“It’s far better to wait than to make the wrong hire. You are not looking for a perfect person, but you do want the right person.”
When it comes to church hiring, there is often an unintentional tendency to conduct what seems more like a beauty pageant than a process to hire the best candidate.
The position doesn’t matter—it can be the senior pastor, technical personnel, someone on the children’s ministry team, a worship leader, support staff, etc. There is always the danger of parading pedigrees, and picking who’s popular rather than digging deep and being diligent.
Whether your church is large or small, every person you choose to serve on staff matters in a big way. Each one carries the culture, vision and heart of your church. One misaligned staff person can do more damage than most of us imagine.
Firing a staff member is much more complicated than hiring one. And because of this, there is an inherent temptation to think hiring is relatively easy and therefore lighten up in the process. That’s a bad call. You need to dig in, do your homework and make wise choices.
Here are five mistakes to avoid that will help you make better hires.
1. Lowering Standards
When you are short a staff member, either someone else carries those additional responsibilities or the job doesn’t get done. That leads to pressure. Time passes, someone becomes overloaded, balls are dropped and fractures start to show themselves in your ministry. The pressure increases.
Soon, if a candidate says they love Jesus and like coffee, they start to look pretty good. Yes, that’s exaggerated, but if you’ve been hiring for a while, you know what I mean.
It’s far better to wait than to settle and make the wrong hire. You are not looking for a perfect person, but you do want the right person.
2. Surrendering to Politics
Personality matters. In John C. Maxwell’s book The 5 Levels of Leadership, the description of Level 2 reminds us that people follow you because they like you. But if that’s the only reason, you’re in trouble. This is especially true in hiring.
Hiring someone you already know can be a great advantage. It’s smart to hire people from within your church when you can. But hiring buddies, friends and “an influential person’s son or daughter” just because of the relationship is often a huge mistake.
Don’t give in to political pressure. Hold strong. Each candidate must be able to stand on his or her own merits and be capable of doing the job.
3. Rushing the Process
If the person is worth hiring, and God is in the process, there is no need to panic and hire fast. You won’t lose them if they are the right person and called by God to serve on your team. Take your time.
Taking your time doesn’t mean to go slow. Keep moving. You should be doing something nearly every day in a hiring process. It may take months to find the right person—that’s OK. The principal idea is to cover all your bases and not cheat the process.
One good rule of thumb is to have three good candidates that you would hire before you select one. This isn’t always possible, but the closer you adhere to that practice, the better your hires will be.
4. Being Unwilling to Ask the Hard Questions
It’s easy to see how this happens. You like the person, they like you, and you share good chemistry. You have a relational approach, and so before you know it, it feels like you’re good friends. But you don’t really know the person yet—not like you need to.
This sets you up to skip the more difficult questions. I’ve done this. For example, I’ve skipped asking about theological issues, temptations they face or fears they battle. That’s a mistake. Or specific things such as belief about tithing, their personal prayer life or recent mistakes they’ve made.
Asking the hard questions isn’t done with a harsh spirit, or in a way that makes the interview uncomfortable. It’s about expressing appropriate maturity between you and the candidate to genuinely get to know them.
This includes calling references. A practical tip here is to always ask for at least one or two more references than are listed on the resume.
5. Failing to Involve a Group
No matter how smart you are, or how much experience you have, hiring someone by yourself is a mistake. Your personal perspective is good, but it’s too narrow. You need input from others to make the best choice.
If you are the pastor of a small church, ask two or three business people in your church to help you. If you are a staff person in a large church, it’s important to form a well-selected team of at least three people. Even five interviewers are not too many.
This doesn’t mean you surrender the decision to a group vote, and there is usually a final decision-maker. But if that decision-maker is wise, he or she will listen carefully to the input and opinions of the team.
Avoid these five mistakes, and you’ll make better hires.