Building a Staff Team

March 4, 2014 — 2 Comments

As I’ve served in the role of Executive Pastor for the past two years, one of the key responsibilities I have is building a staff team.  With the help of Kevin Peck and Dave Barrett, I’ve developed a pretty thorough philosophy and process of staff hiring.  The following posts will develop these ideas:

This blog series will highlight some foundational ideas I’ve utilized in building the Campus and Missional Community team at The Austin Stone.

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Philosophical Considerations for Building a Staff Team

At The Austin Stone, when we are considering hiring staff, there are some key philosophical convictions that drive our methodology.  We are a church that is committed to making disciples of Jesus, being grounded in the word of God, and living with integrity out of our identity in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Because of these convictions, when it comes to a leading a church staff, I am compelled to primarily approach leadership through the lens of discipleship.

My first responsibility is to ensure that I am fostering the life of a staff member as a disciple – growing them in doctrine, character and skill over time.  Secondly, I am responsible for shaping a team culture that reflects our identities as Disciples, Family and Missionaries together. Finally, I am responsible to ensure the work we do is excellent and in line with God’s desire for our church to make and multiply disciples.

The Austin Stone is a church fiercely committed to the development of people, especially our staff.  We want to see people grow in their abilities over time and be afforded continued opportunities and challenged to grow.  Our conviction is that we use ministry to get people done, not people to get ministry done.

In combining these theological and practical considerations, I have come up with three foundational considerations for developing a healthy staff committed to the mission of God together.

People over Positions

First, when it comes to hiring staff, we must remember we are hiring a person, not a particular job function. While a particular need may exist within the team you are building, that need will be filled by a person who is created in the image of God, sinful and rebellious, but also redeemed by Christ, indwelled with the Holy Spirit, and called to the Great Commission.

For us, a job opening simply is an opportunity that God has providentially presented to add another person to our spiritual family.  Therefore, the key question we are asking around this particular is “is God calling this particular individual to join our team?”  We cannot dissociate the particular functions and role from the fact that a person will be filling that role!

The fundamental questions we are asking are therefore not necessarily tied to a job description, but very much centered on the called, qualified and gifted person.  Job descriptions are helpful, but getting the right person is the priority.

Culture over Competency

For us, the relationships we have are of much greater value than simply the performance of an individual.  Quite honestly, if someone doesn’t want to be a brother or sister in Christ first, and a co-worker second, then they will not fit with our team.

Additionally, if someone has a distinctly different way of seeing the world and philosophy of ministry, it is a recipe for difficulty.  We therefore look for individuals who will fit our culture well, and possibly bring new elements of culture that we lack.

That doesn’t mean that we simply overlook the competency of a person (quite the contrary!), but cultural fit is incredibly important.  We may have highly qualified and capable candidates, but if they don’t fit in the culture of our team, then we would have a difficult time confirming their calling to our church.

Development over Execution

If we have a distinct culture of discipleship and development, then our staff philosophy must reflect that culture as well.  We do not believe that someone has “arrived” by entering vocational ministry, but like everyone, still needs to be developed in their doctrine, character and skill. When considering a potential job opportunity, we have a desire to utilize it to develop an emerging leader more fully.

Therefore, we are looking for individuals not simply with proven competency in a role, but also potential capacity for future excellence, as well as a willingness to learn and grow.  This particular commitment helps us to continue looking to internal candidates for positions, instead of immediately looking to outside, experienced candidates for opportunities.

As you have been building teams, and potentially hiring staff, what defines the culture you are trying to create?

Todd Engstrom

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Although I was raised in the church and had a knowledge of God, I didn’t embrace Jesus until I heard gospel preached and lived out by some Young Life leaders. God has proven faithful and good to me since that day, even in great suffering and loss. I have learned to treasure Romans 8:28 as a wellspring of hope and truth. God has blessed me with an amazing wife (Olivia), three sons (Micah, Hudson and Owen) and a daughter (Emmaline). Growing up in the northwest, the thought never crossed my mind that I would have four children who are native Texans. Despite landing in the south, I still watch Notre Dame games with my children every Saturday in hopes they will land at my alma mater.

2 responses to Building a Staff Team

  1. Appreciate the article. Quick question, that might not be quick or easy to answer: How do you go about and what process are you using to determine if someone will fit your culture?

    I’m on staff at a church that will probably be going through a hiring process sometime this year and I’d like to help us take this kind of approach instead of the traditional, “here’s the job description now lets go find someone who can do this” approach.

    • Curt,
      The first thing you’ll need to do is understand your culture. Take some time to articulate what makes your team unique. In that process, I’d avoid things that are general (what culture people call “qualifying values”), but aim for specifics (called “actual values”). For my team, I value being a family, acting as servants, and making leaders, so my culture is driven around those ideas. If someone primarily wants to operate as a co-worker, not as family, then they’re going to have a tough time fitting. If someone is a “blue-chipper”, then they’re not going to fit our servant culture, and if someone likes to do stuff more than being in the lives of people, they won’t make very good leader developers.

      Practically speaking, I look at past performance, ask a lot of questions of their references, and then have a weekend interview with any serious candidate where we spend time in a variety of different environments and with many different people to see if they fit.

      Lastly, I use the “Friday night test”. Is this a person I would want to call on a Friday night and hang with? That’s usually a great indicator of cultural fit :).

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