One of the most dangerous things a pastor can do is to ignore their staff, mistreat them or allow for a less than healthy culture to develop at the staff level. One may get away with this for a period of time but ultimately it will often destroy everything that one has worked hard to build.

On one end of the spectrum are those pastors who simply take their staff for granted and do not intentionally pastor their own pastors. Staff notice when their leader pays attention to others but not to them and it is disempowering and discouraging. Further, it is dangerous to the senior leader because when push comes to shove it is staff who are closely connected to their leader who will support that leader. The more distant the relationship is the less likely it is that staff will stand by their leader when he really needs them.

Then there are leaders (and I have met my share of them) who either mistreat staff or allow toxic cultures to develop at the staff level. I have worked with churches where the senior pastor verbally mistreated staff, allowed their anger to erupt regularly, regularly interfered with staff responsibilities, fired staff without due process or good cause, marginalized those who disagreed with them and even got rid of staff whose (orthodox) theology did not agree with their own theological proclivities. 

And in case one were to think that this only happens in small churches, it does not. One can have churches in the thousands and still this happens at the staff level.

Obviously the behaviors I identified above are dysfunctional but unfortunately they are not rare. What often intrigues me is how long this dysfunctionality can be hidden from the congregation, which it often is as staff are reluctant to share their issues with the congregation at large - generally a good thing. 

However, there usually comes a breaking point where the dysfunction on staff does spill over to the congregation and when it does it can be very ugly. Because I often get called in the aftermath of such spillage I can attest to the pain it causes staff members and congregants. Often, the senior leaders involved lose their ministry in that church but unfortunately often go on to repeat the behaviors in another church and with another staff.

I have several suggestions for church leaders and senior pastors. First, if you are a senior pastor the most important responsibility you have is to ensure that you have a healthy board and healthy staff because you cannot have a healthy church without health at these two levels. That means that these two groups become one of your highest priorities. Talk of transformation is cheap if there is not transformation at these two levels.

Second, church leaders should have a way to monitor the health of the staff team. Whenever I have had to help clean up messes left by senior leaders the board should have known the issues but either chose not to pay attention to them or simply took the word of their senior leader that all was well. Trust but verify!

Third, if there is significant dysfunction at the staff level, get help for your staff and your senior leader. For the senior leader it may be coaching or training in the building of healthy and aligned teams. For the staff it will mean that you listen and help them move toward health. If you cannot do so with your senior leader then that must be addressed because you cannot have a healthy church without a healthy staff.

There is no greater irony than to talk of transformation when the core leaders of the church, your staff live in toxicity. It is wrong and it will eventually jeopardize the health of the church and the ability of the senior pastor to lead. Don't allow it to happen and if it is, deal with it seriously. The current implosion at Mars Hill in Seattle is a significant lesson in ignoring an unhealthy staff culture. No one gets a free pass on this issue!

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.
  • Sep 08, 2014
  • Category: News
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