Pastors' Forum


Hiring – Inside or Outside?

As a young pastor, I’m in the process of building my staff.  I’m deliberating how to fill our next staff position, and am contemplating on whether to hire from inside the church or to look outside. I’d love to get some insights from pastors on the pros and cons of hiring from within or without, and any general guidelines they use in considering and selecting people for staff positions.


Pastor Sam Smucker – Lancaster, PA
In filling staff positions through the years, it has worked best for us in hiring from within. I have found in hiring from within, the person knows you and your vision in a deeper way. They also are familiar with your style and methods of ministry. We have hired from without only a few times and several times it was not a very good situation—didn’t take enough time to know the person. There was one instance where it worked very well because the person’s attitude was that of a servant and his skill set was outstanding—that person served on staff for 21 years. Hiring from the inside you have time to observe a person’s conduct and work ethic. Whether you add staff from within or from without, it is important they know the heart of the pastor and the vision of the church and understand they are not coming to change things but to work alongside you and help build the ministry God has entrusted you with.

Pastor Dean Hawk – Colorado Springs, CO
Here are some thoughts I have used in hiring:

  1. Set the requirements for the position and hold out for God’s best.  Have a written job description.  Leave no holes or gaps in your expectations.
  2. Those from within the church can apply if they meet the requirements.  I had an individual from within our church apply for our youth pastor opening earlier in the year.  He is committed to the church, loyal, faithful, and a great asset to our church.  He applied and tried out for the position but I turned him down.  Although he was loyal to me and the church, it would have been a step backwards for our youth ministry.  A good leader has to make the tough decisions that are the best for the people than for yourself.  It would have been much easier on me to hire him, yet it would not have been in the best interest of the teenagers.  Reality Check – There is no easy way to tell someone close to you that they did not get the job.
  3. We used People Keys with our last hire.  This is an awesome on line evaluation for the specific church position combining the DISC personality test and a team building evaluation.  Once completed it will give you a complete printout of their strengths, weaknesses, and challenge areas.  It even gives you questions to ask the candidate based upon their responses.  Very affordable.
  4. If an outside candidate is found, the first step I take is to have them come and attend our weekend services unannounced.  My first question is, “Would this be a church they would attend if they were not paid to be there?  If you lived in this community would you choose this church?  After listening to several teaching series, am I someone you would desire to have as a pastor?”  They must be sold on the vision, direction, and style of our church before being considered for a specific job.  I will bring them back at another time to speak or tryout for the actual position.
  5. Refrain from hiring someone who is leaving a troubled, discontented place of employment.  They will usually bring baggage from the previous position into the new one.  Stay away from someone who is “sneaking around” to interview without informing his current pastor or employer of his intentions.  If he will do it to that boss he will have no problem doing it to you later.
  6. Call every reference they give you and ask the references for references.  Ask very blunt open ended questions.   A key question that is a “tell all” is, “Would you hire this person again if you had an opening on your staff?”  Go by as much as what they won’t say as what they do say.  Don’t overlook obvious red flags in an attempt to fill a position.
  7. Interviewing the spouse is as important as the actual candidate.  Too many times I have found a great candidate but after interviewing the wife it was evident that she was not supportive, didn’t want to live in this part of the country or had a negative attitude or attributes.  I have seen many ministers hindered because of the actions of their spouse.  Many staff problems and conflicts are the result of a discontented spouse.
  8. Take a close look at their current financial situation.  Are they in debt other than for a house or car payment?  Do they have credit card bills piled up?  Unpaid loans, etc???  Financial stewardship is a great indicator of a person’s character and personal disciplines.  We always run a complete background check which includes a credit report on a potential candidate.
  9. Never hire someone you couldn’t fire.  Only hire family members or friends if they are the best candidate and you know that if they do not work out that you could and would fire them in the best interest of the church.
  10. Consider going to see them in action on their current “turf.”  Everyone is going to bring their “A Game” to an audition.  I want to see how they relate, speak, perform in their current position.  If distance and travel prohibits, have several services videotaped of them ministering.
  11. Follow the inward leading of the Holy Spirit.  We can never underestimate the power and insight of the Holy Spirit.  There is nothing more reassuring than knowing you have heard the voice of God to move ahead with a hire.  You can never get enough information to be at complete peace in who to hire or not hire.  The Holy Spirit can give you the assurance to move forward or the checks and red flags when it is not the right person.

Pastor Gary Hoffman – Rocky Mount, VA
Hire from inside the church if at all possible. They “know” you and your ministry, and have grown up under you. They will already have knowledge of your vision and how you do things. Also hiring from within gives others “hope,” and adds to leadership strengths.

Pastor Stan Saunders – Chillicothe, MO
We have created two new full time positions in the past 11 months. We also replaced a staff person who was with us for 7 years. Of the three we hired, we hired one from within and two from outside the church. Of the two from outside the church, one was from another church staff while the other was from the business community

Our first look is within. Hiring from within has many advantages. First, we know the person much better. The vetting process is easier. We know the person will not have assimilation issues with the culture of our church and community. The obvious downfall would be what to do, if he/she was not working out. The potential fallout from this could be devastating to them and to the church. By hiring from within, more qualified candidates from outside the church may have never been considered. I would caution going here just for the sake of convenience. That being said, our hires from within have worked out fabulously well. Our administrative assistant was/is a member of the church. She previously worked at a local bank. She is fantastic now working in the church office.

We have done quite well with hiring youth guys from outside the church. Our last two guys stayed 6 and 7 years. One resigned for moral failure. The advantage of him being from out of state is that he left town immediately after his resignation. It made the healing process easier for all involved, including the church. We were very close with the last youth guy, who left for another church. Yet, because he was not from our church originally, the sting of him leaving was a bit less.

There are certainly pros and cons of each position. We have to consider the requirements of the job mostly, when choosing. We look internally first. If we do not have the right person for our need, we look outside to find the right person. One other advantage to hiring from outside the church is that person brings fresh ideas and insight to the table. Insiders are more limited in their experiences and perspectives.

Pastor Bob Hoover – Decatur, IL
In the almost twenty years that I was Pastor at Living Word church in Roberts, I hired some staff from within the church and some from outside. I found that there was some good and some bad things both ways. Hiring from within proved to be very good, but a part of the congregation seemed to have some trouble accepting that individual as a Pastor, since they had thought of that person as just one of the church family.  After several months we overcame that situation.

Hiring from outside proved to be good, but I think you really have to listen to your heart and not just reasoning to get the right person. I missed it once by doing this. It is hard to overcome and difficult for the congregation. I think the real key is to always have a defined job description in detail as to what is expected. It eliminates problems later on.

Pastor Walker Schurz – Lusaka, Zambia
Finding the right people is something that is quite dear to my heart as this issue has been my greatest challenge for the past few years.  I have much to learn, but through God’s help and the insight of others, I am getting better at getting the right people in the right spots to achieve the mandates God sends us.  The joys and pains of getting it right or wrong are significant and make the difference between success and failure.

These pros and cons are from the last 15 years of experience of building teams in ministry and our current local church setting.

Hiring from within:


1. They want to be there.  They came to the church not for a job, but because they chose to have you as their leader.

2. You have made a difference in their life.  As John Maxwell says, “you have change in your pocket” with that person.  When Jesus gave the disciples the option of bailing out, Peter spoke up and said, “Where would I go? Only you have the words of life.”

3. They are or can be proven. They already have a track record with you. I love to give potential employees or leaders short-term tasks and observe things that you can never find out from an interview or resume.

4. They are already known and respected by the church.


1. They may not be exposed enough to know what you want and at the level you see it happening.

2. They may not have the skill level or the value of experience in that area of ministry.

3. If they are connected in your church or community, firing them may bring problems.  Never hire someone that you are unwilling to fire.

Hiring from the outside


1. They may have a higher level of education or experience.

2. They may come from a church or ministry that is beyond yours and they can help take you there. As a friend of mine says, “I look for someone whose past experience is in our future plans.”


1. So many times, people just want a job, but do not have or want to have your heart.  It is a marriage of convenience.  They want to do something, you have a need and both parties use each other without a heart connection.  I want to do ministry with people who are passionate about their work, who love the people they serve and treat their co-workers like family.  This is a big deal to me.

2. They do not share your core values or DNA and these must be caught from you.  Those you have raised up have a greater chance of having these things already.

Hiring tips:

1. Articulate the qualifications and look for that person.  Do not try to force a person in a place that is not a fit.  I have done this too many times, without any success and lots of pain for all involved.  Paul told Timothy and Titus to look for certain things in people who wanted to serve as pastors or deacons.  They were not optional and had to already be there. Chose your qualities before you start looking at people and keep looking if it is not a fit.

2. Spend time with their family.  See how they interact with their spouse and kids.  That is the real them.

3. Let them interview or work with other people as your perspective is limited.

4. Be led.  I just said “no” to an incredibly qualified person that seemed a great fit for a spot we had.  I could not put my finger on it, but it just did not seem right in my heart.  I tried talking myself into hiring him based on need and desperation, but could never get peace.  I’ve missed it enough to know the consequences of over-riding the witness of the Holy Spirit.

My experience in a local church is that we have had more success hiring from within as opposed to bringing in those from outside. I read that this is also a trend with large churches.  It could be that larger churches have a bigger lake to go fishing in than a smaller church.  It seems that God has a tendency of asking us to use what we already have in our hand.

May God guide and lead you in this critical aspect of leadership.

P.S. The following are books that have helped me incredibly in the selection and positioning of people.

Good to Great, by Jim Collins (especially chapters 2, 3)
First, Break all the Rules, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman

Pastor Jerry Piker – Laurie, MO
Both of these hold good values and bad in my opinion.

If you hire from the outside, you generally hire someone who has a set of principles or preconceived ideas that they have been taught from another source. Many times you have to retrain the person to what you want. This can lead to difficulties with personalities, habits, and in some cases, bad teaching.

When you hire from within, you know the person you have hired because you have lived with them, so to speak. You already know them, and they, for the most part know you. You have already placed within them your vision for the ministry in which they will be leading. On the down side of this, if there are complications later on in the ministry, you often have family members that get involved.

In the twenty-three years I have been the pastor of my church, I have only had one person that I hired in, and that one got homesick after a year and returned to their home. The average time of tenure of our staff is over ten years with the exception of a new youth pastor.  The former youth pastor was with us for ten years and is currently pastoring his own church. Our current youth pastor got saved as a teen in our church, went to Rhema Bible Training Center and then returned to work with our youth for the last four years.

I am a firm believer that a pastor’s responsibility is to train up people for the work of the ministry. When you are first starting out, it is hard to not hire someone to come in and help. I believe if we are not careful, we have a short-timer attitude and we don’t think of the long time God might have us stay in one location.

Pastor Dennis Cummins – Puyallup, WA
I personally have hired from within the church and brought people on staff from outside the church.  I think that there are some variation on this principle based on the size of your church.  If it is under 500+ in attendance, I would not bring a stranger on staff – regardless of the resume and references simply because it is impossible to get to know someone without going through some tough times with them.  So many people have different value systems and you can’t really get to know a person’s values without working with them over time.  If you have a sizable church and you have to let a staff member go, it doesn’t have the destructive potential than in a smaller church.

After experiencing both, I personally won’t bring on a Pastor to serve on staff from outside the church unless I have known them.  We have raised up every staff member that we have on staff now and it has been such a blessing.  We were able to watch them serve and see if they could build teams and be loyal to the vision of the church.  Once that was proven, we licensed them and then later ordained them.  Going from lay person to Pastoral staff was a bit challenging for some of their friends in the church to adapt to and respect, but that meant that our new staff members had to earn it – no entitlements in our church.  If they call you pastor, it is because you have earned their respect.

Sure their might be times to hire from without, but I believe there is no greater model than what the bible has shown us.  Moses raised up Joshua, Elijah raised up Elisha, Paul raised up Timothy, Jesus raised up Peter.  Sure it is more work and takes more time, but I have found that they have a vested interest in the work of the Lord, rather then someone blowing in and blowing up and then blowing out.  And remember, not having a key person in place is better than having the wrong person in place!  Be patient and take your time.

Rev. Dan Beller – Tulsa, OK
My observation:  Hiring from inside the Church has some advantages, such as the people do not have to take as much time to accept the person because they are familiar with them.  Also, they should be well acquainted with the Sr. Pastor and understand the programs of the church better than an outsider.  However, if this person is related to or is in close relationship to influential leaders in the church (“clan leaders”), it may be difficult to instruct or correct them and maintain their loyalty.  They can have more leverage to cause division.

Hiring outside the church can have advantages of maintaining loyalty to the Sr. Pastor and training them without preconceived ideas of local programs.  It may take a bit longer for them to establish a close relationship with the local congregation, but with good skills and abilities, they can be effective and productive sooner.

I recommend a policy which we adopted at Evangelistic Temple in Tulsa, OK:  “In inviting or dismissing Associate Ministers and other employees, the Church Board decides when said personnel is needed and sets the salaries, but only the Sr. Pastor may invite or dismiss said personnel.”

Pastor John Huizing – Red Deer, Alberta Canada
When it comes to a ministerial position, such as youth ministry, children’s ministry, prayer leader or an associate pastor, Ingrid and I are convinced that it is best to place an insider on the payroll, who is capable, competent and a team player.

Looking back, we have found that we have built a solid foundation in various church departments with stay-at-home mothers who were able to work part-time and bring their grace to the ministry.
Ideally, it would be beneficial to also hire insiders as staff members for other aspects of the ministry, such as building maintenance, janitorial, yard-care, etc, but this is not always possible.
In such circumstances we have been able to manage the work with volunteers, and would be open to outsource these responsibilities to outsiders.

We firmly believe in bringing on staff members as they produce strength and growth in the ministry. Proverbs 14:4 Where no oxen [are], the crib [is] clean: but much increase [is] by the strength of the ox. If you must bring an outsider on, our sincere suggestion is to be slow and be sure that you have a capable, competent team player. Not someone who shows potential.

Pastor Mike Kalstrup – Oakland, IA
One of the great challenges of Senior Leadership is church staffing.  But it’s also one of the most critical aspects of pastoral responsibility because as one individual has put it, ‘those that are closest to you determine your level of success’.

Instead of asking the question of whether to hire from within or from without, ask yourself if you know exactly what you want.  In other words, when it comes to the person you’re looking for, what qualities, competencies and calling are you looking for?  Does that person exist within your congregation; can they be trained to accomplish your objectives?  Admittedly, it would be a lot easier to hire from within; plus you’ve had a chance to really get to know them, but always remember that you’re first priority is to find the RIGHT person. The wrong person can be a lot more ‘expensive’ in many ways if you make the wrong choice.

The reality to hiring someone is that it’s WORK.  It requires several interviews with potential candidates.  Having to ask A LOT of questions!  Having others you trust interview them.  To the best of your ability, you have to know what you’re getting.  If you have the good fortune of hiring from within because they’ve proven themselves [as the scriptures support] and you’ve trained them….consider it a GIFT!  In my opinion those are the best.  But always remember that you’ve got to have the right people on your team.

With patience obtain YOUR objective.

Pastor John Brady – McAllen, TX
I think hiring staff is one of the most important decisions we make as leaders! The hiring process is all about putting together a team that is cohesive and vision driven.  If any member of the team is out of sync it affects the whole ministry. When an important member of the team leaves, there is always a ripple effect. With that in mind here are my personal thoughts on the subject of hiring from “within” to hiring from “the outside.”

When a position is needed we always look “within” first. When you hire someone from your own body you are hiring someone who is already hooked-up with your vision. (They know your vision and have decided to work it without being paid!)

Long before it is time to hire for a position, you have the opportunity to observe your volunteers and notice who rises to the top. Also when hiring from within, you get a chance to see the person in operation. You get to watch them minister to people over a long period of time. You can watch how they operate when challenges strike the ministry; this enables you to evaluate their attitude.  All of these are incredible, valuable tools when selecting a new hire.

When you hire someone from within they already have accepted the culture of your city and congregation. This means they are hooked-up with you and the town and tend to be long-termers.

The negative side of hiring within is that people usually aren’t developed in their calling or gifting. (If they were they would probably be working for a church.) Many folks are sitting on their talents, have been hurt in ministry before or the revelation of their gifting is new. That means you must train and equip. This can be time consuming and you may have to temper your expectations for a time. For me the upside of long tenure is so rewarding that I am willing to pay the price. I also believe it is a sign of a healthy church when people are following their call.

After talking about all the benefits of hiring from within, we have several staff that has been hired from without. Here are a few tips about hiring without. Pray, pray, pray! It is always important to be led by the spirit, but I would take extra time when hiring without! When you find the right person it is awesome. They bring a fresh perspective and a skill set that is so advantageous to the team. Spend a lot of time with them so you can see their heart and attitude. Have the rest of the team interview them and spend personal time with them. We put a lot of weight in what the rest of the staff says about a new hire. Some of the hires we have made from without are long termers who added so much; and there are others…..You get the idea!

God will lead you down the right path. Sometime we figure it all out, and then in prayer God shows us to move another direction that doesn’t make a lot of sense. That person may end up being the best hire you ever made!

Pastor Ray Almaguer – Glendora, CA
I have had good results hiring from the inside. The advantage I see is that people already have your heart and have bought into your vision. However, I see the day approaching when I will have to hire from the outside, because I will need the skills and the thinking of someone I don’t have in the church who can really help to move the team forward and take new ground. God needed Moses to be raised in Pharaoh’s household so he could lead them out of Egypt. God had to send him in from the outside because everyone else on the inside thought like slaves. They didn’t know anything else.

Pastor Gary Martin – Collinsville, VA
As a “young Pastor” in the process of building a staff, I “feel your pain.” I am choosing my staff with much more weight being placed on “faithfulness” versus “talent.” In the early stages of growth, our church can’t afford division, grumblings, battles for power, etc. Obviously, these issues are not something even an established church welcomes. However, based on my experience as an associate pastor in a large church, a larger/established church has a greater ability to “weather the storm.”

Most of us can spot “talent” immediately. You don’t need to spend a lot of thought trying to decide if they can “sing” or not. That being said, “faithfulness” can only be exhibited over time. Faithfulness will not be demonstrated in a month or so or in an interview (at least not faithfulness to your vision as the Pastor!). So, based on your question, I would choose from within, with “faithfulness” having the highest priority.