Pastor, Here's A Simple Way To Develop Your Staff

Hey, it’s Matt.

If you are a pastor and have other paid staff in your church, can I ask you a question:

How do you develop your staff?

What do you do consistently and intentionally to help them grow as a leader

If you have a plan in place, keep reading because I want to share my plan with you, and I’d love to compare notes. Oh, and you should know that less than 5% of churches have an intentional development plan in place, so you’re ahead of the game on this one.

If you don’t have a plan that you use, then I’d love to share with you the basics of a development plan that you can use with your staff. I have used this process in over 50 churches - from church plants to megachurches - over the past year.

Of course, you can leave now and keep doing what you’re doing. But if you ever get frustrated because you don’t have enough of the right kind of leaders, if you have staff members who aren’t growing as leaders, or if you have the sneaking suspicion that your team is stuck because you don’t have the plan to help them get better, keep reading.

Different churches mean different things when they refer to ‘church staff.’ Your staff could include anyone from a volunteer working a handful of hours each week to someone who works full time and practically leads the church themselves.

For our purposes, I’m going to focus here on staff members who have responsibility for multiple teams in your church. In most churches, these are the men and women who are likely to be working full-time and whose leadership makes a significant impact on the health of your church.

The primary value and focus of these type of leaders are their development of other leaders. Because they oversee multiple teams, they need others to lead individual teams. So it’s vital that your staff invest a significant amount of time and energy helping individual team leaders grow and mature and get better.

In the church I help lead, we have identified four qualities of a great staff member. See if these resonate with your experience:

  1. A great staff member builds effective teams. They are no longer able to influence based on their expertise in a particular area of ministry. So they have to be able to focus on the right thing to get the right people to do the right work the right way.
  2. A great staff member inspires their leaders. They not only show people what matters most and equip them how to do that work; they also connect deeply on the level of why their work matters.
  3. A great staff member is passionate about the work of the church. Because their work matters to them, they help persuade and encourage their teams that their work matters, too.
  4. A great staff member understands their emotions. They know what triggers their emotions and accept their limits as a human being.

Leaders who display those qualities rarely show up in your church fully developed. They need your help. And the good news is that you can make a significant impact in their leadership by adopting a simple framework for recruiting, training and evaluating your staff.

Let me show you what this looks like.

The ABC Framework for Developing Your Staff

A healthy and mature development system ensures that staff members are recruited, trained and evaluated so that each person flourishes in their particular area of service. To help you build a system that is both simple and sustainable here is the ABC Framework that I use with clients:

Attract

Staff Members need to be recruited to a job that is well-defined and fits them as a leader. This can be done through a simple hiring process:

  • Clearly define the role. What does it look like to win as a staff member
  • Implement a standard hiring procedure. Background checks, interviews, personality assessments, etc.
  • Look for internal hires. A healthy leadership development system prioritizes hiring within.
  • Have the right person(s) make the hiring decision. Different roles necessitate different groups deciding who is hired.
  • Involve the right people in the hiring process. Other staff members, people who will be working for the new staff member, etc.

Build In

Staff members need to get off to a good start. In some circles, this is referred to as ‘on-boarding’; the idea is to make a short-term investment at the beginning of someone’s service to minimize the stress and uncertainty of taking on new responsibilities. Some of the components of a helpful Build In process include:

  • Walkthrough with a supervisor. After someone agrees to the role, sit down and talk through a basic description of the work and your plan for their development.
  • Basic training. New staff members don’t have to know everything to get started. So don’t try to teach them everything just as they get started. Just give them enough to start well and feel successful.
  • No-Fault escape clause. Sometimes a person is hired and discovers they’re not a good fit for the work. Sometimes you’ll realize that they are not a good fit for the work. Either way, make it easy to end the partnership quickly and quietly early in the relationship.

Connect

Staff Members need to feel like a person and not a number. With all the work we have to do, it’s easy to forget that actual people are doing the work. You can help people feel like they matter through small but significant investments of time, including:

  • Check-ins. It’s not hard to pop your head into someone’s office and ask ‘how are you?’ or ‘how can I pray for you?’
  • One-on-One Conversations. Intentionally ask a staff member ‘how are you?’ and ‘how can I help you?’ Have this conversation at least once a month face-to-face over coffee or a meal.

Develop

Staff Members need clear opportunities to improve. This part of the ABC Framework is what most people think of when they refer to training; however, it is just one aspect of the Training phase, along with Build In and Connect. The overarching idea is that if you want to do a great job developing staff members, you must help them get started (Build In), feel like they matter (Connect) and get better at their work (Develop).

Most churches try to do too much in the Develop process. What I’ve discovered in working with churches is that the best way to help staff members get better is to offer:

  • Consistent on-the-job help. People look for solutions or ways to improve when they fail or encounter problems. No amount of up-front or theoretical training can prepare someone for the roadblocks experienced in every staff member position. Use the Connect process (‘How can I help you?’) to discover where and how you can train team leaders in the places they need help the most.
  • Occasional training. There are certain skills, convictions and ways to do work that you want to pass on to an individual leader or your entire leadership team. The two practices that I find work best are limiting these to no more than four times a year and using a platform like Trained Up to deliver your training content without asking staff members to show up for a training event.  
  • Resourcing. This might be access to books or videos, attendance at conferences, or other tools to help them be more effective in their role.

Encourage and Evaluate

Staff Members need to know that they are doing a good job. Most churches don’t take the time to let leaders know that they are appreciated, and fewer create simple ways to evaluate the work that those leaders are doing. Here are three things you can do to be different than most churches:

  • Rest policy. Set expectations for work hours, days off, vacations and sabbaticals.
  • Host a staff member appreciation event. Again, keep this simple and make it something that can be pulled off year after year. Food, fun, small tokens of appreciation, words of gratitude - let people know that you are grateful for their work. This should be done in addition to other events that you create to encourage all of your leaders, including volunteers.
  • Hand-written notes. Every staff member should routinely receive a hand-written note from a pastor, supervisor or someone who benefits from their service. Create a template for what to write and make it easy for people to express their gratitude in words.
  • A simple evaluation. Evaluations are snapshots of someone’s work as a team leader. At least once a year, make sure each team leader has a conversation in which they hear at least one thing they do uncommonly well and one area where improvement is needed.

Do The Next Right Thing

Put this ABC Framework into motion by starting small. Too many churches try to do too much, too soon and overwhelm everybody involved in the process. If you’re just getting started, I encourage you to create just one development option for each part of the ABC Framework:

  • Attract - Job Description
  • Build In - Basic Trainin
  • Connect - Check-in (how are you?)
  • Develop - Quarterly Training (focus on shared areas of development)
  • Encourage and Equip - Handwritten notes

Your team leader development system can and should be part of a church-wide development system called a leadership pipeline. To help you start work on a pipeline for your church, I’ve created a FREE resource entitled, “What Is A Leadership Pipeline.” When you’re done working through it, you’ll discover the three things you need to build the pipeline your church needs, and I’ll give you an action plan to get started.

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