Free Agency and Church Staff!
I am an unabashed fan of the NFL. Since the day that the Mayflower trucks rolled out of the ingrate city of Baltimore (yeah, I said it!) to the current day I have been a Colts fan. When we lived outside of the state of Indiana and the Colts weren’t particularly good I would often frequent sports bars so I could catch the game. Then in year 5 of my absence from the greatest state in the world, came this new fangled thing called NFL Sunday Ticket (insert hallelujah chorus)! I was now able to watch my team play each and every week, albeit with terrible announcers because quite frankly the Colts were fairly terrible.
So, when the NFL season is over, like all rabid fans, I begin to wonder what my beloved Colts will do during the off-season. Today, March 10th, is the official beginning of what is called Free Agency, I’ll explain that knowing that some people reading this post have no idea to which I am referring to. Free Agency is when veteran players contracts with their current team are up, they become a ‘free agent’, in essence they are now free to sign with whatever team will pay them the money they want. Some teams (I’m looking at you Oakland) are typically overspending on players that are flashy and fancy, and they never quite work out. Each and every year teams are lauded for making the ‘bold move’, for signing the ‘difference maker’, for catching the one person who could make them Super Bowl contenders. The problem is, it RARELY works out that way. Michael Schottey of Bleacher Report wrote a fantastic article yesterday that chronicled the teams that ‘won’ free agency the last several years and balanced that against their resulting record. Suffice to say, it isn’t pretty (Winning Free Agency Hardly Equates To Winning Games).
Now, you might be wondering, “What in the world does this have to do with the church?”…well I’m so glad you asked! For years and years the American church has been participating in it’s own brand of free agency. One church signs another churches ‘star’ player and plugs them into their programs expecting blazing results and championship caliber play. What happens more often than not is terrible friction, mediocre results, and an overall discomfort for the whole team. If the senior leader is worth his salt then he can usually rectify the situation but it takes precious time and valuable energy to do so and it ends up being the church and the other staff who pays the price. I’m not saying that it is never worth it to bring someone in from the outside, but you had better make sure it’s the right person you’re bringing in. Otherwise, you will at best move sideways for a while and at worst your ministry may regress.
Many years ago I heard Rick Warren, pastor/founder of Saddleback Valley Community Church, say something like this, “Building your staff from within is always preferred when possible.” That statement has resonated with me over the years and as I have thought about it more and more, it just makes sense! The people in your church are already passionate about what you are doing. They get your vision, they hear you talk each and every week, they are already known commodities. You may be thinking about the ‘professional training’ that outside ‘free agents’ may have, and there is some truth to that. But if I’ve learned anything about hiring staff over the last 20 years it’s this, you can teach people the ins and outs of ministry, but you can’t teach passion, you can’t force them to get the vision, and you can’t know someone you’ve never worked alongside of.
Of the 5 additional full/part time staff we have at Friendship all but one of them are homegrown. This doesn’t mean that we will never hire from outside, in fact at some points you’ll need to, but I will say that when you hire from the inside the learning curve is much less steep and the failure rate is infinitesimal in comparison.
I thank God almost daily for the staff he has allowed us to assemble at Friendship. They make what I do easier and a whole lot more fun. Pastors, your staff can either make you or break you, make sure you choose wisely!
I’d love to hear back from you on this, even if you are not hiring in the ‘church’ world. What has been your experience with this?