What is the line between recruiting versus poaching pastors and church staff?

Working in the church context comes with a unique dynamic with employment, job transitions, and staffing. By contrast, in most other professional jobs, someone can submit a 2-week notice to resign from a job and go to another job. Etiquette expert Peggy Post shared these basic steps for quitting:

However, in a church context, there are a number of additional factors to consider. Sometimes the sensitivities can be heightened.

Do you know how sensitive this topic of church staffing can be? Oh, I already revealed that in the title.

Here’s another manifestation of sensitivity: I heard of a conference that explicitly stated a ground rule that churches cannot recruit staff from other churches during the conference.

One says recruiting is okay. Another cries foul.

Yes, this topic gets so overly complicated because there are many different convictions and various practices. What one person says is fair game, another says it’s wrong. This doesn’t get any easier if we don’t talk about it. (not to mention the overly spiritually-minded that say ministry is a calling and not a job…)

So this my first attempt at breaching this difficult subject of how church leaders from one church can talk about potential employment with a pastor or church staff currently employed at a different church.

Leave it to the professionals.

One way to manage this complexity is to hand it off to the pros. Yes, there are professionals that do the work of profiling churches and candidates, so that the best match can be recommended in a safe and confidential manner. (They’re also very helpful for salary negotiation.)

I’ve met good people along the way, those who work in this niche of church staffing firms, like Slingshot Group, Vanderbloemen, and Chemistry Staffing.

Hard question to answer

What I can say is this: I don’t know where that line is between recruiting and poaching, because different people draw the line differently.

This isn’t like basketball or football, where everything has a regulation size. It’s a little more like baseball, where every baseball stadium has different dimensions to the outfield walls.

Actually, it’s most similar to choosing a Bible version or a denomination. Yes, Christianity has a wide assorted mix on just about everything.

Navigating the Murky Waters

Here’s what I’ve found so far, informally and online.

One safe way to approach a pastor or church staff person with another church’s ministry opportunity is to ask:

“I found out about this ministry opportunity (attach description) and was wondering if you knew anyone in your network that might be interested.”

By doing this, it gives that person an easy way to share it with others or they could take the initiative to learn more about that opportunity for themselves, because they’re interested, or at least open to a conversation.

Along the same lines, when a church contacts me to ask if I know anyone that might be available for their ministry opening (and they’re contacting me because I like networking with pastors and churches), I’ll ask for a description about the church and the position they’re seeking to hire. Then I can share that document and pass it along.

Why are churches talking to other potential candidates? Here’s one reason why: “Growing churches are always in recruitment mode. Healthy churches are led by healthy teams who love their work.” In other words, it might be too late to be scouting for new talent, when a church has an unexpected transition.

Here’s another reason. A church is just being prepared and planning ahead, because “.. turnover happens. Many times, turnover is unavoidable.

Not every pastor can have an open process with their current church, but it is possible. One pastor did the candidating process while being in open communication with his current church’s leadership: “First, I made it clear to the search committee at [other church] that I was going to involve the senior pastor and elders of my church, and eventually the congregation as a whole. They were accustomed to dealing with pastors who wanted to do it in secret, and so were surprised when I said I wanted to do it in the open. I didn’t want to do it the usual way, because the church is my family and I want to know what they think. I value their counsel. And I’ve covenanted with them—I’m not at liberty to abandon them at will or spring something on them.

Here’s another thought: there are more sincere pastors than there are skilled pastors. If you had a look at a pile of pastor resumés or done a handful of interviews, it might be surprising to discover the mix of characters and competencies that are seeking church jobs.

Truth is: churches, pastors, and staff are in this mysterious life adventure where “.. the church deck gets shuffled a little sometimes.

That’s all I’ve got to say about this. For now.

3 other related topics

How does God prompt a pastor to considering leaving?

For pastors discerning whether to stay or to go, “should I stay or should I go,” maybe these general guidelines could be helpful, like Karl Vaters’ “Deal-Breakers: 7 Ways God May Tell a Pastor to Leave a Church—Long-term pastorates are almost always good for the church and the pastor. But when these things happen, it’s time to go.

Or, more simply, undoubtedly some time during any church staff person’s career (hopefully not every week), 1 of these 2 questions arise: 1. Am I Ready For a New Challenge? 2. Am I Ready for a Fresh Start?

How to Leave a Church Graciously

5 Things to Do Before Leaving Your Church: The Pastor Edition by Thabiti Anyabwile ~ I concur with this article’s author, that, a church should not be shocked and blind-sided with a pastor resigning with a 2-week notice, or less.

When Pastors Change Churches Too Often

It could be a red flag when a pastor is changing churches every year or two. Though it should also be said that a church that has a new pastor every 2 or 3 years could be a red flag, or it might just be Methodist. (this is an insider reference to the Methodist traditional practice of rotating pastors.)

This article is about that phenomena of pastors’ church hopping and explores how long does the average pastor stay at a ministry position.

Senior Pastors: There were some consistencies in a few of the polls that I could find, such as a survey conducted by the General Baptists which concluded that the average tenure for a pastor currently serving was around 8.82 years. This was a poll that drew from both bivocational pastors and full time pastors with full time pastors staying in their church a bit longer. For churches that are stagnant in their growth or declining, the average tenure for lead pastors tend to drop. According to Thom Rainer in his blog “8 Traits of Effective Church Leaders”, Lifeway found that the average tenure was around 3.6 years, while showing that more effective leaders averaged between 11.2 and 21.6 in a national survey they conducted.