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Seven Principles of Recruiting the Right Staff to Your Ministry

All of us want to be growing our staff teams in size and quality. Why? In order to reach and impact more people for Christ.

But how and when do we choose just the right people to join our team?

Ask the Lord and others for wisdom. Do it prayerfully and carefully!

Because your staff can make you or break you, I wanted to share seven principles I hope will be of help to you as you grow your team.

Recruiting is Like Starting a Relationship

“Recruiting” may be too strong a word.

In military or athletic circles it means trying to strongly convince a young man or woman to enlist or accept their collegiate scholarship offer over others.

There should be no arm-twisting or guilting someone into coming on your staff.

No, it is more like starting and developing a relationship.

It is a voluntary two-way street in which both parties gradually get to know one another, and the mutual commitment grows.

The “Staff Recruiting Goals and Process” tool accompanying this article lists the five stages of the relationship: Acquaintance, Friendship, Courtship, Proposal, and lastly Wedding Planning!

Just like you will regret it if you skip any of these steps in your dating and marriage, so you will if you leave any out during the staff selection process.

Don’t Ever Select Someone Too Early

Speaking of dating, you certainly would never think of asking someone to marry you on the very first date. That would totally scare them off—and it should!

It makes us appear desperate, and it dishonors them too. It makes them feel like we would take anyone.

No one wants to join a club or team that has no qualifications or standards.

Whether it’s a sorority, summer missions team, or joining the staff of a Christian ministry, all of us want to feel special, wanted, that we were “chosen” for a reason because we have something very valuable to contribute.

Thus, you need to help build a “privilege mentality” about joining your staff.

Not like the old U.S. Army commercials where they were trying to entice everyone to sign up by showing exotic locations, saying, “Come see the world!”

No, advertise more like the Marines: “We’re looking for a few good men.”

Yes, be kind and inclusive to everyone, but very picky when selecting your staff.

It’s been said, “The best time to fire someone is before you ever hire them.”

Ask Lots of Questions

As you get to know this prospective staffer, spend multiple sessions quizzing them in all kinds of areas.

What about their growing up years, their family, their hopes, dreams, vision for their life, ministry, future; their strengths, weaknesses, gifts, beliefs, values; their successes and failures?

Find out about their education, hobbies, extracurricular activities, and social media.

What does their pastor, parent, spouse, or fiancé think about them going into full-time ministry?

And if support raising is part of the package, what is their experience, perception, and attitude about that?

Ask about their track record in relationships, ministry, employment, and church involvement.

If their ministry role involves building friendships, sharing the gospel, and making disciples, have they actually done that effectively?

The only real way you can have some assurance of their success in future ministry is if they have done it in their past.

Make sure you involve others in the process.

Don’t be the Lone Ranger in getting to know and evaluating this potential staffer.

Get him/her around other veteran staff who can ask lots of good questions, see what the chemistry is like, and give you honest feedback as to whether they think this candidate has what it takes to raise their support successfully and fulfill their ministry assignment.

Interview friends, coworkers, former bosses, Bible study leaders, etc. to get the full 360 degree view of the person you are thinking about hiring.

Remember Proverbs 15:22. “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed.”

Make Sure They have Multiple Options

One of the questions I ask early on is a simple one: “Besides the possibility of coming on staff with our ministry, what are your other options?”

If they shrug their shoulders and say, “I dunno. None really. Just thought I would work with you guys,” that doesn’t impress me too much.

The kind of staff you want are ones that do have other (good) options, and are evaluating you just as thoroughly as you are evaluating them!

We had one guy who was going to be drafted (and paid big bucks) by an NFL football team.

He told them not to even waste their draft choice because he was going on staff with our campus ministry and raising his entire support.

I know for a fact that young man walked onto campus with a sense of authority and destiny, knowing what he gave up to be ministering to those students!

That’s why I want to make sure they are asking us questions too.

I want them to be interviewing me just as much as I am them.

And if they don’t have any questions, I send them home with an assignment—next time we meet I want you to have at least five (tough!) questions to ask me about our organization/ministry/goals, etc.

And if they don’t have other options besides coming on our staff? Another assignment I will give them is to find some!

I occasionally have lined up job interviews for them with buddies of mine who own companies and where this prospective staffer could earn two to three times what they would have to raise/live on with our organization.

Why would I do that? Because ultimately I want them to say “No” to other really good options in order to say “Yes” to us—believing it is God’s very best for them.

The Goal is to Help Match Them with the Right Organization

You’re not just trying to see how many warm bodies you can add to the staff roster.

You want to do what is best for the organization, but also for the person you are interviewing.

They will quickly sense whether you are just blindly giving the “party line” (i.e. listing all the great reasons someone should come with your organization) or whether you truly have their best interests at heart.

So take a personal interest in their options, even letting them know if you think they would do well at another job or ministry opportunity.

This is why you want to keep your language positive, but neutral.

“Kurt, it sure seems to me you’re going to be a great asset to some ministry. Whether it is us or not only the Lord knows, but let’s have some fun exploring together whether this ministry opportunity would be the best fit for you, and for us. Okay?”

At a later date, if you really feel this way, you might add: “As much as we would be thrilled to have you on our staff, Natalie, our ultimate goal is to find what God’s will is for you. Let’s ask Him to help us discover that.”

Believe it or not, this approach actually draws people to you and your staff even more.

Why? Deep down each staff candidate doesn’t want to be run through some “one size fits all” robotic staff application process, in which everyone gets accepted, and they are simply “Staff Candidate #3268.”

No! They want a caring and customized staff application/decision process, with high quality staff leaders working hand in hand with them to help them find the right fit in ministry and life.

You Must Get the Right People on the Bus

In his classic business book Good to Great, Jim Collins encourages executives to make sure they hire the right people.

His premise is if you can get the right people on the right bus heading in the right direction, you will be in great shape.

Which specific seat they sit in on the bus is totally secondary. Because once they are on the team their role will grow or change depending upon their abilities or opportunities.

So before you start discussing specific job titles/descriptions, have frank conversations about whether you truly share the same vision with that person, and also evaluate whether there is good relational chemistry.

This VCR (Vision, Chemistry, Role) approach is included in the accompanying tool as well.

Take a good look at the students you are working with today. Those are going to be your staff tomorrow.

The leadership qualities of your students determine the leadership qualities of your staff.

Author John Maxwell shares about the “Law of the Lid” in his book 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.

He says each of us have a leadership number we possess that determines how we will relate to others.

If my current Lid number is 8, I am probably only going to be able to attract and feel comfortable leading 5s, 6s, and 7s.

If I bring someone on my staff that is a 6, they will probably only have 3s, 4s, and 5s following them.

And if you or I bring enough of these lower lid folks on our staff, we are going to have a very difficult time launching and multiplying significant ministry movements.

Saturate Everything in Prayer

Yes, the Lord wants us to use the brain He gave us, but He also told us in James to ask Him, by faith, for wisdom.

If we reach out to Him in total dependence, He will give us spiritual discernment, self-awareness, guidance, and promptings from the Holy Spirit.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who labor, labor in vain,” Psalm 127:1.

I pray that Scripture almost every day, especially before I am talking with people about joining our staff.

“Oh Lord, please give me sensitivity and self control. Do not let me jump the gun by prematurely trying to convince this person to join our staff. And don’t let me lead them on to think we definitely want them when I haven’t really done my due diligence or gotten a word from you, God.”

And even more importantly, pray for each of the potential staff candidates you’re getting to know and making decisions about.

“Father, speak to the heart of this person. Burden them as to what You (not I!) want them to do with their life. Cause them to desire and pursue that vision more than anything else in the world. Help me to listen closely to all the verbal and nonverbal communication they are sharing. Whether they come on our staff or not, oh God, let me ask just the right questions to help set them on the path You have for them.”

Your Turn

What are some good questions to ask as you are interviewing someone to see if they might have some of the qualities you are looking for in a staff person? Share them below. Thanks!

  • Belkis Lehmann

    We have a very clear and defined process for staff addition. One question we ask at the start, the middle, and the end is “why do you want to join this team?” We feel like you cannot ask this enough. Since our process takes a couple of months we figure people’s answers will change and adapt throughout and we want to hear the updates as they arise.