Admin Staff & Mission Ownership

Most of us expect our clergy staff to demonstrate a strong sense of commitment to the mission of the congregation. We use the language of “called, not hired” to describe the over the top commitment we seek. We also expect our non-ordained program staff to embrace the mission of the congregation.  Most program staff are members of their congregations, and consequently are called upon to demonstrate some passion for the congregation’s purpose and identity. 

What kind of expectations do we carry about missional ownership among our administrative support staff? Many congregations are very intentional about not hiring church members to serve in administrative support roles. They believe that the relationship is neater and cleaner if the people serving the church administratively have a pure employment relationship with the congregation. That way it will be easier to fire people that aren’t working out (or so we tell ourselves). That way it’s always possible to determine which part of time spent on church activity is paid activity versus volunteer work. That way it’s easier to prevent members from knowing things that could get dicey, like the giving patterns of other members. That way we can keep relationships with administrative staff purely professional and avoid the unpleasant triangulation that can occur when staff wears employment and membership hats simultaneously.  

Unfortunately, an unintended consequence of separating the employment and membership relationship is that our administrative staff often fails to embrace the mission of the congregation. When working with staff teams I frequently ask members of the team to evaluate the extent to which the following statements describe their team:

  • As a staff, we have a compelling vision of the future for the church, and our place in that future.
  •  We have a clearly defined and well communicated statement of purpose as a staff team.

I am surprised by the frequency of negative responses that administrative staff members provide in response to these two statements. Administrative staff will often tell me that they don’t think the mission of the congregation, or the staff team, has anything to do with them. After all, they are employees, not members. They believe that missional commitment is something that belongs to the clergy and program staff, not to them. Their job is simply to keep the members of the congregation happy.

Is this really the mindset that we want to promote among our administrative staff members? I can appreciate that our employees who are not members will have less of an attachment to the mission of the congregation. But can they ever really remain detached from the mission and still be effective employees? Doesn’t an administrative staff member need to embrace the mission of the congregation on some very basic level in order to serve as a member of the team? Have we gone overboard in trying to protect ourselves from the potential downsides of combining membership and employment?

I believe that every member of the staff team should have an awareness of the congregations’ mission and strategic direction. They should be able to articulate an ownership of that mission in a way that feels genuine to them personally, and in a way that clarifies their relationship to the mission. That doesn’t mean that our employees need to share our theological, religious or polity orientations. They do need to support the basic work that the congregation is engaging, and they do need to understand how their role functions in support of that work. One of our jobs as heads of staff, and as supervisors, is to help our employees articulate how their role connects to mission, vision and values. Are you doing that with your employees?

Photo Credit: darwinbell

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