Many churches cause unnecessary pain with personnel issues. And some put themselves at considerable legal risk.

Amateurish and dangerous HR actions in churches often result from two factors. First, pastors and other staff members may be trained in theology and counseling, but not in organizational leadership or employment practice. And lay leaders also often lack relevant training or experience.

Second, when confronted with questions of HR professionalism, church leaders often exhibit a dismissive, above-the-law attitude. They say, “We’re not a business.” That, unfortunately, is too often merely an excuse for human relations sloppiness.

Christian HR professionals shared with me the top 5 mistakes they’ve observed in churches’ handling of personnel issues.

1. Dangerous interview questions. Leaders and volunteer panels often grill job applicants with inappropriate questions. Laws restrict questions about a candidate’s age, family status, pregnancy, and health.

2. Failure to check a candidate’s history. Churches often forego reference checks and background checks. I’ve seen churches blissfully hire people who were terminated from previous positions for sexual harassment and other unlawful behavior.

3. Failure to establish and follow clear policies and expectations. Many staff problems can be prevented when everyone knows what’s expected. Clear job descriptions, goals, expectations and processes help establish a good working environment.

4. Failure to properly handle performance or behavior issues. Those in authority sometimes ignore staff problems or delay necessary confrontation. Other times they overreact and cause unnecessary pain. Sometimes they jump to conclusions before hearing all sides. Instead, churches need to follow progressive corrective processes, practice regular coaching, and follow Christlike leadership approaches.

5. Privacy violations. With good intentions, churches often share health information about staff, members or acquaintances, usually announced as prayer needs. But these disclosures can lead to ethical and legal problems if the named persons have not specifically granted their permission to broadcast their health conditions.

This stuff is important. How we handle people on the inside of the ministry relates directly to the quality of our public ministry. Sadly, too many churches collapse from the inside out.

How about you? What have you seen?