179. Chairpersons, Church Boards and Staffing: Governance and Hiring

I introduced this subject “Chairpersons, Church Boards and Staffing” in blog-article #178. In this segment of the discussion I want to consider specifically the relationship between governance and hiring in a non-profit charity and more specifically, a church entity. Operationally the question for a church board becomes this: what voice should and does a church board have in hiring staff?

If governance in a congregational context is primarily focused upon advancing the mission, what relationship does hiring staff have to advancing the mission? In my view ministry personnel are a key means through which the mission and vision of the congregation are implemented. If a church board seeks to advance the mission and vision, then it must ensure that adequate means are available to do this. Staff form the most important means, alongside programs/products, finances, and facilities, and so deserve the attention of the church board.

But how does a church board manage its appropriate governing role in this sphere of hiring personnel? The place to start has to be the development of policy relating to hiring personnel. Governing involves establishing policy. This is the church board’s mandate. Such policy will define how hiring occurs, who does it, and when it is done, If your church board does not have such a policy, then as chair it would helpful in the next six months to schedule in the board agenda a discussion about governance and hiring practices. It may not be a pressing issue at this time, but inevitably it will become an issue. Part of this discussion will include a review of the church bylaws which pertain to hiring personnel. For example, most congregational bylaws have something to say about how the senior pastor is selected, appointed and dismissed. Reviewing these principles will in itself form a good foundation for such a discussion.

Your discussion about policy should clarify the role of the congregation in these processes and how the church board interacts with the congregation in these matters, providing appropriate leadership. Often the process will include establishing a search committee and your policy should describe how this committee is appointed, its composition, its accountability and its mandate. Include some statement about its use of financial resources to complete its work well. Also define when its work is done. Another important question is who approves the position description, including the definition of qualifications. An additional controversial area will be establishing salary and benefits and policy regarding relocation expenses. You would also be advised to encourage the church board to include some guidelines regarding financial support for housing arrangements, even if it is a simple statement that the congregation does not provide such funding.

Once your church board has reached clarity about the process for selecting, appointing and dismissing the lead pastor, then it can proceed to discuss other positions. But this begs the question as to which positions to develop and staff. In other words a church board has to give attention to the issue of organizational structure. This becomes particularly significant as a church grows and begins to add personnel to oversee and lead emerging ministries and other congregational needs. This will create a learning curve both for the lead pastor and for the board members.

Once the number of personnel reaches three full or part-time employees a church board is well-advised to create a standing committee to oversee on behalf of the board and advise the board regarding personnel matters. The mandate of this committee would be clearly defined and pertain to working with the lead pastor to ensure that all employees are treated fairly, supported well, and enabled to advance professionally in their vocation. As well this committee would oversee performance evaluations, bring forward recommendations for annual salary adjustments, and ensure that the employee policy manual is developed and up-to-date. This committee can also discuss organizational development with the lead pastor and propose adjustments to the board. If the vision is to move forward, personnel planning and organizational development become critical components in this strategy.



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