The funny thing about working on staff at a church is that most people have the perception that you sit around all day reading the bible and listening to praise and worship music. Anyone who has ever worked for a church knows how far that is from the truth.
In fact, I think most church employees would say their responsibilities are even greater because of the limited resources for paid employees and the dependency on volunteer labor.
Another perception is that there are no issues with employees because church staff are Christians. A serious misconception, that if not managed properly, can actually accelerate problem situations.
People are people, whether Christian or not, and when you put more than one person in a room issues are sure to arise. The reason for this is, we all come from different backgrounds, have different social styles and different frames-of-reference. Translated – we all view the world from a slightly different lens which can create misunderstandings and tension in the workplace.
As a manager of church employees, it is our responsibility to make sure we provide a work environment that removes obstacles, allows staff to perform their job duties and assists in staff problem resolution.
4 Tips to Help Manage Church Staff Problems
1. Structured Communication
I am a firm believer that wars are fought and lost over mis-communication, no communication or poor communication.
Communication is a tool that is used to get everyone on the same page so developing a systematic approach to communication helps to ensure that information is shared in a timely, accurate and sensitive way.
For example, if church administration makes a decision to change some of their employee benefits to save on expenses, it is important to put together a well thought out communication plan to ensure employees understand why the changes will be made, what the changes are and how the change will personally affect them. This type of approach can eliminate unnecessary misunderstandings.
Another example, if the church board makes a decision to terminate an employee, think through the implications of that decision, who will be impacted, how job responsibilities will be handled and share that information with affected parties BEFORE it is communicated to the masses.
2. Interpersonal Relationship Training
We all come to work from diverse backgrounds which means we bring a different perspective and approach to managing workplace relationships. These differences can inadvertently create conflict if there are not specific behavioral expectations established and communicated to employees.
God made us all different and created us with different social styles. Meaning we all think, communicate and react to work a little differently. There is no right style, just different ones. The secret is to understand the different styles and celebrate the strengths that each style brings to the workplace.
For example, an employee who is very social may the cheerleader that the team needs but may struggle with another employee who is not as social and more focused on the details of the job at hand.
Helping church staff understand the different social styles, and learn appropriate ways to interact and communicate with others, can help to improve team dynamics and minimize conflict.
3. Confront The Issues
We all want to be perceived as nice Christian leaders making it sometimes difficult to confront negative employee behaviors. We like to think that everyone plays nice but the reality is people don’t lose their human element when they walk through the door of a church office. This sometimes results in employee issues that arise and need to be addressed.
There is a theory in conflict management that the longer a conflict is allowed to exist the less likely it will be to bring resolution to the issue. This makes it even more important to address employee issues as soon as they arise.
For example, anytime I learned that two employees were squabbling, I would pull them both in a room, have them each describe the situation from their perspective and try to come to a resolution.
More times than not, it is a miscommunication or misunderstanding that gets cleared up quickly when both sides of the story are presented. The sooner this intervention happens the better the result will be in salvaging the relationship.
4. The “T” Word
It is a sad fact but there are times when an employee just doesn’t adapt to a work environment or creates so much drama in the workplace that they simply need to be moved on. It is our responsibility as managers to work with them and try to get them to behave within acceptable norms but sometimes that just doesn’t work.
In those situations sometimes the decision needs to be made to let that person go. Employees who create drama in the workplace cause undue stress for the rest of the staff, hinder performance, upset team dynamics and affect overall morale. Christian or not, sometimes we just need to let people go for the benefit of the team-at-large.
Managing employees is not easy and addressing difficult situations, and problems in the workplace, is not fun. However, having the foresight to create systems and processes that minimize or address potential problems is what successful management is all about.
The process in which these kinds of situations are addressed teaches employees that leadership cares enough to get them resolved and is committed to a cohesive and productive workplace.
photo by: Muffet
article originally posted January, 2012, updated August, 2014.