Ever had almost the exact same conversation with three different people? I have. In the last couple of months I’ve had three different pastors tell me the same thing: “If I weren’t on staff at my church, I don’t think it’s a church I’d attend.”
I’d like to say I’ve never been there, but that’s just not the case. I became a Christ-follower at age 15, and felt like God was calling me to be a pastor when I was 17. Immediately following High School I started working at my first church as an intern. Within a few months I knew this is something I wanted to do with my life, so I started looking for a church who would allow me to serve in a pastoral role. I was willing to work at almost any church who would would give me a shot. I got church jobs, but by the time I was 27 I had experienced the pains of such an approach. I had been on staff at 4 churches. Two of them were a great fit, two were not. The common denominator between the two where I was not a fit: neither was a church I would have attended if given the choice.
This common denominator broke down into three categories. 1) Style. I didn’t like the ministry style, the musical style, or even the teaching style of either church. 2) Theology. In one of the churches I discovered a pretty major theological disconnect. 3) Mission. In the other church I found that I had serious issues with the way the church went about it’s mission.
After leaving those churches I filed away my experiences under “stuff never to repeat.” I also realized these these three critical issues could be addressed before ever accepting a staff position.
Things were better until later in my 30s when I worked at a church where I didn’t fit the staff culture well. I agreed with the church’s theology and mission. I loved the style of the church, but something was off. I found myself in an environment where my boss tended to use a heavy-handed approach and negative pressure to push staff for results. He also wasn’t very open to new ideas or suggestions. Some people seemed to work well under his leadership…I did not.
So that was one more thing to add to the “stuff never to repeat” file: working where I don’t have chemistry.
Now that I’m in my 40s I’ve learned a little bit from my mistakes (so I’m on to all new ones). I suggest to anyone wanting to work at a church that you should answer 4 questions with a “yes” before having any serious conversations about employment:
1. Do I agree with this church’s theology?
2. Do I align with this church’s mission?
3. Do I truly like the ‘style’ of this church?
4. Do I feel a genuine sense of chemistry with the staff, especially my boss?
This will mean needing to ask a lot more questions during the interview process. It will also trim down the number of churches you apply to. It may make your interview and/or transition time a little longer, but if you do your homework, you could save yourself the heartache of working in a church where you would otherwise wind up being hurt and disillusioned.
Perhaps your wondering, “But what if I can’t answer ‘yes’ to all 4 questions, and I still sense that God is calling me there because the church in question should change?” Great question! If you’re considering a position at a potential church make it clear to them which questions you can’t answer ‘yes’ and why. Ask them if they are open to changing the things you’re concerned about. If you’re considering a senior leadership position at the church, don’t accept the job without up front agreement about what things should and will change. If you’re going to be a supporting staff member, don’t accept the position without knowing up front that the senior leaders agree with you regarding the things that should and will change. If you go into a situation determined to change a church that is just not going to budge, you’ll only divide the church and make yourself a ministry casualty.
The bottom line is that our spiritual enemy has painted targets all over those who lead Christ’s Church, and he loves making our lives miserable. When he’s successful in dragging us down we reach fewer people with the gospel. There’s no sense in contributing to the difficulties of your own work in vocational ministry. Ask the right questions before taking a church job because ministry is hard enough as it is.