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In the years of serving in my role as a Youth and Emerging Adult ministry consultant, I have had  many conversations with youth leaders, youth pastors, councils and congregations about the complexities of finding, hiring/calling, and/or recruiting people to serve in areas of youth ministry leadership. The varying degrees of processes a church will use to find, prepare and support such people have left a lot to be desired. The same might also be true for other staff hired within the local church.

These stories and findings must lead us to examine the current state of this reality within our contexts.

An illustration our Classis Youth Ministry Champions often use to examine the state of youth ministry in our churches is the image of a dance floor.

This is not a concept we developed, but one that comes from the excellent book titled “Sustainable Youth Ministry” by Mark deVries. In this book, he describes the scene this way. (Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky also reference this concept in their 2009 book called “Adaptive Leadership”)

“Years of preparation had made her movements effortless, her turns seamless, her leaps weightless. A dancer of unparalleled talent, she mesmerized the crowd with her skill, but even more with her passion. Her countenance proclaimed in no uncertain terms that she was made for this moment.

But she would finish much sooner than anyone expected. Coming down from an arching leap, she landed with a jolting crack, her foot driving its way through the rotting wood of the floor, her body twisted in pain, her leg bent in places it was not made to bend. She was pulled from the stage, wondering if she would ever dance again.

The master of ceremonies dismissively apologized, “Inexperience does this to a dancer.”

 But no one repaired the floor.

 And then, as if nothing had happened, the next performer was introduced. The crowd responded with a smattering of applause but with no one attending to the dance floor, the audience knew that the new dancer would also find her performance ending prematurely with a disappointing, perhaps tragic, conclusion.”

Something that has become clear to many in our CRCNA contexts is that the state of our dance floor for church staff (worship, children’s ministry, youth and emerging adult ministry, admin, etc) is not in good order. 

Stories of bad hires, tragic dismissals, traumatic experiences, and inconsistent evaluations and reviews are littered across our denomination. Behind the stories you will find a  trail of brokenness and hurt.

Many good people have fallen. Repairs are desperately needed. But rather than fix the floor, too many churches have chosen instead to hope that the next person will be able to dance around the holes and weak foundation. 

Something has to change. We need to examine our dance floor.

At Thrive, we have begun to assess the current landscape and have found that the dance floor is indeed broken in some places. Some have managed to escape the broken area’s unharmed (which has made it feel like we are doing alright but the reality is that they have merely navigated the floor to avoid the broken edges) while a great many have been left writhing in pain.

Something has to change.

It has become clear that current HR practices in our local congregations may not be as robust as required. Over the years with the move from single staff (often the pastor) churches to multi staff settings, our current church order (which does not give any guidance or support for hired staff inside a CRCNA setting) may not offer the support/wisdom required for these new realities. We have Commissioned Pastors in place but no significant HR or church order systems to help navigate this current reality. We hire additional staff but often do so without the due diligence (ie, proper pay, staff support, review processes, clarity of role, consistency of review/evaluations, healthy communication practices etc.) to help these staff succeed. In other words, our dance floor needs work.

But in order for the change to occur, we need to do some of our own examinations. We invite you to take a look at your own congregational settings and reflect the following questions.

  1. Where have you seen hiring/calling practices go well?
  2. Where have you seen hiring/calling practices go badly?
  3. Where are some of the broken sections of your own dance floors that need attention before the next person is invited to use it?

If you have any questions about this or your own story you would like to share, please feel free to reach out to us at [email protected] and mention 'HR' in your subject line.

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