The Pro’s & Con’s of Over-Vetting Leaders


I have a ministry friend who’s willing to take a chance on plugging people into leadership roles with (in my mind) very little vetting. I’ve often seen the messes he’s had to clean up as a result. It makes me cringe, but I also admire his willingness to take a chance on people even if they aren’t “ready.” I’ve discovered that readiness is relative to a person’s comfort level, role, and responsibility.

I’m on the other end of the “come one, come all” continuum. Maybe it’s my upbringing, personality, or military background. As Director of Connections at my church, I look for ministry leaders who are spiritually and emotionally mature, or at least moving in that direction. I want people who love God, love our church, and like people. Metaphorically, I’m more bars over the windows than doors wide open.  

When ‘Tight Controls’ Backfire
I’ve realized that my vetting process sometimes deters enthusiastic newcomers. Several years ago a recent transplant expressed interest in leading one of our small groups. Our protocol requires a six-month immersion in church life before taking on a disciple-making role. But my ministry friend, Mr. Loosey-Goosey, encouraged me to trust my instincts. It’s okay, he said, to make an exception when I discern good character and spiritual groundedness.

Yeah…but no. I didn’t want to risk it. I kindly stuck to my guns. And that woman, just as kindly, accepted that… and started informal gatherings of neighbor ladies blending Bible study with mom-talk. She wasn’t rebelling against me or our church. She just wanted to make friends in a new city. As our families grew close, I cheered her on as she led her neighborhood group. The church thrives when genuine Christians operate beyond our formal structures. But privately I realized I’d a missed an opportunity. My inherent bias against releasing her too soon clashed with my hesitance to mentor her. How could I balance wisdom with open-handedness? Reflecting on Jesus and his variety-pack crew of disciples gave me perspective.

When ‘Relaxed’ Backfires
Of course, a more relaxed approach to volunteer recruiting can backfire. Once, in a moment of “what the heck,” I agreed to let a socially awkward brother-sister duo lead during our fall recruitment efforts. Even though they’d invested themselves in our church and consistently attended, others experience them as odd, and not in a charming way. As judgy as that sounds, I care about new people having a good experience in vulnerable ministry settings.

So, why did I let them lead? Well, a pastor once told me he was okay with giving unready (or unsteady?) leaders the green light. He observed that either God would work through their wobbliness, or they would naturally self-eliminate when no one showed up. If people did show up, they wouldn’t stick around if the social climate didn’t attract them. I can’t imagine this as a business strategy, but I saw his point.

In an attempt to relinquish control, I held my nose and agreed. To hedge my bet, I deployed a “secret shopper” to attend their initial meetings. The feedback confirmed that my reluctance was warranted. Our duo created a ministry environment that was messy and unprepared. With only one friend in attendance besides my shopper, the vibe was well below my standards. Fast-forward a couple months later when the sister called to tell me they wouldn’t be continuing the group because her brother was in jail. Some of his previous choices had come back to bite him. I felt like an idiot. Why didn’t I listen to my instincts?

The Vetting Steps to Recruitment
Over the years, our Connections Team has devised steps to refine our recruitment process. Add your practical steps in the comments section below.

  1. Interested volunteers for any team must fill out a volunteer form that includes a background check.
  2. In addition, those who check “Connect Group” on the form must complete a questionnaire specific to leading a group. (One of my favorite questions asks if they’re comfortable praying out loud. Their choices are: a. Anytime, anywhere, b. Somewhat, but I’d like to grow, or c. I’d rather squeeze lemon juice in my eye.)
  3. I personally reach out, delving into one or two questionnaire responses to get to know them better. How a person talks about their experiences tells me about their self-awareness and conversational ease.
  4. For people new to their faith, our church, or both, I contact at least one reference and ask questions that help me gauge their ability to engage with people in group settings.
  5. If they’re not already in a small group, I suggest they attend one for a few months to acclimate and be known by others.
  6. I encourage people to co-lead, emphasizing the benefits of shared leadership. Even though I could lead a group solo, I value the diversity and support co-leading fosters, both for group dynamics and leadership development.

When recruiting and developing leaders, there’s no guarantee the shiniest individual will soar and the least shiny will fail. What I can do is check my natural biases while still exercising discernment. Everyone gets a fair shot. Even then, I don’t get out of the way but rather stay accessible to them. I cheer, coach, and challenge. And hopefully, I’ve pulled them close enough to gently pull them back when a caring culture is on the line.  

If you would like help as you explore what it means to invite new ministry leaders into responsible roles in your community, reach out to connect with a Vibrant Faith Ministry Leadership Coach. Just CLICK HERE for more information. Coaching is an intentional process that moves you forward into the future you long for.  

Danette Matty is a trained coach in Vibrant Faith’s International Coaching Federation-certified program. She has earned her ACC Level and is currently working toward the PCC Level. Her coaching experience has been honed through full-time vocational ministry at a thriving church in the Midwest. Danette’s coaching and leadership development specialties revolve around volunteer team members, youth leaders, team leaders, and ministry leaders who want to grow. Danette has earned a Bachelors in Biblical Counseling and a Masters in Leadership.




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