Creative Leadership

The Loyalty Obsession: Why it’s Hurting Churches and Ministries

During many years as a consultant to churches and ministries worldwide, one of the most frustrating challenges I’ve discovered within Christian organizations is an overemphasis on loyalty. I know – we all grew up with the understanding that loyalty was good – one of the most important virtues. I was an Eagle scout, and number two on the Boy Scout law was loyalty.

That’s probably why so many churches and ministry organizations value loyalty far more than expertise – to the extent that they would rather hire or promote an extremely loyal person over someone more qualified. As a result, many churches and ministries are filled with employees who are very loyal, but sadly, incompetent as well. That’s why I think it’s time we took another look at the concept of loyalty – particularly as it relates to employees.

How employees view their jobs has changed dramatically over the last 10-20 years. My father’s generation were the “men in the gray flannel suits.” They were team players, and kept their jobs for life. Most of my family worked in cotton mills throughout North Carolina, and worked at the same company their entire lives. It was understood that corporate loyalty overshadowed their own personal sense of fulfillment.

But different generations view their working life through a far different lens. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker currently holds 10 different jobs before age 40. Job tenures now last less than four years. Some estimate that today’s youngest workers will hold 12 to 15 jobs in their lifetimes. For a generation that’s grown up with technology upgrades and media change, multiple variations of work environments comes easily. The bottom line? Especially since the pandemic, the world of work has changed dramatically in this culture, and as a result, employee expectations are different as well.

Today, employees care less about loyalty to an organization, and more about accomplishment. Finding a place where they can grow, utilize their gifts and talents, and pursue significance, are far more important than blind loyalty. That doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t value their employer – they just value accomplishment far more.

            So in the new world of work, how can a pastor or ministry leader change their attitudes toward employee loyalty?

First – understand that when an employee leaves your organization, it’s not necessarily about you. He or she is not being spiteful, shunning your friendship, or disrespecting your authority. Today, only the most insecure ministry leaders should feel hurt when employees move on to another church or organization. In fact, one pastor I know takes pride in the fact that his employees leave. He feels like he’s training a new generation to go out and grow other churches and ministries.

Second – today, loyalty happens when employees can grow, exercise their gifts and talents, and explore possibilities for the future. For them, it’s not about how long they stay at a single company, it’s how much they can grow and expand their career. Their goal is not the organization. Their goal is impact.

Third – Don’t be offended if you discover an employee has been looking at other opportunities – even if they’ve actually interviewed at other organizations. It’s natural to wonder what’s on the other side of the fence. Besides, if they discover a better fit somewhere else, why would you want to keep them? What’s the point of forcing an employee to stay who’s unhappy? Further, why lose the potential of a future relationship by firing them in anger? On the flip side, they might actually discover just how good their present job is, and re-commit with  new energy and enthusiasm.

Fourth – Make sure employees realize that your goal is to help them achieve God’s best for their working life. Make them feel at ease when talking to you about their job, and create an atmosphere where they’ll be comfortable sharing their frustrations. That gives you a chance to make adjustments instead of losing a good employee.

Finally – If they decide to leave – help them land on their feet. Early in my career, when it was time for me to leave full time ministry work, the head of the organization offered to pick up the phone and call any church or ministry I wanted and personally recommend me. But today, instead of that noble and gracious approach, most pastors and ministry leaders take personal offense when an employee leaves. They refuse to take their calls, and treat them like a traitor.

Let’s tone down the obsession with loyalty. Finding truly great employees is difficult, and the costs of re-training are high. Stop confusing loyalty and expertise. Find the most qualified employees you can, create an atmosphere where they can accomplish anything, and you’ll find more loyalty than you know what to do with.

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  1. Good post, Phil. Along with this, I think it’s important that churches and Christian ministries adopt a big-picture, kingdom mindset. If God calls a staff person to another church or ministry, taking that step of faith and following the leading of the Holy Spirit is something that should be commended and celebrated. (Of course if they quit for selfish reasons, an unresolved conflict or leave on bad terms, that’s not exactly cause for celebration)

  2. Churches are not businesses. They are Divine Institutions ordained, defined and governed by God. Churches are places where people seeking to fulfill a Divine Calling to a church-related ministry, subordinate themselves to a particular church. I would think that normally a person does so with the confidence that the Church beliefs are consistent with their own. From the point of surrender to a position within a church, I believe the person then tunes their heart to receive guidance from God the Holy Spirit, by prayer and continuing study and understanding of the Word interpreted by their belief structure, will know if God is satisfied with their service or, if it is time to ask God for guidance as to where they should serve Him.

    This separates Church ministry from any form of “employment.” To place God’s Divine plan for a church under human HR practices (schemes, strategies and metrics) is VERY DANGEROUS……

    People desiring fulfilling jobs should find it elsewhere. People desiring to fulfill a Divine Calling… should know when they have given their best to the Master, and be spiritually satisfied that their “work” for the Kingdom does indeed demand loyalty… but not as man sees it, or a pastor sees it.

  3. Loyalty may be said to be evil in the sense that if any action is defended on the grounds of loyalty alone, it is defended on no rational grounds at all. “I do this out of loyalty to my party” is irrational and amoral unless is it consequent upon, “My party is operating wholly and in every particular for the benefit of the human race.” “I do this out of loyalty to my leader” is irrational and amoral unless it is consequent upon, “My leader’s character, or purpose, or policy, is such that it ought to be supported.” Loyalty is in itself not a moral basis for action. Loyalty to a good man, a good government, a good cause, is of course a different matter. But in these cases, where one stands by a man, or a government, or a cause, because it is good, one is standing by the good. The basis of action in these cases is moral in that one is serving the good; and thus the concept of loyalty is redundant. One can therefore say fairly that whenever the virtue of loyalty is quoted as a prime motive or basis for action, one has the strongest reason for suspecting that support is being sought for a bad cause.

    ~ Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind

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