A church board chair serves to facilitate and support the board in all of its work. One of the board’s responsibilities relates to the recruiting, discerning and appointment of new staff. Depending on a congregation’s traditions, bylaws and size the way in which a church board engages this responsibility varies. In large churches with many employees the board will tend to delegate the hiring of most staff to the lead pastor, using policy to ensure that its guidance for the process is followed. It will become involved in the employment of the lead pastor. In smaller churches the board will become directly involved in the employment process of most staff because the board functions both as a governance and a management team.
If it is true that leadership recruitment and selection comes close to the top of the list for ensuring mission advancement in an organization, then church boards have to give serious attention to this segment of church life — whether it is the appointment of salaried, vocational employees or volunteer employees. In this article I will focus on the recruitment and hiring of paid, vocational staff.
One of the common fallacies that operates within church boards is the expectation that once a person is hired, the current staff or board leadership will be able to change essential elements of character, attitude, and competence. A piece of hard-earned advice — if you do not discern in a candidate clear evidence of the character, attitude and essential competence you believe and know the position requires, then do not proceed with the appointment. You will not, in most cases, succeed in re-shaping this person to the position’s requirements. All that will happen is frustration within both parties. Either the church board or lead pastor will learn to live with the problem and substandard performance or the employee will be released — with of the emotional drama attendant to such actions. I know this perspective goes against the theological grain because we believe that the Holy Spirit has the power to change people. However, I would suggest it is irresponsible to hire a “square peg” to fit into a “round hole” and expect the Holy Spirit to chisel the peg to fit. The chairperson inevitably gets caught up in such matters. If a person marries an individual expecting to change him or her, we all know the outcome!
As church board chair make sure you and everyone else on the board know the process that must be followed in search, hire, appointment and implementation phases. Does the lead pastor have full authority to conduct the search and make the appointment? How is this documented in board policy or the church bylaws? If the congregation, according to bylaws, has to vote on the appointment, who determines the process by which a recommended candidate is brought forward to the congregation? Does the congregation or the board appoint the search committee? What is the composition of the search committee? Does the church board at some point need to interview the proposed candidate before a person is allowed officially to candidate? If not, at what point does the voice of the church board speak into the appointment? Should the lead pastor and board be represented on evenry search committee? Is one candidate presented at a time or are multiple options presented? Once a recommendation is made to the congregation is there a required percentage of members present and voting that must be achieved beyond a mere majority? How much information should be presented to the congregation to enable them to make an informed decision? Who educates the congregation as to process, position, and the discernment required? The more a chair can assist a church board to think these matters through in advance and prepare some protocols or policy, the less chance for confusion and mistakes to occur.
Another feature of recruiting and hiring church staff relates to salary and benefits, definition of role, responsibilities and accountability, familiarity with employment policies, and letter of appointment with stated terms. Some of these matters have to be determined in advance of the recruiting process so that as candidates apply, the search committee is able to provide appropriate information to assist in good discernment. Such documents enable the search committee to work together with clarity and also enables candidates to discern whether they are a good fit for the situation or not. Some of these documents may require the church board’s approval. In some cases this material may also be posted on the church website, but some documents you may want to keep more private and only disseminate directly to applied and accepted candidates.
One of the more contentious elements may be salary and benefits. If your church board has developed an up-to-date salary grid and clear policy re staff benefits, then this part of the process will happen with little debate. However, there still may be some matters such as housing policy, moving costs, etc. that need to be considered. If the church board lacks policy on these matters, then perhaps this staff search provides the opportunity for the board to develop it. However all of these matters are decided, a formal letter making the offer of employment needs to be written, including reference to the position description, the terms of the appointment, the date for the proposed appointment, salary and benefits package, and any other pertinent matters. Again attention to these details saves considerable grief.
It is always wise to build into the appointment letter a stipulation that a 3 or 6 month performance evaluation will be conducted and a decision affirming the candidate in the role will be made at that time. In the case of senior appointments, i.e. Lead Pastor, the chairperson of the board would be the appropriate individual to oversee the drafting of the letter and append his or her signature to the letter on behalf of the board. This means that the board should review a draft of this letter in order to authorize its signature by the chair on their behalf.
Finally, do not presume that the orientation phase will proceed without some intentional direction. A good start for any employee develops a good foundation for relationships and loyalty to the organization. If important details are not attended to well in the initial stages, it may prevent that employee from performing well, establishing patterns of poor relationships and job expectations. Building trust and confidence within new employees is important for their longevity within the organization.