Manpower: People are selected and placed in positions that fit their gifts, passions and callings and that align with the church’s objectives and culture

What Is The Peter Principle?

The term “Peter Principle” was coined by Dr. Lawrence Peter, in the book by the same title. The idea of the Peter Principle is that in any hierarchal organization, with various levels of authority and responsibility, people tend to get promoted until they reach a position which they cannot perform successfully. If an individual works for an organization with top-down management, then he or she is likely to be promoted until they get to one rung above their level of competence. In simple terms, the higher up the hierarchy ladder an individual goes, the more likely they are to fail in their new position.

Why Does This Happen?

People tend to get promoted to their level of incompetence because they do good work in their current position, and it is assumed they will also be effective in their new job. If they do good work on the new job, they get promoted again. Eventually, they reach a level they are not competent to handle. The Peter Principle is a common occurrence in organizations where employees are promoted according to their current abilities rather than for the skills and aptitude required for the role they are being considered for. With each move to the next level, gaps in skills and knowledge are exposed. Eventually, an employee who was once was very competent at their job may now be considered incompetent.

Examples From The Local Church

Most churches have some sort of hierarchal organizational structure and are therefore vulnerable to the Peter Principle. Some examples include but are not limited to the following:

Age Group Minister to Department Head. A common example is where a person responsible for a specific age group, such as children or youth, is promoted to a position of department head where they oversee all age group ministries. Some examples include Family Minister, Discipleship Pastor, Next Gen Minister, etc. These roles require someone with a generalist knowledge and experience and strong supervisory and coaching skills. These skills, knowledge and experience are frequently lacking in an age group specialist.

Skilled Worker to Team Supervisor.  Many churches today have positions that require specific training and a specialized skill set. These are often found in the areas of Media, Communications, Technology, Maintenance, and Food Service. As an employee demonstrates technical prowess, they may be promoted to supervising other specialists and single contributors. Now they are responsible for leading, managing, administrating, coaching and recruiting for an entire area or team. Often these are skills they never had to use or develop as a single contributor specialist.

Department Head to Executive Pastor. Many churches prefer to look internally when hiring an Executive Pastor. Typically, this person has been successful as the head of an entire area or team such as Discipleship, Missions, or Business. Often, they find that the diverse knowledge, broad responsibilities and wide-ranging skills required of the Executive Pastor position to be on a scale they neither possess nor enjoy.

Church Outgrows The Individual. In rapidly growing churches an employee may be initially successful in their role. As the church grows their area of responsibility does as well and their job duties begin to change. Now they must spend more time recruiting, training and supervising volunteers and staff rather than doing the ministry themselves. It is not unusual for a staff person in these situations to experience frustration as well as difficulty in prioritizing and executing these new responsibilities.

Changing Churches. A person who is successful in ministry can expect to be approached by other churches, usually larger in size and complexity. Even if the job description is similar, the job skills, responsibilities, pace, scope and priorities may be drastically different. Others may make a move to a new church and a totally different position and job description because it offers more pay or opportunity. In both situations the new staff member may not be able to successfully adapt to these new expectations.

In our next article we will examine the problems created by the Peter Principle and steps to take to prevent these problems from occurring.



Posted on October 11, 2022

Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

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“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5