Dealing with Toxic Staff

How I learned to exercise both grace and courage

I slumped on the bench in my church's main hallway. The footsteps and voices all around me receded as I let the words that had just come to mind sink deep: "For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others (Romans 12:4-5, NIV).

Slumping on that bench, back hunched and eyes closed, I knew that I just couldn't take any more. Ken (not his real name) could no longer work on my administrative team. He had been a critical part of that team for more than 10 years. He'd designed, engineered, and now controlled all the technical and computer systems at our church—all on his own time. As administrative pastor, responsible for all the day-to-day operations of the building and staff, I supervised Ken.

Ken's e-mails and conversations, not just with me, but with other members of the team and with our senior pastor, were the kind that make you wonder why "church" allows such behavior when, at any other organization, he'd face a three-month probation. He resisted accountability with every fiber of his being—just getting him to a meeting to collaborate on writing a job description for his role had taken me months. As for my requests for documentation, group training, and an emergency backup plan…five years later and counting, I still hadn't received a single piece of information. Worst of all, he'd violated basic privacy and confidentiality protocols more than once by reading and responding to the e-mails that leadership and staff sent via the church's server. That had been easy for him to do—the server lived in his second bedroom!

Yes, it had hurt when he'd called me incompetent, lacking in interpersonal skills and theological acumen. After that conversation I'd limped home, drawn a hot bath, and gone to bed, praying I wouldn't have to go to work the next day—church ministry was too hard, too lonely, and too "crazy."

Yet sitting on the hallway bench, the Spirit had been quite clear: Was I courageous enough, patient enough, strong enough to take Romans 12:5 seriously? What did it mean that I was a member of a church and that I therefore belonged to each person who called that church home…just as they belonged to me? Clearly, Ken didn't think I belonged and frankly, the feeling was mutual. But we both belonged. Belonging meant that quitting my role as administrative pastor because of six years worth of toxic buildup with a team member wasn't an option.

October 25, 2012 at 12:13 PM

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