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Risks and Rewards of Multistaff Ministry

"Isn't that what we pay staff for?"? is the dreaded question in multistaff churches. Here's advice on involving the entire congregation, not just "the pros" in worship. A feature story exploring the importance of congregational involvement in worship, especially in multistaff churches.

Sunday worship during July 2005 was highly unusual for the people of Friendship Missionary Baptist, in Charlotte, North Carolina. The services included no choirs, dance, or drama. “The congregation became the choir. This was frightening and exciting at the same time,” says Tony McNeill, minister of music and arts.

As a full-time ordained pastor, Dave De Ridder was highly qualified to lead multiple Bible studies. So he did. But it felt like too much on top of his other responsibilities. Then he got some good advice from his elders at Third Christian Reformed Church in Denver, Colorado.

Three years after becoming lead pastor at River Walk Community Church in Battle Creek, Michigan, Rich Verkaik noticed he was being “drawn into worship in a richer way.” The reason was simple—though getting there was not.

These snippets of life in real churches hint at the risks and rewards of hiring multiple staff. When average worship attendance tops 150 or 200, most churches expand their ministry roster. But capitalizing on the potential of a larger staff requires ministers and congregations to rethink their roles.

Church size affects members’ expectations

Just as the hidden rules of socioeconomic class keep people from understanding each other in school or work settings, unspoken assumptions about pastor-church relations trip up people who don’t understand the dynamics of church size.

For example, in many churches of fewer than 150 active members, people see themselves as one big family, each known and cared for by the pastor. If you've belonged to a large church where the senior minister's main job is preaching, you might be surprised to that learn people in much smaller churches sometimes have different priorities for their pastor. Occasionally such a pastor may explain that all that week's visits to shut-ins didn't leave much time for sermon preparation. And the matriarch next to you will nod approvingly.

Church growth expert Roy M. Oswald says that for every 100 active members, a church needs one full-time person, not counting the janitor or secretary. Hiring someone for education, music, worship, or youth often results in congregational growth.

Before long, ministers gifted at one-on-one pastoring find themselves supervising large staffs. And if clergy have different visions and conflicting styles, those tensions often surface during worship services.

Meanwhile, multistaff congregations puzzle over whether clergy should be equipping members for ministry or taking on more ministry tasks.

Dave De Ridder in Denver credits “the good work of wise elders” for helping him see that paid clergy shouldn’t lead all the Bible studies. “I now lead only two. The other studies not only survive but actually thrive under highly capable new leadership,” says this minister of teaching and family life.

Leaders train and free others to do ministry

“The danger of multistaff ministry is the assumption and presumption that staff should do all the work. We’re constantly educating and re-educating our congregation that it’s their job to do ministry and our job to train them,” says Victor Ko, minister of congregational life and outreach at Third Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Ko and his colleagues have well-defined worship tasks. Ken Baker, minister of worship and administration, does 70 percent of the preaching and plans worship. Staff members give input and suggestions for sermons. Pat Stromstra, minister of music, works with Baker to plan music, often including pipe organ, brass, keyboard, strings, and African drums in celebrative morning worship.

Lay people help lead worship at Third CRC. The praise team sings a gathering song while people calm themselves and ask for the Spirit’s presence. Choirs and liturgical dancers offer their gifts. Other members, including youth, give (pre-planned) testimonies and lead prayers, songs, or parts of the liturgy.

“Besides getting members to own different ministry niches, I ask them to find their own replacements. This is a paradigm shift that requires paid staff to relinquish power. And the lay people need training in discernment to choose replacements,” Ko says.

When Rich Verkaik arrived at River Walk Community Church, he noticed the worship team hadn’t been buying music. He suggested they buy some praise and worship songbooks. “They thought that was a good idea and suggested I ask the council if it would be okay,” Verkaik recalls.

After a confusing repetition—"Buy some"…."Sure, if council says so"—everyone realized that teams weren’t used to taking ownership. It’s different now. River Walk’s music and worship coordinator is empowered to train and prepare praise teams and musicians. Someone else trains and equips the technology team. Ministry teams set goals, take responsibility for their areas, and use their budgets to fulfill their visions.

“Services are crafted with so much more care. They flow. As a pastor, it draws me into worship in a richer way when I know everyone else is prepared to play their role,” Verkaik says.

Many voices enrich worship

Sermons improve when preaching pastors bounce ideas off staff and lay leaders. Verkaik tabled his idea for a sermon series based on The DaVinci Code after the worship design team advised against it.

Marshall Holtvluwer has been pastor of congregational life and outreach for less than five years at Orland Park Church Reformed Church in metro Chicago. “I preach once or twice a month and have never been disappointed in sharing God’s direction in a sermon I’m working on. People who’ve been here longer than I have typically have advice on how the church might receive the message,” he says.

Holtvluwer looks to youth leaders and members of the creative worship team for ideas on using drama, video, and art in his message at Orland Park’s monthly youth-led evening service. Youth group members suggest songs, lead singing, usher, pray, and carry other parts of those services.

As minister of education, Mary Loeks wanted a better way to help Church of the Servant Christian Reformed Church see itself as one body, even though young children leave before the sermon. She made a simple yet highly effective change in the children’s processional at this Grand Rapids, Michigan, church.

Loeks raises a kid-sized banner, invites the kids forward, and says, “People of God, what is your prayer for these children?” Worshipers answer, “May the Lord be with each of you as you worship together.”

There’s a collective hush and smile as people wait for the youngsters’ response: “And may the Lord be with you as you worship here.” The congregation replies, “Go in peace,” and the children stream out, following whichever lucky child gets to carry the banner that week.

Congregations in multistaff churches reap the best of each leader’s gifts. “Two people can do more than twice the amount of ministry together than anyone can do alone. My team-mate and I dream together. I tend to be better at emotion and technology, while my team-mate is better at finding the right litanies, prayers, and songs,” De Ridder says.

Lesli van Milligen co-pastors a Cincinnati church plant with her husband, Tom. The couple has job-shared other pulpits too. “The constant positive we hear is that people enjoy our different styles of preaching and worship planning. Being two, we can connect with a wider range of listening, learning, and experiential worship styles.

“Tom and I don’t always resonate to the same worship experiences. So by encouraging each other to move beyond our comfort zones, we get a chance to model how to respond to these stretching experiences. Sharing this openly with the congregation helps everyone be more flexible,” she says.

Worshipers come ready to take part

Multistaff churches have the resources to reach for excellence, which draws even more people to services. This worship wealth, however, can create an “audience perception,” according to Tony McNeill at Friendship Missionary Baptist.

Friendship’s DeiVision of Music and Arts has 19 paid and 20 volunteer staff. (Using “Deivision” instead of “division” reminds members that God’s vision directs them.) About 400 of the 5,000 members sing or play in a church ensemble. Dozens more dance in one of four groups. McNeill’s department works with the senior pastor to plan worship that intentionally supports the sermon and scripture. “We believe in going in with a plan but trust each other’s sensitivity to go with the Spirit’s flow in a service,” he explains.

After concerted study on worship, staff realized that not enough people saw worship as the “responsibility of the gathered people.” Except for a verse or two, there was always a choir to sing for or with the congregation on every song, prayer chant, and response.

So through sermons, bulletin inserts, and weekly teachings about liturgical elements, staff prepared the congregation for July, when the music, dance, and drama people had the entire month off.

“This radical move helped everyone see that worship is ‘the people’s work,’ not just the work of choir and clergy. We taught people they should come to church prepared to give rather than to receive,” McNeill says.

The result? People began using the prelude as it was intended, to meditate and prepare for worship instead of meet and greet. The quality of congregational singing soared. And Friendship vowed to continue the education by dedicating at least one Sunday per month to congregational singing. 

Learn More

Help your staff build a common vision for worship and ministry by attending a course or annual conference together:

  • Church Music Summit, Friendship Missionary Baptist, Charlotte, North Carolina. This excellent conference covers how to offer, not perform, all elements of worship.
  • The Institute for Worship Studies Florida Campus, founded by Dr. Robert E. Webber, author of the Ancient-Future series.
  • Calvin Symposium on Worship, annual January conference, Calvin College and Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
  • Hampton Ministers' Conference, annual June conference, Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia.
  • The Hymn Society Conference, July 16-20, 2006, DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana.
  • Leadership Summit, Willow Creek Community Church, August 10-12, 2006, North Barrington, Illinois.

As an economical alternative to conferences, Victor Ko suggests gathering the staff for DVDs and satellite events from Church Communication Network and the Leading from Your Strengths team.

For crafting services as a team, read Designing Worship Together: Models and Strategies for Worship Planning, by Howard Vanderwell and Norma de Waal Malefyt, and An Hour on Sunday: Creating Moments of Transformation and Wonder, by Nancy Beach.

Maximizing the potential of your church’s staff will be easier if you study the dynamics of church size. You can study by video, book, or other resources. One church size doesn’t fit all.

However, if you choose a multiple ministry model, then learn how to Staff Your Church for Growth. Recognize every staff member as part of the team, and develop your staff and volunteers.

Check out this advice on hiring/firinginterviewing, and look for or advertise church staffing positions. The Alban Institute has a book to help those serving on a search committee.

The Alban Institute also offers seminars relevant to leading large churches and advice on effective delegation, inter-staff communication, and leadership in large churches, as does its consultant Gil Rendle.

Browse related stories on designing worship together, equipping worship leaders, worship masters programs, creating worship renewal, and God’s invitation to Sabbath rest

Start a Discussion

  • Is your church going through a significant change in worship attendance? If so, how does this affect who does what in planning and leading worship? How does it affect what you think the pastor or other staff should focus on?
  • Some senior pastors set a vision and require every staff person to align their ministry with this vision. Others leave staff members free to carry out their own programs. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each approach?
  • In what ways does your staff equip members for ministry? What areas for growth do you see in your church’s equipping effectiveness, especially as it relates to worship?
  • On a scale of “we function as a committee” to “we learn and fellowship as a small group,” where does your worship planning team or church staff fit? 

Share Your Wisdom

What is the best way you’ve found to get the most from multistaff ministry? 

  • If your pastor started reading more widely about worship and discipleship, what results surfaced in sermons or the way your staff functions?
  • If you wrote a handbook on how to help church leaders create continuity between worship services and other aspects of church life, will you share that with us?
  • What have been the most (or least) helpful ways your congregation has tried to adjust to changes in church size and staffing?