If you ask anyone who is semi-interested in Church Leadership Trends, they will immediately be able to tell you that the “In Thing” right now is to hire from within. This is the process of looking to your church members when an open position becomes available. This model that has been highly endorsed by lifechurch.tv. Craig Groeschel has said that about 85% of the hires that take place there are hired from within. He has even posted a great blog about all of the benefits of hiring within which you can read here.
Now don’t get me wrong, Craig Groeschel makes some great points, is infinitely smarter and more proven than I in Church Leadership, and obviously what he is doing is working. But can we also admit for a moment that most of us don’t work at a church like LifeChurch?
Obviously there are exceptions to every rule, and I know several churches who have made great hires that came from within. Of course we should be striving to make disciples and raise up leaders around us. My issue is not with the concept of hiring from within, but with the mantra that comes with it. It seems that the Church today is beginning to make the hire within model the go-to hiring process. Church Leadership gurus are on this kick that says hiring from within should be your first (and sometimes only) option. They have defined hiring from within as the win and if you can find someone inside your church to fill your next open position, you have won.
I don’t buy it. It seems to be that the “hire from within” battle cry is hurting our church in some ways that majorly overshadow the positives. How? Three main ways jump out to me.
- New hires don’t always work out
Unfortunately, I have seen this play out many times, and often at no fault of the hiring process. Sometimes new hires just don’t work out. I interviewed at a Church who had let the previous pastor go after only 6 months. They had done an extensive interview process to find him. I have worked with someone who left after less than 1 year because it didn’t work out. My first full time ministry was only for 20 months. Not every failure is due to someone not doing their homework during the hiring. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. This is never a fun situation to wade through, but it becomes astronomically worse when the hire came from within. Whether the leave is a forced leave, a mutual agreement, or a resignation, you are putting this hire is an extremely tough and awkward position. Now they have to most likely leave the church that they have been attending and serving at for years before they were hired. Most likely their families have strong relationships there as well. Also, you are causing a major setback to ministries as other volunteers and members have loyalties to this person rooted in years of service together. If you hire from within, you are asking for a disaster on your hands if it doesn’t work out. I think in many hire from within situations, pastors are left on staff long after they should have been removed for the sole reason of avoiding this inevitable outcome.
- The Importance of education, training, and experience
For some reason this aspect is often ignored or belittled, but I think there is extreme significance to proper education, training, and experience for a job. There is a reason that I should not be trusted to treat cancer patients in the hospital no matter how much I volunteer there, how many hospital calls I have done, or how many times I have had to be treated at the hospital myself. We only allow the utmost education and training when it comes to dealing with physical lives yet for some reason we are so lax when it come to spiritual lives and eternity. The guys who started the church trained directly under Jesus himself for 3 years! The training I received at Bible College in how to study and interpret the Bible, how to present that truth, how to counsel, and how to understand important and deep theological truths, were invaluable. They are not easily replaced by reading a book, hearing a bunch of sermons, being in a small group, and volunteering in a ministry. Sometimes you score big an end up with someone you can hire from within that has training in a seminary and experience, but those situations are few and far between. It is difficult for me to accept that loyalty to the vision and understanding the culture are adequate substitutes for understanding how to read the Bible in its original language, knowing how to interpret the Bible throughout its different genres, and being properly trained to teach others the Bible as well as showing them how to follow Jesus. This is especially true if you are not part of a church who only does video teaching from the senior pastor and teaching team like Lifechurch does. The majority of pastors who lead large churches around the country and have marketing or business degrees are typically the ones we point to as being weak and shallow theologically. I can think of one in particular right here by me in Houston. Experience is important as well. Hires from within may not have to be brought up to speed on the pulse of your church, but have they ever planned and coordinated an event? Have they ever developed a sermon series? Have they ever recruited and trained volunteers? Have they ever used a database? Have they ever planned a missions trip? Bringing your hire from within up to speed may be a WAY more exhausting task than helping an outside hire understand your vision.
- Maintaining vs. Innovation
I love LifeChurch and Craig Groeschel, and I think what they are doing is great. I also think that if you have between 50,000-70,000 (depending on which report you read and how recent it is) members you probably don’t need to change what you are doing. Unfortunately, most of us don’t work for LifeChurch. When you hire from within, you get someone who already knows and understands the vision, the culture, and the people of the church and that’s great. The question becomes, do you want to maintain, or do you want to innovate? If you bring someone on who understands your vision, culture, and history, you are going to get the same type of ministry you have always had, with the same results. If you are content with that, it may be an issue. If you just want to maintain your ministry and have it be the same as it’s always been, hire from within. You will get a person whose only context is your church. But what if you want change, innovation, and growth? Don’t you think some fresh eyes would help? The best ideas often come from fresh eyes and push back. The best push back and freshness of eyes come from someone with a totally different perspective and context. They can more easily point out the things you are just doing because you have always done them. They more easily see the most ineffective ministries, programs, and processes. They are not blinded by the culture and history of your church. Sometimes this is a good thing. It creates some of the best synergy. The question of hiring from within or from outside ultimately comes down to the question: “Do I want to maintain or change?” The vast majority of churches in America should not be content with maintaining because what you are maintaining is honestly not all that great. It’s time for less inbreeding and more innovation!
Overall, I don’t think hiring from within is always a bad thing. I know some churches have had great experiences with this process. I understand the value in having someone who knows and understands the vision and culture of the church. I just don’t think this should always be our first and only option. I don’t think it should always be celebrated as the win, because often, hiring from within is hurting the Church. What would you add to the list?