Great Small Church Leadership Teams Aren’t Hired, They’re Built

Lego teamPeople often ask me how I was able to hire such a great leadership team in our Small Church.

My answer? We didn’t hire our team. We built it from the inside out. And we’re still building it.

Not one of our staff members was hired from outside the church – other than me. They were all attenders and members who stepped up as volunteers, who developed into leaders, who became staff members. Including my one full-time staff member. He’s been working at the church for 22 years and is now training youth pastors around the world.

And there are a lot of other churches around the country and the world with staff members, both paid and volunteer, who started or developed their ministerial skills at our church.


Discipleship In the Small Church

One of the toughest parts of pastoring a Small Church is that you can’t go out and hire staff members, so you have to train your own people to do ministry.

One of the best parts of pastoring a Small Church is you can’t go out and hire staff members, so you have to train your own people to do ministry.

Sometimes, being a Small Church forces you to do what you should be doing anyway.

Including discipleship and leadership training. 


Great Small Churches Build a Great Staff

I wish I could say that building our ministry team from our church members was my idea. But it wasn’t. I fell into it.

For several years, as our church was growing and we thought we were going to become the next big thing, (well, I thought so, anyway) I hired staff members with ministerial experience and credentials to come in and run our growing departments. They did so with varying degrees of success, but none of them lasted very long.

For a little while, we even operated under the “hire the staff ahead of the need” mode that was being taught by many church leadership gurus at the time. The idea was that if we hire a proven, full-time minister just before the department really needs one, their expertise will draw more people in and the staff member will make up their salary through the additional tithes that come in with the growth of their ministry.

Sorry. No.

Maybe that plan has worked in a few places. It must have, because those were the testimonies I heard at pastoral conferences. But you could line up pastors around around the block who can tell you it is more likely to wreck your budget and hinder ministry expansion than spur it on. Hiring people before you can afford to pay them is not faith. It’s bad stewardship.

Anyway, when we finally got past that and recovered financially, we decided to stop thinking like a big church and starting acting like a great Small Church. With that change of strategy came the realization that if we wanted a great ministerial staff, we’d have to develop them from the inside out, instead of hiring them from the outside in.

We started small. Very small. And very badly. But we kept at it. Now we have a ministerial internship program, worship workshop, short-term missions trips, mentoring and more.

It may have become our strategy by trial-and-error, but now that it’s in place, I would stick with, even if our church suddenly grew and we had enough money to hire staff.


Pastors Should Be Preparers

There’s nothing wrong with hiring staff in from the outside. That’s how I came to every pastorate I’ve ever served – including this one. But there’s something special about building staff up from the inside.

Besides, my primary calling as pastor isn’t to hire outside experts to do ministry for church members. It’s “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (Ephesians 4:12)

No, it’s not always the easiest way to do ministry. But in most Small Churches, it’s our only way to get there. And it’s better for everyone, no matter what size your church is.


MORE TO COME: This is the first of three posts on this topic. Click here for the second post,  How to Find, Train and Build a Great Small Church Leadership Team, or here for the third post, Some Advantages and Challenges of Building Your Own Small Church Leadership Team.


So what do you think? Are you ready to train people in your church to do the work of ministry?

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
Enter your comment right below this post and get in on the conversation.

(Lego Baseball Team photo from Brian Neudorff • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

11 thoughts on “Great Small Church Leadership Teams Aren’t Hired, They’re Built”

  1. I read recently that this is really the future for church ministry training and development. On the very positive side for churches that do not have a full time pastor this is the way to make sure ministry continues in the church and community when there cannot be a full time guy or gal around. My concern is this Karl, you can train the practics of ministry development, but what about sound theological training? Where does that come in?

    1. Great question, Ralph. Jordan is right, that sound theology should come from solid discipleship. But I also appreciate good bible schools and seminaries. We have a lot of bible college students who attend our church and use their time with us to put feet to their book learning. Too many people have put practics up against academics as though they’re mutually exclusive. I love how Gordon Fee used to say that the church and our seminaries are at their best when they get together and produce “scholars on fire”.

  2. We have lived your article. An unusual growth spurt led us (me) to think it would continue which led to an ill advised staff hire. He left & the next time we did it right although it was from outside. I appreciate your emphasis on developing the people you have. Thanks!

  3. Great thoughts, we also tried to hire from outside with pretty dismal results. However in the past 18mths we have had some great leaders start to rise in the life of our Church and into more formalised paid staff (all part time). I really believe that the best Leaders for our future will nearly always come from those that already have our DNA and are part of our community not because they were hired but they were born into the community when they came to Christ.

  4. Great article thanks.

    Another aspect of it is the fact that when you take from outside you are really not loving the church that you are taking someone from.
    It takes someone with quite the sense of entitlement to think they can take a shortcut and hire a person that someone else spent time, energy and emotion to disciple.

    1. That would be the case in some circumstances, Dan. But it hasn’t been that way for us.

      Every time it’s happened with us, it’s been one of two ways. 1) The staff member is called into full-time ministry, which we don’t have the budget to hire for, so they’ve been looking for a full-time position elsewhere, often with our help, blessing and recommendation, or 2) A pastor looking for a staff member calls me, to ask my permission to talk with them.

      Since the person obviously needs a paycheck, which we can’t provide, they take the paying position. We’re good with that, so we celebrate that with them and train more people up.

  5. I’m the interim pastor of a small church and I want to help get this church on course for the next guy coming in, so i’ll be sucking in all that I can to help me develop a good solid team of leaders.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *