We’re working our way through Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business.
Lencioni consults with businesses, nonprofits, and churches, and he frequently explains how the lessons apply especially to churches, because the work churches do is so much more important than the work done by anyone else.
After the elders, the next most important positions to correctly fill are the ministers. A church can do well with poorly chosen deacons (not too many), but hire the wrong pulpit guy, and you’re going to struggle.
Lencioni advises —
* The leaders you hire must reflect the values of your organization. If you’re all about evangelism, hire someone who is all about evangelism, even if he’s not the best speaker or organizer. If you’re all about teaching, hire a great teacher. You get the point. Figure out what makes your congregation special and hire to fit that characteristic.
* The same is true of all leadership positions. A great youth minister who doesn’t share your passion for small groups is not a great youth minister for you. A great children’s minister who disagrees with having a Monday – Friday preschool is not the right children’s minister for a church that’s committed to its preschool.
* The interview must be calculated to determine not only the competence of the candidate, but whether his or her values fit the church. Decide in advance what your values are, who you are, what you do, and ask questions and engage in conversations that measure whether the candidate will fit your setting.
[An interview outline should] probably take no more than one page, front and back, to describe and apply. One side explains the process, along with a description of the core values and related behaviors that indicate a person is a good fit for the organization. [The second page is blank.]
I’m a terrible interviewer. I don’t like being structured at all. I’m more about “gut feeling” than I should be. But then, I believe in very extensive interviews. In a preacher search, the other elders and I might spend 8 or more hours with a given candidate.
The danger of this approach is that personal charm and personal compatibility can overwhelm the question of organizational fit. I might find a guy would be perfectly compatible with me — but not my church. Therefore, Lencioni’s approach is a great, simple discipline to keep us focused on what we’re hiring for.
Now, compatibility with the elders is crucial. We have to work together and be united as a single voice before the congregation. It’s just not enough. You have to add to that the kinds of concerns — core values, aspirational values — that define the church.
However, I will repeat, yet again, that without a clear understanding of what a cultural fit—or misfit—looks like, without a proper mix of consistency and flexibility, and without the active involvement of the leadership team, even the most sophisticated hiring process will fail.
At my law office, we have a fairly elaboration orientation process for new lawyers. They undergo training on our software and systems. They get a stout talk on client confidentiality. And they have regular lunch meetings with older lawyers called HTBAL — How To Be A Lawyer — covering both legal skills, office skills, management skills, the whole gamut.
Well, that’s the theory. We recognize the need and work at it.
My church has an orientation program as well. It’s called “SOS” — sink or swim. We toss the young minister to the wolves and hope he figures it out. After all, didn’t he come pre-trained?*
Now, there are some moderating elements. After all, there are other ministers there to help the poor guy out. We have elders on staff who are available to help. We have lots of available people. But he has to ask. And that’s a problem.
In my law office, the associate is welcome to ask, but there are some things we’re going to explain because they matter so much we can’t bank on their asking — such as client confidentiality, such as posting your time so we can get paid for your efforts, such as you can’t send out anything until someone with experience has reviewed it. (New lawyers come trained in law, but not in practicing law.)
Now, in the church context, what would be the equivalent sort of things that are too important to just hope the new minister picks up on them? Well, to start with, your values. These should have been presented in the interview, but they need to be reinforced after the hire.
If you’re a church that’s all about short-term mission trips, the teen minister needs to know that before he plans the next summer’s activities. If you expect the college students to be part of your small groups ministry, someone needs to tell the campus minister. If your congregation is heavily into mission work in Honduras and you expect the preacher to lead in the effort, he needs to be told.
Most churches, including my own, handle these things very informally, and the minister has to pick up the signals and tone of the church over time — often after making some serious mistakes. Far better to have an orientation program of some sort. It could be as simple as a few lunch meetings where the church’s history and values are presented and discussed. It could be a weekend retreat where the whole story and vision of the church is revisited and perhaps revised. But somehow or other, the new hire has to be clued in.
You see, if you don’t bring the new hires into the church’s new culture intentionally and thoughtfully, they’ll create their own culture — which may not be the culture you want. Or the church may reject them for not sharing the church’s values. It’s not good to just hope they figure it out.
I’m planning on buying my firm’s associates lunch soon so I can present the firm’s “meta-narrative.” That is, I’m going to tell them why we founded the firm and what’s important to us. They’ll get to hear the story.
Maybe we elders need to do the same thing for our ministers — especially the new ones.
* As true at that statement has been, our most recent hire was given the church’s vision statement, our presentation on multi-generational mission, a presentation recently made by the elders on where we are as a congregation, and an outline of our philosophy about how elders and ministers work together. And these were discussed in some detail in the interviews. In fact, we’ve been pretty extreme in our openness, because we didn’t want someone we hired to arrive and come to feel misled.
We think that best sales job an eldership can do is to be painfully open and honest — as difficult as that can be. Ministers are the sort of the people who are attracted to openness and who can smell a coverup.
That is, we elders have to do the opposite of worldly selling. We have to tell the whole truth — even if it makes it harder to hire someone. However, in a beautiful, Christian paradox, telling the ugly truth is actually attractive to the kind of minister you’d like to hire.
Even so, once the minister arrives, a deliberate, thoughtful orientation is necessary, especially someone with the responsibilities of a minister.
Or think of it this way. Someone is going to tell him about all the church’s needs, issues, secrets, and problems. Wouldn’t you rather he get it from the elders than from the rumor mill?