Among the things they don’t teach us in seminary: What can we do with the staff we inherit from the previous pastor. This week’s question comes from a pastor who received just such an inheritance, and it’s not going so well. Or is it?

Here’s the scenario:

Dear Matriarchs,

I inherited part-time staff when I was called two years ago. (And I now have a better understanding of why hiring members can create challenges.) The part-time church secretary, who is a member in her 50s, generally has neither the personality nor business acumen for the role. When she makes mistakes, we do discuss those promptly.

She is no longer worshiping regularly because she holds a second job, occasionally she shows up to work at the church office in ripped blue jeans, and most recently, she posted something personal and risqué on social media where she is friends with the majority of the congregation. A member came to me and expressed concern and criticism.

As many as six months ago, I suggested to our council that regular evaluation is needed for all of us who are paid by the church but that didn’t go anywhere.

How do you work with part time staff to establish vision and expectations for their role and responsibilities? Mine are set by the Church and I am accountable to my bishop as well as the congregation council. We have a mutual ministry team but they are explicitly not commissioned to act as a personnel committee because of conflict here in that area in the past.


Rev. Supervisor

* * * * * * * * * *

Will our Matriarchs address the social media faux pas?

Or will they suggest a dress code be implemented?

Will they identify an accountability system to keep tabs on this employee?

Let’s hear from our Matriarchs:

OK this is a hasty off the cuff reply to Rev. Supe.  What I recommend, here, and I’ve been in this spot too, is that you approach congregants and/or members of the community at large who are EMPLOYERS, and pray and beseech them to take part-time church sec OFF YOUR HANDS.  I’ll add my prayers to yours, because that’s what rescued me (pause for hummed chorus of “Amazing Grace”?).

And then dig in your reverend heels AGAINST ever ever having a member of the congregation in that position again — on TWO grounds.  1. That you don’t want to hire somebody you CAN’T FIRE.  And 2. (this is a bit more benign and hence suitable for public discussion) That the secretary/parishioner never gets a day off and/or chance just to worship in peace without being asked to do all sorts of chores.

That really is all the wisdom I have to offer.  And I would sacrifice all sorts of technical skills including literacy to get LOYALTY and DISCRETION and GOOD HUMOUR and COURTESY.

I hope this is of help (and I really WILL pray that your Local Burden is offered another lovely position, soon).

Crimson Rambler (

Dear Rev. Supervisor,

I am sorry you inherited a difficult staff situation. I would recommend the following steps:

1) Establish regular staff evaluations by the equivalent of your Personnel Committee. All staff should be evaluated at least yearly.

2) Meet with your secretary personally and share with her your expectations for dress, behavior and social media guidelines. You may want to have a member of your council and/or Personnel committee meet with you at the same time.

3) Begin the process of establishing the rule for future employers that they not be members of the church.

Was the secretary ever given a job description? If there have not been staff evaluations recently then she may not have been given any guidelines or job expectations.

Treat her with support and kindness, of course, but it will be helpful to meet with her and have some healthy conversations about her job role.


Rev. Kelley Wehmeyer Shin

Dear Supervisor-

There were a couple of phrases in your letter that make me suspect we share the same denomination. Given that strong possibility, I am going to respond in a more specific way than I might ordinarily. (If I am wrong, forgive me.)

Visions and Expectations within the ELCA are very specific and are only laid out for those persons who are rostered for Word and Sacrament or Word and Service ministries.  They are a part of the Lutheran understanding of being set apart.  They are not the sort of regulations that would typically be laid out for a part time staff position.

Mutual Ministry Committees in the ELCA are also designed for rostered leaders and should not be used as a personnel committees for any staff member including the pastor. In the absence of a Personnel Committee, your congregational constitution most likely states that the Church Council or its Executive Committee act in that role.

My advice is that you try not to become the Personnel Committee.  That work needs to be done by the congregational leadership.  Certainly you should strongly encourage that it be done.  You can ask the Mutual Ministry Committee to advocate for it in the best interest of their pastor.  But let those who hired the staff be responsible for that employer/employee relationship.

Best of luck!

Heidi Rodrick-Schnaath also known by some as RevHRod

Rev. Supervisor,

You are not alone in finding that working with personnel issues can be the most stressful aspect of ministry.  Few of us received adequate training and mentoring in how to supervise paid and volunteer staff.  Few of our churches are adequately prepared to deal with staff conflicts. 

I don’t have a great deal of wisdom on this topic, having had as much failure as success in supervision when trouble arises.  I would say emphatically: Don’t try to handle this alone.  I once met alone with a staff member with whom I was in conflict and it really came back to bite me on the hindquarters with a “She said/she said” kind of aftermath.  Engage another leader in the church to meet with the two of  you if you are going to have a formal conference on the problems. 

I have been greatly helped by a lay leader in the congregation who has H.R. training and who is in a supervisory role in his work setting.  He has been an excellent coach as I have asked him his advice in setting goals, giving feedback, etc.  Do you have a person in your church you could trust to give you some guidance?  If not, can you hire a coach or consultant to help you through this? 

If you don’t have a personnel committee, you might consider a personnel task force that can be called together seasonally to do annual staff evaluations.  It helps to have a few other people involved in asking and answering questions you have agreed upon in advance. 

Again, don’t try to handle this alone.  Hope it gets better. 

Dee Eisenhauer, Eagle Harbor Congregational Church
Bainbridge Island, Washington

* * * * * * * * *

Once again, our Matriarchs have gifted us with a variety of strategies to consider.

Which of these do you find most helpful?

Can you offer other options?

Please leave your comments and ideas in the comments below.

Do you have a ministry question that you would like to present to a panel of wise and wonderful clergywomen? Send your question to AskTheMatriarch (at) gmail (dot) com.

* * * * * * * *
Rev. Sharon M. Temple currently serves as Designated Pastor of the delightful Brookmeade Congregational Church United Church of Christ in Nashville TN.  She blogs at Tidings of Comfort and Joy and contributed an essay to There’s a Woman in the Pulpit.

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2 thoughts on “Ask the Matriarch: Expectations for Staff

  1. I have been helped a lot by taking a seminar from Susan Beaumont and reading her book, “When Moses Meets Aaron; Staffing and Supervision in Large Congregations” Don’t let the title fool you, the information is great for anyone who is a head of staff, even if only to one person! A huge help to me was making the distinction and clear separation of when you are supervisor and when you are pastor. It’s all about boundaries again! This is more difficult, but not impossible with staff who are members. The other things mentioned (a personnel committee, and regular reviews, goal setting) make a positive difference.
    Prayers for you as you navigate these waters and become a great Head of Staff!


  2. just to throw in an afterthought — it is helpful to morale also if you can make clear to all concerned that some staff members/paid employees are responsible to ONLY one or two persons… I have a very lovable caretaker in mind as I say this…when I joined the parish he had 150 bosses…and was much relieved to be told that he had ONE!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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