The practice of hiring staff from within one’s own church is becoming more common. This step has both positive and negative potential outcomes, so various considerations need to be pondered before such steps are taken. There are many variables, so let’s begin.
First let’s talk about when a layperson is considered for an associate position. There are many upsides to this choice. Likely if a person is considered at all they are highly esteemed among their church family. Their gifting and weaknesses have been recognized and are widely known to a level that is beyond what one would have on an outside candidate. These individuals know the church, are established in relationships, are familiar with the church structures, and can relate to the church culture and history. An added bonus is that there are no relocation costs to consider. These considerations are often very helpful pieces and such candidates are good possibilities, especially for part time roles.
So what are some of the possible downsides to this choice? I think the key challenge these individuals face is in the sociological transition of the role change. There is an adjustment from being ‘just one of the gang’ to now being a ‘pastor’. Often this is more of an adjustment than the individual expects. The relationship with the individual’s supervisor, often the senior pastor, may need to switch from a cordial friendship to one of accountability with expectations. At some point the reality of the switch can bring some friction. Also an associate role usually involves some level of administration and leadership and former friends can react with an attitude of ‘who made you a ruler over us?’ The transition from being a friend and colleague to being an administrator needing to coordinate volunteers can deeply affect one’s former relationships. There can be jealousies faced which a new person from the outside would never have experienced.
Another potential downfall is if anything goes sideways with the hired individual. This might be through an annual review, a corrective by a board member or pastor, or a personal disagreement with the church’s direction. The individual’s pre-established connections within the church leaves greater vulnerability to gossip. Unofficially there may be more of a loyalty to friends with less loyalty to the board chair or senior pastor. Some other disgruntled layperson might also attempt to use the former relationship with the individual to gain inroads as a way to disrupt a current decision or direction of the church. If the relationship with such a hire goes sideways, do they leave the role and return as before, back into the fabric of the church family as an average layperson? Not likely. Do they then have to leave or would they likely leave? If they feel they have to leave, what is to be the response of those supportive of the individual?
I have seen many of these scenarios work out wonderfully well, but because of the relational aspects already at play within the church there needs to be some serious conversation about expectations and possible outcomes.
May God guide us all as we seek to recognize leaders and effectively position them to help equip the church for works of service to the King of Kings!