Tom Bandy is the author of the “MissionImpact Mosaic Application Guide” and coaches church leaders to use MissionInsite for the development of adaptive ministries.
A New Challenge for a Changing Demographic
Churches will be facing hard staff decisions in 2021. Some staff may choose to go, and some staff may have to be let go. New staff may need to be hired for brand new positions, and all staff will likely be redeployed in new ways. There are several reasons: financial pressure, stress overload, and the changing nature of ministry in the post-Covid 19 world. It all requires fresh ideas, missional attitudes, willingness to change, readiness to fail and learn, challenging continuing education agendas, and rigorous spiritual habits.
In my last blog post, I described how changing demographic realities are reshaping board representation. The same is true for staff development. As churches rethink staff deployment in the wake of the two big pandemics (i.e., Covid 19 and the resurgence of racism), it is crucial to understand new demographic and lifestyle trends.
The most significant and overarching trend is the de-professionalization of church leadership and the revival of lay empowerment.
Historically churches have always tried to hire and deploy staff in the broader context of volunteer development. However, the baby boomer generation (born between 1944 and 1964 and currently age 55 to 75) gradually changed all that. Churches became increasingly dependent on paid professional staff. Boomers were on a quest for quality, expected instant gratification, and wanted someone else to do it so they could live a balanced life. Of course, many boomers have served the church and society sacrificially. But community and church culture in the second half of the 20th century has been built on the assumption that most boomers are consumers rather than servants.
This trend was already coming to an end as busters and millennials replaced boomers as the dominant influencers of community and church culture. The two pandemics have accelerated the process. We have come to the point in the church where professionalism is neither affordable nor faithful. This is not to say that professional standards are unimportant but that a culture of professionalism no longer works. The hope of the church (and probably the nation) is a culture of volunteerism.
How are staff hired and deployed in the emerging culture of volunteerism?
Model and mentor Christian life and work among volunteers
In the past, church staff assumed that volunteers were well acquainted with the Christian faith basics and expected that they would worship regularly and learn from sermons. That’s still true for volunteers over 55 years old (boomers), but not for volunteers under 55 (Gen Y, Z, and ?). The culture of professionalism demanded that staff prioritize programming. The new culture of volunteerism demands that staff prioritize holistic personal growth.
Emerging generations still long to do good stuff…but they have a greater need to build personal relationships with Christian role models. They may not attend worship regularly or learn much from lectures, but they do desire to shape daily spiritual habits and learn through action/reflection. They have no patience with committee meetings, but a huge appetite for significant conversations about serious issues. The key accountability question for staff is no longer what you have done this month but who you have mentored this week.
Supplement volunteer efforts with specialized skills beyond their reach
The culture of volunteerism requires a major shift in attitude. How many times have you heard staff leaders say it is easier to do the work themselves than recruit and train volunteers to do it? And how many times have you heard volunteers avoid ministry because that is what we pay the staff to do? In the past, staff was essential, and volunteers were incidental. In the future, staff supplement volunteers in ministry but do not replace volunteers in ministry.
Staff supplement volunteer efforts in two ways. First, staff will be hired for very specific skills rather than general competencies. These new hires will be specific responses to the two pandemics. Professionals may not design worship, but they will provide technical and production expertise for online worship. They may not coordinate outreach but specifically educate and advocate for racial equality and respect. Second, staff will concentrate on coaching, training, equipping, and mentoring. Instead of guaranteeing success, they will permit failure so that volunteers can learn from mistakes and gain confidence.
Work creatively while practicing accountability
As staff and volunteers embrace the entrepreneurial spirit, boundaries become more important than ever. Teams are free to do whatever they want…but only within boundaries established by the church. Staff empower volunteers to creatively do whatever works to achieve the desired results, but they will also hold volunteers accountable to the policies of the board and the purpose of the church.
The entrepreneurial spirit is a shift from prescriptive thinking to proscriptive thinking. The former is all about procedure and bureaucracy. The latter is all about preserving integrity in chaos. The Old Testament example of proscriptive thinking is Moses. Do anything you can to get to the Promised Land, but thou shalt do or not do the following ten things. The New Testament example is Paul. Organize the church any way you want, but always practice and reveal the Fruits of the Spirit. Staff doesn’t control the agenda, but they keep volunteers aligned with the vision, accountable to core values and beliefs, and engaged in spiritual life.
From Expert to Influencer
As the church backs away from the culture of professionalism and returns to its original culture of volunteerism, the “expert” is being replaced by the “influencer.” This reflects the waning power of the boomer generation and the emerging expectations of millennials.
Church staff job descriptions will need to reflect this change if the church is more relevant to unchurched and spiritual seekers of the future.
- Model how Christians behave and stop telling people what to do.
- Help volunteers live up to their potential and stop using volunteers for predefined agendas.
- Clarify the boundaries of the Christian faith and stop judging people for what they believe.
This shift is accelerated by our time’s two pandemics: Covid 19 and the resurgence of racism. The solution to each crisis requires a degree of social responsibility and community partnership that professionalism alone cannot accomplish. Public health and racial justice are ultimately the work of the greater population of amateurs.
Churches have always tried to hire staff in the broader context of volunteer empowerment. This is a theological issue, not just a financial one. It’s not just that churches cannot afford to pay experts to do everything. The New Testament recognizes that every Christian has gifts and is called to use them in mission outreach and service to the church. To deny a volunteer the opportunity to serve (to try, fail, learn, grow, and eventually succeed) is poor leadership. To decline to do (unwilling to risk, learn, adapt, and mature) is unfaithful. Spiritual health and the Realm of God are ultimately the work of the laity.