August 8, 2011
Before You Hire, Pick Up the Phone
How one pastor could have easily avoided a hiring mistake.
I saw him at a church conference. He lit up the stage. He was one of the most electric worship leaders I had ever seen. Young, handsome, talented. I went after him. I had to be a bit discreet—it felt a bit like stealing. He was, after all, serving at another church. But that just added value to his stock, particularly considering the church he was at. So the covert seduction began.
In the end, I got him. I was elated. Buckle your seat belts, church growth world—it’s time for warp speed! I had just nabbed the up-and-coming worship leader at one of the nation’s most prestigious megachurches.
In less than twenty-four months, he had been removed from ministry and placed under church discipline. He eventually left the ministry, and to the best of my knowledge, he has never served in a church since.
Not long afterward, I interacted with the senior pastor of the church from which I had procured my wunderkind. He graciously asked how my new hire had worked out, and I had to sheepishly tell him that, well, he didn’t.
I told him the whole story. After I was done, he said, “I’m not surprised. We had been having issues with him for months. Just before he left, I had entered into some pretty serious conversations with him attempting to confront the very kinds of things you have had to deal with. I was deeply concerned that he went to another church before we could work through anything.”
And then he said words that have haunted me and instructed me ever since:
“Why didn’t you just pick up the phone and call me?”
Good question. Why didn’t I? It would have saved me so much grief. I didn’t like my answers:
- Because I thought I was pulling off a coup on another church and getting some top-notch talent, and I didn’t want my effort botched.
- Because I had quietly bought into the idea of other churches being the competition, and this was just the blood and sweat of the contest.
- Because I was blinded by the person’s talent and never really considered exploring his character the way I should have.
- Because I wanted to bottle up that particular church’s success and add it to our own.
- Because the person in question told me things that were derogatory about the church he was leaving and its leadership and flattered me about the differences my leadership provided in contrast.
So I didn’t call. And no one calls me either.
I have seen individuals at Mecklenburg Community Church who were confronted with character issues and subsequently removed from leadership simply flee to another church.
Within weeks, they are platformed or placed into leadership. I have seen staff who were within a hairsbreadth of being let go for incompetence quickly leverage Meck’s reputation and lobby themselves into a new position at another church.
Why does this happen? Sadly, because other pastors may wrestle with the same dark junk I do. And it’s a darkness akin to generational sin, being passed on to others. A single poor staff hire can devastate most churches, squandering kingdom resources and setting back progress for months if not years. And if the issue at hand is sexual, such as someone engaged in serial affairs, then the damage in allowing them to move to another church is unthinkable. […]
Somebody needs to say it, no matter how uncomfortable, no matter how out of synch it is with the culture of church world: pastors and leaders of churches, please call the pastors and leaders of other churches.
When you want to hire one of their staff, call the pastor first. No, they don’t want to lose their key players, but most will tend to be honest about those who aren’t. And most will also welcome a true God-calling of someone away from their church, knowing that it means God has something in store for them as well. And if they work hard to have the person stay and they stay, well, maybe they were supposed to stay! Let’s just openly welcome God into the process and trust him with its outcome.
Call other pastors and leaders when new members come your way—particularly those who spew venom or criticism on their previous church situation—before you fast-track them into leadership or put them on a platform. The other pastor may very well say, “We tried very hard to work with them on some very difficult issues, but in the end, they just fled. The issues remain unresolved. You may be able to serve them and redeem them in ways we could not, but you need to know the cloud under which they left.”
Or they may simply say, to your relief, “Great folks. Hated to see them go. You’ve got some real winners there—you should feel comfortable moving forward with them in any way needed.”
I know the rules about what you can and cannot say regarding employee reference calls, such as things related to background checks and credit history. This isn’t about violating federal guidelines.
Yet the point remains: we must talk to each other.
Why? Because the church matters. Not just your church but every church. If what we are leading truly is the hope of the world, then let’s treat it that way. I think that means it’s worth at least a phone call.
Excerpted from What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary by James Emery White (Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2011). Used by permission. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.