Building a Strong Staff

For the last 22 years, I have been on the same church staff. For six years, I was an associate under Dr. Ed Nelson. After his departure, I became the senior pastor. Over these many years, I have hired numerous staff members in various capacities. Frequently, I tell people that I look for three essentials in a prospective staff member. First is character. Does this individual have the kind of Christlike character that is essential for vocational ministry? Second, is competence. Does he have the requisite skill set to do a standout job in the area he is being hired to minister in? The third essential is chemistry. Does he fit? Does this person mix well with our team? Do I like being around this person? I ask these questions because, as you know in ministry, it is always easier to hire the right person than to get rid of the wrong one.

But once I have hired the right person, I need to inform that person about our ministry: its history, its philosophy, and even its idiosyncrasies. To build a strong staff, to build a real esprit de corps, I need to train our team. So our pastoral staff reads books together. We take a planning retreat to the mountains as well as a couple of day-a-way times to strategize and to work through problem areas. We usually try to take in a seminar together, and we regularly purchase audio sessions from some of the conferences for pastors held around the country.

But the most regular practice that builds the team is our yearly in-service training and our weekly and monthly staff meetings when I teach on some topic, and then we often discuss it. Although the following is certainly not an exhaustive list, it contains some key areas that staff members want and need direction in from their leader.

1. Mission

You must have long-range goals to keep you from being frustrated by short-term failures. –Charles Noble

People need to know why they have been hired and what part they can play in helping the organization reach its objective. Goal-oriented leaders have the responsibility to generate excitement and commitment within the organization as well as with co-workers. People don’t stay with an organization on a mission to nowhere. When we are recruiting, it should be to find people who will “own” their ministry, not just fill a hole. A leader must be constantly looking for individuals with a “kindred heart” as well as the necessary skills to join them. And in the work of God, all of us ought to be involved in two essential areas: making disciples and maturing disciples.

2. Direction

He who would eat the fruit must first climb the tree. –Scottish Proverb

Leaders must have a general understanding of their subordinates’ jobs and be able to give directions clearly. I have learned that job descriptions are important, and job reviews are equally important.

Conflict within the team will lessen if there are clear targets, good planning, and wise use of skills. These help answer the following four questions every team member is likely to ask from time to time:

  • What is my job? This deals with responsibilities and priorities.
  • Am I doing it right? The focus here is on supervision, evaluation, and training.
  • Where do I go for help? This answers questions about resources, skills, and support.
  • How do I relate to others in the work group? This looks at authority, interaction, and workflow.

Some leaders, fearful of appearing to be restrictive to new employees, allow them privileges that have not been earned. Every employee deserves to know what is expected of him and that he will be rewarded and held accountable for his work.

3. Freedom

Democracy’s success is based on the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people.

Once a plan is established and understood, there should be freedom for workers to carry it out without being micromanaged at every juncture. Part of the challenge of a great job is to be able to run at full steam, using one’s own creative juices to accomplish the task within understood parameters. If someone is capable of being given a job, then he should be allowed to do it.

Experts tell us that we all have five basic desires:

  • to have
  • to be
  • to do
  • to love
  • to grow

Most people are motivated by their desire to satisfy these needs. A wise leader will structure a work environment where team members satisfy these needs while accomplishing what their job requires them to do.

4. Communication

Communicate! Your colleagues are not mind readers.

Good leaders make themselves available. A strong staff will have a sense of being in touch with its leader through regular staff meetings, informal chats in the hallways, fellowship at social gatherings, and prayer times together.

How to communicate more effectively:

  • Be friendly. Instructions given in a friendly way are more likely to be met with willing cooperation.
  • Keep it simple. Your instructions should be clear and concise. Have a specific idea of the outcome you seek.
  • Not just what but why. Explain not just what is going to be done but philosophically why the action is being taken.
  • Get feedback. Ask employees if they have any questions or suggestions. Ask them if they understand what you want.

Communication allows the leader and staff members to see if they are tracking in same direction. It allows the leader to give advice and direction. It allows staff to give input and suggestions. Communication improves overall job performance.

5. Support

A basic rule for managers is “Pass the Pride Down.” People like to create when they can earn recognition for their ideas. —James L. Hayes

Great leaders are great encouragers. They are positive thinkers. They are energetic. They aren’t negative people who always find fault with everything that comes before them. They build their staff privately by kind words and notes and publicly by bragging on them in front of others. Team spirit is built by “jointly owning failures” and “individually giving credit.”

One of the most difficult jobs for a leader is dealing with someone who is not effective in his position. If all attempts to help the worker have failed, the leader must honestly face the individual about other options. Every worker deserves to be the first to know if the leader is not happy with him or his work. Don’t talk to others before you have talked to that employee.

Here are several suggestions on giving constructive criticism:

  • Get to the point immediately. Don’t spend more than a minute or two on small talk. Identify the problem, describe how you saw it, and then explain why you think the individual’s behavior was not what it should have been.
  • Ask whether the other person understands the problem. Then get his perspective. Ask for the reasoning behind the actions. Be ready to learn—you may have misinterpreted something.
  • Focus on the future. Be positive about the individual even though you are being negative about this specific behavior. Mention the things that you value and appreciate about him.
  • Emphasize that the past is the past and that you are expecting great things in the future. If appropriate, set a future meeting date where you can assess how things are going.

6. Great Expectations

Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort. There must be a strong desire for excellence. —John Ruskin

Strong leaders expect greatness from the team. Confidence, high expectations, and superior performance draw out the best in a staff. Failure should not be fatal. When failure is not tolerated in organization, nothing happens—no risks, no growth, no innovation, and no ministry. Expect and develop a venturesome spirit but don’t expect every venture to succeed.

Leaders should set the pace with their sacrifice; but don’t expect everyone to have the same commitment level you do.

Secrets of being a number-one boss:

  • Develop professional expertise.
  • Sharpen your communication skills.
  • Cultivate enthusiasm.
  • Pay attention to accomplishment.
  • Be accessible.

Expect greatness, work for greatness, and pray for greatness. It will come!

Les Heinze has been serving as senior pastor of Red Rocks Baptist Church (formerly known as South Sheridan Baptist Church) in Lakewood, Colorado, since 1990. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Bible and a master’s degree in Pastoral Studies from Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC). He also received the Doctor of Sacred Ministries degree from Northland Baptist Bible College (Dunbar, WI). God has blessed him and his wife, Starry, with three children.

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