Some churches view the staff as hired workers. If that is the case in your church, respect your leaders and don’t blame any rebellious attitudes on what I am about to say about this. Other churches view the staff as interdependent creative thinkers and leaders. In the first case, the usual mentality is “anything you aren’t doing for the church should be done ‘off the clock’.” In the second case, the mentality is “everything you do as ministry and mission benefits us as long as your priorities are in order.”
When I was at Saddleback, I learned some pretty great lessons about systems, structures, and staff leadership. In spite of our blessed chaos and the “fast, fluid, and flexible” environment of the southern California megachurch, I learned a ton about leadership and how a church staff can function in a healthy way.
One of the principles Pastor Rick often shared was that every church staff member is expected to fulfill three different ministries, on or off “the clock.”
1. Every church staff member has a ministry to the lost. And our ministry to the lost trumps our other responsibilities every time. We advocate for the lost, relate to the lost, and give our time and energy to bringing lost people to Jesus, first and foremost.
2. Every church staff member has a ministry to the church. It is this second priority that is made first in many churches, probably to the detriment of the creative potential of the staff collectively. We wind up falling into the trap of just doing the work we’re expected to do with little time for independent, creative thinking. Apple, Google, and thousands of other tech startups could teach us some important lessons here about freeing people up to think beyond what currently exists. Gmail, for example, was a product born out of the personal development time granted to some employees who were free to play around on the clock. Today, it’s a core Google component. If we aren’t thinking about the lost and how to creatively reach them as much as we think about getting our jobs done, we’re toast.
3. Every church staff member has a ministry to his or her peers. That is, we have a responsibility to pour into and invest in our parallels. As Pastor Rick put it, Saddleback’s receptionists were to minister to other church receptionists, children’s ministry leaders to other children’s ministry leaders, etc. This is the trickiest of all for established churches who see “outside” ministry interests as competing with the productivity of their own staff. But it boils down to a matter of stewardship. If my church is blessed with knowledge or resources, it’s up to our staff to share that blessing with others. Ministering to our peers keeps us in the company of encouragers, prevents isolation and burnout, keeps me up-to-date and sharp on leadership innovations, and is ultimately good for the kingdom (and heaven knows how we need more kingdom-minded churches!).
It’s a tough shift. If you lead a church to be clock-punching and productivity-obsessed, you’ll get a lot done and perhaps build a larger, more effective church. But if you care about developing people into more influential leaders and growing the kingdom as much as you care about growing your institutional machinery, you’ll at least open yourself to the possibility of releasing your staff to think more about the lost than your church and also spend time investing in their peers.
Graphic background by Zach Fonville.