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Is There a Line?

Is There a Line?

Ranking Beliefs for Hiring Decisions in Your Church

Jon Delger

Executive Pastor

Peace Church

Published On:

January 4, 2024

So you have a great candidate in front of you. You’ve had this church staff position posted for months. You have reviewed countless resumes, and conducted many interviews, and now you think you have finally found that special individual. They have character, they have skills, people like them, and they agree with, well… most of your church’s beliefs. Not all of them. But most of them. Is that ok? Do they have to agree with ALL of them? What percentage is required? Which ones count the most? Where is the line?

I’ve pondered this question many times myself. At times, it has led me to make an extra phone call, schedule an extra interview, or let an otherwise great candidate pass by. Taking staff alignment seriously can be costly. But what could be more important than a healthy staff culture? And what could be more central to that culture than shared convictions?

Ranking Our Beliefs

I recently recorded a podcast where we discussed which issues in Christianity are secondary issues [link]. There are some issues we should be willing to die for and others we probably shouldn’t. Not everyone will agree about which issues are which, but having a basic set of categories will be immensely helpful when forced to make tough decisions about staff alignment. The following 4 tiers represent my own attempt to rank our theological convictions for practical purposes such as deciding who to hire.

Tier 1

The first tier is for things that make us Christian. Disagreement here is the difference between being a Christian and being something else. For example: belief in the Trinity, that Jesus is the Son of God, that he died for our sins, that we need to put faith in him as Lord and Savior to receive eternal life, and other core teachings of the Christian faith.

Tier 2

Secondary issues are not first issues, but they are still very important. Disagreement here means that the other party can still be Christian, but they are out-of-sync with Scripture. Some examples might be views on sexuality and gender. Scripture is clear that God created human beings male and female, and marriage to be between one and and one woman. If someone believes homosexual behavior is not sin, that person may still be saved, but they are living or believing in disobedience to the clear teaching of Scripture.

Tier 3

Tertiary issues are those in which both parties can disagree while still recognizing each other as faithful brothers and sisters who are walking according to Scripture. One example may be differing views on baptism. I hold a strong conviction for one position and could make strong biblical arguments for why my position is correct and the other is wrong, and yet I would not say that those with an alternate view of baptism are unfaithful to the Bible. They are using the same faithful rules of good hermeneutics and coming to a different conclusion. They are my brothers and sisters, and when Jesus returns we will celebrate together… and they will find out that they were wrong on this issue (I say that with a smile on my face and my tongue in my cheek).

Tier 4

This final tier is for issues that are not very clear in Scripture and for which all of us might ultimately find out that we got some of it right and some of it wrong. Some examples might include one’s view of the millennium in Revelation 20 or of the Nephilim in Genesis 6.

A few notes about the tiers

Once again, not every church leader will put the same issues in the same tiers. Different churches will have different convictions or may place different emphasis on certain convictions. It should also be noted that this is a very general framework. Not every issue will fit neatly into one of these 4 categories. I think it will probably be more helpful to think of this as a sliding scale. For example, I would place the issue of gender roles in the home and in the church somewhere between the issue of homosexuality (Tier 2) and baptism (Tier 3). The difference between complementarians and egalitarians is a serious difference in hermeneutics (so much more serious of a problem than disagreement on baptism), but I would say that it is not at the same level as calling homosexual behavior ‘not sin.’ So we might call it a 2.3 on the scale. Final note: I realize that setting forth any kind of ranking such as this makes me vulnerable to lots of criticism. My hope here is not to have the last word on such a ranking but to demonstrate the kind of thought process that will help you in making hiring decisions.

So Where Is The Line?

Alright, back to the candidate in front of you. How did they do?

Hopefully, you have found alignment in Tiers 1 & 2. If not, this should be a pretty easy decision. Remember, the real foundation of unity in your church is truth. Alignment around God’s Word is where real unity comes from.

Tiers 3 & 4 can be a little more tricky. At this point, other factors can help us in making our decision. What kind of position are we hiring for? Is this someone who will be teaching, providing significant leadership, or be a faith role model for others? Then the standard is higher. Is this a part-time custodian? Then beliefs still matter because they are still a member of your team, but the requirement for specific theological alignment on lower-tier issues is less.

What is the level of knowledge of this person? In the areas where they don’t align, is it merely because they haven’t studied that issue and need further education? For example, are they resistant to calling themselves Calvinists simply because they have never heard a biblical and winsome explanation of what it is?

What is their level of passion or commitment to the lower-tier issue you disagree with? Is it an area they would be willing to joyfully submit to leadership? Or is the issue actually part of a bigger theological system, such as covenant theology versus dispensationalism? If so, this may have bigger implications than you originally thought.

Spend lots of time in prayer, keep your Bible open, and may God lead you as you make this decision that will impact your church for years or even generations to come.

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