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Ultimate Staff Member

Dr. David P. Gallagher

A veteran children's minister called me the other day in shock. He'd just been fired because of staff conflicts. And he'd never seen it coming.

Staff relationships can make or break your ministry. If you don't learn how to work well with staff members, your tenure at churches will be short-lived. And you'll never have a lasting impact on kids' lives. Use these tips to ensure healthy staff relationships:

*Overcommunicate. Keep staff members informed-especially the senior pastor, secretary, and lay leaders. Provide copies of schedules and information memos to all staff. The church secretary must know details in order to answer questions. Keeping staff informed heads off the "nobody told me" conflicts prevalent in any organization.

*Coordinate with staff. A music minister may have a children's musical planned that requires extra rehearsal times. The youth minister may want a special event to welcome children graduating into the youth program. You need to know what other people have planned to avoid scheduling conflicts. And vice versa.

*Learn how to communicate. When you differ with staff, don't argue, interrupt, jump to conclusions, or pass judgment. Don't assume that your understanding is the same as the other staff person's until you check it out. Try to hear what the other person is really saying and ask helpful questions.

Use "I messages" and reflective listening. I messages tell the other staff person how you feel. A simple formula for an I message is, "When (the other person's actions), I feel (your feelings)." I messages put your feelings into nonconfrontive words.

Demonstrate reflective listening by saying, "What I understand you saying is that you're feeling (your understanding of the other person's feelings) because (your understanding of the reason)." Show interest and express empathy. Be silent when silence is needed.

*Use problem-solving steps to resolve differences. The real problem is not the issue (such as scheduling or programming). The real issue is the relationship between you and the other staff person. Build a basis for mutual problem-solving by realizing that you both share a commitment to ministry. You both have a vested interest in the outcome of the decision. Remember, conflict is inherent in life, and there's a creative solution to every problem.

*Ask good questions. When conflicts arise, ask yourself some of these questions: Why am I threatened by this? Can I learn or benefit from this? Would I profit from changing? Is this attitude, belief, or behavior actually detrimental to the growth of our relationship? Does my resistance to this conflict or change reflect the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5? Is my behavior what I want to model for others?

*Build relationships. Focus on more than "business as usual" with staff members. Spend time together praying and having fun. Weekly prayer brings staff together like nothing else. And playing together enables you to see other sides of each other. Cultivate staff friendships that'll provide fun social times. Take a different staff member out to lunch every week. Express an interest in their personal lives.

*Keep perspective. Stressful staff relationships can dim your view of the big picture. I keep a running list of milestones and roadblocks, noting major accomplishments and setbacks in my ministry. When I find myself discouraged, I'm encouraged by simply reading over the milestones. It's amazing how looking at the whole picture changes my perspective.

*Take care of details. Thinking through the little things prevents many staff conflicts. A summary sheet of all income and expenses is important to a business administrator. A master list of everyone going on a trip along with contact telephone numbers helps the church secretary answer questions. Cleanup assigned ahead of time will make the custodian smile. If you keep the business administrator, the secretary, and the custodian happy, you'll be blessed with many favors in return.

*Know church policies. Know what's appropriate and what's not. Read through the church constitution, all policy books, and handbooks to learn church policies. Put in a quick reading of all church board minutes once a month. Know how the pastor and other staff feel about issues. If you're not sure, ask.

*Constantly evaluate. I spend a few minutes on my computer after every event. I even have a laptop computer and pocket tape recorder that I take to retreats and camps to keep a running diary. Simple notations about how the event went-strengths, weaknesses, suggestions for the future-all help. It's a good backup for any later questions. Put a copy in the pastor's in-box for answers to questions before they come up. Making the pastor look good with parents and other staff members will ensure a smoother working relationship.ú

Dr. David Gallagher is a children's minister in California.


COPING WITH CONFLICT

Staff members have five basic approaches to conflict. Use this list to clue you in to your own and other people's style of coping.

*Surrender-People who are avoidance-copers will give in and possibly harbor resentment.

*Subversion-The mother of the sons of Zebedee used this method with Jesus in Matthew 20:20-21. She went behind the other disciples' backs to try to get her way.

*Open warfare-Arm yourself! If these people don't get their way, the whole church will know about it. And your job will be a miserable one.

*Adjustment-Someone may decide their part of the conflict is just not worth holding onto. As a result, that person will change to accommodate the other person.

*Negotiation-This is the healthiest form of coping. The result of this strategy is that both parties arrive at and accept a solution to the problem.

Staff members have a tremendous responsibility to model healthy coping skills for church members. Remember, as staff goes, so goes the church!

CHOOSE LOVE

When you don't agree, you have three choices: Through anger, take a step against the person, Through fear, step away from the person, Through love, step toward the person.

"Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love" (Ephesians 4:2).

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