Thinking of hiring internally? When a church needs to fill a staff position, one of the first questions is always, “Do we want to hire someone from somewhere else, or do we want to hire someone from here?”

A basic definition of hiring internally (or “from within”) would simply be that when a church is seeking to fill a staff position, they hire someone who is already attending their church. As opposed to a promotion from within, this person is volunteering on a high level but is not currently in vocational ministry.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of hiring someone internally who has never had paid ministry experience? For simplicity and brevity’s sake, five of each are listed and described below. The goal isn’t to determine which method is better but to help us hire with our eyes wide open.

Advantages of Hiring Internally

1. Internal hires already know the church and local culture.

This is an obvious advantage. Internal hires already know and love their church. In fact, they have already voluntarily chosen their church over every other church in town. They have already chosen to live in their city! This avoids the thought many pastors have privately had, “If I wasn’t working here, there’s no way I would attend here.” This is huge!

Internal hires also aren’t taken by surprise by the quirks of their church family that would raise questions for external hires. “Why didn’t you tell me there was a mid-week supper that my family and I are expected to attend every week?”

As a matter of fact, internal hires won’t question much of anything about their church. They won’t question the way leadership is structured or how ministry is practiced. Why would they? Usually they don’t know any differently. This is one of their biggest strengths as well as a corresponding weakness.

2. Internal hires have already revealed their character.

No matter how many references are called for an external hire, it never equals observing someone within your church for years. How an internal candidate values and treats their family, as well as others, is already a known quantity. Indeed, you likely already know their family. You may also know their history and susceptibility to temptation. A quick way of saying this is that with an internal hire, you’re dealing with the devil you know.

3. Internal hires have already revealed their chemistry.

Chemistry can be hard to measure. You either have it or you don’t. It is true that many times you can get a good feel for chemistry in a series of calls and interviews. However, it is just as possible for people to fake this in an interview … on both sides! There are abundant examples of a pastor who took a job, only for the church to later realize that the pastor, while qualified and of sturdy moral character, isn’t a fit chemistry wise. There is even more anecdotal evidence of pastors feeling this way about the church they have arrived at, but now they feel trapped. An internal hire avoids this conundrum. Internal candidates, on the other hand, have shown strong chemistry for a long period of time. Be cautious of this: Hiring someone you don’t already know well within your own church can be the worst of both worlds.

4. Internal hires have less baggage and bad habits.

Churches largely avoid this with an internal hire. Most likely an internal candidate has never worked in paid vocational ministry before and is currently working a full time, nine-to-five job. By contrast, it is an ill-kept secret that church culture can, at times, be tough for pastors and their families. External candidates have a strong incentive to hide this baggage in transition. In addition, you will have to retrain this external hire on exactly how your church does things. With the wrong external hire, this can be harder than simply laying the foundation yourself in the first place.

5. Internal hires often work for less and don’t have to relocate.

For whatever reason, I have heard a number of stories over the years about how internal hires typically work for less. Sometimes it is considerably less. This may not seem to be fair, and certainly there are many exceptions. Yes, most churches have pay ranges for each position. But that range certainly is wide, isn’t it? Often the hiring church has a better idea of what an internal hire “really needs” versus what the position is worth, which is certainly a competitive advantage.

Likely it’s a function of an internal hire’s eagerness to work in a church environment, combined with a lack of experience, training, and knowledge of what the position is worth. Their enthusiasm of “I’m going to get PAID to work for Jesus? And in my own church?!?” is amazing and admirable. Pastors should never lose this attitude, even if they serve vocationally for fifty years. Yet, there is a temptation on a church’s part to allow this attitude to make it easier to balance a department’s budget. In addition, saving relocation expenses (often $10k+) can be a great bonus.

Disadvantages of Hiring Internally

1. Internal hires often need more training in ministry practice than expected.

Working in an office or factory is one thing; working in a church can be quite another. Often, internal hires need more coaching than you originally expected, considering how familiar you thought they were with your system. These are often the kinds of things that experienced pastors already have well in their rear view mirror. In addition, the best externally-hired candidates have already experienced “success” in ministry.

2. Internal hires often don’t have any ministry/biblical education.

This seems to be a topic that is debated more often in larger churches. Often, pastoral positions in very large churches are so niche that people can be trained to do that “job” without experience or education. “Why spend six to eight years in school—and well over a hundred grand—when we can just show you what we want you to do?” However, if the position is “pastor level,” the internal hire will eventually feel the need to get this foundational education—and will subsequently have their time and resources split. If you have just the right person and feel they are a long term fit, they’re worth investing in. Just be sure you count the cost. Otherwise, why not hire someone who already has paid these prices?

3. Internal hires are often surprised about the “inside” of ministry.

Internal hires may already be intimately familiar with your church culture, but they are stone cold when it comes to the insider view of being a pastor. Suffice it to say that “how the sausage is made” can be an incredible culture shock. This has nothing to do with impropriety and everything to do with reality. Often, internal hires are surprised by the intensity of the hours and how the church seems to “own” their pastors in a way they never felt in secular employment. In addition, the sheer drama of ministry and constant pettiness of a small percentage of people can cause shell shock and disillusionment.

This aspect should not be underestimated and should be shepherded closely. I’ve seen this go so wrong with internal hires that they not only left their position in short order, but also the church. By contrast, strong external hires are usually old hands at this.

4. Internal hires are often less flexible when changes are made to ministry practices.

Most of the time, internal hires love who you are and what you do already. This can quickly turn into a fairly large negative when your structure needs to change. External hires already know that there are multiple ways to skin that cat.

5. Internal hires take a strong and fired up volunteer off the field.

Let’s look at this in a strictly utilitarian sense: An internal hire takes someone who is already tithing and giving 10-15 hours a week in a volunteer capacity and pays them full time for 40-60 hours. Assuming an internal hire candidate would continue this faithfulness, it is easy to see how more is gained by hiring externally. Why not keep the volunteer on the field and train them to help an external hire succeed?