What if Your Biggest Problem is Your Staff?

Sean Morgan

One of the more inspiring movies I’ve seen in a while was called Boys in the Boat. Set in 1936, it’s about the US Olympic rowing team, a group of average University of Washington college students who weren’t even the #1 team at their college–yet they go on to win Olympic Gold in Berlin.

Who doesn’t love a great underdog story?!

There is such an amazing amount of teamwork and precision required to move a boat in the right direction at such incredible levels of speed and competition. Each oar dipping in the water at the right angle and time, with maximum effort and alignment along the motion of the boat.

Can you imagine if just one of the rowers decided to stop rowing and take a breather, or worse, dip their oar in the water while they rested?

Any leader of a high-performing organization (and I hope you believe your church should be high-performing!) deserves to have a team that is fully aligned.  

And yet…I have to say that most of the calls I get for consultation with lead and executive pastors have to do with staff who are not aligned. Even worse, those staff feel entitled to show up and receive a paycheck even though they aren’t producing toward the mission, vision, and values of the church.

Perhaps this is piquing your interest?

If so, I hope you’ll read on a bit more!  

I recommend a few things for leaders in this situation and also for team members who aren’t passionate about things at their church any longer.

Note: It should go without saying, but these days I think I’ll say it: I’m assuming the leader is leading toward the approval and publicized mission, vision, and values of the church. And, they are not violating any moral, legal, spiritual, or ethical boundaries as a leader. And that they are requiring loyalty to the mission, not personal loyalty. 


  • Don’t wait. I’ve never seen a situation like this get better on its own. Find a way to engage with the team member and find out how they are doing and what’s going on (caveat: if you are heated to the point where you can’t converse calmly, wait a day or so).
  • While your job is to pastor the church, your job is also to lead the staff team. And…staff are both a part of the team and the church. Figure out if they need pastoring or leading.
  • Form a definitive timeline. The mission is too important to pay a staff member when they are not producing.
  • If there is no immediate acceptance of admonishment, bring in an outside observer to be a part of the discussions.
  • If God might be prompting the team member to make a change in not being on staff in the future, ask how you can support that potential transition.

Team Member:

  • The biggest problem I see with disgruntled staff right now is not that they have an opinion contrary to where leadership is directly, but that they are unwilling to hold their opinion open-handedly. So, ask yourself: in the same way you want a leader to be open-minded to your alternative perspective, are you willing to be open-minded to theirs?
  • Maintain a sense of mutual respect and honor for those who carry the burden of the mantle of leadership in a church. Consider reading Theodore Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena quote a few times so that you can ponder it deeply.
  • Realize that servant leadership from your leaders is conditional upon you working to produce fruit for the church in alignment with the mission. If you are the one with your oar in the water, expect to hear about it, and don’t take offense.
  • Refuse to misuse language like “power abuse” and “spiritual abuse” when you simply disagree with leadership.
  • Don’t take your frustrations to others where you force them to take your side and listen to what may well be an unsubstantiated opinion and/or rumor…even though you feel passionate about it in the moment.
  • Be open to God using some of this to help show you this assignment in ministry might be coming to a close and he does have a great next for you.
  • If you leave, leave well. Ask yourself what taking the high road looks like and if you were invited back to speak to the staff a few years later how would you want to leave things today?

I could go on with advice on this, but hopefully, this gives you some practical equipping for what I know is an extremely common issue for church leaders these days.

Cheering for you!

Sean started out in ministry serving in a San Francisco area church plant as their Executive Pastor.  He went on to help coach and consult with church leaders across the country and eventually founded The Ascent Leader, a first of its kind organization focusing on relational leadership development for local church pastors.

He also hosts the Leaders In Living Rooms podcast.

Sean recently retired from a 26 year career as a KC-10 pilot in the US Air Force Reserve.

His favorite titles are “Stacy’s husband” and “Kaylee and Ayden’s dad.”

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