the shape of leadership

Help Wanted: Must Have Untrainable Qualities

Making the right decisions when your hire

Chris Railey on August 25, 2017


What do you look for when you hire a new staff person? The first step in managing a team well is hiring well. Getting the right people in the right seats is half the battle. And a good employee can multiply the effectiveness of your church and give your vision a jump-start.

So, what are the attributes you look for in a prospective team member? Pastors often focus only on competency: Just find the person with the right skill set and plug-in where needed. But at the end of the day, there’s more to hiring than just a person’s talent.

I’ve learned that there are many things an individual can learn on the job. You can teach someone how to use a computer program, how to manage a budget, or fill out a payment request, even how to speak in front of crowds or lead worship.

But there are qualities you cannot pass on through training, and these characteristics are often more important than competency when it comes to making good hires.

You may find a candidate who is extremely qualified to accomplish the important tasks you lay out for them, but they are deficient in one of those untrainable areas. Be cautious about that hire. On the flip side, you may have an employee who is not fulfilling all aspects of the job assignment, but they excel in the more important areas. Think twice before letting that person go.

When hiring personnel, consider more than just their obvious talents. Look at some of the intangibles that a person won’t acquire through training alone.


A moral character is not something you can learn by taking a class or reading a manual. It only comes from becoming an apprentice of the Holy Spirit and allowing God’s Word to shape your behavior. If you sense certain character flaws in the interviewing process, that should be a major red flag.

Sadly, there are times when a person’s immense talent conceals their lack of character. I think the problem may be that we are so desperate for quality employees who can help us achieve our vision that we forget what’s really important.

When morality takes a back seat to mastery, there’s a problem. Eventually that person’s lack of character will emerge, and that will erase their effectiveness.

I’ve seen more pastors and staff members lose their jobs because of moral failings than all other reasons combined. I can’t help but think that if we as pastors would do a better job of spotting these fissures before they become massive problems, we could avoid pain down the road.


It’s always hard when you hire someone and then have to get them motivated to minister. Schools do a great job of preparing people for the job of ministry. But they can never teach you how to get up in the morning, get to the church and get to work. That’s something you have to do on your own.

Taking the time to find the right person will eliminate worries later on.

When hiring someone, look for signs of motivation. Look for people who have passion. If they love God and their church, then they should love showing up to work every day and giving it their all.

Look for people with initiative. Self-starters require little external motivation and will get things done and on time. Motivated people will also motivate others, always finding ways to get more people on board.


Loyalty is often underappreciated. But when you encounter a staff member without loyalty, it’s sorely missed. A disloyal employee will likely not change their opinion, unless something drastic happens. But a loyal employee can help you achieve great things beyond their own abilities.

Loyal staff members are the ones who show up for functions on time. They are willing to help out in areas outside of their main responsibilities. They are constantly leading the cheers and are enthusiastic about whatever is next. They are generally happier and bring the rest of the team up. Loyal employees are worth their weight in gold.


You can find the most talented speaker, gifted administrator and competent candidate, but if they aren’t called to ministry, they shouldn’t be working in a church. I’ve seen people get excited about what God is doing in a church and want to jump in. Maybe they had a parent in ministry. Maybe they’re one of your key volunteers. But because they lack a true calling on their life from the Lord, they never click in a ministry environment.

A God-given calling is something you cannot manufacture or reproduce. You are either called or you are not. We have great people all around the world who are called to ministry, and we need to do all we can to engage them in opportunities to be used by God. But don’t let obvious talents that fit a need replace the call of God on an individual’s life.

So, when you’re looking to hire the right person, how do you find these untrainable areas? First, take your time before you hire. Look past your assumptions, and really investigate the candidate. Find the right questions to ask that help you uncover these attributes.

You should also contact the candidate’s friends, coworkers, teachers and pastors. Follow up on references, and get a full picture.

Finally, spend some time with the potential new hire. Take the person out to dinner. Watch to see how he or she interacts with others and handles different situations.

Hiring staff can be stressful. But taking the time to find the right person will eliminate worries later on. When you find a candidate with good character, the right motivation, loyalty and calling, you can be sure you’ve found a great employee.

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