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12 key reasons for staff conflict

Nov. 21, 2016 | by Thom Rainer

My email inbox is full of these stories.

Messages to me via social media hit this topic too frequently.

There is a lot of church staff conflict out there.

To be clear, conflict exists in all relationships. And when I use the phrase “church staff,” I am referring to all who serve in vocational ministry at a local church, including the pastor.

Root causes

Conflict is certainly not unique with church staff. But among the several reasons for staff conflict, there are some that seem to be more pervasive with these relationships than others. Here are 12 of them.

1. Many church staff persons are woefully trained in leadership and relational skills. Pastors often have superb theological training but they have never led people nor have they been trained to do so. Other church staff have similar backgrounds.

2. Often the church staff involved did not have a role in selecting their team. The pastor inherits a staff; the staff have no say in the selection of the pastor. A search committee did not ask the pastor for any input for the selection of the worship pastor. These are some examples where church staff members feel that a team member has been forced upon them.

3. The chemistry among the staff is bad. It can happen in all relationships. Church staff members are not exempt.

4. The priorities among the staff are not aligned. I am seeing this reality more frequently. Failure to align is a guarantee for failure to move forward.

5. There is jealousy and insecurity. I recently heard from a worship pastor who decided to leave the church because the new pastor was so insecure and jealous of the relationships the worship pastor had developed over several years before the pastor arrived.

6. There is clear insubordination. Here is an excerpt from an email a pastor sent me; it came from the worship pastor: “I am going to lead the worship service the way I want to lead it, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

7. Church staff have formed unhealthy alliances. Different alliances within the church, both formal and informal, often develop around specific church staff. It can feel akin to hostile political parties always seeking to win their way.

8. Communication is poor. The staff do not spend time together sufficiently in either formal or informal settings. The pastor decides to lead down a certain path, but he has not gotten “buy-in” from others on the team. They may not even know about it.

9. There are work ethic divergences. One staff person works 60 hours a week. Another works 30 hours a week. But they are considered peers with similar pay. Resentment is likely to build.

10. The staff spend time casting blame at each other. Obviously, such actions are terrible for relationships. They are destructive rather than constructive.

11. Solutions are frustrated or thwarted. The pastor goes to the personnel committee to seek help dealing with an insubordinate and lazy student pastor. The personnel committee refuses to support the pastor because any proposed solutions “would not be the Christian thing to do.”

12. There is a consistent lack of appreciation. One of the key ways to promote church staff unity is to show appreciation. One of the key ways to promote church staff disunity is never to show appreciation.

Dealing with reality

I often write about the negative realities of church life because too many church staff members and church members are unwilling to admit them. However, I have a greater purpose. It is my desire to uncover these challenges so we can know exactly what we can do to be redemptive and unifying to bring glory to God through these important relationships.


Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. He is also a former pastor, seminary dean, and leader of a consulting firm. Rainer is the author or co-author of 25 books, including his latest release from B&H Publishing Group: Who Moved My Pulpit? Leading Change in the Church. His 2013 book, I Am a Church Member, has sold more than one million copies.



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