The Benefits of Developing Staff From Within

Excerpted from
Empowering Leadership
By Michael Fletcher


The local church must concern itself with training leaders on two levels—staff and members—and the second can feed the first.

Hiring pastors and key staff roles from within is the very best policy. If you use the character, chemistry and competence metric for hiring staff, it only makes sense to hire almost exclusively from within. Since the person was built inside the house—discipled, mentored, trained, developed—the character of the individual is well known. Further, leaders in the house likely had their hands in the formation of that character, since true leadership development includes the often messy but necessary interaction of life upon life. Leaders trained inside the house grow up breathing the culture of the house. You don’t have to send them through a ten-week “learn our DNA” program; they are a product of that culture. They don’t just know your vision, they are part of it. They own it.

When leaders are built inside the house, their gifts and callings become apparent, their strengths and weaknesses obvious. You are able to evaluate them by what you have gleaned from personal observation as it relates to their competency, not just what you read in a résumé or discerned from a few interviews. Simply put, you know what you’re getting when you hire from within.

One very powerful benefit from hiring almost entirely from within is what we call the upward draft. When a church member is in a key leadership role and then brought onto the paid staff, the change creates a vacuum of sorts and pulls other leaders up to fill that former position. This, in turn, creates another vacuum, which pulls up others into higher roles of leadership. In one ministry role after another, this readjustment goes all the way down through the ranks.

A true leadership-development culture feeds off the excitement created by the upward draft. This is especially true when the role being filled is a pastor or director slot. The people in the church are being led by someone they think of as “one of us,” and the idea that one day that could be me becomes much more than a dream. Or we could just pilfer staff from some other church and send the message to our members that no one here is good enough to fill these roles.

At the time of this writing, we cut about 120 payroll checks per month, including weekenders (those who only work on the weekends). Of those, 113 were built inside the house. Of the four people on our lead team, three started as janitors—and that includes me. As a result, the vast majority of our staff has been thoroughly cross-trained. One pastor served in housekeeping, led worship, served the youth and worked as a personal assistant before becoming a pastor. Another worked as a janitor, served in children’s ministry, youth ministry and outreach and evangelism before he joined the staff as an administrator and then as a pastor. And I could go on and on.

In fact, we don’t hire for specific professional roles, such as children’s pastor or youth pastor. We build and hire pastors and put them in various roles to help further develop them in their calling.

For example, our children’s pastor has the strongest pastoral gift on the team and will one day be the senior leader of a local church. But to truly reach his potential, we knew he would have to learn how to build and lead teams. So we put this single man with no kids in the role as children’s pastor, because there is no better place to learn to build and lead teams. The people love him, and he has grown tremendously in his leadership in this present role. Before that, he was my personal assistant.

Every one of my personal assistants has gone on to become a pastor. I didn’t hire them to be my assistant because they were great personal assistants; in fact, a number of them were terrible. I placed them in that role so I could mentor them and help develop them in their calling. It’s all part of the upward draft. It’s what happens in a leadership-development culture. And it’s not complicated; it’s just like raising a bunch of kids. That’s why most churches don’t do it.

Raising a bunch of kids is messy and time-consuming. I’ll admit that’s true. It’s messy. Building people means you have to deal with their immaturity. You have to settle the squabbles generated by sibling rivalries. You have to fix the messes they make because they don’t know they’re in over their heads. You have to deal with the teenage “I know everything and can never be told” stage. It’s time-consuming. Life-upon-life mentoring takes time. It takes time to let leaders learn through failure. It takes time to wait for their character to catch up to their calling. Honestly, it takes less time to buy one (i.e., hire from without) than it does to build one.

I was invited to a two-day meeting of about thirty pastors hosted by some of America’s most famous church leaders. Everyone in the meeting led churches. They were from various backgrounds. They were on the Outreach 100 fastest growing or 100 largest lists (or both). We were invited to learn about leadership from a well-respected pastor from another nation who leads one of the largest church movements in the world.

Toward the end of the second day, during a question-and-answer session, the guest asked permission to be completely honest. “I think one of the major problems among leaders in the US,” he said, “is that you pilfer staff members from each other’s churches. If I speak at your church or your conference, you can trust that I will never, ever try to hire someone off your staff. We build our own because we want them to have our culture and not yours.”

Am I saying that we should never hire from the outside? Of course not. There is a time for a leader to leave a church and move to another. Shifts like that can be a healthy part of one’s journey with God. There is also a time to bring some fresh blood into a staff by reaching outside your circle. Fresh perspective is important for the advancement of any organization. But I believe the church is called by God to develop people and by and large build its own staff from the people who are being developed in the house.

Creating an upward draft requires that we build leaders in the house as well as build pastors for the house. Perhaps the most popular evangelistic tract in the United States was “The Four Spiritual Laws,” written by Campus Crusade founder Bill Bright. The first proposition is, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” No matter what you think of evangelistic tracts in general, or this one in particular, that statement is nonetheless true. God loves his people and created them on purpose for a purpose. Their lives have meaning. There is a God-designed reason for them being on this planet, and the best place to discover that is in church.

People walk into our churches asking these questions. People who have not yet met the Lord and people who have followed Him for years are asking these questions. It is our job as church leaders to help them find the answers. And the answer cannot simply be “volunteer to work in our parking lot.”

I have a hard time with the notion that God made a man who, according to Psalm 139, was handcrafted in his mother’s womb by God himself whose purpose in life is to serve in a church parking lot two hours per week. Here is a guy who was born into this life, was cared for and nurtured by his parents, has been shaped by God through life, was trained at a fine university in economics and finance, has risen to become the director of client services for a large and popular personal finance consulting firm, interacts daily with the wealthiest and most influential people in the region where he lives—and his purpose is serving in a church parking lot? Seriously?

Get him out of the parking lot. Get some strong believer into his life. Guide him toward the leadership-development pipeline. Equip this man to see himself as the shepherd sent by God to impact the lives of those he serves on a daily basis!

But the press these days is to find volunteers, not build people. We have to find people to fill the slots to feed the machine called church. We don’t have time to build people because, again, building people is messy and takes time. The problem is, when we look around the church, we see people who are leaders out there in society but aren’t leaders in the church. We need to wake up and realize we need more than volunteers! We need leaders in this house! Where are the leaders?

Frustration builds as we recognize that many of these great people just aren’t motivated to take key leadership roles. At the same time, less qualified people are willing but aren’t ready to step up. They’re underdeveloped in their character or competency. So we create a leadership class, but the people we hope will attend often don’t. Then we hear someone talk about a leadership pipeline and think we’ve found the solution. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not worth very much and won’t work as advertised if it isn’t built on the foundation of a leadership-development culture.

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Taken from Empowering Leadership: How a Leadership Development Culture Builds Better Leaders Faster by Michael Fletcher. Copyright © 2018 by Michael Fletcher. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson.