Book Review: Effective Staffing for Vital Churches, by Bill Easum and Bill Tenny-Brittian

Review
08.20.2014

Bill Easum and Bill Tenny-Brittian, Effective Staffing for Vital Churches: The Essential Guide to Finding and Keeping the Right People. Baker, 2012. 176 pages. $16.99.
How would you describe your church and your church staff in a few words? Would you say that your church is “missional” and that your staff is “effective?”

That’s what veteran pastors and now church-growth consultants Bill Easum and Bill Tenny-Brittian want to help pastors say through their book, Effective Staffing for Vital Churches: The Essential Guide to Finding and Keeping the Right People.

I can’t with confidence say Effective Staffing is essential reading, though it is clear and instructive—depending on what you hope to gain from it.

WHAT I CAUGHT: A FEW CLEAR, INSTRUCTIVE PRINCIPLES

First, let me say that the principles of Effective Staffing jump off the page with easy-to-digest and refreshing clarity. In the introduction, the authors clearly state why your church needs a good staff:

“[Your church’s] money is tight and having the right staff is critical” (12).

“The Mission Field has changed” (13). In other words, the U.S. is more diverse than ever, and diverse communities change how churches operate.

“There’s a shortage of leaders…fewer men and women are entering…ministry than any time in recent memory” (13).

“The right staffing facilitates church growth” (13).

Easum and Tenny-Brittian serve readers well by concisely explaining what are often elusive buzzwords in church growth literature. For instance, they define that junk drawer term “missional” as referring to a church “more focused on transforming the world than on building up its own membership” (14). Now, I personally think that such an understanding of the church is problematic. Still, the clarity is helpful. And this definition acts as a foundation for the book, clearly shaping the other definitions. For instance, an “effective” staff is a staff whose “primary focus is…the mobilization and empowerment of the entire congregation for the purpose of transforming the surrounding community and the world…” (21).

And I’m thankful that the authors affirm with Scripture that the church, not just the staff, does the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12). How many churches have fallen into the trap of having a staff of all-stars that play the entire game, while hundreds if not thousands of fans sit around cheering them on, ultimately leaving the game to “the real players”?

So the staff is critical in stemming and turning this church-consumer tide. But how do you pick the right staff to do it? How do the staff become better coaches and scouts, the church members better players, and the church grow in the process?

To answer these questions, Easum and Tenny-Brittian lay out four core processes for fueling church growth and transformation (29):

  1. Bring people to Christ and into the kingdom
  2. Retain them
  3. Disciple them
  4. Send them back out into society

After breaking down each of these processes (Chs. 4-7), the authors take the pastor reader on a journey through four major transition points that he will likely encounter as he hires staff to carry out these core processes (Chs. 11-15). Whether your church has less than 150 people or thousands, Effective Staffing attempts to outline staffing principles for you (Chs. 9-10).

And like the aforementioned Ephesians 4:12 principle, a few of these general principles are biblically rooted. For example, “the mission of the church is to make disciples” (72).

But these principles are slim in light of all the implications the authors pull out of them. Some of these implications aren’t necessarily bad, given that the Bible doesn’t explain what scent your church’s bathrooms should effuse (43) or the proper ratio of church attendees to parking spaces (138). Certainly a pastor has to deal with these things, and reading this book’s principles will probably educate you on how other pastors you know may be thinking about church growth.

But what about the other staffing principles?

WHY THE BOOK ISN’T ESSENTIAL

The problem with Effective Staffing is that, though it tries to push back on consumerism, it too closely associates a church staff’s effectiveness only with tangible—or numerical—results. This relentless focus on results may pressure staff to use unbiblical and ultimately unhelpful practices to pressure people to make a decision for Jesus.

Of course I believe the authors genuinely desire to see as many people as possible come to know Christ. They even establish the principle that the pastors’ goal should “never [be] to grow a large church; our goal is to enfold as many people as possible into the kingdom. The growth of the church is simply a by-product” (142).

While I appreciate that one-off statement, the tone of the book rings differently, considering that the final stage all pastors should work toward is having over 1,000 people in attendance and multiple church campuses (102, 133). It not necessarily wrong to want to grow a large church. But some of the practices that churches employ for fulfilling that desire certainly are unhelpful.

Consider the counsel offered on corporate worship in the “effective” church: “Today if [your church’s worship] doesn’t first entertain, stimulate, and touch all senses, then it won’t educate or be the kind of worship that connects to the Spirit” (141).

Worship, then, which is “just as important as the sermon,” is first about entertainment (47), as if worship is something we watch, not do.

Disappointingly, such statements are characteristic of the book. The pastor could read this and easily feel that hemust have catchy worship—whatever the culture determines that to mean—or his people won’t enter God’s presence.

But thanks be to God that he connects his people to his Spirit through his Word, not by the solos of worship band guitarists. I’m sure Easum and Tenny-Brittain would say, “Amen!” to that, but the counsel like they give on worship at best blurs this distinction.

Regardless of your ecclesiological convictions on multi-site and corporate worship, Effective Staffing’s principles are geared to bringing more people into the church. As such they are driven more by man’s intuition and tactics than the principles described in God’s Word. The church’s numeric growth is said to be a by-product, but it seems to be the product that will come if you’re leading effectively. Sanctification, true conversion, love for one another, sermons rich in God’s Word, and other immeasurable yet indispensable marks of true disciples and sound churches are largely unaccounted for in this book.

By:
Isaac Adams

Isaac Adams is a pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and the founding host of United? We Pray—a podcast devoted to prayer about racial divisions in churches. You can find him on Twitter at @isickadams.