Bridging the Staff Team Divide

Published in Insight - Spring 2015

By Susan Beaumont

We are one team! Except, the administrative team often feels like a lesser partner in ministry. We do our best to honor and incorporate all voices in communication and decision-making, but somehow the administrative members of the team feel undervalued and marginalized.  Are we doing something wrong, or is this just the nature of staff team life in congregations?
Ministry is our reason for being. The ministry of the congregation is orchestrated by our program staff. The administrative staff is an invaluable partner in the work, but not central to the work in the same way as the program staff. The program staff would be crippled without the admin team, but the admin team without a program team is meaningless.
Tension between the two parts of the staff team will always exist on some level. However, there are several factors that aggravate the marginalization of the administrative team. These factors can be managed and mitigated to create a more unified team experience.

Missional Ownership
Clergy leaders have the strongest tie to the missional identity of the congregation. The tie is so strong that we often speak of ordained employees as being “called” to the ministry of the church.  We expect our clergy leaders to model ownership of the mission for the rest of the congregation. Non-ordained program employees are also expected to demonstrate deep resonance with the mission of the congregation. The programs they lead are meant to embody and strengthen missional identity.
Administrative employees have different levels of buy-in to our mission. Some are members of the congregation and may demonstrate strong missional ownership.  Sometimes we intentionally hire non-members for key administrative positions, because we believe that non-members are able to keep better boundaries around money and membership issues. They may think of themselves only as employees who exist to get a job done. They may feel no personal ownership of the mission of the congregation.
I believe that every member of the staff team, regardless of church membership status, needs to demonstrate a base level of missional buy-in if they want to be on the team.  They do not have to agree with our theology, but they do have to understand and honor our polity and our basic reason for existence. No staff member can be allowed to exempt him or herself from the vision casting or mission clarification work of the team.
Is it fair and appropriate to expect that non-member employees participate in the worship or devotional life of the staff team? Prayer is a foundational part of who we are. To remove one’s self from the spiritual life of the team creates division within the team. It is incumbent upon leaders to design devotional experiences that appropriately reflect the full spirituality of the team. Many teams accomplish this by rotating responsibility for devotional leadership, so that every spiritual perspective on the team finds voice.

Sunday Morning Participation
The Sunday morning experience is the bread and butter of a Christian congregation.  Those who participate in leadership on Sunday morning build their work week around that day.  They have a lived experience of the whole church each and every week, an experience that is both energizing and exhausting.  The work week that culminates in Sunday morning is fundamentally different from a work week that is lived from Monday through Friday.
Those in the office during the week encounter key players in the church, but do not share in the whole experience of the congregation.  The rhythm of the week is different, often culminating in deadlines that peak mid-to late week.  They do not share in the energy buzz or the exhaustion of the Sunday morning experience. They rarely see the congregation fully gathered.
We can minimize this difference by being more respectful about how we impose our work on team members functioning with a different work cycle. We can also create meaningful opportunities to invite administrative employees into the Sunday morning experience, so that they can experience our work cycle and the energy of the church fully gathered. To do this we need to respect admin time off, paying employees or offering compensatory time off when they are asked to be present on a weekend.

Accountability for Hours Worked
The administrative team, by design, is composed of people who are good at organizational detail. Tracking and balancing are a natural part of who they are and what they are expected to do.  Additionally, many of our admin workers are non-exempt employees.  This means that they must be paid overtime if they work in excess of a forty hour work week.  Consequently, they are required to prepare time cards, track the hours that they work, and get approval to work over-time.
Most program team members are exempt employees.  This means that they do not get paid overtime for working more than a standard work week. Accordingly, exempt employees do not need to track hours worked and are not required to keep time cards. Many full time program staff work consistently in excess of forty hours per week, and so we grant them latitude to schedule their work as it makes sense. They may take off in the afternoon or come in late in the morning to compensate for evenings spent in church meetings.
This difference in accountability for time and attendance creates tension. We can manage the tension by being respectful of the differing practices around work hours.  I believe that it helps the tension in the office when every member of the team is expected to report time worked, regardless of exempt or non-exempt status. It does not restrict the flexibility of program staff to ask for a weekly accounting of hours worked. It does create a culture of accountability and actually encourages program staff to be more thoughtful about self-care and about building intentional periods of non-work into their week.
We can also be more careful about honoring the tracking systems that help us know who is in and out of the building. An administrative employee is frustrated by the need to track down a program staff employee, who is nowhere to be found and non-responsive to email or voicemail messages.
The division that many congregations experience between program and administrative employees does not need to exist. In many congregations the divide is exaggerated by unexplored assumptions about mission ownership, accountability for time, and a lack of regard for differences in work cycles. Simple respectful practices can help us to bridge the great divide.

Susan Beaumont is a writer, consultant, coach, and spiritual director. She can be reached at