Staffing issues constantly appear on church board agendas. Whether these staff positions are filled by volunteers or paid employees does not matter. For most board members discussing questions about staff presents difficulties because these individuals may be close friends, even relatives. As well our Christian ethics require us to love one another and be kind and forgiving, which often seem to be at odds with the kinds of decisions boards are required to make regarding staff (e.g. performance evaluations, dismissal, salary and benefits, standards of effectiveness, etc.). However, apart from facilities staff support forms the largest portion of most church budgets. Immense resources are spent by congregations to hire, support, and care for staff. Church boards, despite the challenges, cannot ignore this aspect of their leadership responsibilities and need to exercise governance leadership in this area effectively.
There is a positive side to staff questions as well which we often overlook. If as I believe the primary responsibility church boards is to care for the congregation, then caring for the staff forms part of the board mandate. The congregation invests significantly in the life of staff and church boards oversee that investment. They enable and encourage staff to fill out their calling as effectively as possible in an ethos that is supportive, willing to risk and innovate, but also strives for excellence.
Most of my ministry work has occurred in the context of the seminary world. In that context we acknowledge the important contribution of a president and his or her administration, the board and the donors to the accomplishment of a seminary’s mission. Yet, the actual accomplishment of the mission depends fundamentally upon the effectiveness of the faculty. Similarly within a congregational setting the board and church membership play significant parts in mission advancement, but they depend upon the staff to help them implement and accomplish the vision. In a certain sense staff become a primary means by which the congregation is led to achieve its outcomes. They resource the congregation in terms of planning, training, organizing, and modelling what needs to be done. They show the way so that the congregation can follow. They catalyze and motivate. And at the end of the day help us all celebrate God’s goodness.
What role, however, should a church board and the chairperson play in overseeing the church staff? How does a church board lead by governing effectively in this area without managing it all? The place to start, I would suggest, is by developing a clear understanding about this within the board, i.e. developing a policy regarding board-staff relationships. Remember that the church board includes the lead pastor and so this discussion does not proceed in isolation from the lead pastor. Some questions that might assist the board to clarify its responsibility would include:
i. Must the church board approve the establishment of every position?
ii. Should the church board vet and approve all personnel position descriptions, including qualifications?
iii. For what positions should the church board be responsible formally to make the hire, i.e. formally interview the prospective staff person?
iv. What role does the church board play in determining salaries and benefits and other employee policies?
v. Should the church board formally approve the Employment Policy Manual?
vi. Who has the authority to dismiss an employee and for what cause?
vii. Must all employees have an annual performance evaluation? Who does it entail and how do the results get reported to the church board? What happens when a performance evaluation indicates change is required?
viii. What role does the church board play in determining the organizational structure within which the staff function? Who determines accountability relationships?
ix. Who develops the plan for additional staff and who determines when such positions will be established and filled?
I am sure other questions will need to be asked, but these should stimulate considerable discussion. As the board members discern good answers, these responses can become the basis for a church board policy on board-staff relations. Establishing policy regarding staffing issues is essential if the church board is to respond consistently and responsibly when such matters arise. Without such policy every decision becomes adhoc and your personnel have no sense of how the board will respond when staffing issues arise. As your board develops more experience in this matters you policy guidelines also will change and improve.
One of the key decisions your board will need to make is whether to establish a “personnel committee” as one of the board’s standing committees. For larger churches especially such a board committee will be essential for managing the continual flow of issues and the annual personnel matters that your board will have to consider (e.g. annual salary adjustments, changes to benefits, recommendations re salary grid, oversight of performance evaluations, etc.).
The next several blog articles will consider various aspects of the church board — staff relationship.