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Book review: Hire Right, First Time: A Practical Guide for Staffing Christian Organisations

Friday, 5 April 2024  | Claire Harvey

Hire Right, First Time: A Practical Guide for Staffing Christian Organisations

By Peter Corney and Ken Byrne

(Australia: Arrow leadership, 2023)


Hire Right, First Time starts with a long list of thoroughly glowing commendations by Australian church and ministry leaders, including suggestions that it is a ‘God-send’, that it should be ‘compulsory reading’ and even that it should be ‘read again before every hiring process’. While it can be risky to set readers’ expectations at such a high level, having read this concise book from cover to cover I can honestly say that I agree.

Combining their insights from Christian ministry leadership and psychology, Rev. Peter Corney and Dr Ken Byrne have produced a very relevant, timely, honest and thoroughly practical resource for anyone involved in staffing Christian organisations.

Seven things I particularly appreciated about Hire Right, First Time were:

1.     The book is unashamedly honest about the significant cost of poor hiring decisions, and yet how disappointingly common they are in Christian workplaces. The authors don’t shy away from providing examples of how and why things can go wrong. Christians are not immune: indeed, our desire to remain polite and kind, and to give people the benefit of the doubt, often reflects an unhealthy avoidance of conflict and a toleration of poor performance, to the detriment of the broader staff team and organisational effectiveness.

2.     On the flipside, it’s clear that Corney and Byrne are motivated by a positive commitment to see the creation of work environments ‘in which each person can flourish’ (p. 131). Early on in the book they make clear that staff are undoubtedly an organisation’s greatest asset, echoing Rev. Dr Bill Brown’s acknowledgement in the introduction that the leadership task includes being ‘cultural curators of teams, churches, and organisations that function well and retain the best staff’ (p. 5). The book includes a strong emphasis on not just attracting the right staff, but helpfully also includes suggestions as to how to keep the best ones.

3.     This Arrow publication is particularly relevant, in terms of being current (published in 2023) and written by experienced leaders who are thoroughly familiar with Australian church and ministry settings. While so many of the stories, lessons and guidance are readily transferable to other places and settings, it is refreshing to feel we’re all speaking the same language (i.e., there’s no need to translate American lingo or learn new acronyms)!

4.     The book conveys a grounded and clear-eyed humility that avoids any hint of bright-siding. It calls ministry leaders to actually pause and do the hard work of sombre, critical reflection. This takes strength, courage and emotional maturity and is too-rarely attempted in the wake of recruitment disasters. It is far too easy to make simple excuses, to fail to learn the relevant lessons and to then see the same kinds of hiring mistakes repeated time and time again. Corney and Byrne bravely take Christian leaders to places we’re too often reluctant to go, but it’s clear that they do so with good intention.

5.     The chapter on how crucial it is to properly listen is an excellent inclusion (and I’d argue that they’re more accurately advocating for paying closer attention, especially given how much communication is non-verbal in nature). I dare say that the list of obstacles to listening fully – such as short attention spans, personal bias, inappropriate emotional responses, a preoccupation with response formulation and the inability to suspend judgement – provides some growth goals for all of us, even those of us no longer involved with recruitment. The inability to pay proper attention to other people is a likely contributor to a range of energy-sapping issues within organisations, representing a multitude of missed opportunities for deeper trust, more genuine connection and enhanced engagement and organisational effectiveness.

6.     Similarly, I was pleasantly surprised by the mature and insightful discussion around the role of intuition, and when and how to rely on it. Going with one’s gut can be unhelpful if it’s the only data being considered, but equally ignoring one’s deeper sense or instinct (especially when a candidate otherwise looks like a perfect fit, on paper, and especially so if there is an urgency around filling the role) can be quite disastrous. The role of prayer and discernment and the Holy Spirit is explored, as is the importance of drawing on multiple experienced people throughout the recruitment process.

7.     This resource is put together using plain language and readily accessible concepts. The checklists are incredibly clear and would be particularly useful for someone working with less experienced members of a hiring panel who may not have taken the time to read the book. It is certainly the case that many leaders within churches and schools, and certainly within boardrooms, do not come with recruitment training and experience, and yet it is these same people who often carry the ultimate responsibility for hiring decisions (especially in the case of smaller, less well-resourced organisations).

The concise format is part of this book’s accessibility and appeal, so there is an understandable logic in avoiding unnecessary tangents and particularly vexing cans of worms. That said, I was surprised to see a chapter on how to dismiss staff, which seems to be at the very other end of the employment relationship. While there is a chapter on staff retention, there was almost no mention of the role of performance appraisals/reviews. Additionally, I have no doubt that a chapter unpacking a ‘best practice approach’ to contemporary Codes of Conduct would have been of particular interest to a growing number of ministry leaders who are struggling to navigate changing cultural and political terrain.

Christians involved in recruitment really are the frontline workers when it comes to being gatekeepers of organisational culture. I agree that this book should be compulsory reading for managers and supervisors who have a pastoral responsibility not just to lead the sheep but also to fiercely protect those who have been entrusted to their care. I would also highly recommend this book for board directors as they seek to execute their governance responsibilities around strategy, risk, compliance and stewardship.

Each copy of Hire Right, First Time comes with complimentary access to an online User Guide. This guide contains resources, templates and checklists that enable interested users to easily and effectively apply the many useful principles outlined in the printed resource. (Readers please note that these online resources don't form part of this review.)


Claire Harvey completed a Commerce degree in the mid-1990s that included studies in Organisational Behaviour, Human Resource Management, Employee Relations, Industrial Relations and Human Resource Development (which she proudly top-scored). She has maintained a keen interest in the world of work and has been involved in recruitment processes in Christian not-for-profits, schools and churches over the past twenty-five years. Claire is a Registered Professional Career Development Practitioner with the Career Development Association of Australia and serves on the Ethos board.

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