I often hear various statistics about the rapid burnout rate of pastoral staff in general, and children’s ministry staff in particular. I also have directly witnessed it. Having served on staff at only two churches in the last 16 years, I have some ideas about how to foster longevity. In my first church, I had actually attended for 13 years, the last 4 1/2 of which were on staff as Children’s Director and Elder. I then moved to Portland. After one year, I was appointed to be Children’s Pastor, a role I have enjoyed for over 11 years. So in essence, I have been actively involved in two churches for over 25 years. I should add that in both places of service I have been a volunteer. Obviously this affords me distinct advantages over a full-time staff member. Nevertheless, it also has more expectations and disappointments than your average volunteer.
I invite you to weigh in on your longevity in your current place of service. The poll to the right in the menu bar will be available for one week, so check it out.
Here are a few questions I consider which can affect the longevity of church staff members:
- In the hiring process, whether it is for a volunteer or paid position, take time to get to know one another. Look beyond the obvious pedigree and experience and examine the character, habits and family life of the person. Likewise, the candidate should be asking similar questions. What kinds of people are these? Do they want me to shut up and do as I am told? Or is there some collegial give and take? Do I have a voice? Or I am a minion at the beck and call of the power brokers? (I know, this sounds negative, but years of anecdotal evidence indicate this is an issue in many churches, regardless of denomination. Typically all parties are on their best behavior during the interview process. This is one reason why hiring should be taken carefully and with due diligence. Don’t move too quickly. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions.). Am I a hireling? Or will my family and I be allowed to enter into authentic community with this congregation? This is just a start, but I think you get the idea.
- Will I be allowed to experiment in the broader context of providing tried and true ministry expressions?
- What is the extent of the accountability provided for me? Does it border on micromanagement? Does it border on a lack of any apparent concern? Or is there a happy medium of accountability without undue control? Do I report to the Senior leader, and Executive Pastor, an Elder or Deacon? Has this been made clear? Does the church follow their own written policies in this regard? If not, why?
- How is conflict handled? Is there an avenue for me to express appropriate disagreement? Are there regular peformance reviews? Am I allowed to review my supervisor? If not, why?
- How is money handled? Am I provided a high level of support and accountability with the budget? Am I expected to handle the exchange of moneys when conducting business? What safeguards are in place to protect me from temptations and false accusations regarding the appropriation of funds?
- Is the level of support, encouragement, renumeration and involvement commensurate with my expectations and needs? That is to say, is the church doing their part to see that my legitimate and contractually agreed upon needs are being met? This pertains not only to financial considerations, but direct involvement in the process of doing ministry. In my church, I have openly stated that the currency which speaks to me, is the direct involvement in leadership and church members in ministering to their own children. I always enjoy the priceless expressions when certain individuals begin to understand the implications for their own involvement. :) In essence, I am saying keep your money. I want YOU to be involved.
- Am I doing my part to fulfill my responsibilities? Do I have a positive attitude even in the face of negative feedback and corrective discipline? If I am receiving negative feedback, have I considered thoughtfully its level of validity? If I disagree with any portion of negative feedback, have I weighed prayerfully how I might offer a constructive response which soothes the circumstances, rather than escalating them?
- Am I respectful to others?
- Are others respectful to me?
- Are there intentional opportunities offered to build loving relationships which move beyond employee/employer considerations? Will I be treated as a member of the church?
This is just a start. I welcome your thoughts too. Tell us what encourages you to minister long-term in your church or ministry situation.