Another undervalued part of the hiring process in many places is the importance of "fit." Here, I'm not talking so much about the universal virtues of character, competency, and chemistry. Here, I'm referring to the importance of the person fitting, either naturally or through adaptation into:
1. The culture. Each town, each state, and each region of the country has it's rules–written and unwritten. Allow me to stereotype for just a moment so I can be brief. Ask some of these questions:
- Will a candidate be comfortable with diversity if they grew up in Oklahoma or Utah and have yet to be exposed to it? Or, are they comfortable with a lack of diversity if they grew up in L.A. or New York City and are interviewing for a position in West Texas.
- Don't ask if they are "comfortable" or can tolerate the demographics. Look to see if they have to capacity to actually embrace the community the church is in. This doesn't mean that they should hale from the same or similar region of the country to fit in. There are lots of people who really have a missionary mentality, and love people wherever they are, whoever they are. This is optimal…and in a way all ministers should have a missionary mentality. However, we also need to be realistic…and acknowledge that some contexts are more of a natural fit for some.
- Are people in your community more "straight up" or private? Are people in your community image-conscious or not? Are people generally in one socio-economic group or are they, financially, spread all over the place?
Asking these things on the front end shouldn't automatically exclude anyone from the process, but it will get potential issues out on the table and talked about.
I want to be clear here…we're looking for the ability of a candidate to adapt to their surroundings for missional purposes. And, obviously, the church should embrace an incoming minister wherever they are from, what they look like, etc. It's not about the outside of a person. It's about how God has prepared them, and how willing they are to adopt the missionary mindset in your context. For some, they will be natives…and click right from the outset. For others, it will be a process. Either is fine, but cultural "fit" is huge. Make sure they're either a native, or have the capability and desire to be a "native" with time.
2. The speed. Communities and churches all move at different speeds. People have a natural fit in this regard. I like cities–concrete, diversity, culture, cool restaurants, crime, masses of people and traffic. I tend to prefer a high speed of ministry as well. I feel most at home in urban, high-challenge ministry contexts. I feel like a get city people. Some of the finest ministers I know prefer the serenity of the smaller town, or sub-urban environments. They like a bit of a slower pace, and aren't particularly concerned with dreaming huge, earth-shattering dreams for the growth of their church. They want to care for the people, and reach out to the community the Lord has placed them in. God uses them mightily. It's not about better or worse. It's about fit. If you bring someone who prefers a slower pace into a fast-moving, high-challenge environment they'll either burn out, or underachieve because they either can't or don't like the speed of ministry. If you put a high-speed, high-challenge person in a slower, more intimate context–they will suffocate from boredom and the sense that they could and should be doing more. It's not about better or worse. It's about fit. In the board game world, it's like Risk vs. Pit…not better or worse…slow or fast…and quiet versus chaotic.
3. Spouse. Another often underestimated aspect of "fit" is the spouse of the potential hire. I say this not because the church hires "two for the price of one." Yikes… no. Here we're talking about the spouse's desire to come to your context and their comfort with the speed of ministry. This is vitally important. If a person's spouse isn't really big on coming or is uncomfortable with the cost to them of the new ministry role, it will make their life and the church's much more difficult than if the spouse was really excited about the change and is thrilled to jump into the flow of ministry. However, if a candidate's spouse is gung ho about God's call to your community and enjoys the pace of ministry–that will add untold blessings and energy to the life of the Body.
4. Teachability. If a person is a natural learner, or has teachable spirit, they will be more likely to make whatever adjustments they need to make to connect with people and be successful in ministry. If a person is teachable and has the capacity to take what they've learned and integrate it into ministry quickly…you can hire someone who seems to be somewhat of an odd fit on the surface. Like a chameleon, they will adapt to their environment as they learn the quirks and traditions of their contexts.
5. Degree of Freedom. Most ministers you'll want to hire will prefer a higher degree of freedom to minister as they see fit. However, some ministers absolutely have to have it. This has pluses and minuses. In most cases, what's appropriate is that the level of accountability and the level of responsibility match. For instance, in an congregation with a high of Elder control, the Elders often make all of the key decisions that impact the well-being of the church, and then fire the preacher when they don't work out. This isn't an environment in which most ministers will want to work. In other scenarios (there are far fewer of these in Churches of Christ), the minister makes most of the key decisions, for which the elders then take it on the shins. This too is not good. Resentment will build until bad things happen.
There is a discernment process that elders and ministers should go through together to see which degree of freedom fits for each side–and what fits should be whatever benefits the Kingdom and the local church most. Pride and need for control must be submitted to mission. And, the levels of accountability and responsibility should match.
6. Gift Mix. Churches do well to hire leaders above helpers. Both leaders and helpers must be servants. However, only a person with leadership gifts will be organized, motivated, and capable of empowering the Body for ministry. Beyond leadership gifting, pay attention to building a well-rounded ministry team–one with a diverse gift mix. Many churches hire people who all have the same gift set, and severely lack in some vital areas of need that would add great richness to the church.
Because Opening Day of Major League Baseball was yesterday, let's use an analogy from baseball. When a baseball team is put together, a manager knows that a certain mixture of speed, pitching, defense, power, and ability to get on base is needed. How much of which is determined by the size and type of ballpark you play in, and who is already on the roster. Here's what I'm saying:
- Pay attention to the type of gifts you need the most for the ministry context you're in.
- Work toward well-roundedness, but understand which things someone MUST bring to ministry, and which things are luxuries.
For instance, in a mega-church, teaching, commitment to excellence and leadership gifts would likely be at the top of the MUST list. In smaller, more rural contexts, pastoral and caring skills might be far more important. In mid-sized environments, a general practicioner (with the ability to become excellent at a few things in the future) might be what's needed.
Figure out which gifts and skills everyone must have, and which things you need to make sure are covered. Going back to baseball, not everyone needs to be able to steal bases for you, but you'll need a couple of people with speed–just like you'll need some big bats to drive them in. All of those guys will need to be able to put a bat on the ball. A catcher will need to be able to……….catch. A pitcher will need to be able to………..pitch. Whether he's a power-pitcher or a surgeon of the corners (like a Greg Maddux) may not be as important. But, he'll have to be able to get hitters out. OK…enough baseball analogies……