Spiritualized Dysfunction

spirtualized-dysThere are a multitude of them. So many that I think I could probably fill an entire book. They can be surprisingly creative or downright crazy. What are they? All the remarkably strange, yet somehow spiritual sounding, excuses I’ve heard for chaos and dysfunction within a variety of Christian organizations:

“Oh, we’re all workaholics. God expects us to work hard. We’re so dedicated that we just can’t go home until we drop!”

“We never know what we’re doing when we launch a new ministry. We fly by the seat of our pants and trust God will work it out. So far, He always has!”

“People had to work around the clock because our pastor decided to switch around that event at the last minute. It was total chaos, but the people who came were blessed. That’s all that matters to God, right?”

“We like to keep things loose. If we get too organized, we’ll lose the creative flow of the Holy Spirit.”

“Yeah, it would probably be a lot easier to do our jobs with better communication, but our leaders are so busy doing the things God has really called them to. We understand why they can’t take the time to fill us in.”

“It’s always crazy like this. We never have enough staff or resources, but somehow, God gives us the strength to keep going. After all, He expects us to press on and meet the needs.”

“You know, there is so much spiritual warfare that we can’t seem to get on top of things. We’d be much more effective if we weren’t always dealing with such opposition.”

“It’s our duty to protect that staff member because of their anointing. They cause lots of problems and get away with things no one else can, but they’re so gifted that we can’t function without them.”

And on and on and on it goes.  As Christians, it seems our ability to spiritualize (and therefore legitimize) our dysfunction is uncanny. It would almost be funny if it didn’t have such a profoundly negative impact on our organizations, our staff, the people we serve, and most significantly, on our witness to the world around us.

Of course, there is some legitimacy to some of these statements some of the time. Some of these things, some of the time, really can’t be avoided, and sometimes they represent the right and necessary way to go about things.


But if most (or even a few) of these statements are true for your organization most of the time—or even a lot of the time—you may be veering into something that is not okay. Something that is not normal, not efficient, not good stewardship, and, most likely, not of God.

Is it possible that any of these statements are representative of cultural norms within your organization? Or maybe there are others, not specifically mentioned, that you immediately thought of when you read the list. Since these dysfunctional behaviors are established over time through agreement, the only way to tear them down is also through agreement. Those with authority within the organization need to break their agreement with the dysfunctional patterns and come into agreement with the truth of God’s Word on these matters. It is always truth that sets us free.

It is impossible to cover this topic appropriately in the context of a brief blog post, but I am highlighting it in this abbreviated format to bring awareness to the fact that it does exist and many of the not-so-excellent organizational behaviors that plague many churches and ministries can be at least partially rooted in the fact that we are engaged in a spiritual battle. While there are always many practical tools and principles to consider, the most important thing you can do on an ongoing basis is to pray for, and especially with, your staff. When you do, make those prayers count. Model transparency. Address real issues. Be willing stop tiptoeing around any elephants in the room and lay it all out before God. Search for Scriptures and promises that address the organization’s particular needs and situations and craft them into prayers you can declare together with your staff.

Perhaps most important of all, ask your staff to pray for you. Ask them to pray specifically that you will have the wisdom and grace to become (and remain) above reproach as an employer and that you will be absolutely committed to excellence in every area of your employment practices.

Because Jesus—and your staff—are worth your very best.

This post is an edited excerpt from Chapter 4: “Spiritualized Dysfunction” from my book HR Matters.  Click HERE to get your copy today!

Church or Business?

church-or-businessThroughout 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.

Excellence, Not Perfection

Here is another brief excerpt from the first chapter of HR Matters that continues on with the theme of what it means to be “above reproach” as an employer:

Publication3To meet any goal, the goal itself needs to be clearly understood and defined. In light of this, what do we really mean when we use the expression “above reproach”? By definition, being above reproach means to be perfect and blameless. No one other that Jesus ever lived a life that was perfect and blameless, so certainly that can’t be the expectation for either our employees or ourselves! Instead, when considering 1 Timothy 3:1-13, I think what we are trying to say is that the expectation is for excellence of character—in both word and deed.

With this definition in mind, what does it mean to commit to excellence as an employer? As noted earlier, at a minimum, it must include a commitment to discovering and complying with the regulations and laws relevant to your organization (see Romans 13:1-7 for one example of our biblical mandate in this regard), but that is only the beginning. The dictionary defines excellence as “the quality of being outstanding or extremely good.”  Considering this definition, meeting the letter of the law does not even begin to demonstrate excellence since you are merely doing what is fundamentally required. Instead, for the Christian employer, I believe excellence is an inside job that begins when the leadership of an organization consciously regards all of its practices—not just the ones that are directly specific to your mission or finances—as being “unto the Lord.”

This would include:

  • Your hiring decisions
  • Your compensation practices
  • Your policies and procedures
  • The way you treat your staff
  • The way you practice what you preach
  • The openness and honesty of your communication
  • The way you consistently apply standards

Jesus doesn’t expect perfection from us as His followers, and He doesn’t expect it from us as employers. He understands our fallibility and weaknesses. He knows we’re not capable of perfection. But He does desire our best because that is what excellence looks like.

I believe that’s what your staff is looking for as well. They don’t expect perfection, but they do want to see a genuine effort demonstrated toward excellence. For most employees, this translates as consistency between your organization’s stated values and your actions—especially actions that affect their employment.

Again, no one does this perfectly. Most employees are capable of extending tons of grace if you display ownership, honesty, and humility when mistakes and inconsistencies inevitably occur. On the flip side, if you turn a blind eye toward the fact that inconsistencies are occurring (and believe me, they occur everywhere), your employees are not likely to be so gracious on an ongoing basis. While they may choose to continue forgiving even if things are never acknowledged or recognized, most won’t continue to subject themselves to an unhealthy environment indefinitely (nor should they!). When there is an ongoing failure to recognize and acknowledge where improvement is needed, it negatively impacts your staff and diminishes the overall witness and effectiveness of your organization. Even worse, it can keep your organization from fulfilling its highest potential.

The simple truth is that being above reproach as an employer—or even more accurately, demonstrating excellence—is an intentional choice. You will not wander into it by chance. You will never “find the time” to figure it out. You need to make the time and commit to investing in the process. It is not likely to happen unless you are willing to see and take ownership for the mixed messages some of your current practices may be sending to your staff and those in your sphere of influence. I believe this anonymous quote sums it up well:

Excellence is never accidental; it is the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, skillful execution, and the wisdom to see obstacles as opportunities.

There are easier paths, but if you are committed to excellence before God in all areas—including your employment practices—then allow the challenges to become opportunities that compel you to press on for His highest. Press on, and keep pressing on, until you can say in your heart that you know that you know—you are above reproach as an employer!


The whole first chapter of HR Matters is available to read online using the free “previewer” on Amazon. You can also purchase the whole book (either paperback or kindle) here.

Starting out Right

Publication3Few things are bound to leave as lasting an impression on a new employee as their first day. The first day sets the tone for their overall experience as your employee. If things are chaotic and nothing is prepared for them, it is likely to send a message from the start that they are not valued or important to the organization.

Fortunately, the reverse is also true. If you do put a little time and energy into making your staff’s first day a good one, it is likely to have long-term dividends.

From chapter 8 of HR Matters (“Employee Experience and Retention”), here are some very simple things you can do to help your staff start out on the right foot:

  1. Preparation. Make sure that the employee’s email is set up, that they have adequate work space, and that any necessary equipment is available (a computer set up with necessary programs, passwords, name badge, keys, etc.).
  2. Introduction. Have someone available to introduce them to the rest of staff and show them around. If you don’t have a formal orientation process, at a minimum, make sure they know where everything is located and how to operate basic office equipment, etc. You’d be surprised how often this is overlooked!
  3. Belonging. Any little trinkets (t-shirt, coffee mug, etc.) with the organization’s logo can go a long way in making a new person feel like they’re part of the team. This can be a relatively small investment with a big return (employees especially seem to like t-shirts).
  4. Scheduling. Discuss their first week’s schedule and let them know what the training process will involve.
  5. Communication. Go over your employee handbook, benefits (if applicable), and the organization’s most significant policies (if you don’t have a more formal orientation where these things are already discussed). Make sure they know how and when to turn in their timecard (if required), the timing of paydays, and other pertinent information.

In general, make them feel welcome. This is their first taste of what it will be like to work for your organization. If things go haywire and you’re not ready for them when they start, can this be overcome? Of course. However, it is a lot nicer when you start out on the right foot, so try to make their first day a good one!

One final thought: don’t forget your volunteers! Since most nonprofits and churches utilize a high number of volunteers—some of them in positions of significant responsibility—many of these things can, and should, also be applied to volunteers. If your volunteers are the lifeblood of your organization, honor them and appreciate them! Put some effort into assuring the right people are in the right spots. When they start in a new role, make sure things are organized and ready for them; make them feel welcome. It rarely hurts—and often helps tremendously—to go the extra mile. Take steps to ensure both staff and volunteers feel welcomed and valued from their first day forward.


The Book I Never (Ever) Planned to Write

I’ve been a human resources professional for over 25 years. I’ve also been a writer (of one sort or another) since I was a kid, so let’s just say it’s been a whole lot longer than 25 years! However, what I never thought I would be is a writer writing about human resources!

3dGod is full of surprises. This was one of them in my life. In retrospect, I suppose it was a natural fit–tying my business brain to my ministry heart in a way I had never envisioned. For the last fifteen years I have been providing HR services to the nonprofit community exclusively. To say that HR in churches and ministries is a little tricky is a bit of an understatement. It seems there is always a tension between fulfilling the organization’s external mission and honoring the organization’s internal responsibilities as an employer.

Somewhere along the way I realized I was particularly good at navigating that tension. Unfortunately, I also discovered that a lot of pastors and nonprofit leaders aren’t so great at it–in fact a great many of them aren’t even aware the tension exists. As a result, they often all but ignore the employer side of their responsibilities. Ignoring these issues not only puts the organization at risk for all kinds of potential liability, it also fails to create a healthy collaborative environment where people thrive and do their best work.

As representatives of Christ, churches and ministries should be the best of the best as employers. Sadly, that is not how the employees of most ministries describe their work environment. In fact, if anything, it is usually quite the opposite–dysfunction and burnout actually seem be much higher in ministry environments.

I believe most ministry leaders want to create a healthy work environment, but with limited time and resources, they simply don’t know how. To make it even more complicated, there are few relevant resources that address these issues from both a business and spiritual perspective. There is obviously more to this story, but in a nutshell, this disconnect is the reason the book HR Matters exists.

I hope and pray this book becomes a valuable resource for pastors and nonprofit leaders who really do want to honor their staff and demonstrate excellence as employers. I not only want to help them see the things they don’t currently see (things that are most likely  already hurting their ministry whether they realize it or not)–I also want to provide them with practical tips tools that will make the whole process seem a lot more doable.

HR Matters really do matter!  Excellence matters. Honoring people matters. Most of all honoring God matters. Jesus is worthy of our very best in every area…including the way we conduct ourselves as employers!