To Hire or not To Hire

In the past 13 years, I’ve had the privilege of serving in both volunteer and staff leadership positions in churches and parachurch organizations. It’s interesting to me how haphazard many churches are with regards to identifying which jobs are volunteer positions and which jobs are staff positions.

The problem seems to be that the decisions are driven by pragmatism rather than vision. Pragmatism works well for short-term decisions. The decision to fill a position with staff or volunteers is a strategic decision that has far reaching consequences. Leadership teams, therefore, need to have a firm vision of the difference between staff roles and volunteer roles in the structure of the church.
It is important to remember that it is not the staff’s responsibility to do the ministry of the church. It is the whole church’s responsibility to do the ministry of the church. The staff is responsible to equip the church for ministry.

When making staffing decisions the questions that are often asked are:
(1) Can we afford to hire this position? (Do we have the money?)
(2) Can we afford no to hire this position? (Do we trust a volunteer to do it?)

These are pragmatic questions. They do not focus on vision. Better questions to ask are:
(1) Does this position require special skills that it is unreasonable to expect a volunteer to have?
(2) Are the expectations of this position unreasonable to expect from a volunteer?

I’ll unpack these questions in future posts and explain why I think they fit the vision/strategy category rather than being merely pragmatic. I’d love to hear from you though. What questions do you think should be asked in determining whether a position is a staff or volunteer position?


~ by bryonharvey on January 7, 2010.

8 Responses to “To Hire or not To Hire”

  1. Bryon,what a great post.I’m curious to read some responses from your peers.

  2. Bryon,could fragmentation be the real issue ?

  3. Okay,it’s fragmentation (sociology)…what causes it and how do we correct it ?

  4. Moving along here,let’s use a metaphor “facebook” to friend or not to friend.I have a dozen or so friends on that network that I correspond with.I bet in 2 weeks I could get a couple hundred……do you follow my logic yet ?

  5. In my experience the main cause is a misunderstanding of the role of staff in a church setting. See my next post for greater detail on that. The fix, I believe, is a realignment of the strategy of the church so that it agrees more with the philosophy that staff supports the church’s ministry rather than doing the church’s ministry.

    The second issue is one of trust. There’s a fundamental distrust of volunteers because the church has no corporate leverage over volunteers. That makes sense in the marketplace when the mission is making the most money while spending the least. In a church setting where the goal is to help people grow in their relationship with God, this doesn’t make sense at all.

  6. Thank You Bryon,your reply puts it in perspective for me.I’m looking forward to your follow up post .

  7. Great idea, but will this work over the long run?

    • Spiel – you make a very good point. Sustainability is important. As you see the other posts in this series I’d love to hear more of your thoughts.

      I, however, believe this philosophy is far more sustainable than its counterpart for two important reasons. First, it keeps people invested in the local community. Many people leave local churches for a lot of different reasons, but the root cause for all, I believe, is a lack of commitment to the local church. In church organizations where every important task is done by staff it is hard for the average church member to invest and engage in that community. By opening up more opportunities, more people will engage with the community and stay committed. Therefore they will stay in the church.

      Secondly, there is a financial benefit to the local church that provides greater sustainability. Staffing is expensive. Staffing positions that should be done by volunteers is wasteful. This model creates better long-term sustainability by forcing church organizations to be more responsible stewards of all the resources God has given them, in particular people and finances.

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