Regarding ruling elders: ruling elders and personnel matters

July 15, 2016

Louisville

When considering the need for a personnel committee, the session should reflect upon the size of the congregation, the session, and the staff. While no longer specified within the Book of Order, it is fitting to remember the guidance from a former version of our Constitution, that said “The session ... has the responsibility ... to provide for the administration of the program of the church, including employment of nonordained staff, with concern for equal employment opportunity, fair employment practices, personnel policies, and the annual review of the adequacy of compensation for all staff, including all employees” (G-10.0102n, 2009/2011 edition).

A healthy staff thrives when there is

• an employee handbook;
• a description for each position;
• an annual review process;
                                                    • a regular way to provide support and feedback.

An effective employee handbook contains information about expectations for employment; work hours and time off; wage, salary, and benefits guidelines; the use of church property and equipment; safety; rules of discipline; and a code of confidentiality. This handbook, mindful of federal and state laws, is developed by the personnel committee and approved by the session. Position descriptions clearly state the duties and responsibilities, accountability, salary and benefits. These are also developed by the personnel committee and approved by the session.

A healthy and effective annual review process includes a staff self-evaluation, a review by the supervisor, and input from key leaders who work with this staff member. The ideal review forms include open-ended sentences asking staff member, supervisor, and key leaders to describe areas that have gone well in a specific time period, areas to be strengthened, goals for the next time period, and help needed or that could be provided. These forms are provided for review and completion before the face-to-face evaluation with staff, supervisor, and personnel committee members.

One way of providing regular support and feedback for staff is a simple process using liaisons. In this method, each staff member is provided a liaison from the personnel committee or the session. The liaison can serve as the main communicator; listening and sharing joys or concerns. In this role, the liaison provides support by reaching out periodically, which could be in the form of cards or emails, face-to-face gatherings, and prayer. It is hoped that the relationship will be such that the staff member feels comfortable talking with the liaison about their work and personal concerns. Opportunities for continuing education and for social gatherings should be provided to support the staff as a whole.

No matter the size of a congregation and its ministry staff, there is a need for people gifted, called, and organized to support and encourage any persons who serve on the church staff. This is in keeping with the words of Paul in Ephesians 4:12, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”

For models of position descriptions, review forms, and an employee handbook, contact Elaine Barnett at ewbarnet@tampabay.rr.com. In addition, the PC(USA) “Guidelines for Session Personnel Committees” is available online in an older format and is currently being revised.


Elaine Barnett is a PC(USA) Certified Christian Educator and a ruling elder. She is a member of First Presbyterian Church, Sarasota, and currently is the co-moderator of the personnel committee in that congregation. Barnett chairs the Committee for Preparation for Ministry of the Presbytery of Peace River. She and her husband live in Bradenton, Florida.

For more about the information provided here, please contact Martha Miller at martha.miller@pcusa.org and browse the Ruling Elders website.

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  1. A Personnel Committee can be an important resource to a church.

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