216. Personnel Committees, Church Boards and Chairpersons

In the experience of many church board members the annual discussion about salary and benefit provisions generates one of the more difficult and contentious decisions. Board members struggle to discern principles to use to establish a fair salary, as well as define appropriate annual increases. What comparisons do you use? What variables should be factored into the decision? The Personnel Committee of a church board can manage much of this process for the board members and free the board to focus upon the bigger, more pressing questions of pastor and staff care.

When congregations grow to the point where they have multiple staff (more than two or three employees), a church board would do well to establish a Personnel Committee as one of its standing committees. Not everyone would agree, but in the context of my church board experience such a committee enables the board to manage the board-staff relationship well. With two of the board members assigned particular responsibility to discern staff/employee issues and bring forward recommendations to the board for possible resolution, the church board can have some assurance that this important area of board work is being overseen well. Without such a committee the whole board carries the responsibility and that general means that it has no champion — apart from the pastor. When the pastor has to be the voice of employees advocating for remedies, it places the pastor in a conflict of interest.

BoardnetUSA offers the following definition of a personnel committee appointed by a non-profit board:

The functions of the Personnel Committee include drafting and/or revising personnel policies for board approval, reviewing job descriptions, establishing a salary structure, and annually reviewing staff salaries, and reviewing the benefits package. In some organizations the board’s Personnel Committee also acts as a grievance board for employee complaints. Because difficulties can arise if many less serious complaints are brought directly to the board rather than to the staff person’s supervisor, it is preferable for the personnel committee to act only on formal written grievances against the executive director or when an employee formally appeals a decision by the executive director to the board.

Within religious congregations board members tend to assume that employees who are Christians will exemplify Christian values as they fulfill their responsibilities and interact with clients and other staff. However, this is not always the case. As the number of staff employed by a congregation grows, the complexity of managing the employee relations similarly increases. Church boards normally presume that the lead pastor will give employee relations oversight. However, often lead pastors have little training in human resources and themselves need help in developing good leadership and management skills. I hope that does not sound too harsh, but that is my experience.

Church boards can demonstrate care and concern for employees by establishing a Personnel Committee as a  standing committee. The board should define carefully its mandate as a board committee, reporting to the board and acting in some instances on behalf of the board. It advises the lead pastor with respect to human resource issues. It will ensure that the employment policy manual is up-to-date and where new human resource policies are required will work with the lead pastor to bring recommendations to the board.

This committee should assist the board in developing salary scales and benefit packages that are fair and reflect the cost of living in the congregation’s location. When it comes to the annual performance evaluation, the board can delegate to this committee the assessment process, with the expectation that a report will be presented to the board in a timely fashion. The board, of course, must define policy with respect to the lead pastor’s performance evaluation.

The Personnel Committee can also advise the lead pastor in the appointment of staff, but it should be careful not to assume this responsibility. It is advisable to have the committee meeting with the harassment officer appointed by the board. In smaller congregations the harassment officer may in fact be a member of this committee. The committee can also serve to mediate other grievances which may arise from time-to-time.

A board Personnel Committee can also be charged with keeping the board informed about changes to provincial/state labour law changes. This ensures that the non-profit operates in full compliance with relevant labour codes. In Canada the Canadian Council of Christian Charities provides significant help in such matters.

A church board chairperson works with such a committee to ensure that human resource issues that come to the board table are passed to this committee for research, review and possible recommendation. The mandate of the Personnel Committee should be reviewed at least once every two years to ensure that it is up-to-date.

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