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First Thoughts

An Introduction: 10 Commandments for Ministry Staff Relationships

A Broken Church and A Broken Team

When I became Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville the church was facing overwhelming challenges. Decades of decline in membership created a number of punishing financial realities, the most obvious being $90 million in financial liabilities the church had no idea how to pay.

But the most challenging difficulties we faced were related to our staff. Many problems existed.

For starters, the staff was far too large. Back then, we had a paid staff of over 220 people. That is more than twice the total attendance of most churches. The big problem was that this was more than double the team we needed for a church of our size. Our church was going broke paying for staff we did not need and could not afford.

Another problem was the many on staff who were disqualified. In the early days of my ministry, staff members had to be fired immediately for sexual immorality, financial impropriety, and harsh mistreatment of others. Confronting this problem was as dreadful as it was necessary.

A less dramatic but crucial problem was the ineffective nature of the staff. We had numerous staff members who had overseen failing ministries for as long as 15 years. Many of these people were kind, faithful, hardworking folks who simply were not getting the job done. They may have been more successful in our church serving in a different spot, or at another ministry altogether. But, where they were, they were stuck and harming the ministry.

On top of all that, our team was hopelessly divided. Our staff was not unified around a single ministry vision. Nobody really knew where this whole thing was supposed to be headed so everybody started to move in their own independent direction. The words of Judges 21:25 characterized our staff culture, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

Painful Changes

The survival of the church was at stake in solving these problems, but staff problems are one of the most difficult to solve. Anyone around at the time knows just how difficult it all was.

And the problems got worse before they got better. But, in the kindness of God, they did get better.

In fact, one of the most amazing things that has happened over the last few years is that our ministry staff has moved from relationships that were poisonously sinful to ones that are marked by love, trust, and respect. One of the older members of our team said he, “Watched the worst staff situation I have seen in over 40 years become the best staff situation I have seen in over 40 years.” Thanks be to God.

Staff Relationships are Hard

Whether you lead a large dysfunctional team or serve on a staff that is small and healthy, you will learn that the relationships on these teams can be difficult.

That difficulty is because even though we are serving Jesus and even though we are called to be examples, ministry staff members are still sinners.

People on ministry staffs serve together for long hours doing the most important work in the world. They do that work with limited time, money, and other resources. Sometimes they do it with little sleep. They often do it under tremendous pressure. That cauldron will draw sin out of the hearts of the best of us.

The reality of sin means we all must be diligent to preserve the priority and sweetness of relationships on our team. I spent a year working with our team on The Ten Commandments of Ministry Staff Relationships. It helped our team refocus on relationship in a way that has only strengthened our ministry effectiveness. Each commandment is an effort to apply the biblical teaching on relationships to the complex world of staff culture.

In the days ahead, I’ll share these with the hope that it will strengthen the relationships on your team.

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Dr. Heath Lambert is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. He is the author of several books, including The Great Love of God: Encountering God’s Heart for a Hostile World. 

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