Hiring: A Practice in Spiritual Discernment

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I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately: in the church we talk about the someone is “called" to be a minister, or elder, or deacon. We talk about it in other capacities in the church, too. We even, because we’re good Reformed folks, talk about our “jobs” or careers being callings. However, I’ve been wondering, what difference does that make in how we search for a job, or how we hire employees if we’re Christian business owners?

Let me make a proposal based on a book I’m really coming to value, Selecting Church Leaders: A Practice in Spiritual Discernment by Charles M. Olsen & Ellen Morseth. It’s a great book that proposes a new (to most of us) way of recruiting church volunteers and staff, but I wonder whether it would be good for those Christian employers in the “secular” marketplace who want to put their faith into practice in their hiring.

Here’s how it might work: 

  • As an employer I ask myself the serious question: “Whose choice should it be who works for me next: God’s or mine?”
  • Get together all the relevant materials: job description, characteristics you’re looking for in an employee, the interviewing team—if it’s normally just yourself, try adding a couple of discerning Christian co-workers to help form an interviewing team.
  • Talk with the interviewing team about the company’s story—How did the company start? Why? What are the important values of the company? What are some of the challenges the company has faced? Who has been impacted by your company and how? How has God’s presence been felt in the life of the company? (see Selecting Church Leaders, ch. 3 for more).
  • Take some time to solicit applications, but also take time as an interviewing team, to relinquish personal preferences and baggage: pray together that God’s choice would win out, and not our own.
  • Go through the list of applicants prayerfully. Choose the ones whom God seems to be pointing out to the group—take into consideration all the “normal” factors, like experience, training and skills, but also factor in what the Spirit seems to be saying to the group through your prayer times.
  • Then, where possible, invite applicants to join in the prayer and discernment process. (This may be really difficult where applicants are not Christian, and I’m not sure how to deal with that, but I’m open to suggestions!).
  • In the process outlined in the book for church recruitment, all the potential candidates for a ministry sit down with the discernment/interviewing committee, and they discern together prayerfully (usually through more than one session) whom God is calling to the position(s) in question.
  • Finally, prayerfully make the decision as an interviewing committee, including the final candidate(s) in the decision making process.

I realize this is a really unusual way of looking at hiring, and I know there are things that would have to be modified for this to actually work out. But what do you think? Could it work? Why or why not?

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Participant

hmmm... maybe the Church could try that with elder and deacon selection?   it's done to some extent, but this probably takes it beyond the level most churches select their council members?  or not?

Community Builder

Thanks for your comment, Bev. The original book was written for just the kind of scenario you suggest: elders, deacons, and other church volunteers. I think it'd be really good to implement in our churches, but what do you think about trying this kind of strategy in the workplace?

This approach seems to make obvious sense when hiring in a Christian context. But does it also have application in a "secular" context? For example, if a Christian manager in a secular organization is hiring, which of these steps still apply? If we believe that "there is not one square inch" over which God doesn't rule, then we see His sovereignty in every hiring decision. We also see the Christian worker or manager as being at God's disposal for His Kingdom purposes. The interesting question is how this plays into a hiring decision when non-Christians are applying, or when questions about faith are not permitted by company policy. Clearly God uses people who are not part of His elect to carry out His plans (for good or ill - think of Cyrus and Pharoah!) 

Food for thought - and good preparatory dialogue for tomorrow's CRC Webinar "Every Square Inch" at Work - sorry for the shameless plug!

Community Builder

Your comments make a lot of sense. In fact, I regularly come across employers who approach most of their decisions this way. I am the executive director of the Canadian Christian Business Federation and I regularly connect with about 3,500 Christian business leaders across the country, from small operations to multi-national corporations. Our membership also includes a half dozen Christian universities and 15 Christian non-profits.

Hundreds of Christian business leaders meet monthly over breakfast to deal precisely with the kind of issues that you raise. But why stop at hiring practices? Why seek God's will only when we're hiring an employee ... whether that's in a church or in a business?

We claim that God owns everything ... even the church!

I regularly come across men and women who live and breathe their faith at their work. When they develop long range plans for their companies, it's a prayerful process, balancing THEIR plans with God's will.

When they create their corporate budgets, they include a set amount for 'kingdom causes' ... rather than simply giving God 10 per cent of their net profits ... if they have any.

They responsibly value their employees, providing mentoring environments and appropriate maternity and paternity leave.

 

Your suggestion to employ the spiritual disciplines when hiring staff and appointing volunteers seems to me to be a foundational practice that every church should employ.  Certainly this should all be done prayerfully and pastorally.

Here's one more tip when it comes to the appointment of volunteers to head up various church ministries. Pay them a dollar a year. They're now considered 'paid' employees and the appropriate church body now has the right to 'fire' an employee if he/she isn't doing a good job. It's virtually impossible to fire volunteers. After all, they volunteered. If nothing else, it conveys a message to the volunteers that they're accountable and that they can be released from their responsibilities if there are valid reasons.

The Church can learn a few things from their members who genuinely reflect Christ in their business.

 

Keith Knight

 

I couldn't agree more. The whole point of hiring according to God's will is that He has plans for the business into which we're hiring, and we're looking for the men and women He has invited into His Kingdom work here. So for His will to be carried out following their hire, they (and of course we) need to be submitted to Him, living Christlike lives in the workplace and not just in church, seeking wisdom and guidance from the Spirit while using to the best of our ability all the gifts, experiences and abilities (and personality) that He has uniquely given us.

Of course that isn't easy and we all fail at times, sometimes massively. But this is a place the church has a role to play that it has largely ducked - supporting and equipping, celebrating what God is doing, challenging one another to focus more and more on God's work in our work.

Community Builder

Great to hear from you, Keith! I'm really glad for the experiences that you've had with Christian business owners. I think that yes, indeed, the Church could learn a lot from these businesses that you mention. I think that too many times we treat finding church volunteers and staff as either "just business" and utilize a very "secular" model for hiring/recruiting, OR we use the "warm body" procedure of just putting in place whomever we can find who is willing, regardless of qualifications, job description, fit with the rest of the team of even regardless of God's will!

Community Builder

... I need to add something. There is a recurring refrain among the Canadian Christian business community (and they're a broadly ecumenical lot): If you're involved in business, you're involved in ministry.

I know hundreds of men and women who feel 'called' to their ministry in business, and who refer to that same sense of calling when they hire CEOs, managers or sales people.

Here's a digression: I recently spoke to a group of Christian multi-millionaires and billionaires. They told me two things: they're lonely (their friends want their money) and they have left the organized church (the church just sees them as walking ATM machines or, at best, a potential chair of a capital campaign).

They don't seem to be valued for their leadership skills or their spiritual needs.  When's the last time you appointed a very wealthy member to the Diaconate or used his/her gifts as Sunday school teacher?

Community Builder

I think this too is a really valuable comment, Keith. Though I don't know any millionaires or billionaires myself (that I'm aware of), I've heard the same thing about the loneliness. I wonder, with regards to church-volunteerism and the wealthy, whether there's an assumption that if you're wealthy, you must be extremely busy (else how could you have gotten wealthy, perhaps?). 

While perhaps not an always true assumption, it does point to a mistake that we often make when recruiting staff/volunteers: we either decide for the people whom we might ask that they are too busy before we even ask ("Oh, she's a single-mom. She would be too busy to do this.), OR we recklessly pressure people who may actually be too busy into doing stuff that they really would rather not. 

If we were to engage in the kind of process outlined above, perhaps that would be another pitfall we could avoid (at least to a greater degree). The more we allow the Spirit to speak into these decisions through all of us, the more likely we are to "get it right."