I have long been an advocate of the philosophy that church leaders need to hire slow and fire fast. In fact, one of my books includes a chapter where co-author Tim Stevens and I advocated “long hellos and quick goodbyes.”
Generally, I still believe this to be true.
Because church leaders, particularly senior pastors, tend towards optimism, their natural tendency will be to hire too fast. Why? It’s because they see the best in people. Whatever shortcomings a candidate may have in the selection process, the optimistic person thinks, “They’ll shine under my leadership. I can help them realize their full potential.”
Likewise, when things turn south and a separation is warranted, optimistic leaders tend to move too slowly. They hold onto the hope that there will be a turnaround. Even though performance has been lacking in the past, they believe redemption is still possible. Then, this tendency toward optimism couples with the people-pleasing attribute–also a common characteristic of senior pastors. When this occurs, church leaders fail to make the tough calls to let underperformers go because they’re concerned about how the employee and all their friends will react.
Long hellos and quick goodbyes are still a good thing. However, I’m finding more instances where the contrary approach may be warranted. In other words, there are instances when churches move too slow in the hiring and when they fire too fast. These are some indicators…
4 Indicators Your Hiring Process May Be Too Slow:
1) The vacancy remains open for more than six months.
This becomes particularly challenging when that vacancy involves the senior pastor.
Without someone in that role casting vision, developing high-capacity leaders and maximizing the efforts of the teaching team (and there should always be a team), the church will slowly lose momentum and eventually face fiscal challenges. If your process can’t guarantee a quality hire within six months, you really need to seek outside help.
2) There’s more than one lay leadership board or committee involved in hiring the senior pastor.
This is particularly a challenge where the congregation will ultimately have the final vote.
You may not believe this, but I’ve seen situations where candidates have to get through a vote of the recruiting committee, the personnel committee, the church board and the congregation. The candidate you probably want to hire will never end up at your church because some other church won’t have as many hoops to jump through. If you move too slowly, the better candidates will get hired before you have a chance to offer the position.
3) The senior pastor doesn’t have the ability to hire (and fire) his or her team.
I would never work for a church that desires to hold me accountable to fulfilling all the roles of the senior pastor position and not have the ability to select the people for my team.
No business leader would do that. No coach would do that. And no pastor should do that either. Some churches still have board and committees involved in the hiring process beyond the role of senior pastor. This is unwarranted. If you don’t trust the senior pastor to hire the right people, you need to fire the senior pastor. Don’t tie the leader’s hands so that he or she can’t build and develop the right team.The senior pastor has to be involved in hiring every person on the team.
4) Like overprotective church boards and committees, some senior pastors don’t empower their staff leaders.
Yes, if it’s a pastor or ministry director role, you should probably remain involved at some point in the hiring process until your church gets very large.
At some point, though, it really doesn’t make sense for you to get involved in every hiring process for interns, part-time staff, maintenance workers, administrative assistants and so on. Again, if you can’t trust your staff leaders to hire the right people, you need to find other staff leaders.
4 Indicators Your Firing Process May Be Too Fast:
1) You haven’t taken the time to establish clear expectations for the role.
This begins with defining the key responsibilities.
That can happen through a job description or a position profile like the samples we offer. Secondly, everyone deserves to know what their priority focus should be right now. What’s most important today? This will probably include specific and measurable goals, but it should also include a focused list of initiatives that require immediate attention. Sometimes leaders move too fast because they haven’t defined the win.
2) Someone hasn’t provided the necessary coaching to help the employee improve.
Typically, I sense this is a span of care problem.
When one person has to lead and care for too many people, they don’t get the coaching they need. A healthy span of care is going to look different for different leaders. For some it may be only two or three. For others maybe as high as six to eight people. Whatever the case, people need feedback on how they can continue to develop their strengths while also addressing the challenges that may be negatively impacting performance. I genuinely believe that most people, particularly healthy staff, want to know what they’re doing well and where they need to improve.
3) You haven’t clearly communicated instances of poor performance and detailed the consequences if progress doesn’t occur.
Again, I think this is largely due to fear.
Some people are unwilling to engage in any confrontation that may lead to someone experiencing pain. There are instances, though, when pain is a necessary component of healing. The person who is underperforming deserves the opportunity to receive constructive criticism and then make adjustments. If they don’t respond, they deserve to know the consequences so they can plan accordingly. If you haven’t already, you really need to read Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud. He covers in detail how to approach situations like this.
4) You haven’t prayed for the individual involved.
This may sound like the obvious churchy advice to give, but I just want to remind you that prayer really does work.
Pray for God’s will be to be done. Pray for the person who doesn’t realize they aren’t maximizing their God-given gifts and potential. Pray that God will provide wisdom to provide appropriate coaching and clear communications. I’m always amazed how God answers prayers in challenging situations, particularly those that involve other people. By the way, if you’re leading too many people, you may be beyond a healthy span of care. When that happens, you probably will not know how to pray specifically for the people on your team. That has to change.