Pastors' Forum


Staff Communication

As a pastor, I had a situation where a church member confided in one of my staff members about a particular matter (they are friends). Because of the way it was shared, my staff member never conveyed the information to me. I ended up making some church-related decisions and taking some actions which I never would have taken had I known what the staff member knew. Am I wrong to be concerned that my staff member felt more loyalty to the church member than to me as the pastor?  How should I address this to this particular staff member, and how should I communicate with my overall staff about what I expect regarding this type of scenario?


Pastor Mark Williams—Rockford, IL
As pastor, you are the overseer for the souls of the people under your charge. Your staff members are to be eyes and ears for you in this regard. Please instruct them that there is no confidentiality clause against you in regard to those for whom you are responsible before God. Advise them that if someone wants to tell them something in confidence to let them know that as a staff member, you will be sharing this with the pastor because he truly cares for you and is looking out for your soul. If the person objects to this, then the staff member is to tell the individual not to share the information with them either. Then alert the pastor about the alarming communication. Staff members need to assist the pastor, not hinder, him or her in the administration of their assignment from God in the care of His people.

Pastor Walker Schurz—Lusaka, Zambia
A good friend of mine who has been in the ministry for over 30 years helped me understand a similar situation by describing “borrowed authority.” That is, an associate pastor, children’s worker, or usher acts on behalf of the pastor. They are using the influence that the pastor has loaned that person. Their position is an extension of the pastor and should be seen as such. They should never abuse that authority loaned to them for their own purposes or agenda.

If a staff member sees their leadership as part of the senior pastor’s, then there would never be an instance where they would need to keep information from the senior pastor. Staff should let members know in advance that conversations are done in confidence, with the exception of the pastor they report to. That way there is not a surprise in the future.

As a senior pastor, I desire for my associates to grow, develop, and exercise godly influence to help bring God’s will to bear in the lives of our members. I want them to have deep and true relationships with the members of the church they interact with. They also need to know that information that will help me lead and keep me informed should be passed along to me. I regularly meet with my associates over counseling issues or their interaction with people to stay informed and so that we can plan courses of action together in tough situations.

Some materials that could help your staff along these lines would be In Search of Timothy by Tony Cooke and A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards.

Pastor Stan Saunders—Chillicothe, MO
It is difficult to answer this question in simple terms. We have developed an attitude and atmosphere of trust amongst our staff. When staff shares confidential information with me, they know it will stay with me. They try to handle everything they can, without involving me. If it is something they decide that I should know, they share it with me. In the scenario mentioned, I am sure my staff would talk with me about the concern with the church member. They have a great love for the ‘house.’ The house is more important than any individual.

This level of trust and communication is developed first by the lead pastor. We don’t share everything about every “counseling” situation. However, we do not keep secrets from each other either. To rectify the scenario situation presented, I would have an open discussion with the staff about how these situations should be handled in the future. Perhaps, this was more of a communication issue more than a loyalty issue. Do staff members know the expectations of the lead pastor in these situations? Assuming staff knows what to do is unacceptable. These discussions must take place, so all staff is working from the same page.

Pastor Michael Steward—Powell, OH
Great question. When we were on staff at another church, these types of things would pop up and would cause problems. So when we started LFC, this was one of the things that we knew we wanted to address from the onset. Simply put, we hate strife and try to prevent it at every turn.

When we established our Ministry Staff, we let them know that they are an extension of us and anything of significance that someone tells them, we must know about. We instructed our staff to stop the person who is confiding in them, and they are to specifically let them know that any info they share will be shared with us. I also address this occasionally from the platform. I let our people know that if they tell our staff something, they are essentially telling us. This is also addressed in our Membership Classes as well. It is important for the people to know that we are their Pastors and the staff is assisting us. We explain the purpose behind all this to our staff and congregation. When you take the time to explain the “whys,” 99% of the time it removes any awkwardness.

Pastor Ray Almaguer—Glendora, CA
Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon thing to happen in a church. A Pastor must communicate to his staff exactly what the expectations are in matters like this. Did your staff member know that he was supposed to convey this information to you? As leaders we cannot assume our staff will know what to do in a situation like this; we must give clear instructions (written is best) to our staff members. It sounds like this may have taken place in a counseling session. Our staff is instructed to let the counselee know that what is shared in a counseling appointment may be conveyed to others in church leadership if it is deemed pertinent. For example, if they tell me or another staff person that their child has a problem with violence or pornography or drug abuse, I will let the Youth Minister or Children’s Minister know to keep an eye on him.

I agree that your staff member should have conveyed this information to you, and you should be very concerned if you really believe he feels more loyalty to the church member than he does to you or the church. I think you should address this particular staff member in private. The first thing I would suggest to do is to praise him and appreciate him for all he does. Then you need to find out whether or not he knew he was supposed to convey this information to you. Be sure to give him the benefit of the doubt. If he really didn’t know, then the fault is with you as the pastor for not making your expectations clear. If this is the case, take the high road and apologize. Instead of saying, “You should have done thus and so..,” you should tell him something like, “This was my fault. The next time you’re in a situation like this I would like for you to do thus and so…,” and then let him know how to handle it.

If he truly did know he was supposed to convey this to you but simply chose not to, then you have a problem. The overall church was affected by his decision. You need to decide how firm you’re going to be about this, and you need to let him know this will not be tolerated in the future. Let him know why you feel so strongly about this.

If this staff member didn’t know he was supposed to convey this information to you, then chances are your other staff members don’t know it either. I would suggest you do a teaching on this in your next staff meeting. You don’t need to mention this particular incident and embarrass your staff member. Just let them know how important it is for all of you to communicate with one another at the leadership level.


Pastor Dennis Cummins—Puyallup, WA
I believe this can be a constant struggle with staff members that lack experience and character. I do understand that they don’t have to share every little detail with us that is shared with them by church people, but there are issues that need to be passed onto me as the pastor to help me make better, informed decisions. This is where a staff’s experience and character come into play; when knowing what is needed to pass on to me and what is not.

This is also dealing with an issue of loyalty as well. I tell my staff that good news flows down the chain of command and bad/concerning news flows up the chain of command. There is nothing that is to be held in confidence when church people come to them and communicate issues or concerns relating to me, another staff member, or the vision and direction of the church. This is a non-negotiable. If it is apparent that they have sided with a few people in the church to come against the vision or myself, then I have no choice but to let that staff person resign gracefully or I will remove them. In my experience, yes this does cause some issues, but I believe it mitigates the potential outcome of what it could be if left alone or ignored. I have informed every staff member that they have grace to grow and make mistakes, but there is no second chance if loyalty is broken. We must be united and agreeable to move ahead. If they are causing strife or division behind the scenes, then they must move on. You can and should set clear expectations with your staff, but I have found that you can’t teach integrity and character to a staff person that lacks it. They are in leadership for other reasons than to be taught and to serve. It takes a lot of work to get the right team on the bus, but it is well worth the sacrifice and pain that one goes through to get there.

Pastor Al Jennings—Ft. Wayne, IN
By listening to your question, it sounds like you already have the answer. When your staff member keeps something from a church member in confidence and does not share information with you that you need to know about, their loyalty (at some level) is with the member and not with you.

My staff members have an understanding that if someone shares something with them in confidence, they have an obligation to share it with me if I need to know or if I request it from them.

Dr. Dan Beller—Tulsa, OK
This kind of problem can be pre-empted by having the right policy in place before hiring staff members and associate pastors/ministers. A good policy is as follows: “In the hiring of staff members and associate pastors/ministers, the church board decides when staff personnel is needed and how much to pay them; only the Sr. Pastor can invite or dismiss said personnel.”

This policy keeps the staff members and associates loyal and accountable to the Sr. Pastor only. The staff members should then be required to share any important information with the Sr. Pastor and understand the consequences if they do not. If staff members are accountable to the church board or congregation, it will usually cause division because some will be selfish and try to get people on their side for protection. Paid staff members should be required to do everything possible to keep harmony in the congregation and never indulge in criticism of the Sr. Pastor. There are plenty of volunteer people who cause division and criticize the Sr. Pastor and it doesn’t make sense to pay staff members who indulge in this behavior. The paid personnel should also be required not to criticize each other, but should instead sign a “Ministry Covenant” when they become staff members.

Another factor which helps is to have a staff meeting every week where potential problems are discussed in confidence. The associate pastors and whoever else the Sr. Pastor so desires should be faithfully attending this weekly meeting. It is my experience that staff members are glad to strive for a high standard when it is presented up front.

Pastor Thom Fields—Kennewick, WA
Dealing with key influencers—staff personnel and leadership team members—is a full time task all in itself, isn’t it? As a matter of fact, hiring someone to take of that is currently at the top of my list of Things To Do in 2010. The last guy that held that position recently left the church and took a handful of regular tithers with him, so the position happens to be currently open! On a positive note: he truly did develop an incredible ability to communicate with key people while he was with us.

Communication is obviously key. However, learning the different dialects of each individual influencer in a growing church body is more difficult than anyone can eloquently put into words. Over the years my wife, Shelby, and I have attempted to learn how to effectively communicate with key leaders, each in their own language, and I must admit that after much time and seemingly insane effort combined with great investment of resources and prayer, it really does produce measurable benefits. Another idea that produces fruit at a rapid pace (if and when we can actually stay focused long enough to pull it off) are what we might call Come to Pastor Parties. That’s just a code name, of course. We’d never get our key influencers to these sessions if they heard us referring to them by this name. Try calling them your C2PP gatherings. This leaves them wondering what the heck you’re talking about and they might simply show up expecting to find out what C2PP actually stands for. NEVER TELL THEM!

The actual idea is to conduct leadership meetings with the very specific agenda of training your key influencers in the ways of YOU. This is not a single leadership event. This will take some prayer, planning and preparation, but it is possible to train your staff to begin to think like you think—see what you see—feel what you feel—and to choose how you choose. And, if you can develop these skills within your team without them realizing what you’re doing—that’s even better! I’m not suggesting you figure out a way to manipulate people, because this isn’t really about tricking your team. It’s about impregnating your team with your DNA. It’s about your ability to become Naked and Not Ashamed, if you will. (Hey! That might make another great name for these meetings! NNAG. Naked and Not Ashamed Gathering) Transparently communicating and convincingly convicting your key influencers to embrace the core values that you yourself possess until it actually becomes the culture that you and your team are creating. Whatever you call it—the goal is the same: getting your team to operate on the same page as you with one common goal to build the kingdom—not an individual’s ministry.

You have key leaders who seem to be more loyal to members of the body than they are to their head. Don’t allow yourself to feel too badly about that. Just do something to change it. Being aware of it is a great start, in my opinion. Now, it’s time to be brave and lead. Train with a purpose in mind. Commit to growing and changing your team!

Pastor Brad Allen—San Mateo, CA
When people come in for counseling, the basic rules should be made clear. Mandatory reporting requires counselors and pastors to report admissions of child abuse or molestation and suicide risk. But other rules apply as well. I never agree to this statement: “I need to tell you something, but you can’t tell your wife.”*

An associate pastor has a fiduciary duty to pass along important information to the senior pastor. The associate is a representative and delegate of the senior pastor. As such, pertinent information cannot be retained, but must be shared. The associate’s authority is delegated authority from the senior pastor and withholding information is a breach of trust. It is not privileged communication with an individual on staff, rather it is obtaining the counsel of the church.

At the next staff meeting, I recommend going over the basic do’s and don’ts of counseling and include the necessity of forwarding important information to the senior pastor. Staff is to counsel with the same advice that the senior pastor would give and this necessitates a flow of information.
*Likewise, I never provide marriage counseling when only one person will come to the office.

Pastor Andy White—Chandler, AZ
A while ago the Lord asked me a question, and He said: “What does a staff do?” Having spent 10 years in the United States Air Force, I replied, “A staff supports the leader,” to which the immediate response was, “And a staff extends your reach in a direction.” Selah. So really a staff member is a part of me and extends my reach in the direction we are going. The difference between the staff and a stick is that the staff is connected to the leader, and the leader points the staff in a particular direction. We all know what happens when a staff drops from the leader’s hand…

Perhaps the issue here is not one of rebellion so much as a question of training. Where there is no law, there is no transgression. It might be possible that the staff member felt they were behaving ethically. One thing you might want to consider in your training is to teach your staff how to respond to this statement: “I don’t want you to share this with anyone.” The correct response for a staff member should be, “You have to understand that I sit here as an extension of my pastor. What you say to me, you have said to him.”

Pastor Doug Foutty—Parkersburg, WV
If the decisions that you made and the action that you took ended up causing a problem or hurting someone, I would want to lay down some ground rules. I would tell your staff members that if they run into a situation like this again, that you want them to highly encourage the church member to come to you, the pastor, and share the information. You can have your staff member explain the scenario (with no names) that you just went through and how you wouldn’t want that to happen again. You might even deal with the subject to illustrate a message to the congregation and let them know just how vital some information is and why sharing this information with you can change the course of some of your decisions. I also think that since you were innocent in this, God would have gotten you the information one way or another if were truly a life and death situation. I would use this as a teaching tool for your staff and trust that they are led by the Spirit of God in each individual circumstance.