Because ministry is about people, we often neglect seeing people themselves as resources for ministry. People, of course, are the recipients of ministry, and a changed person is often the goal of ministry. But ministry is done by people who also need to be seen as a primary resource for doing ministry.

The confusion about people being either resources or goals can often be seen when a congregation stretches its vision in a way that requires the addition of a new staff person. To take the step of increasing staff, money often needs to be raised and new structures may need to be put in place. When the new staff person finally is identified and begins work, there is great celebration and a sense of accomplishment. Then the level of energy and activity often settles down and little new happens. At the heart of the inactivity and lack of change is confusion over resources and goals. The new staff person commonly is mistaken for the goal. When the new person is put in place, it feels right for leaders to check the task of increasing staff off their to-do list and settle back to life as usual.

The problem is that the new staff person isn’t being recognized as a resource needed to address some other goal of ministry. For example, the goal of the congregation is not to hire a new youth minister, but to provide or to increase ministry with youth—for which it is determined that the resource of a new youth minister is needed. Likewise, the goal of the congregation is not to hire an additional music director with skills in contemporary worship, but to provide worship that speaks to and meets the needs of people who do not respond well to traditional worship—for which a music director with contemporary skills is needed.

A difficult transition for senior clergy and congregational personnel committees is to recognize staff and leaders (clergy or lay, paid or volunteer, full-time or part-time) as resources not goals, as providers not recipients of ministry. Schooled in pastoral care and community support, senior clergy and personnel committees mistake their role as being caregivers to the people who are called forth as employees or volunteers to lead the ministry of the congregation. Consider the congregation that accepted the reduction of a staff member’s hours (without commensurate reduction in salary) because the staff member found it difficult to arrange for child care. Or the congregation that was reluctant to mention the associate pastor’s absences and failure to complete work assignments because he was “having a difficult time at home.” Of course, in faith communities we need to be careful and responsible in our relationships with others—coworkers included. Workers, however, need to be seen by senior clergy and personnel committees as resources for, rather than recipients of, ministry. Like all resources, they need to be stewarded, directed, aligned, supervised, and used with accountability. Organizationally this function of leadership is known as human resource management.

It is widely acknowledged that clergy, who are expected to provide primary leadership and management to congregations, are not well prepared for the task of human resource management. Identifying some contributing factors is fairly easy:

  • Professional training typically focuses on the disciplines of the profession itself. Running a law office or managing a medical practice requires another complete body of business knowledge and experience that lawyers or physicians must either learn or purchase to support their primary practice. Such training is not sufficiently provided in their professional preparation. In like ways, the seminary offers preparation for ministry, not for congregational leadership and people management.
  • The performance of ministry has a long tradition of taking the form of “lone ranger” leadership, in which congregations practice clergy dependence (and scapegoating) by believing that all ministry is up to the clergy. Clergy often collude by trying to do it all.
  • The growth in the number of large congregations that need multiple staff members—and therefore more formal practices of staff management—is a relatively new cultural experience. Attention to developing a leadership skill set related to human resource management was not previously needed or well regarded in congregations.
  • Having an abundance of resources (primarily dollars and volunteers) does not encourage or require learning how to manage or steward resources. This is easily seen in settings where leaders manage their problems by “throwing money at them” because they have the money to throw. Established congregations come from an earlier American cultural background in which people’s time (like money in an expanding economy) seemed like an inexhaustible resource. Members were expected to give hours, days, and weeks to participation and leadership in their congregation. Leaders today, however, are providing ministry with and to people with a rapidly decreasing amount of discretionary time and who experience a vastly expanded competition as to how they will use that discretionary time. People’s commitment to their faith or their congregation can no longer be measured by the amount of time they give. As discretionary time shrinks, leaders have to learn how to use volunteer time more effectively, replace volunteer hours with staff hours, and manage staff as a costly and limited resource.

A number of years ago, a highly regarded and high-profile senior clergy of a large metropolitan congregation took a newly hired staff person out to lunch during her first week as the new minister of community outreach. Anticipating that she would learn much more of what was expected from her by the senior clergy, the new associate was shocked by the pleasant but general luncheon conversation about the church and community. The senior clergy ended the luncheon by wishing her well in figuring out what she would do as minister of outreach. This was management by hope—hope that the senior clergy would not have to get involved. What is needed today in our changed environment is greater, but appropriate, engagement by senior leaders that requires new learning and intentional practices of supervision of staff in congregations.


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Adapted from When Moses Meets Aaron: Staffing and Supervision in Large Congregations by Gil Rendle and Susan Beaumont, copyright © 2007 by the Alban Institute. All rights reserved.



AL341_SMWhen Moses Meets Aaron:
Staffing and Supervision in Large Congregations
by Gil Rendle and Susan Beaumont 

In When Moses Meets Aaron, Gil Rendle and Susan Beaumont help clergy responsible for several-member staff teams learn to be both Moses and Aaron—both a visionary and a detail-oriented leader—in order for their large congregations to thrive. They immerse the best of corporate human resource tools in a congregational context, providing a comprehensive manual for supervising, motivating, and coordinating staff teams.

AL279_SMWhen Better Isn’t Enough:
Evaluation Tools for the 21st Century
by Jill M. Hudson 

Approaching the postmodern era as a tremendous opportunity, Hudson identifies 12 characteristics by which we can measure effective ministry for the early 21st century. Based on those 12 criteria, Hudson has created evaluation tools to help congregations improve their ministry, help members and staff grow in effectiveness, deepen a sense of partnership, and add new richness to the dialogue about a congregation’s future.

AL205_SMThe Alban Personnel Handbook for Congregations 
by Erwin Berry 

Today’s congregational leaders increasingly serve as human resource managers for ordained and nonordained persons. This handbook provides practical and proven strategies for managing church staff and addresses the particular ethical issues that faith communities need to consider to serve as effective stewards of those whom they employ.

AL294_SMThe Competent Pastor:
Skills and Self-Knowledge for Serving Well
by Ronald D. Sisk 

Competence in ministry is a moving target. A ministry technique that works in one parish may not work in another. What works today may not work five years from now. But a competent pastor will be able to adapt to changing locations and changing times. This book is intended to help pastors, seminarians, and lay people who work with pastors understand themselves and others and to keep a realistic perspective on their work and their lives.


Reframing Hope
Ministry, In, With, and For a New Generation 


From her vantage point as an under-40 pastor, Carol Howard Merritt, author of Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation, explores what ministry in, with, and by a new generation might look like. What does the substance of hope look like right now? What does hope look like when it is framed in a new generation? Join with Carol Howard Merritt as she unpacks the central themes of her new book, Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation. She explores the spirit of collaboration that has grown up in our culture as the diffusion of authority continues to move toward a network of sharing resources and information. She shares the spiritual longing she sees in those of her generation and acknowledges that people will no longer settle for one-way preaching and entertaining services—they want their worship to become meaningful; they want their spirituality to lead to action. Does this describe you? Or a dream you have for your congregation? Don’t miss this chance to learn from one of the leading voices of younger adult ministries today.


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