A few months ago, a collegiate football coach and I were discussing ways that coaching and pastoring have changed across the years. Our tenures were somewhat parallel. I mentioned the changes in technology, noting how computers, the internet, and smart technology have revolutionized the daily operations of local church ministry. He proceeded to talk about changes in NCAA rules regarding recruiting, player safety, and scheduling.
Then the conversation changed to staffing. He started coaching in an age where there was a head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, and a few graduate assistants who coached running backs, receivers, linemen, and linebackers. Fast-forwarding to this year, he said, “Now we have all kinds of new staff including a digital technology coordinator, a strength coach, a get-back coach, and a Covid-compliance coordinator.
After the conversation, it occurred to me that the sports world and the business world have often been more proactive in update their staffing models than the church world has been. Some church staff configurations in the 21st century look eerily like staff listings in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. Other churches are gradually envisioning and implementing updated paradigms for staffing.
As we emerge from the lingering pandemic and churches re-evaluate their staffing needs in the light of current economic realities and fresh missional opportunities, new staff configurations will continue to emerge. To jumpstart our creative thinking about new and emerging staff paradigms, here are 6 examples of church staffing models that may prove effective depending on your context:
• Team Model: Every staff on which I have served has had a high level of team spirit. On a strong team, however, the cohesiveness of the team in advancing the mission of the church takes precedence over the interests or preferences within a particular ministry area or worship service. With a team model, staff perceive themselves more like physicians in a medical office who collaborate on best practices and they cover each other’s patients when one is absent. A team model also creates an environment for periodic rotations of assignments throughout the tenure of a staff member. An associate pastor for children’s ministry may become the next associate pastor for discipleship. An associate pastor for student ministry may become the next lead pastor. And so on.
• Teaching Staff Model: On a teaching staff, trained ministers take the lead in ministry areas as they partner with ministry interns and ministry residents who complete a rotation of service in a variety of ministry areas. Just as a medical resident completes a rotation in pediatrics, orthopedics, geriatrics, and obstetrics, so a ministry resident may complete a rotation in worship leadership, pastoral care, church administration, discipleship, and age-group ministries. A teaching church must adjust to having a combination of longer-term staff (veteran ministers) and short term staff (interns and residents). Additionally, the teaching staff/teaching church may also find tremendous gratification in being a sending church that is participating in sharpening the ministry skills of the next generation of church staff ministers.
• Shared Staff Model: In the tradition of the circuit-riding ministers of yesteryear, partner churches may choose to share a staff minister, with each church contributing half of the compensation and half of the benefits, and each church agreeing on the expectations and responsibilities of the shared minister. The decision to share a staff member may be motivated by cost-sharing or it may be envisioned to provide a path to missional networking. A shared staff minister may lead the partner churches to participation in shared mission projects, shared recreational activities, shared community ministry, shared pastoral care, or collaborative community engagement. Shared staff member candidates could include experienced ministers, interns, and ministry residents.
• Bi-Professional Model: Many church consultants are telling us to expect fewer full-time staff ministers in the future and a larger number of bi-professional or part-time staff ministers. A church may have a full-time pastor and a complement of bi-professional staff ministers. Or, a church may have a solo bi-professional pastor who partners with skilled unpaid lay leaders serving to fill specific areas formerly overseen by paid ministers.
• Hybrid Model: A couple of years ago I spoke with the pastor of a large church whose staff was composed of full-time ministers, ¾ time ministers, half-time ministers, and contract ministers. The ¾ time ministers were individuals who had served as full-time ministers and who wanted to travel more but were not ready to retire. In response, the church gave them the option to work 36-40 weeks per year with an adjusted salary as a step toward their eventual retirement. The contract ministers were ministers who had retired from other churches, yet were healthy and did not need a benefits package, and they were retained to oversee specific assignments for a specified timeframe or a transitional season. The hybrid model can enrich the ministry of the church by garnering the skills of veteran staff members, while simultaneously allowing the church to maximize the stewardship of its personnel budget.
• Volunteer Model: Some churches will thrive under volunteer ministerial leadership. To assist some churches in their journey from “surviving” toward “thriving,” there are both retired ministers and lay ministers who will volunteer their time in an uncompensated ministerial position as a part of their contribution to the kingdom. In my previous church, a retired army chaplain served as the volunteer pastor of a church in Europe for one year because the church could not afford a pastor. A friend of mine who is a successful financial advisor has served as the uncompensated part-time pastor of a Presbyterian church for over 30 years. Because of his financial success in the marketplace, he believes his calling is to strengthen the church as a volunteer pastor.
These models are but a sample menu of the emerging staff models that will serve the church for years to come. As we embrace a new era in ministry, it is important for churches to think outside the proverbial box when it comes to re-configuring and re-aligning church staff.
Your church may or may not need a “get-back” coach, but it is likely that your church will need a team of spiritual coaches who have interchangeable and complementary roles. Don’t be afraid to experiment a little until you find the right combination for your congregation.