Throughout the years, I have had the privilege of knowing many extremely charismatic, gifted, and high energy pastors and leaders. These are the folks who can run circles around most people in the areas they are passionate about—whether it is reaching the lost, equipping the saints, caring for widows and orphans, or what have you. They have seemingly endless energy and compassion for the ones they feel called to serve, but those very same compassionate, effective leaders can be some of the most difficult and demanding “bosses” you may ever experience! Not only does their (tunnel) vision keep them from seeing the extent of the burdens they are placing on their staff but they also tend to have a difficult time knowing how or when to separate their roles of spiritual leader and employer.
Often I see leaders in these situations treating staff like “co-laborers” when they should be treating them like employees. For example, when it comes to wanting “buy in” and a high level of commitment, they assume all their employees are on the same page and that they can, and should, sacrifice anything and everything to get the job done. Noble as this may sound, it can get you into legal hot water when it comes to wage and hour laws and can also run afoul of at-will employment. Even if you manage to stay away from any legal liability, assuming staff should keep up with you may create expectations far beyond the job they are equipped and able to do—not to mention what they are actually being paid to do. When it comes to the number of hours being worked, whether or not they are compensated for extra time, and expectations for successful job performance, you need to ensure your expectations are in alignment with those allowed and advisable in your role as an employer and not those you may have for a co-laborer.
There are a multitude of other ways this scenario can play out, but it is mostly the result of expectations for sacrifice that go far beyond those that can, or should, be required of an employee. (To be fair, sometimes it is the other way around and staff want to volunteer to go above and beyond in ways that can expose you to legal trouble.) In general, it is good to keep in mind that paid staff always have certain rights as employees, and you always have certain obligations as an employer.
Other times, the confusion between being the church and being an employer moves in the opposite direction—treating staff just as employees when they should also be acknowledged and honored as brothers and sisters serving alongside you. While it is probably more common (and also has far more significant legal ramifications) to treat staff as co-laborers when they should be granted the rights and protections of an employee, it doesn’t mean there aren’t also serious repercussions when it goes the other way. There may be more legal ramifications if you miss an employee’s rights, but there are far more potentially negative spiritual ramifications if you fail to recognize and honor your staff as valued brothers and sisters who have an important role in the overall fulfillment of God’s plans for your organization.
Admittedly, the lines can be blurred and difficult to discern at times. There is definitely an art to knowing how and when to take the employer hat off and speak to a situation from the heart as a pastor, mentor, or spiritual leader, and when the more formal employer/employee boundaries need to be strictly maintained. In addition to taking into account the specifics of each situation, it is also helpful to know what motivates the specific employee involved (I’ll speak more to this in a future post). Even when you have solid guidelines and policies in place–which is always advisable–there are rarely any one-size-fits-all answers. But we do have a God who promises wisdom when we ask. Sometimes simply understanding the fact that there is a tension to navigate between the business and spiritual aspects of your organization can help you become more aware and discerning in your interactions with staff. That in and of itself is a huge step toward consistently keeping both the mission of the organization and the needs and rights of staff in mind in all situations.
The post above is a slightly edited excerpt from Chapter Two of HR Matters. Although I’ve only briefly touched on it in this excerpt, this issue of discerning when it is wise and appropriate for a church or ministry to function as a business, and when the focus should be on our responsibility as the Church, is an area of great confusion. Sadly, I have often seen the roles reversed with many ministries acting as a “business” when it comes to making financial decisions that are to their staff’s detriment, but then using scriptural principals to manipulate staff into “submission” to unpopular, unfair, and sometimes even illegal, decisions. This may sound like a harsh assessment, but I’ve personally witnessed this phenomena far too many times to believe it is an infrequent occurrence or limited to certain types of organizations. My desire it to bring it into the light so ministry leaders and pastors can begin to ask the right questions when it comes to making decisions that affect their staff, and, as a result, can begin to make decisions that are both informed and compassionate.