The Advantage: Reinforce Clarity, Part 2 (Minister Hiring)

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.

Hiring Ministers

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?

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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3 Responses to The Advantage: Reinforce Clarity, Part 2 (Minister Hiring)

  1. This is an area where churches most often fail miserably. The infernal “preacher parade” of “try-out sermons” makes a preacher selection a lottery. The congregation is not likely to get a good “fit” – and the preacher is left dangling for far too long. Review resumes – or better yet, go looking for the man you want. Who knows? He may be ready to move. But don’t try to “steal” a preacher with “a better position.” Don’t even discuss salary until you are satisfied this is the man – and don’t present him to the congregation as a potential new minister until the elders are satisfied he is a fit for the congregation.

  2. Jay Guin says:


    I completely agree. Many a church wants the “top three” candidates to try out, as though there might be three fully qualified candidates all available at the same time, with the primary distinction among them being preaching skill.

    There is so much more to what a preacher does than preach and which the congregation would not be able to evaluate. Therefore, the demand for a top three can force the leadership to put forward candidates who are excellent speakers and yet who fail in other crucial areas.

    Therefore, the biggest question is not how well the candidates speaks but whether he’s a the right fit for the church. The elders have to make that decision, and if he’s the wrong fit, he doesn’t get a try out sermon, no matter how well he speaks — even if it means the church process takes too long.

    You don’t change the culture of the church for the worse or allow a difficult personality in the leadership just to shorten the preacher search process. It’s better to suffer complaints and even the loss of members than to make a bad hire. After all, as bad as a long search process can be, a bad hire is far, far worse — and a bad hire leads to another preacher search.

    Don’t panic. Follow God’s leading. Encourage the congregation to accept God’s timing.

  3. I wonder if we communicate clarity as to why the hired guy is being hired in the first place. I think we should be more direct about it. If the reason is, “We don’t have time to do sermon prep every Sunday,” then the elders should say so. If the reason is, “We need a more talented presenter, or our people will get bored and go down the street where they can hear better talent on Sunday,” we should ‘fess up. (BTW, If the elders are unskilled in teaching, that’s not a defect you can hire away.) If we are hiring mainly a manager to coordinate congregational operations, tell the folks that, in just those words.

    Then, perhaps, the elders should be able to acknowledge such things to themselves before going to the marketplace to hire a hand.

    Also, elders need to communicate clarity about the authority of the “minister’. If he’s an employee, CALL HIM THAT. To do less is to deceive by cleverness. If the hired guy is a congregational leader, with an elder’s voice at the table, then say so. If his role is limited to representing the views of the staff to the board, tell the folks that as well. If he has an employment contract, acknowledge that up front. Also, if you are going to keep his wages secret, explain to the congregation just why they should pay him, but just why it is none of their business how much. To do less is to admit that they are not really members at all, but merely paying customers.

    I know this is a sore spot– wage secrecy, that is. But any form of secrecy in this context needs to be validated. If you had to pay $150K to get this guy to choose you over another congregation, just tell them that this is what such talent costs, and explain how this is appropriate. Do what I tell my kids…. just tell the truth. Most of the secrecy I know of in elderships has nothing to do with protecting anyone, it has everything to do with conflict avoidance– “if they find out what we are doing, they’ll get mad”. That’s why a child denies getting into the cookie jar. We must outgrow this. If a husband in our fellowship withheld information from his wife this way, we would insist that he repent.

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