Have you ever considered what it’s like to work at your church; is it a healthy workplace? Many churches never consider this question. Consequently, they unknowingly create an unhealthy environment that hinders the work of their pastor and church staff. Ignorance in this area will hurt pastoral tenure, relationships among the staff and leadership, and the church’s ability to fulfill it’s mission. A stressed church becomes an inwardly focused church.
The World Health Organization recognizes that workplace stress can contribute to serious physical and mental health problems. According to this organization, a healthy workplace doesn’t just avoid problems but promotes well-being among the workers: “A healthy job is likely to be one where the pressures on employees are appropriate in relation to their abilities and resources, to the amount of control they have over their work, and to the support they receive from people who matter to them.” Conversely, “Research findings show that the most stressful type of work is that which values excessive demands and pressures that are not matched to workers’ knowledge and abilities, where there is little opportunity to exercise any choice or control, and where there is little support from others.”
How to Create a Healthy Church Workplace
In order to have a healthy work environment, every church needs to consider four areas that relate to staff health. Using the acronym DASH will help church leaders, elders, or board members explore these four areas – Demands, Autonomy, Support, and Health.
Every job is demanding, but stressful jobs demand more of their workers than their resources can bear. Many churches have high expectations, harsh accountability, and no relational boundaries. Additionally, church staff often don’t have the necessary resources or training to meet the demands placed on them. This makes the workplace discouraging and dehumanizing. Here are some questions to help you examine the demands you place on your pastor and church staff:
- What are the expectations placed on your pastor and church staff?
- Do they have the resources and training necessary to meet these expectations?
- How do they feel about these expectations – are they reasonable or overwhelming?
- How does your church handle accountability; does this approach encourage or discourage your staff?
- Do you focus on past faults or future goals?
- Do you treat your pastor as a leader or as a hired hand? What does this say about authority structures in the church?
- Is Christ the head of your church in practical ways?
- Do you have boundaries that are both clearly defined and mutually agreed upon for every member of the staff?
- Do your staff members have the right to say “no” to unreasonable or unethical demands?
- Does your leadership know what boundaries are necessary when dealing with church staff?
- How does leadership handle a “no” from a church staff member?
One of the biggest predictors of workplace satisfaction is the amount of autonomy that workers have in their jobs. This is especially true among pastors and church staff. Autonomy is the freedom to exercise choice or control. There are two mistakes that churches often make in the area of autonomy: either they have no boundaries or they are controlling.
Having no boundaries means that the staff have no sense of where they are free to act. In conscientious workers, this creates stress because they will often take on more responsibility than they should. Over-responsibility means they are carrying a burden they were never meant to carry. Other workers may freeze because they don’t know what to do first.
In both cases, these staff members may be accused of being lazy because they are not productive in the right areas. The reality is, it’s the leadership who are lazy because they have not negotiated clear boundaries with the pastor and staff.
There are three areas of support that every church needs to provide for their pastor and staff – safety, recognition, and respect. When people feel threatened by their workplace, their productivity suffers dramatically:
“If you create this sense of psychological safety on your own team starting now, you can expect to see higher levels of engagement, increased motivation to tackle difficult problems, more learning and development opportunities, and better performance.”High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It
by Laura Delizonna
Additionally, no one likes to work in an environment where they feel they are being taken for granted. Many churches will recognize the big successes, but that is where recognition is least important. Big successes are obvious; it’s the faithful, constant, plodding work that usually doesn’t get noticed. This is where a church needs to be intentional about honoring their pastor and staff. By making them feel valued, the church creates an environment where staff will love to come to work.
When we feel respected, we do better work. Too many church leaders look at their church and compare it to their own work environment. They see only a small portion of the total ministry experience and think “that job is easy compared to mine.” They don’t see how these assumptions are creating stress for the church’s employees. A wise leadership team will learn to see things through the eyes of their pastor and church staff. They will not judge when staff share concerns; instead, they will accept how their employees feel and work to change the situation. (Passing judgment on these feelings would communicate that the staff is not safe and their work is not respected.) Leadership should strive to make the church the best place to work in their whole community.
Your church may want to conduct a survey to see if they are creating an environment where the pastor and staff feel safe. You can adapt this Team Learning and Psychological Safety Survey for your church.
Finally, a church that is creating a healthy work environment will focus on the physical, mental, and spiritual health of its pastor and staff. They will examine relational and workplace habits to see if they are creating undue stress. For example, does your church expect its pastor or staff to answer email quickly, even when they are out of the office? If so, you are making them carry the stress of their job everywhere they go. They will never truly have a day off.
How does your church handle the schedules of the pastor and other employees? Flexible schedules are often seen as a benefit, but they actually create more stress. To the degree that it is possible, every worker should have a fixed schedule. This is especially hard in small churches with solo pastors. Here, it’s important to train people to honor their pastor’s time off (except in the case of a true emergency).
The physical environment of the workplace has a dramatic effect on pastors and church staff. I knew a pastor whose office was in the basement of the church. He had no windows and it was a depressing place to be. When the church moved his office to a room with a view, the whole spirit of the church changed. The pastor was more joyful, which gave the church more energy. Many churches don’t consider how their physical environment impacts their workers.
Lastly, churches that provide gym memberships, counseling opportunities, and spiritual retreats demonstrate that the person is more important to them than the work. Your church may not be able to afford these benefits, but you can creatively care for the physical, mental, and spiritual health of your pastor and staff.
Love Your Workers
Don’t assume that your workers know they are loved, make sure they are safe, free, valued, and healthy. When a church works hard to make sure their pastor and staff know they are loved, Christ is honored, the church is blessed, and the world will see just how much they love one another.