Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.—1 Corinthians 11:1
Pastors, let’s begin with the hard truth.
Your staff does not belong to you.
That may be a somewhat jarring statement to read, but I believe it is an important place for pastors to begin. Your staff does not belong to you; they belong to the Lord. Your task is to help them grow in their professional capabilities and to grow into the men and women God has called them to be in Jesus Christ. Pastors—rightly, I believe—take their calling very seriously. And they want their staff to take their calling just as seriously. They want the staff to be completely committed to the work of Jesus in the church. And, generally speaking, the staff is. But each staff member is working out his or her calling in Christ. Often, this means that staff members will only be with you for a season. The Lord is often preparing them for another post in ministry. It will be rare for your staff members to stay with you for the entirety of your ministry in your church. Instead, the Lord has entrusted them to your care to help them grow—often into the sort of person that is very well-suited to do something that is no longer at your church. This is not an easy pill to swallow.
As I type this, one of our long-term staff members is preparing to plant a new church. I am excited for him and his new church. We have raised funding for him, and several of our deacons are traveling with him to start this new gospel outpost. As the adage goes: It is exciting to see him go, but it is painful to watch him leave. Adding to the pain? I helped him in the process of deciding to plant and helping him grow to this point. In other words, I was a tool in my own pain. Why? Because I decided to facilitate his growth for the Kingdom, not for my own dreams and desires. Shepherd your staff by helping them grow into the people the Lord has made them and let the places they serve be chosen by the Spirit, not your heavy hand.
Once you decide that you will help your staff grow into the sorts of people the Lord has called them to be, you will experience a freedom. This freedom is a sign of health; you are no longer attempting to control them; you are now truly attempting to shepherd them.
In shepherding staff, think in terms of two spheres—professional and personal. When engaging the personal growth of your staff, think about spiritual health, home life, and emotional health. In shepherding them towards personal health, work to treat your staff as people, not simply as employees. You may think this is obvious, but, trust me, I know plenty of church staff members who deeply crave their pastor to care for their human side and not simply discuss work expectations. Work to embed spiritual growth and vitality into your staff gatherings. Pray together; worship together; share struggles with one another. This may be foreign to your culture or your personality, but it is essential to creating a healthy team atmosphere. When you find yourself in smaller settings with team members, try to ask questions about home, family, stress, and spiritual walk. You may choose to give some suggestions, where appropriate, but work to become a better listener. Rather than looking to immediately share your own insights, remember that often people simply want to be heard.
Professionally speaking: Set an effective personal example at work. The work patterns you set are observed by your staff and non-verbally communicate expectations. Do you work hard? Do you care about excellence? Do you handle others with compassion and grace? If you do, then your staff will probably begin to pattern those behaviors, because they see what you value. If you do not, then they will not either. Additionally, encourage your staff to continue to grow professionally. This may mean attending conferences for some, reading books for others, listening to podcasts for others. I do not believe you must be choosy in how they continue to grow professionally, but that they do so. And, as possible and reasonable, help pay for this growth from the church’s budget. Their improvement means Kingdom and church improvement. If we are able to discuss potential growth areas and find specific resources that will contribute to a staff member’s growth, then we should also take action to get those resources.
There are no silver bullets in shepherding church staff members. Each staff member has a unique personality, gifting, and background. And yet, if we trust that the Lord has given us the rich privilege of growing ministers into the Head so that they might be mature, we have the template for what God would have us do. Let us pursue maturity in Christ ourselves so that we might spur our staff members to do the same.