Blurred Lines and How to Avoid Them
by Mark Lenz
I obsess over clarity. Why? Because I’ve been in several situations, mostly in churches, where a lack of a clear purpose, clear directions and clearly stated goals led to confusion, frustration and wasted time.
I heard someone once say, “what’s pretty clear in the pulpit is muddy in the pews.” That’s probably true. I often wonder how much more effective the church would be if we were clearer about what’s really important.
The need for clarity, however, goes beyond what we preach and communicate on Sundays. It also applies to how leaders run the organizational side of the church.
Lines create boundaries and boundaries create clarity. But sometimes, when lines get blurred, the boundary becomes unclear which leads to confusion. Sometimes, church Human Resources leaders set up position descriptions for their staff that lead to blurred lines. Let me explain.
Working in a church is weird. If you haven’t worked in a one, just ask someone who has. Here’s why. Because most of the time, your pastor is your boss. That’s weird. It’s a blurred line. Is the Pastor your pastor, or are they your boss?
Similarly, you may have heard it said, “never work with a family member.” Why do people say that? Same reason. It’s a blurred line. Is that person your coworker or is he your brother-in-law?
You can see where it can get interesting…or weird. In the coworker / family member scenario, work issues bleed into family issues. In the coworker / pastor example above, employment issues become spiritual matters.
Here’s another scenario. What if your family member works at the church? Maybe you’re a PK (“Preacher’s kid”) and you have an issue you’d like to discuss. Do you go to talk to your dad or your pastor? In this situation, it’s the same person.
And maybe you don’t want it to be the same person. There are some things you could tell your pastor that you might not want to tell your dad. Or vice versa. You see the blurred line. “Yes, he’s my dad, and yes, he’s my pastor.” Whenever there are two equally valid answers to one question, it’s confusing.
I know a guy who works at a church and his dad is the pastor. So, for this guy, his dad is his boss, pastor and dad. Talk about blurred lines! And what about the pastor / dad? Can he give his son / employee a fair annual review? Probably not. Or at least it may not be received as fair.
Blurred job descriptions
Here’s one last example I’ll share about blurred lines. It’s the hybrid-job role. It’s the Youth Pastor / Worship Leader. Or the Executive Pastor / Campus Pastor. That one’s the worst. And I’ve seen it.
But I ask myself, isn’t the Campus Pastor’s job to be fully engaged at the campus? And isn’t the Executive Pastor to have a higher perspective on things, considering all campuses, and not just one? It’s not a good idea for the same reason the U.S. does not allow the President to also hold another elected office. The President can not also be the Governor. The Governor’s job is the lead the state. The President’s job is to lead the country. One person can’t do both.
Three pieces of advice
First, strive for clarity. If possible, don’t have hybrid roles for staff people at your church. It creates blurred lines and confusion.
Second, avoid hiring relatives. This will eliminate all kinds of relational and spiritual pitfalls that can come from working with family members. But I get it. Some relatives are very qualified, so if you must, see point #3.
Third, set up strong boundaries. If you do hire a relative, make sure one person doesn’t report to the other. One should never be the other’s boss.
I’ve worked at some large churches where relatives worked together. Many husband and wives were both employed at the church. One guy had both his son and father working alongside him. But they were always in different departments. And the church created strong parameters associated with their employment / relationship status. This helped lessen the negative impact of the blurriness of the situation, but it didn’t eliminate it completely.
Again, seek clarity in everything. Avoid hybrid roles. Beware of hiring relatives. But if you must, insist on strong, clarifying guidelines to minimize the potential negative impact.