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Who should select the church staff?

Thom Rainer headshot

It is both a question and a frustration.

The question is often stated as the title of this post: Who should select the church staff?

The frustration takes place when different parties feel left out of the process. Sometimes it’s the pastor who is frustrated. Sometimes it’s a committee. Sometimes it’s the entire congregation.

After working with churches for over thirty years, I have seen these issues become points of unity, and I have seen these become points of divisiveness. As a consequence, I have developed the following guidelines. In some cases, polity determines the selection and hiring of staff, so there will obviously be exceptions.

  1. If the pastor has no say in the selection of staff, the church is asking for problems. Particularly with direct reports, the pastor will be working with these people day by day. If pastors feel they are left out of the process, tensions could naturally be the consequence. There are very few organizations anywhere other than some churches that hire direct reports for a supervisor without the supervisor’s input. It’s just not wise.
  2. If pastors do have unilateral authority, they still should seek input from others. I have been in situations where I had complete freedom to hire someone without consulting others. One of my most difficult hires took place when I did not seek counsel. I learned a painful lesson. Even if pastors can hire without the approval of others, it is good for these leaders to listen to others.
  3. Congregational votes for staff can be problematic. Pastors should do a thorough work to prepare for that vote. No, I am not a fan of congregational votes for staff members other than the pastor. Most of the members do not have nearly the knowledge of the prospective staff member as those making the recommendation, whether it’s a pastor or a committee. Sometimes the process can become a popularity contest. Sometimes members in the church are mad because their cousin was not chosen. If a congregational vote is mandated by polity or bylaws, the pastor should be fully prepared to answer any or all questions about the candidate before the vote takes place.
  4. Search firms can be helpful to the process. Over the years, I have come to appreciate the role of search firms more and more. Most of them go through the process exceedingly well. There are two common objections to retaining search firms. The first is that it’s the church’s role to hire staff. I totally agree! Search firms do not choose the staff person. They provide candidates for the church or pastor to decide. The second objection is that search firms cost too much. If the search firm helps the church find the right candidate, it is a bargain. If the church gets the wrong staff person without a search firm, the cost is much greater to replace him or her.

These are some of the thoughts I provide churches looking for staff members, especially those who will work directly with the pastor. I would love to hear your perspective on this issue. What does your church do? Does it work well?

Originally posted at

Thom S. Rainer is the founder and CEO of Church Answers, an online community and resource for church leaders. Prior to founding Church Answers, Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.

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