Underfunded Staff: What To Do With Them?

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By on March 1, 2005   /   Leave a comment

I had to turn away from the horrific, gruesome, agonizingly drawn out execution scene of the ancient Scottish hero, William Wallace, in the movie Braveheart. Yes, I wanted my teenage sons to see this man’s courage and perseverance, but did Mel Gibson have to show five full minutes of indescribable anguish and torment?

It may sound over dramatic, but I have seen numerous Christian workers over the years experience this kind of slow torturous death—not physically, but financially and emotionally. Their support team may have been strong and vigorous at one time, but for whatever reason, it began a long, painful descent into “support raising hell.”

Or just as common is the worker who never makes it to 100% of their budget and then silently endures the accompanying embarrassment and pressures. Life, marriage, and ministry remain under constant stress because of financial shortfalls. Then questions begin to flood in like: “Is God really calling us to continue with this ministry that requires us to raise our support?” Exiting staff always give “reasons” for leaving, but more times than not, an unspoken, but core rationale is: underfunding.

What should you do with underfunded staff? Most ministry leaders go into the denial ditch and act as if all their staff are doing just fine. Some macho executive types choose the other extreme by coldly administering the “all or nothing” ultimatum to their underfunded staff—who by now are drowning in hopelessness and bitterness. Instead of just letting them twist in the wind, here are three proactive steps you can take to help these devoted, but perpetually under budget staff know you care:

   1. Give them the right training
Some organizations try to “subsidize” underfunded staff in the short term, but this is like putting a band aid on cancer. Instead of handing out a fish each day just so they can survive—why not teach them to fish? Make sure you get them to the best support raising training available.

   2. Give them the right coach
Try to give this struggling staffer a mature, fully funded companion who can encourage and troubleshoot, but also has enough backbone to ask tough personal questions. The coach needs to go with them on some support appointments as well as have specific weekly accountability.

   3. Give them the right finish line
Provide the staffer adequate time off to pack out their weeks with face to face appointments. Lovingly, but firmly, focus their goals and efforts on a finish line (i.e. a deadline). You, the coach, the staff person, even their prospective donors, all need to urgently work and pray toward getting to 100% by that date.

If these steps have been taken and the staffer is still not fully funded, then and only then, do we pull them aside to do a complete evaluation as to whether this really is God’s best place of service for them. As hard as it is to cut someone loose, most of us would prefer a quick and painless death to a slow torturous one.

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