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.


Making Disciples is the Job

In obedience to the command of Jesus to make disciples (Matthew 28), our staff is a discipleship structure before it is an organizational structure. Just as we hire staff with the aim to develop them, we expect that the aim of each staff person is to develop others.  To put it simply, a staff role is for the purpose of making disciples.

We don’t hire people primarily to do the tasks of ministry and therefore increase our staff to accomplish tasks. Instead, we hire people “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12).  We hire to increase our disciple-making capacity.

This means that we don’t use people to complete tasks, but we use tasks as a context for making disciples of people to make more disciples. We will not hire a position that we believe is an opportunity for a volunteer or intern to learn and grow, in order that they may be trained and deployed in Great Commission ministry.

Secondly, when we do have a person join our team, we are unequivocally expecting that person to make and multiply disciples and leaders.  Regardless of the particular role in ministry or department, the base expectation is that of replacing yourself over time by training new leaders.

Principles such as these drive our practices of staffing. Now, to help illustrate how some of these principles are applied, here is a sample of a few practical implications that we think through any time we first consider hiring a position.

Strategic alignment and the opportunity cost of hiring.
Is this the role that is most necessary and strategically aligned with where our church is headed in the near future? Does our church need this leadership role to be filled full-time more than any other role we could possibly hire right now?  If it isn’t, then we must work hard to grow a volunteer leader into that role.

Am I taking a development opportunity off the table?
Is this role a good candidate for the development of volunteers, interns, or residents? Our volunteers grow when they have real opportunities to grow in the context of real ministry. Additionally, there isn’t an office of “staff” in the bible…only elders and deacons, alongside covenant members of a church.  We don’t want to hire a role when God may have already provided for it through existing leaders in the church.  One of the key distinguishing factors of The Austin Stone is releasing emerging leaders to own significant areas of ministry.

Leadership development, not more task capacity.
Will this role significantly remove a bottleneck to developing more leaders for the care and mobilization of our body? We don’t hire people to make your job easier, or to help you get more of your tasks done. When you run out of time to make leaders in your ministry area, we’ll talk about hiring someone to help you make more leaders.

We want this individual to be in our family for the next 15 years.
When we hire someone, we must believe 1) we cannot do without them – the culture of our team and the effectiveness of our ministry as a team will be significantly hindered by not hiring this particular person, and 2) that this is a person whose life and whose discipleship that I, as a leader, am excited about investing deeply in.  If the church is a family, then I must be committed to that family for the long haul.

Even individual contributors are expected to lead.
A very few roles on our staff have specialized skill requirements that necessitate individual contribution. But even from these positions, we desire to develop other volunteers, interns, residents, or professionals of similar skills by leading them in their service to the church or ministry to the world as a context for community, growth and development.

When you consider staffing and disciple-making, what would you add to this list?

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.


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?

Groups Matter Initiative

February 27, 2014 — Leave a comment

Groupsmatter logo white

Regardless of how you think groups ought to be practiced in the local church, almost everyone would agree that groups matter.  In the context of smaller communities, people are known, loved, taught, challenged and led towards obedience to Jesus.  I am passionately convinced of the missional community strategy, but love groups in all shapes and sizes.

My friend Rick Howerton at Lifeway Christian Resources has a distinctive passion for groups as well.  His vision is:

A biblical small group within walking distance of every person on the planet making disciples that make disciples.

That’s a vision I can get behind!

As a leader in the local church, I also need accountability and goals that will stretch me, which is why I have pledged that our church will launch 100 new groups in this coming year.  Additionally, launching new groups is the single most effective way to connect people into the church community, and this will keep me and my team focused on the task of serving and loving our church well.

As you’re considering the coming year, I’d encourage you to check out Groups Matter, and consider how this effort can keep you accountable to the vision to see new disciples of Jesus made in your city and your neighborhood.

Much of what I have written here in the past focuses on the formative work of discipline in the church – discipleship.  Within Scripture, however, we also find another form of corrective discipline, commonly called “church discipline”.  This series forms the basics for a primer I wrote for The Austin Stone to understand church discipline.


Frequently Asked Questions – Church Discipline

Matthew 18:17 says we are to treat a person as a Gentile or tax-collector, which is just an unbeliever in my understanding. Why wouldn’t we eat with a person who is an unbeliever?

This seems to be good logic based on Jesus’ behavior in the gospel of Matthew, and it would indeed be appropriate to eat with a professing nonbeliever. Likewise in the case of someone who has been excommunicated, meals should be shared only on the condition that they profess to no longer be a believer in Christ.

In this case, we have the biblical mandate to love them with the affection of Christ Jesus, and to consistently share the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for their sin.

If however the hard-hearted brother or sister still confesses to be a Christian and yet lives in open rebellion to the explicit commands of Scripture, 1 Corinthians 5:11 gives us clarity on Matthew 18 that we are to “not even eat with such a one.”

Isn’t church discipline judgmental?  I thought we were not supposed to pass judgment on one another!

This is an excellent question as well, and thankfully, the Bible is not silent to it. Again, we refer to 1 Corinthians 5:12-13:

“For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

After indicating that we are not to eat with a person who confesses Christ but lives in open rebellion, Paul tells us in this verse that we are not to judge “outsiders” – those who are not Christians – but we actually do have the mandate to judge those inside the church. And we judge insiders through Jesus’ prescribed course of discipline.

This is not the self-righteous judgment that says, “How dare you!” or “I am better than you,” but rather the loving judgment of the elders and the church that, based on the evidence of a person’s open rebellion, they may not be born again and are certainly resisting the Spirit. We lovingly and with great grief remove them from fellowship for the church’s purity and their good, as to bring about repentance.

Church discipline is never a punishment that we give for sin – Christ took all the punishment for sin on the cross! Rather, church discipline is a loving, heartfelt rebuke that comes with great grief on behalf of those who are meting the discipline.

Finally, we want to reiterate that the objective of discipline is repentance and restoration. If the person who has been removed from fellowship repents, we are to receive them gladly back into the church and restore them gently!

Additional Resources

If you would like to study the topic of church discipline further, below are some suggested resources:

What have you found to be helpful in processing through this critical practice of the church?

Much of what I have written here in the past focuses on the formative work of discipline in the church – discipleship.  Within Scripture, however, we also find another form of corrective discipline, commonly called “church discipline”.  This series forms the basics for a primer I wrote for The Austin Stone to understand church discipline.


The Outcome of Church Discipline

As we have faithfully practiced discipline as a body, we are overjoyed that in almost every circumstance the individual has been brought to repentance and restored with joy.

As to how we receive repentant brothers and sisters back into the fold, Paul gives us a very clear admonition in his letter to the Galatians:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal. 6:1-2)

As a grace-filled community of Christ-followers, we have the privilege to welcome and restore a brother or sister who has repented with great joy!  In the same way that God rejoices in the repentance of His children, so too should the church of God rejoice and restore a brother or sister who has turned from their sin. This means that we all forgive our brother or sister and seek their restoration in the community.

The church of God is the place where sinful people can forgive, restore, and rejoice together in a God who rescues us from our sin!

In the case of the unrepentant Christian, the process of discipline should produce a great brokenness for that person and a deep sense of urgent love for that brother or sister to repent of their sin.  Although we cannot associate with a brother continuing in sin, we can love them through persistent prayer and pleas to come back to the fountain of joy, Jesus.

A Prayer for The Church

It is our sincerest hope that as we pursue faithfulness to the Word of God, that He would produce the outcome Peter prayed for in the churches of Asia:

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. (1 Pe. 1:22-23)

As we seek holiness, may it produce in us a sincere love for one another and an earnest worship of our great Redeemer, Jesus!