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The Next Faithful Step

Episode 7: Personnel Matters

Almond Springs (Scott Cormode, Fuller Seminary)

Charlotte Robinson, the pastor of the First Church of Almond Springs, California, had a problematic relationship with Jan Neuski, the choir director. Each week, throughout the fall, they sparred at the Tuesday staff meetings.

Jan Neuski

Charlotte soon concluded that Jan had to be fired. The choir director had no apparent interest in cooperating with the pastor on improving the worship service. Instead of cooperation, every conversation eventually devolved into a turf battle.

"How do I get rid of Jan without stooping to her level?" Charlotte with a mixture of noble motives and self-righteous high-handedness. The words of her mentor, Peg Abrinski, resonated through her memory. "A pastor cannot contradict on Tuesday what she preaches on Sunday." Charlotte finally settled on a plan. She began by being as cooperative as possible. She presented Jan with her sermon title, text and 'suggested' hymns. (After a few weeks, Jan occasionally allowed a few of Charlotte's selections to sneak into the service.) "I will treat Jan fairly," Charlotte said to herself, "and then send her packing with a clear conscience."

Charlotte decided to change the rules of Jan's game. She used the time that her retreat bought her to re-configure the organizational landscape. If she was going to have to tangle with Jan in the future, Charlotte wanted to make sure that next time the environment was to her advantage.

Charlotte worked with the Personnel Committee over the course of the fall to create job descriptions for every person on the staff—the pastor, the youth leaders, the secretary and the choir director. The pastor's job description assigned her, among other duties, the drafting of the worship service ("including prayers, litanies, hymns and responsive readings") and the "direct supervision of all staff members, including the youth leaders, choir director and the church secretary." The choir director's job description stated that she worked "under the supervisory authority of the pastor" and that her duties were "subject to amendment by the pastor and the Personnel Committee."

Jan did not, however, cooperate with Charlotte's plan. On the day that the staff was scheduled to meet with the Personnel Committee to go over the new job descriptions, Jan called in sick. The message she left on the answering machine said, "I see nothing wrong with having a job description so long as nothing changes in my present duties nor my current arrangement."

That Sunday, just before the anthem, she announced to the congregation, "I am returning my meager salary to the church, as is my custom. I serve for the privilege of serving and cannot bear to think that a salary might encumber me in my work nor fetter me in my prerogatives." And with that, she placed an envelope on the communion table.

In the meantime, Charlotte began recording dates and times of her periodic run-ins with Jan."This has become a political struggle," Charlotte reflected, "as much as it is a pastoral concern or a congregational matter."