a “home pastor” rather than allowing a new man the opportunity to be their pastor. This can negatively impact both that staff member, their family and the ministry in significant ways. Relative to the point, this is also a demonstration of a spirit that is unteachable.
A Final Thought
In conclusion, let me reiterate that I do not believe it is wrong to hire ministry staff from without your ministry (from a Bible college or another ministry of like faith). Neither do I believe that it is always right to hire from within. Much of this will be subject to God’s grace upon each local church ministry and the direction God leads them to take.
On our ministry staff, just outside my office sit two secretaries. The lives of these ladies and their families were changed as God worked in them through our local church ministry. Though neither of them have had “Bible college” training, both of them are gifted in ways specific to the needs of our local church and area. Both of them have been discipled and mentored under the ministry of our local church. Their testimonies are evidence that God does a far superior job of meeting the needs of His local body than what we can try to orchestrate by seeking individuals from other institutions without first seeking His counsel.
The purpose of these words is to simply clarify a common misconception on this subject. It may very well be that the need God has made you aware of in your ministry He intends to meet with someone within your ministry. After all, we are called as ministry leaders to pass down the things we have learned to those we influence so they can continue to pass it on.
“And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” (II Timothy 2:2)