My purpose for this blog is pass on leadership insights that I have collected over my career as a pastor. Content will stay relevant to today’s ever changing ministry realities. If you are a pastor or church leader that wants to grow your leadership skills, then this blog is for you!
All great leaders are good managers, but not all great managers are good leaders.
This is not an article that lifts up leaders and devalues managers. Management is an essential function, and managers are highly valued members of the team.
There are differences, however, between the primary functions of management and leadership. And while great leaders can manage, that isn’t always the best use of their time. This can make it look like they don’t have management skills.
For example, some of the best leaders I know appear not to be very detailed. But don’t let that fool you, they are highly detailed in specific areas that are important to their leadership. For instance, in the finances of the church:
I’ve not met a senior pastor of a very large church, who is clueless about the numbers. They know the numbers exceptionally well. They don’t need to give their time to the management of the finances, but they know how to interpret the reports for leadership.
We could make a lengthy list of the different functions of management and leadership, but I’d like to focus on one primary distinction.
Let me give some context and then practical guidance. First . . . yes, we all “get things done.” In fact, we all spend much of our days getting stuff done. But there is a huge difference between the routine tasks we all do (leaders and managers) and those key moments when a leader makes something happen.
Management (largely) deals with the successful execution of something already in motion.
Leadership sets something new in motion:
Leaders cast the vision for something new.
Leaders pick up the phone and set something in motion that didn’t exist.
Leaders establish relationships and create partnerships to forge new territory.
Leaders meet new people asking the Holy Spirit to reveal Kingdom purposes.
Leaders pitch a new idea that creates change in the church.
Leaders shut things down to clear a path for something new.
Leaders make things happen.
“Making something happen” is not always about something large, grand and public.
A leader may quietly go behind the scenes and solve a problem with a generous financial gift.
A leader might discretely have a strategic conversation that brings healing and forgiveness.
A seasoned leader may have a tough conversation with a young leader to help them succeed.
In each example, two things happened: change and progress.
You might be thinking, “Managers can do that stuff too.” Yup, managers who lead.
5 Guidelines to Help You Make Things Happen:
1) Exercise honest assessment about what you have recently “made happen.”
What is in motion that if you hadn’t started it, it wouldn’t exist? Make a short list of what you’ve done that is purely leadership (set things in motion) in the last six months. From that list what is working as you hoped? Did it last? What progress is being made?
Don’t get caught in the trap of busyness, merely doing the same things over and over again won’t help you truly lead.
Know where you are headed, and only make things happen that help you move in that direction. When a leader starts something that is “new and shiny” but has little to do with the progress of the church, it’s essentially a waste of time. It’s often just another program, event, or something not clearly aligned with the mission.
It’s vital to hold strong to strategic efforts and stay focused on where you are headed. Think progress!
3) Get out in front in at least one area.
Again, we all spend much of our time getting stuff done. That’s part of the practice of leadership, primarily when we include finishing what we start.
So as a leader, don’t put yourself under unnecessary pressure to “make 19 things happen every month.” That’s not how it works.
It’s more like this. In what one thing, maybe two or three things, are you “out in front” and leading the way? Meaning, if you don’t make it happen, it simply won’t happen. That’s where you need to focus your attention.
4) Absorb the pressure that comes from saying no to lesser priorities.
I personally find that my greatest hindrance to remaining consistent with the practice of making things happen is saying yes to things of lesser importance.
It’s necessary for me to say no to less important things that gobble up my time, to make room for what is most important.
If I don’t think I have time to get off the “busyness treadmill”, it’s time to say no to something. I’ll admit that’s not always easy for me. I like people and want to be helpful, but one strategic thought – decision – and corresponding action can out-perform dozens of helpful deeds.
If you have lots of ideas, like change and variety, and perhaps struggle with strategic thinking, build a team that will help you.
If you’re in a smaller church, invite 3-5 volunteers who are business leaders in their fields. If you are in a larger church and have the right people on your strategic leadership team, they can function in that role for you.
If you are a staff member, you can create the same kind of team around you for your specific area of ministry.
The number one topic in the local church over the last 30 plus years addresses the question, “How do I grow my church?”. How can we breakthrough to reach more people for Jesus?
The words change, but the issue remains the same. Years ago, we called them growth barriers, now the question sounds more like “How do I get unstuck?” or “How can we get unstuck in order to reach more people?”
There was about a decade when we switched from church growth to church health, but it always comes back to growth. The reason for that is that healthy things grow!
There is nothing new under the sun, right? But it’s up to us to remain fresh, relevant and innovate our way forward for the sake of the Kingdom.
With that as context, here are some “fresh” thoughts for today.
Seven Big Barriers:
(with insights for growth)
1) Diminished faith
It’s possible for church leaders to stop believing. I’m not referring to faith in Jesus, but the potential for a pastor, staff member or key leader to lose faith that their church will ever work.
It’s all too common that a leader can lose heart and slide into discouragement. This is the enemy’s strategy! Discouragement is the breeding ground for complacency and maintenance. As a leader you may remain faithful, but without any fire.
Vision is then lost. Whether the senior pastor, a children’s staff member, or a small group leader etc., when the leader loses vision, it’s not long before growth slows or stops.
Fight for your faith. Fight to believe again. Who do you know that believes in you? Get some time with them. Borrow their faith in you. Reflect back on when you believed in yourself, and remember that God is with you. It’s His Church, it’s His idea, and what you’re doing matters.
Those of us who lead in the local church are in it to see life change for the people we serve. Therefore, serving people for their spiritual growth isn’t just priority, it’s what we do. But doing ministry for the sake of ministry can be a colossal waste of time if it’s not strategic.
The goal in ministry is not to be busy, it’s to realize a Kingdom productivity that results in changed lives for eternity. For too many years I’ve watched church pastors, staff and volunteer leaders exhaust themselves with little results.
The selection of your ministries must be strategic, not random. Your ministries should be lean and on purpose, not merely at the whim of anyone’s ideas. Alignment as a team is essential.
(And we know strategy without God’s power doesn’t work.)
3) Inward focused
Inward focus is like a subtle bear trap. Of course, there is nothing subtle about a bear trap, except that it’s hidden. It’s not obvious. But when you realize you are caught in one, you then know you’re in big trouble.
No church starts out inward focused. A church turns inward from a good thing gone bad. Community, love, care, discipleship, family etc., these are all great things and part of the healthy and functioning body of Christ. Until essentially, they become the sole focus of the church.
The result is evangelism drops off, programming becomes all about what the Christians want for themselves, and the worship service begins to cater only to those in the body of Christ.
The scary thing is that all churches drift in that direction. All churches drift inward without intentional effort to keep an outward focus on those who are far from God. It’s not easy, but it is that simple.
The leaders of the church must agree and align on a ministry that intentionally commits time, resources, effort and energy to reaching out.
4) Programs over people
Programs over people can become a reality in a church of any size, but this tends to be a more common barrier in larger and mega churches. It’s not intentional, in fact it comes from the natural pressure to bring excellence to programming.
Ministry program excellence is important, but we can’t let it crowd out love and care for individual people.
Programs over people shows up in the little things that are important things. Such as, phone calls not being returned, it’s difficult to become a volunteer, and the systems for next steps are complicated.
There is no perfect solution here. It’s impossible for very large churches to give large amounts of time to everyone. The most important thing we can do, however, is to give individualized genuine care to as many as we can. That helps ignite the culture so that this caring attitude has a way of continuing amongst the people.
5) Slipping from relevance
Change is essential. The message of Jesus never changes but our methods, style and approach must always adapt to the needs of current culture.
In more extreme cases, when entering an outdated church environment, it’s like walking into a time warp. It causes those who visit to question if the leadership understands how to navigate current culture.
There has never been a greater time or higher need for innovation in the church. From digital opportunities to new approaches in church planting,
Talk with people who don’t attend church and brainstorm new ideas. It might be technology, your worship service, or your kids ministry etc. What needs to be done to remain salt and light in your community?
6) Underdeveloped leaders
Without more and better leaders, your church can’t continue to grow.
If your vision is big and bold, it requires more leaders to help realize that vision. These leaders need to be developed and empowered.
Your leaders need continued training, development and encouragement to keep rising to their potential as well as remain aligned with the vision of the church.
Here are a couple posts that will help you develop your leaders:
At a theological level, it’s impossible for Jesus to be sidelined in any way.
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
And yet, it’s true that a church can become so busy in with people, processes, programs, problems, etc. that Jesus is no longer the recognized head of the body and the established supremacy. When this happens, certainly unintentionally, we lose the Holy Spirit’s power that is needed for true spiritual change and subsequent growth.
People intuitively seek traits of the heart over skills of the trade when choosing a pastor to connect with and follow spiritually.
Yes, things like good preaching, wise administration, and strong ministry programming matter, but they are not at the top of the list.
There’s a lot of grace for a “good not great” sermon when the pastor is fully trusted, loved and is a good leader.
The size of the church does play a significant role.
The larger the church becomes, the more difficult it is to be close to the senior pastor. This is logical and understandable. In this case, the more important things like ministry program excellence become. But, the things of the heart never fade from importance.
People don’t leave a church because a particular ministry was less than perfect. After all, that person could stay and help make that ministry better.
Further, a reasonable person doesn’t leave a church because they don’t get their way. But they will leave if they don’t intuitively connect at a heart level with the pastor or a key leader in the church.
Again, let’s talk size of the church for a moment.
In a smaller church, that heart connection happens in some way at a personal level.
In larger (and huge) churches, that heart level connect happens more because the pastor’s communication gifts and skills are so strong he or she can communicate that authentic love from the platform. Also, other leaders in those very large churches help make that needed and wanted personal touch with the people.
No matter what the size, style or culture of the church, the heart wants what it wants.
5 Traits of the Heart People Want from Their Pastor:
(Or a key leader in the church.)
1) Authentic faith
People want to know that their pastor loves and follows Jesus. As a spiritual leader, your faith must be real.
That doesn’t mean your faith isn’t occasionally flawed or that you never have a spiritual doubt. In fact, a spiritual doubt during a difficult time is part of authentic faith. No one is willing to follow a spiritual leader who hasn’t walked a few difficult roads themselves.
Authentic faith reveals that you trust God both in the good times and in the difficult seasons of life and ministry.
As I reflect on my years at 12Stone Church, it’s obvious to me that our senior pastor Kevin Myers loves the people. For 30 years he’s laid his all on the line and sacrificed for the good of the people.
3) A disposition of grace
Grace and love are certainly connected, but here’s how I would differentiate.
Love is what you give to the people.
Grace is the spirit by which you lead the people.
I’ll be candid with you, I’ve met some pastors who are tough on people. They love the people, but they can be hard on them. High expectations are good, but not if that turns into a demanding relationship.
There is little that is more powerful than that between a pastor and the people.
When I think about my kids, there is nothing they can do that will prevent me from loving them. I might be disappointed, or feel a need to correct or challenge them, but grace keeps my heart tender.
As a pastor I have received so much grace from God and others, I can’t help but extend it freely to those I love and serve.
4) Trustworthy character
Trust may be difficult to define, but we all know what it means. You know if you trust someone or don’t. You might not be able to say why, but you know.
When you encounter an auto mechanic, a doctor, or an insurance broker, you know if you trust them. The same is true with a spiritual leader, the profession, or trade. It doesn’t matter.
This matter of trust, particularly about personal character or integrity, is essential. The life of a spiritual leader must be lived with openness and transparency that allows people to know and trust them.
The good news is that trustworthiness is not based on talent or ability.
5) Hope-filled leadership
The realities of everyday life are weighty and can be discouraging. A leader who is filled with hope for a better future captures the hearts of people.
A pastor with a positive spirit and joyful attitude will always out lead a more talented but sour-spirited leader.
When the hope-filled heart of a leader is combined with a clear vision and direction, the results are healthy and highly productive.
If you are the pastor, (or a key leader), this doesn’t mean you must have all the answers.
It doesn’t mean everything always works or goes smoothly. It does mean, however, that as you get up every day, you see hope for the future rather than doom and gloom, and that God will help you find a way.
Just because you have a leadership position doesn’t mean you are leading. That’s a sobering thought.
All of us who carry the responsibility to lead must be honest about the question, “Are you leading?”
It’s so easy to be busy, work hard, even feel exhausted, and not actually be leading. In fact, in many cases the leader is working so hard and is so busy, they don’t realize they are not leading.
Here are 12 quick tests for leading:
(You don’t do every one of these every day, but they are all part of your leadership life.)
If you are leading…
You are out in front.
You know where you are going.
People are following you.
You are making progress.
You are bringing change.
You are experiencing resistance.
You are making decisions.
You are making mistakes.
You are taking risks.
Not everyone likes you.
You always need more resources.
You are not afraid to measure results.
How many did you check indicating “yup that’s me”?
What if you can’t check “yup, that’s me” on too many of these?
What do you do if a leader on your team doesn’t match this profile?
The truth is that not every leader gets up every day and continues to lead. I’ve watched this for decades now. Sometimes, and surprisingly often, a leader stops leading. It’s not usually an abrupt thing and rarely a conscious decision, but slowly their leadership engine revs down to an idle.
They still work hard, remain busy, and perhaps shepherd the people well. But there is no forward movement.
Top ten reasons leaders stop leading:
1) The cumulative impact of complaints and criticism.
It’s easier to pull back than keep taking the hits.
2) Years of work resulting in a soul-level tired.
We all get tired, but when it settles into the marrow, it’s tough to keep going.
6) No longer growing personally.
None of us can lead farther than we have personally traveled.
7) Personal struggles.
We all face these from time to time, but continued personal struggles such as marriage, family or health can cause a leader to stop leading.
8) Unwilling to change.
It’s impossible to lead the way and make progress to a preferable future without leading change.
9) Lack of clear and compelling vision.
It’s difficult to move forward when the direction is unknown.
10) Prolonged effort without results.
Leaders are human, and if a man or woman leads long enough without results, it almost begins to make sense to glide into maintenance mode and get basically the same outcomes.
Discouragement is the cumulative result of any number of the ten reasons added together. I’ve never seen a leader experience every reason on this list, in fact, just two or three can be enough ingredients at the right time to stop leading.
Being aware of the reasons on this list is the first step to beating them before they beat you.
The good news is that any leader can start leading again.
How to Get Going Again!
1) Tend to your soul.
You may need rest or wise counsel, and undoubtedly consistent prayer. A soul check for spiritual and emotional restoration is essential. It may be as simple as a day alone with God to get you back on track. It may require wisdom and encouragement from a friend. It might, however, require a deeper and longer investment to get your heart back to where it needs to be. Don’t hesitate to make the investment.
2) Restore your calling.
Don’t make any decision about God’s call in your life until you’re restored in spirit and have gained a healthy perspective on your thinking. Reflect on God’s call. What did He say to you? Did that change? Do you believe there is more He’s calling you to do? It’s highly likely that God didn’t change His mind, and still has meaningful ministry for you. Seeking His will in the matter of your leadership is essential. What does God want? What do you want?
It’s normal and natural to want and need several close insiders that you can trust and partner with in ministry. If your church is small, start with one person, but pray and look for whose next! The group doesn’t need to be large, and in fact, if it is, you are likely gathering friends and buddies rather than leaders.
4) Get out in front with one thing.
To lead you don’t have to be an innovative wizard full of ground-breaking ideas. But you do need to be out in front of the pack in at least one progress-oriented endeavor in your church. It might be launching a new ministry. It might be a complete overhaul of an existing ministry. It might be a new building. It could be a new idea in your worship service etc. The point is, what are you leading? What are you moving forward?
5) Aim for small wins to start.
Too often leaders don’t consider their efforts worthwhile unless it involves a grand and magnificent undertaking.
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Most real and solid progress is made one step at a time. Aim for a small win and get lots of them under your belt. The cumulative effect of small wins toward momentum is far better than a single herculean effort. When you lay it all on the line with one gigantic “Hail Mary” pass without solid momentum behind you, that’s not a wise way to start leading again.
If you have stopped leading, or know someone who has, I pray this article is helpful to you.
It was 29 years ago when I met Dr. Billy Graham. I had prayed a youthful prayer for ten years asking God that I might have one minute with my spiritual hero. That moment came on Oct 12, 1989.
John and Margaret Maxwell invited Patti and I to the 40th anniversary celebration of Billy Graham’s Evangelistic Crusades, sponsored by the Salvation Army.
The time with John and Margaret was wonderful, and the dinner celebration honoring Dr. Graham was amazing. But a private moment with Billy Graham was, to a young pastor, a once in a lifetime gift.
The photo in this post is a special one to me. My spiritual hero and my leadership mentor. (No comments on the glasses or mustache.. hey, it was the 80’s!)
The evening was fast-paced and there were probably 50-75 reporters pressing in on the famous evangelist before the celebration started. Somehow in all the hustle; John, Dr. Graham and I ended up in a private room for several minutes together.
Here’s what struck me in the moment. I was a “kid” pastor, not known to anyone, and Dr. Graham treated me like I was the most important person in the world. After talking with John, he was fully focused on me, very kind, and asked me couple questions about what I did at the church. He looked me in the eyes the whole time and called me by name as we left. The impact has never left me.
My following reflections come with deep appreciation and gratitude.
4 Leadership Lessons:
1) The power of showing up is immeasurable.
The first time I heard Billy Graham live was in 1976 at a Crusade he and his team did in San Diego at Jack Murphy stadium. I was in college and signed up to serve as a counselor for the altar call.
The Crusade team organized several training sessions and the one I attended had about 75 counselors in attendance. We all took notes and were surprised at the end to see Dr. Graham walk in, thank us, and pray that God would use us in a powerful way, then quietly leave the room. He didn’t have to do that, but he showed up.
The encouragement and inspiration that came from his five minutes in the room, changed the room. As a young leader, it changed me. A leadership moment I never forgot.
Billy Graham would never suggest he led a flawless life, but he lived such a public life that we were privileged to see how a Godly man maintained a life of character above reproach till his last breath at 99 years of age.
Dr. Graham sat with kings and presidents for more than 50 years! He kept an incredibly full schedule and was sought after by countless dignitaries for his counsel. His opinion mattered.
There were times of immense pressure and he made thousands of decisions, any one of which could have tarnished and diminished his integrity. But he held steadfast to his biblical values and true to his word.
I don’t think Dr. Graham had a special secret. I think he just got up every day and decided to live that day fully for Christ. Those daily decisions produced a lifetime of integrity.
The expectation is not for you or me to be a perfect leader, we will make mistakes, but we need to live a life of consistent integrity. A life of integrity brings credibility to your leadership.
3) Singular focus on a clear purpose has compounding results.
Dr. Graham has said, “My one purpose in life is to help people find a personal relationship with God, which I believe, comes through knowing Christ.” (Dr. Ed Stetzer, Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, and is executive director of the Billy Graham Center.
The power of knowing your calling and purpose cannot be overestimated. The compounding results from a life given to a singular focus is staggering.
Dr. Graham preached to over an estimated 200 million people, (not including radio and film), in over 400 crusades, in 185 cities. (Dr. Stetzer) Those are breathtaking numbers for which heaven rejoices. Millions know Jesus from that singular focus to a purpose.
It’s not likely that we will realize those numbers, but my hunch is that if we had lunch with Dr. Graham today, he’d say that it’s all worth it for just one. But if God is given the opportunity to multiply those Kingdom results beyond just one, why not go for it?
4) Declaring the name of Jesus keeps us connected to Kingdom authority and eternal results.
There are many ways to become lost as a leader even if you declare Jesus as the reason for all that you do. But there is (obviously) something uniquely powerful about the name of Jesus and speaking His name daily provides a strong guidepost for living.
Whether you are in a ministry meeting, teaching leadership or communicating the weekend message, the name of Jesus has a certain way of keeping us aligned with the core of the Gospel and the focus of the Great Commission.
Dr. Graham never wavered from lifting up the name of Jesus. He was well aware, and said it often, that it was the person of Jesus and the power of Scripture that provided all the results in his evangelistic ministry.
There was never a hint that Billy Graham leaned into his own talent or ability. He knew the only real source of authority for eternal impact. This is a profound leadership lesson that we can be tempted to violate.
Dr. Graham’s life and legacy remind us that Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. We can do nothing of eternal value apart from Him.
Attendance is one of the most talked about subjects in the church today.
What do changing attendance patterns mean? Where is the church headed? What’s the best Kingdom strategy?
Is the church in trouble? No. Not if we are willing to continue to change. In fact, I genuinely believe our best days are ahead.
However, the changes we make should not be reactionary. Defense alone never wins the game. We must take risks to stay on the offense to take new territory.
We may become less concerned with the size of the church and become more focused on the strength of the church.
That idea has been stirring for a long time. Strength leads to growth. A refocus on church strength rather than attendance only would change how we lead and what we do.
Don’t get me wrong; we will always care about attendance because it matters. And church leaders are beginning to measure outcomes differently. Measuring different outcomes leads us to emphasize different ministries in different ways.
The reason I will always care about attendance is that I want to reach more people with the good news of Christ in a way that changes their life! My hunch is that you feel the same way.
We need small, mid-sized, large and huge churches.
One method doesn’t work if our goal is to reach all peoples.
Reach and impact are more important than size, but we can never let that become an excuse for lack of zeal or drifting into a comfort zone. Life change has always been the true measure.
The Church is changing, but its potential is greater than ever.
How we think and lead will impact our outcomes.
4 reasons the church has great potential:
1) It’s never been about the organization.
It’s always been about the body of Christ, not an organization. However, the Church as we know it was God’s idea. God allowed the supernatural realm to invade the natural realm. He knew that was necessary to reach people where they are.
God allowed us to “organize” so we could worship Him, care for one another, and reach others who don’t believe.
The church as an organization is flawed. We can neither escape or excuse that. We are to embrace it and make it better. The churches in Ephesus, Corinth, Galatia, Thessalonica – and so many more, were all flawed. That didn’t stop the early church.
We get to get up every morning and lead change in order for the church to become more effective.
How is your church changing and improving because of your leadership?
2) Digital is here to stay, but it will never replace soul-level relationship.
We are learning. Churches are getting better at digital-first connections. We’re catching up. Couples have found each other and become married starting with a digital connection for nearly twenty years. Technology also helps us stay connected.
Digital is the new relationship – a new kind of relational. But at some point, in relationships, human beings are designed to make contact.
Technology may help us get connected and stay connected, but there is a space in relationship where human beings need a soul connection. The local church is really good at that.
Technology has its limitations too. Who knew that software development and equipment could cost as much as the buildings we worship in? Millions! There will be a day when we need a better answer even within our better answers.
The good news is that you can still get a cup of coffee for a buck and there is something deeply meaningful about face to face conversation.
The church does that well.
3) Current culture needs real answers more than ever.
There is no need for detailed social commentary here. It’s obvious. We’ve lost our way. That’s not remotely a political rendering; it’s just reality. We’ve lost a shared connection, a unifying cause, and a true north.
Every person for himself never works. People are hurting, some quietly and some overtly, and the overall needs are great. We need each other now more than ever.
The opportunities for practical partnership are abundant. Your church can partner with schools, food co-ops, medical clinics, recovery agencies, shelters for the homeless, businesses and the list goes on.
No one church can or needs to partner with all of them; you can choose a few or just one. Your attendance might not immediately increase, but your impact will, which will strengthen your church and in time cause growth.
Married and on staff together is a unique circumstance that can be really good, but does carry some risk.
Here are a few of the risks:
The risk of the appearance of playing favorites.
The risk of one doing well and the other not.
The risk of confidential information being shared.
The risk of extra pressure on the marriage relationship.
The risk of church becoming the consuming focus of the family.
The risk of one being let go from staff.
Nonetheless, married couples can and do flourish on staff together, but it doesn’t happen by accident. Good coaching is needed.
Before we get to the coaching, let me briefly state some things that often make being married on staff unnecessarily difficult.
Three scenarios where I would raise a strong caution for you to consider carefully.
If you have one spouse report directly to the other.
If you have both spouses on the same team or same campus.
If you have spouses in two positions that cause a conflict of interest.
As a general guideline on coaching, don’t make it overcomplicated. There is no need for a highly structured weekly or even bi-weekly meeting. The idea is to be proactive.
The best approach is to pay attention and stay out in front of problems. Make a conscious effort to check in, ask questions, and on occasion meet with the couple together.
The big picture for coaching married couples on staff is:
Their marriage relationship should always take priority over their church career.
The driving principle is:
If they must choose between the church and their marriage, choose the marriage!
This “big picture” point may seem obvious but is often a very difficult nuance to notice and stay in front of. It can be like the frog in a kettle – the slow rise in the temperature of the water is so gradual, you don’t notice that the water is now boiling, and now things are serious.
Most church staff members are passionate about their work. They give their all. That’s a good thing. It’s always good when someone loves what they do. But healthy boundaries need to be determined, especially when on staff together. How and when do you shut it off? How much is enough? Every couple is different. And different ages and stages make a difference as well.
The actual coaching practice need be no more complicated than asking how their marriage is going on a regular basis.
If you discover there are some tensions and struggles in the marriage that are beyond what is normal for all marriage relationships, it’s a great practice to pay for a few sessions of marriage counseling from a local professional therapist.
4 targets for coaching married couples on staff:
1) Workloads and patterns.
Pay attention to their combined workloads. Especially if both are full time and have type A driven personalities. Ask how many hours they are working. Ask about their days off and date nights. For example, if they have different days off, that needs to be addressed.
Spouses in ministry often have different levels of energy. They also have different levels of demands and pressure in each of their positions. It’s important to coach sensitivity to the other person’s workload and their ability to keep up.
Challenge each couple to make a short list of what they value most.
Things such as time together, a positive attitude, forgiveness and grace, honest communication, and love of God. The options are many. Help them choose a few. Then they can shape their family around them.
For example, time together could be practiced by saying that 5 of 7 days a week 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm is sacred family time.
This kind of intentionality will have a positive and significant impact on raising their kids.
3) Financial pressures and compensation.
Money is a sensitive and complicated subject. If a married couple on staff carries debt and subsequent financial pressures, the couple may view the church as the source of the problem.
It’s important to pay married staff based on their individual merit, rather than view their income as combined and “enough” when added together.
The church is not responsible for meeting a couple’s desired standard of living, but each church should do its best to be generous and pay appropriate salaries according to the position.
Financial pressures are common. Some are part of life, and some are unnecessary. If financial pressures exists, find out which one it is. Offering financial planning and guidance is a great investment in your staff! Encourage couples to follow the basics of budgeting, tithing, saving and planning ahead.
4) Confidentiality and Spiritual Life.
I never ask couples to keep secrets from each other, but there are times when professional confidentiality must be honored. This can cause tension between married couples.
For example, one spouse may be a supervisor and knows several salaries, and the other is curious. It’s wise to proactively coach couples how to handle these kinds of things. It always starts with an open and honest conversation. Set up ground rules and talk it through. Don’t allow non-essentials to become a source of conflict. Trust is essential.
Spiritual life and personal faith can be a challenge when a husband and wife invests a considerable amount of time each week helping others mature in their faith, and “making the church work.” When they get home, they want to be “off.” That’s good if they still have the passion and energy to pursue God at home and in their personal lives.
It’s natural to avoid a tough moment, an awkward conversation, or difficult decision.
Nobody likes the stress, pain and pressure of courageous leadership – in the moment.
However, most of us can recount times where we fretted for dozens of hours or weeks or even months of stress, attempting to delay or avoid taking responsibility for a leadership conversation that must occur.
It may have been that moment you had to let someone go. Or you were walking into a tension filled meeting. Perhaps you had to tell someone they would not receive the funding they wanted, or the promotion they desired. Maybe it was time to declare the new vision you had in your heart. We all know those moments.
When a leader refuses to take responsibility in a tough moment, he or she loses leadership. If you do that often enough, over time, you will no longer be the leader. The person who will step up becomes the leader.
Sleepless nights can be replaced with one tough conversation. It’s not easy, but it needs to happen.
We avoid tough conversations for natural and normal reasons. Fears and insecurities are in the mix. We love people. We don’t want to hurt or disappoint anyone. But in the big picture far more harm is done by not rising to the leadership need of the moment.
Most churches are one tough call away from a breakthrough. That always involves at least one difficult moment.
It’s also true that making that tough call and having a tough conversation can be the door for a personal breakthrough for the leader him or herself.
3 guidelines to help you prepare for the tough conversation:
1) Learn the power of one sentence.
When we’re anxious about delivering a difficult decision or having a confrontational conversation we tend to over-talk. We talk all around the core of the topic. We end up not being direct enough to accomplish the desired results.
In the vast majority of those tough moments, the heart of the entire situation is delivered in one sentence.
You may need a long conversation to process that sentence, but it’s delivered in those few but powerful words. When you have the conversation in reverse, meaning talk for a long time and maybe get to the bottom line at the end, or miss it altogether, the moment and desired result is lost.
Know exactly what your one sentence is. Write it down. Practice saying it if you need to. Don’t beat around the bush, flower it up and unintentionally dodge the bullet. Clarity is essential. Just say it.
A) Stillness before God.
If you’re a bit like me, you’re on the go. You have little time and so you process fast. I’ve learned that if I’m not still before God long enough to gain His mind and heart on the issue at hand, it’s not going to go well.
Taking that invaluable time to be quiet before God, and seeking his voice is essential to this process.
Sometimes I’ll just sit in my prayer room with a great cup of tea, quiet before God. I have 3×5 cards that I write notes on as I pray. It’s not like an audible voice, but the stillness before God results in peace and confidence that is core to preparation.
B) Conviction is the non-negotiable foundation.
Stillness before God is required to gain the conviction that you are doing the right thing. Wise counsel from trusted insiders is always helpful, but if you are the leader, and you are delivering the message, you need personal conviction.
This doesn’t guarantee you’ll never make a mistake; great leaders still make mistakes. Perfect outcomes are not part of the equation in any of these moments.
The intent is to know you are doing the right thing, according to what you believe God is saying to you.
When you have conviction, you are ready. When you possess resolve in your heart and mind, you are ready. Now you can deliver the sentence and have the conversation without angst.
3) Measure your outcome by inner peace, not outer perfection.
As I mentioned, outcomes are never guaranteed. The other person or group etc. can choose their response. But when you enter into a tough conversation with inner peace, the potential for great result increases exponentially.
When you are clear, and at peace with before God, you have done your best and need to leave the outcomes to Him.
When you enter in unsure, you will not likely gain the results you want.
The longer I lead, the more I understand that the core of leadership is in these conversations. These are the defining moments that shape the trajectory of your leadership and the ministry of your church.
It’s more than just study, stimulating roundtable discussions and even great coaching. At some point, you have to practice something new.
Growth, by very definition, involves new things, greater ability, and new territory. If you are doing the same things with the same people repeatedly, that requires no practice. It may require stamina and faithfulness, and both are great attributes, but by themselves do not produce progress.
The primary characteristic that separates those who are faithful from those who are faithful and fruitful is the willingness to pay the price.
Personal development requires deliberate effort, discipline and focus. For example, I heard a recent quote that approximately 50% of those who have joined a gym in 2018 have already quit.
Growth as a leader is like that. It may or may not include a physical gym for you, but it will always require sustained extra effort.
3 Reasons for Growth:
1) Culture changes
Our current culture is changing so rapidly that the only way to genuinely keep up is continued growth/personal development.
As culture shifts, it impacts how we do ministry. We cannot continue to do ministry precisely as we have in the past and remain relevant. That requires change which demands awareness, the ability to adapt and lead at a more advanced level.
2) Life advances
Culture doesn’t shift in a vacuum; it advances in multiple realms such as technology, medicine, communication, politics, business, and education. None of us can keep up with all of that, but without growth we not only can’t keep up, but we’ll also fall quickly behind.
The result is a leader who is out of touch, behind the times, and potentially no longer relevant.
With growth, we can select a few priorities to focus on and “keep up” with life’s advancements. I remember when my mom was 66 years old and taking her first computer course! She understood the importance of continued growth!
3) Challenge increases
When you combine culture shifts with the advancement of life, the result is complexity.
As life and leadership become more complex, the daily leadership challenges we face increase in the level of scope and difficulty.
Again, the way to keep up is to grow as a leader. It’s important not to see this growth as a chore, or a task to complete.
In short, make growth fun! Personal development isn’t easy, but it need not seem like “more work.”
One of the best things about continued growth is that the people who want to grow with you are among the very best people to be around.
They make the process enjoyable. They sharpen, challenge and encourage you.
One of the things I love most about the staff of 12Stone Church is that we are definitely a personal growth-oriented, leadership development environment. The staff are so smart, competent, and full of passion! They help me be a better leader!
5 Results of Growth:
Personal growth sharpens your ability to think.
Personal growth makes you a more interesting person.
Personal growth increases your capacity.
Personal growth enhances your relationships.
Personal growth increases your motivation and energy.
You have to want to grow, and you must keep it simple, or you are likely to throw in the towel.
A Simple Approach:
1) Identify one or two specific areas you want to develop and grow.
Design your growth plan and write it down. If you are not sure where you need to start, ask a trusted advisor or friend who knows you well and is strong enough to tell you the truth.
2) Determine a way you can measure your progress.
How do you know if you are better? How do you assess improvement? Make sure you have that clear before you begin.
3) Get the coaching and guidance you need.
Sometimes you know what to do and how to do it, at least enough to start. At other times, in specific areas, you need a coach or a mentor. Don’t over complicate this part. You can often gain what you need over a long cup of coffee or two with someone who can offer you wisdom and insight.
4) Practice, practice, practice.
All of us get better only by actually practicing what we want to improve. It may be communication skills, hearing the voice of God, recruiting, strategy development, connecting with people, etc.
The list is nearly unending in possibilities. But remember, keep your list short. In fact, working on only one thing at a time, two at the most, is best.
Enjoy the journey of personal growth it’s a lifelong road to travel.
Why is it that some church teams stick together like brothers and sisters even under adversity?
Their attendance may be stuck, perhaps few baptisms are taking place, and the offerings remain under budget, but the morale is still strong. They stay on mission, press forward, and genuinely enjoy being with each other.
Their morale is high.
Other church teams who seem to realize consistent success, but they don’t experience a positive esprit de corps. The numbers are good, services are mostly full, and the general outlook is that all is well. But amongst the staff, it’s more professional than personal, they lack community, and the laughter is minimal.
Their morale is low.
These two examples are incomplete. There are different examples for every scenario.
It’s never as black and white as I’ve written, but regardless of the circumstance, we all know the difference between high morale and low morale on a church staff team.
The classic illustration is a church plant. There is often minimal or slow success in the beginning. There is more effort than results, progress is tough, and the resources are modest. Yet, everyone is fired up, the morale is high, and the team sticks together like family.
The more time you can intentionally invest in the morale of your team, the better.
12 Ways to Build High Morale On A Church Staff Team:
1) Offer consistent development and new opportunities.
Consistent leadership and personal development is essential for high morale. A simple approach is best. Teach leadership, study leadership books together, and put good coaching into play. New job opportunities are essential. If your church cannot provide new positions, you can offer special projects and other opportunities to keep high achievers motivated.
2) Welcome new ideas and innovation.
One of the things I love about the multi-site model is how “central services” helps press innovation forward.
It’s true that you can’t implement every idea, but the more ideas expressed in open conversation, the better the chances are that you will find the best ideas!
3) Demonstrate genuine love, kindness and respect.
From the top leadership to the newest staff member, the expression of love, kindness, and respect is core to high morale. Few things will lift morale like giving the benefit of the doubt when there’s a question, forgiving quickly, and intentional kindness under pressure.
4) Practice honest conversations and make tough decisions.
Many church teams have been taken out by the proverbial elephant in the room. Sometimes tough decisions are required. Teams that will not address the issues will suffer in both joy and productivity.
5) Stop chasing fair, but do cultivate a sense of reasonable.
Life is not fair, and if you try to do everything the same for every staff member, you are chasing an unrealistic expectation. However, there is an intuitive sense of what is reasonable. This means there is no playing favorites and everyone on the team is highly valued and cared for.
6) Create a sense of community and belonging.
Some churches like to use the word family for their staff, and others don’t. But all will benefit by cultivating a sense of genuine community, where it’s not just co-workers but brothers and sisters in Christ. Things like worship, prayer, and communion together make a big difference. Share burdens and comfort in difficult times. (Good old-fashioned fun is also integral to a sense of community.)
It’s often the “little” things that really bug staff and get them discouraged. Poorly organized and poorly led meetings that ramble on without productive results drive good staff members nuts. Start with a clear written agenda, get the right people in the room, make assignments clear and follow up.
9) Practice consistent and appropriate compensation.
Compensation is one of the most complex subjects in the church. Doing it right requires consistent diligence. It’s essential to conduct salary surveys, utilize a clear and written structure approved by your board, and not make decisions driven by emotion or favoritism. It can be tough to navigate between generosity and prudence, but both sides are critical to keeping morale strong.
10) Recognize above and beyond effort and achievement
You might be surprised how much you boost morale by something as simple as giving others credit and expressing appreciation. Recognize those who go the second mile and achieve fantastic results. From public praise to monetary rewards it’s important to show appreciation. It doesn’t always involve money, but if you want to recognize financially, and your budget is tight, you can give a modest gift card, and the impact is still very positive and encouraging.
11) Encourage personal physical fitness
Physical fitness promotes mental, emotional and physical well-being! Barb, our HR Director, is a fitness enthusiast and encourages our entire staff to participate in a regular exercise program. No one is forced of course, and she finds deals around town for great rates at various gyms. Barb makes it fun!
12) Communicate a clear and compelling vision
Your staff want and need to know where the church is going, and the plan to get there!