Our Church Staff Culture was Terrible Until We Had This

If you have worked on a church staff for more than a minute, you’ve probably realized that a church staff is comprised of sinners.

Not that they are any worse than the regular ol’ sinners, mind you, but sinners all the same. When I’ve worked on church staff in the past, the best experiences all had the same thing in common just like the worst experiences did. There was a central factor that made a healthy church staff culture possible. The ones who had it, were great; the ones that didn’t, 2016 Presidential campaign.

We called it a staff covenant. It was a document that we all spoke into as a staff that described how we were going to work together, disagree, and win together. When we all agreed on what it described, we signed it, laminated it, and hung it in our offices. After that, it was on all of us to enforce it in order to create a healthy and pleasant working environment at the church. Do you want that too?

If you want to create a healthy church staff culture, yours needs to address the following issues:

A Healthy Church Culture Requires Clear Job Descriptions and an Org Chart of Authority

The reason I start with this is because without it, no organization functions properly. Trust me, without this element, it’s chaotic and dysfunctional. Without job descriptions, delegation cannot work, because if someone doesn’t want to do something they can just say “no,” even to their boss and that boss really can’t do anything about it. Healthy feedback also cannot take place nor can any policies be established. Without job descriptions everyone does everything so everyone is equal. Authority is immediately undermined.

This study of the effect landscaping had on children playing on a playground showed us that boundaries like a job description actually give freedom, not take it. Giving job descriptions creates a clear organizational hierarchy that, when respected, can actually unlock the potential of your team.

A Healthy Staff Culture Defines How to Handle Conflict

A good Biblical model for conflict management can be found in Matthew 18:15-17. Trust me, if you don’t decide the appropriate way to disagree among your staff, it’s going to be decided for you. Staff members will handle conflict how they see fit, which may be pretty unhealthy.

Also remember that the congregation is watching you for cues. Refusing to involve them in arguments between staff members is wise, just like bringing a third party into conflict that cannot seem to be resolved on its own. Deciding how you are going to collectively behave when things are frustrating can keep staff from chucking Samsung phones at each others’ cars.

A Healthy Staff Culture has a Safe System for Feedback

At Northpoint Church in Atlanta, GA, every employee has an evaluation with the senior pastor after 3 months from his/her hire date. One of the questions on the pre-evaluation questionnaire is “what do you see that can be improved that no one else seems to notice?” or something to that effect.

This creates a system of feedback so that senior staff who have learned to live with that mess in the corner can see it as a mess again. Feedback is a good thing and there is no need to fear it. Just decide how it is going to be given and received beforehand and you’re on the road to improvement!

Creating a system where the boss can hear feedback is healthy, but it also makes it easier to receive feedback from the boss for employees if they know he is willing to take it himself. Trust me, employees have opinions on just about everything and there’s a good chance that they see something important that the boss cannot or will not see. Like this. Can you see it?

Check out next Tuesday’s episode of The Seminary of Hard Knocks podcast for more on this with Wes Gay.

A Healthy Staff Culture Agrees on Public Behavior

If you have a staff member who is just a peach in person, but by night, regularly takes to social media to tear people down for whatever reason, then you’ve got a problem. They represent your church and can do real damage.

This is why churches should be very careful who they allow to create social media accounts in the church name and limit who can post to these accounts. Defining who your church is online, at PTA events, or at the grocery store doesn’t always “go without saying.” You never can tell what kind of crazy lives down deep inside of people. We’re sinners, remember?

A Healthy Staff Culture has a Commitment to Privacy

Let’s say for instance, you’re considering a change in your role at your church and you confide in one of your friends on staff. You expect them to pray for you, counsel you, and to respect your privacy. You should not expect them to go immediately to your supervisor and blab all about it.

What if you were just trying to sort out some feelings and weren’t quite sure what you wanted yet? Now you’re burned and forced into some decisions that you weren’t quite ready for yet. Thanks.

What if one a staff member begins to suffer from severe depression and needs to take a few weeks off? What if two staff members really blew up at each other in staff meeting today? Does anyone outside of the staff need to know about any of that? Absolutely not! We settle things in the cage down in the basement. Everybody knows that.

It’s not for secrecy’s sake that we keep these things private. We keep them private for the same reasons parents don’t tell their kids everything they argue about either. It’s because it’s WISE. Even old Honest Abe thought so.

Creating a healthy staff culture takes time, commitment, and sometimes diligent enforcement. However, if your staff will commit to creating a culture that they love working in, it only increases longevity of tenure and the ability to better work together to complete what God has put in front of you in your community.

What else would you put in a staff culture agreement? What has worked for your team? Let everyone know in the comments!

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Showing 6 comments
  • Deborah Ike

    Seth – Ah, job descriptions and org charts…you’re speaking my language here! 🙂 I love that stuff – not because I enjoy writing them, but because they can set people up to win by providing clear expectations.

    This one’s more for whomever handles personnel decisions, but I’d add quickly releasing a staff member who isn’t working out. Some pastors find it really hard to let a staff member go who isn’t getting the job done. The whole staff knows this person isn’t performing since they’re having to try and pick up the slack. It hurts team morale and it’s not good for that individual to stay in a role he/she isn’t best suited for. No one wins in that mess. Make the tough call, honor the person who’s leaving, and make sure he knows his church family is there for him.

    -Deborah

    • Seth Muse

      Deborah,

      That’s a good thought. Maybe the cultural understanding would be “a system for correction.” It’s a little like feedback, but with more detail.

      Sorry your staff has to pick up the slack from another. That’s never fun. Sometimes you have to have the tough conversation. I’ve had a lot of them (on both sides of the table)! Thanks for contributing!

  • Brandon Rodgers

    Appreciate the A Healthy Staff Culture Agrees on Public Behavior point. I think this is a clear and valid idea. I think that there are scenarios when the team should discuss and process through what is appropriate public behavior and what is not. Not everyone has to agree, but a consensus is necessary. For example, our team has a pretty diverse age range. What an older generation would find inappropriate is not necessarily what a younger one would. So finding common ground and committing to that common ground will bring about unity. I could be in the language that someone uses. It could be on what is posted on social media. It could be about alcohol or purity/character issues. Creating these things, clearly communicating across the team, and then holding each other accountable to it with grace helps develop a stronger staff team.

    • Seth Muse

      So true, Brandon! It’s nice to know how you could jeopardize your job before you mistakenly did it! A while back, I wanted to go see The Matrix (I know, this dates me a bit), but my boss at the church I worked at told me that staff weren’t allowed to go see rated R movies. I thought that was a little invasive, but I understood it. Would have been nice to know before inviting everyone to come with, though. Then we rented out a whole theater to take JH/HS students to see the Passion of the Christ, also rated R. So, that was a confusing time.

  • Brian Mann

    Great article Seth. Agree 100%.

    • Seth Muse

      Thanks, Brian! Do you have an agreed-upon staff culture at your church?

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