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Missional Choice #6 Staff: doers or equippers?

Missional Choice #6 Staff: doers or equippers?

A critical decision – and one that often gets made without leaders realizing it – is whether church staff are asked primarily to do ministry for the congregation or whether staff are asked to equip and coordinate the congregation as they do ministry.  The difference is significant for at least two major reasons.

The first is that there is a limit to the number of staff that any congregation can afford to hire as it grows.  When a congregation has about 160 – 180 in worship, it cannot continue to grow without adding additional program staff.  A pastor, no matter how dedicated or talented, is not capable of providing leadership singlehandedly to sustain the diversity of ministries necessary over the long haul.  The old rule of thumb used by many observers has been one program staff for every 100 persons in worship in order to sustain growth.  (Two part-time program staff can make up one full-time program staff position.)

So a church approaching 200 people in worship needs to consider adding the equivalent of a one full-time program staff in addition to their full-time pastor.  At this point, ministry can expand if this staff person is a doer.  But as the congregation grows to 350 – 400, the staff person needs to function as an Ephesians 4 equipper/coordinator in order for the congregation to continue to grow.  Practically speaking, at this size it becomes a financial issue.  Few congregations can afford the staff they need to continue to grow if staff are primarily the ones leading and doing the ministry.  (One way around this, of course, is to cultivate non-paid staff.)  This leads us to the second and weightier reason the missional choice between staff doing or staff equipping and coordinating is so significant.

The second reason is that if staff are the primary ones doing ministry, the members of the congregation are not fulfilling their discipleship by joining Jesus in ministry.  Consequently, staff are overly busy and worn out from doing ministry for people who are bored and not investing their own gifts and passions in serving others.  The congregation sees themselves as passive consumers of ministry, rather than those invited to take part in Christ’s Kingdom work.  Staff burn out while members of the congregation never experience the fulfillment of discovering the good works of ministry for which God has prepared them.  Every disciple is equipped by God for service to others based on the disciple’s gifts, passions, abilities and opportunities.  If staff are primarily the doers of ministry, rather than equippers and coordinators of ministry, members are not growing into mature disciples and the ministry of the congregation is severely impoverished. 

Let’s look at how this might play out in two typical staff positions: youth minister and minister of pastoral care.

An excellent “doer” youth minister can maintain relationships with 60 – 80 youth and the ministry will top out at about 100.  Everything revolves around one-on-one relationships between the youth director and individual youth.  There may be counselors involved in the ministry, but basically everything depends on the youth director as the primary provider of ministry.  But when a youth director conceives of his or her ministry in terms of equipping and coordinating the youth ministry of the congregation, the youth minister focuses not just on relationships with youth, but also on developing, equipping, supporting and coordinating  a team of youth counselors who see themselves in ministry with the youth.  Thus, not only are a dozen or two members of the congregation experiencing the fulfillment of being in youth ministry, but the congregation’s youth ministry is able to develop subgroups that relate to a greater variety and number of youth. 

Many midsized congregations hire someone who helps the senior pastor with pastoral care – often a recently retired minister.  This person may help cover the hospitals, visit in nursing homes, assist with funerals and weddings, and help the congregation keep connected with frail members in their homes.  However, as the congregation grows and often ages, the desires for pastoral support soon exceed one person’s time and capacity to keep up.  But if the minister of pastoral care saw her job as including the development and support of a variety of ministry teams, the picture changes significantly.  There can be a team of people who visit in the hospitals and even follow up when people go home.  There can be a team of persons who provide family care around the birth of a child or the death of a loved one.  There can be a team of persons who connect several times a month with those who are in nursing homes or frail in their own homes.  The types of teams doing pastoral care ministry can multiply according to the needs and the passions of people to be in ministry. 

How are staff thought about in your congregation?  Do people see them as those hired to do ministry for us?  Or do people see them as those hired to support and coordinate the ministry the members of our congregation are doing?   The difference is missionally quite significant. 

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Dr. Jeff Stiggins

The Center for Congregational Excellence