Lessons in Leading Teams & Difficult Personnel

A conversation between John Grunewald and Pastor JB Whitfield of Agape Faith Church in Clemmons, NC.

Recently John Grunewald asked Pastor JB Whitfield some questions regarding hiring staff and some of the lessons he’s learned from this during his 35 years of ministerial experience. JB is a pastor to pastors, actively coaching and training leaders, and is senior pastor at Agape Faith Church in the USA.

Q: Have you ever hired anyone (paid or volunteer) who didn’t work out?
–      Did you feel bad?
–      What did you do?

These are very interesting questions. I doubt there are very many growing churches or organizations that haven’t been through this. If there are then we definitely need them to help the rest of us!

I have definitely employed both employees and volunteers that didn’t work out. I’ve hired one sooner than I should, I kept one longer than I should, and I have released one that I shouldn’t have. I felt bad about all three, for various reasons.

Q: Did you come to understand what led to these three situations?

Well, in the case of the first situation, I’d say it was:

  1. Hiring out of need and disregarding culture…

We hired a full time Worship Pastor. We were in a place of need and I moved too quickly because of that. He definitely had the gifting we needed, but he lacked our DNA. In other words, I hired him because of our need and disregarded our culture. Just because someone has a heart for ministry doesn’t mean that they are a fit for your culture.

We operate in a “Team Culture” at Agape Faith Church. I model this for my team and expect them to do the same within their ministries. This Worship Pastor came from a “command and control” type of culture, truly the exact opposite of the team culture we practice. I failed in our interview process to make sure he understood this, and then I failed to make sure he was following the process throughout his area of ministry. Let me repeat that it was a mistake to hire based on need rather than fit. By the time I realized this mistake there were faithful volunteers in our Creative Arts Ministry that were hurt, wounded, and ultimately quit because the Worship Pastor did not operate with our DNA. It has taken us several years to rebuild what was torn down in a very short period of time.

As far as feeling bad… I did not feel bad about letting him go, but I felt really bad about hiring him so quickly. I felt bad that my decision to fill a need had hurt so many faithful volunteers.

Q: Did this change the way you approach hiring?

What I learned, mirrored what I was told by a retired Colonel one time about a saying they have in the military: “Hire slow, fire fast”. From now on we will make sure our interview process, orientation, and on-boarding steps are saturated with our culture not just our need, and that oversight and regular appraisals are executed.

  1. Keeping someone too long…

My second example is that of keeping someone in a position longer than I should have. I hired a Youth Pastor right out of Bible College. He definitely knew our culture and had our DNA. He was young, passionate and extremely gifted in preaching.

He did a good job for the first couple of years. Our youth related to him, and he really ministered to them. However, as time went on, I knew he had “outgrown” the position of Youth Pastor.

What you will find in ministry is that one of two things will happen at different times. Either the person outgrows the position or the position outgrows the person. In either case, a change is necessary.

Q: If you recognized this, what kept you from letting him go?

The reason I held onto this person was out of love and also out of fear. I really liked him and truly loved him as a person, but I also recognized that he was no longer fitting into this position. I was afraid of letting him go because of the relationships he had built in the church. Would those attached to him leave?

For these two reasons, love and fear, I waited too long to make this move. When it was finally done there was actually a great relief on his part as well as ours. However, because I hesitated in making this move it hurt him and our youth, as well as our relationship together for future ministry.

  1. Releasing one that I shouldn’t have / Making decisions without defining the real issue…

The third situation I’ll address is releasing someone that was in the right position, serving with our DNA, but was under-trained to succeed. There were several problems that brought about this move but they were not the real issue. Sometimes we make decisions based on a problem without allowing the problem to define the issue. That was the case here. I released a faithful, dedicated and gifted couple that I would love to have back on staff right now. At the time, I failed to define the real issue: lack of training- which was our responsibility, not theirs.

Two years after I released this couple the Lord told me it was my fault not theirs. He instructed me to call them and repent to them. I called immediately and took them to lunch. I repented and asked them to forgive me. I told them it was my fault and that I did not take the time to properly teach, coach, and train them for success. I also told them that if they would ever like to come back, that I would definitely do everything I could to ensure their success. We remain good friends still to this day.

These are all valuable lessons learned from situations that didn’t feel good…

Yes, we have placed the wrong people in important positions. Yes, we have held onto wrong ones too long.Yes, we made decisions that needed to be made, and for certain we felt bad about it. We have learned, and pray and believe that we will not make the same mistakes again.

However, in all of these situations God remained faithful, moving on our behalf and overcoming our shortcomings. And anyone reading this can rest assured that He will do the same for you.

This article was first featured in RHEMA Europe, Africa, Middle East News.

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