In grade school we used to always talk about what we'd do if we ran the school. Usually it included extra recess, no math, and candy bars everywhere. There's a reason why fifth grade student councils don't get a ton of input into things.
A lot of us in leadership do the same thing, except instead of candy bars in the cafeteria we dream of having everything exactly the way we like it. Leadership becomes us imposing our preferences on people -- so we say something like "I'm gonna make them do something they don't want to do, and like it." What our vision becomes for where we serve is for it to look like us and what we are most comfortable with.
But leadership is about being uncomfortable. For one we're never comfortable with the status quo, because if we're ever comfortable we're in holding patterns. And holding patterns turn into inertia which turns into decay which turns into death.
But we're also uncomfortable because we're willing to defer our preferences for what's best. Whether you're serving in a church, ministry, nonprofit or business, leaders are always striving after what's best for the body rather than what's best for themselves.
And that means you'll be uncomfortable at times. It means you'll have to sit through difficult procedural discussions even though Roberts Rules often kills vision more than builds it. It means you'll lead meetings you don't want to. It means you'll repeat traditions and practices you think are silly but the people you serve truly value. In church life, it might be you're not doing the music style you prefer.
Whatever the case may be, if you're not willing to embrace being uncomfortable for the sake of others, you may want to ask if you're called to leadership.
Uncomfortable Defers - When we insist on things being done our way, we turn from servant leadership to at best a benevolent autocrat. But when we're willing to defer to what's valued and appreciated by people, we're not only closing barriers we're building relationship capital. It's the same thing we do in a marriage where we are willing to defer our preferences for the sake of our spouse out of love for them.
Uncomfortable is Patient - You might have something you're dealing with that really is counter-mission, and is an unnecessary distraction of time/money/volunteers. But if you're willing to be patient, you can have lasting impact by waiting for things to die on their own. Often times, if you're setting a good pace and creating a healthy culture, those unnecessary things will starve out.
Uncomfortable is Wise - You shouldn't be uncomfortable over everything. There are some things that require immediate action. If you're in a situation where money is being mishandled, fix it. Don't wait for the people who handle it to retire. If you're in a situation in ministry and there's heresy being taught/promoted, deal with it. But for the 95% of other stuff that bugs us, be wise. You can kill a fly with a newspaper or a grenade. Wisdom is knowing when to use what.
If we're willing to embrace being uncomfortable as leaders, and can be patient for things to work out in a healthy way, we'll see effective and fruitful leadership as the result.
Ministry is dependent on a currency of trust that's formed through relationships. That's what I'm talking about on this week's episode of the U40 Ministry Leader podcast. Subscribe on iTunes or Google Play and give feedback on our Twitter account: @U40MinistryLead
I also explain the joy of taking a 3 year old to the bank.
Whenever we plan out our worship services, we try to come up with ways to engage our guests and visitors, those who might be new to our worship. So we plot out talking points, transitions, clear instructions and reference points in our bulletins, and we might even provide a listening guide for the message. All of these planning moments are done knowing that when Sunday worship starts, there are going to be people who may have no idea what's going on.
Beyond that though are the unintentional things we do in our worship. And these more often than not I believe are driven by using the wrong sets of eyes. Instead of asking if it's something that will be understood by a visitor, we end up creating barriers for those we're trying to reach. Thom Rainer's book on Becoming a Welcoming Church is an eye-opener for us (pun intended). When we start viewing things we do through the eyes of an outsider, it should give us pause on the value of continuing them.
We do this three ways:
1. Insider Language - Let's be honest, we have our own language. It's called Christianese. It uses words that don't make sense unless you're part of our Christian subculture. For someone who comes from a nominal or non-existent church background, they may be confused when we call someone brother or use acronyms or code words. Instead of assuming knowledge, assume you need to explain what things mean to your potential visitors.
2. Insider Rituals - Yes. I'm going there. The hand shaking time. When polled, 90% of visitors feel uncomfortable with the obligatory greeting time most of our churches do. I became a Christian in high school and I'll never forget asking my buddy who'd led me to Christ what we were doing. He said "We're greeting each other," and my response was "So the 20 minutes of saying hi before service don't count?" I'm not discounting the value of intentionally greeting people. But what I am suggesting is that we work to make sure we're not putting up an intentional barrier preventing guests from feeling at ease among our fellowship.
3. Insider Groupings - Most of the time when churches advertise themselves as friendly, they often mean "We're friendly with ourselves." Huddles often happen in churches when insider groups form that aren't considered open table to guests and visitors. So we create in-groups that can devolve into cliques. It's not just in youth ministry that church cliques can form. Our groups should be close. They should be friendly. There will naturally be relationships and friendships and even inside jokes. But never at the expense of the open invitation to the empty seat.
So what do we do to address these insider habits?
1. Have an outside perspective - Whether you pay a "Secret Shopper" or you just have a friend from another church come in and give their impressions, it's important to have outside eyes help you see what you're missing. Same reason why the burned out light bulb in your house doesn't bother you anymore, you've grown accustomed to it.
2. Follow up with guests - Who better to get insight into your church culture than your guests! Allow them to give you feedback about their experience, their welcome, their introduction to a small group, their impressions of your music/environment/preaching, and how their kids liked their time with our children's and youth ministry. Most of the time you'll get pleasantries, but you'll get good honest constructive feedback sometimes. Listen to it.
3. Develop a culture - Leaders, it starts with us. Be intentional about engaging unfamiliar faces. Be intentional about inviting people to worship. Stress it often from the pulpit or classroom or publication the importance of being guest-minded. Multiply small groups so there are additional opportunities to assimilate new people. Create tangible goals for small group teachers to recruit, identify, and deploy a new teacher every 12-18 months for the class to grow by multiplying. But above all the planning and strategy, labor to create a culture that loves guests.
4. Pray - It should be first but it's last on the list as a powerful reminder that none of this matters if we're not fervently, expectantly praying for guests. Prayer changes the one praying, and when we deliberately begin praying for outreach and engagement, it puts in us a newfound love and passion for making Jesus known in our neighborhoods and beyond.
Yesterday I preached from 2 Timothy 4 where Paul lays out the final instructions to his protege, Timothy. One of the things he told Timothy to do as a pastor was to "endure suffering." One of the unmistakeable realities of ministry is that it's hard. Whenever you deal with people and live in between the heavenly and the temporary, it's messy. You'll be heartbroken when people you love mess up, you'll be discouraged when your best ideas are duds, you'll be frustrated when week after week you labor faithfully and don't see any visible fruit.
Why? Because if God's the one who called you to ministry, God's the one who will see you through your difficult days. He'll see you through when you want to walk away. He'll see you through when you're laboring and not seeing any fruit. He'll be there on Monday morning when you want to just walk away because the weekend went flat. Anyone else had one of those Mondays? Most of the time the suffering we deal with isn't the obvious, it's the cumulative effect of the daily labor.
What does it look like Physically, Emotionally, and Spiritually to endure?
Physical Suffering - Sometimes your body will remind you it's not perfect. Yesterday I had the joy of preaching with back spasms. If you've not done that before, it's not fun. Other times you'll fight having the stomach bug, flu, twisted ankles, or major sickness. For most of us we get too little sleep, exercise too little, and eat too much. Remember, in your weakness God is most strong. And in the meantime, dust off your running shoes, eat a salad, and go to bed before midnight.
Emotional Suffering - When we suffer emotionally it's often because we're at the point where we find ourselves carrying so much from others that we can't process it anymore and our emotions are spent. Not surprising, it's connected to our physical suffering. Because when we're tired and anxious we're more likely to be affected emotionally. Even Jesus pulled Himself away from the crowds to recharge the batteries. If Jesus needed to, so do you.
Spiritual Suffering - Ministry is tough. And it's even tougher when we're wandering away from God by not making sure our own souls aren't nourished. It can be so easy to take what we do vocationally and overlook the fact that first we're adopted as God's children. So our spirit suffers because we're squeezing every bit of us out into our work, while not coming back to the source ourselves. We find ourselves resenting our time with God because it "interrupts our productivity" or we forget what it's like to marvel and delight at the presence of God. This happens when we neglect to take our day off, we neglect to use vacation days, or we neglect getting away for conferences/retreats.
Ministry is tough. That's why it's not for the weak of heart. But for those called, they're carried by the strong arms of the God who loves them.
I was so glad for this episode of the podcast to be joined by Nathaniel Miller, who serves as the Music Minister with me at Emmanuel. We had a very fruitful discussion of what music & worship looks like in the local church, and how younger leaders can be more effective in how they help guide a congregation or ministry in worship.
For those who are in the preparatory phase (as a volunteer, in Bible college or seminary), dive in and do as much as you can without getting burned out. All of those opportunities can help you grow.
And for those serving in a church, the way we lead and set up our worship services is many times for us to get out of the way. So we try to remove whatever might be a distraction, whether it's musical style or volume or direction. We lead graciously, we lead with patience, and we lead while teaching. So in your transitions in worship, use that time to talk about not only what the song says, but what it means.
Lastly, if you're a lead pastor and you're not regularly spending time with and talking with your worship leader, you're doing it wrong. Invest in them. Your worship services will better reflect that partnership in ministry.
I picked up a little book from a pastor's conference a few weeks ago I finally got to read today. It's called Everyday Ministry, written by Tommy Kiker, who is on faculty at Southwestern Seminary in Texas. What I appreciated most about the book was its accessibility and clear trajectory - this is a book written to help ministry leaders (and prospective leaders) figure out what God's doing in their lives.
The C's have often been used to describe a profile for ministry. Bill Hybels used Character, Competence, and Chemistry. Ron Edmondson uses Character, Commitment, and Competence. Lifeway Leaders uses Character, Conviction, Care, and Competency. I even threw my hat in the ring with my list of Calling, Character, Competency, and Chemistry.
The point behind all of that is to show that a call to ministry is more than an ethereal feeling or supernatural pull. It's embodied in our salvation story where we're first found in Christ before we're found in a pulpit. It's also in the confirmation process that a leader goes through where others are a part of the calling-out process. Kiker draws from the idea of someone feeling called to ministry but not having any church or other leaders affirm that call--it likely means that person isn't fit for ministry.
But there's also a skill set involved, which is secondary to character. And that's where we have to remember the difference between a fruitful minister and a successful businessman. Talent can take someone far in coaching, business, or other fields. But for ministry, our "success" is only found as far as our character will take us. Accountability with our spouses, with our time, with our integrity, money (personal and church), and how we guard not only our eyes but our hearts (Kiker even delves into the "Billy Graham Rule" on being alone with another woman. The take home point was essentially "When it comes to money or women, hands off if it's not yours."
I'd be curious to know how many out there who preach regularly are able to preach without using notes. The text-driven preaching model taught and modeled at SWBTS lends itself to being freed up from using notes. And it's personal, but I don't trust myself with my ADHD and general forgetfulness to not at least have a cheat sheet with me. I can ski without poles, but I'm always grabbing them before hitting the slopes, just in case.
So how about you? Do you use notes? An outline? Manuscript? How much do you take with you? Have you ever tried going without notes? Leave a comment!
For so many reasons I absolutely love living and ministering in Florida. I'm exceptionally grateful for the work of the Florida Baptist Convention. Since we got here I've found them nothing but helpful, encouraging, and generous towards pastors and churches. Each year across the state they host Sharper conferences, one day conferences geared towards ministry leaders to take away practical application.
Normally if I get 2-3 takeaway points from a conference, I consider it a success. But this year at Sharper, hosted by Family Church West Palm Beach, I had 10 takeaway points that I cannot wait to think on and work into our ministry.
1. Everyone has their own unique ministry context - Far too often we want to take what works at one church and copy-paste it into our own setting. The problem is that we're not in the same context as whatever church we're copying. Each of us has our own community, demographics, history, and culture. And we can't force another model on ourselves. Our context was given by God and requires us to think about how to best engage that particular context.
2. Move the needle for Jesus - Why are we here? Are we here to house Christians until they go to Heaven? Or did God place each church where He did for something more? Our task isn't to simply exist, it's to move the needle for Jesus. We do that by impacting our neighborhoods, sharing the Gospel, serving others, and pointing to the hope of Christ.
3. Culture > Programs - Programs are vehicles to get us to our objectives, but they're not the end all. They're secondary to the culture we create. As lead pastors, we have the opportunity and the obligation to set the culture for our ministry. No matter how successful or popular a program is, if your church doesn't have a healthy culture it won't matter. If you implement an incredible outreach program without a culture of inviting and evangelism, you're wasting money. We change culture by investing our time and energy in people.
4. Jesus is the hero, not us - Whenever we talk about the great things happening, it can be too easy to fall into the trap of "I-We-Me" where we point back to ourselves as the hero of the story. But the reality is, whenever good things happen around us, it's because of God's work. It's because Jesus is the hero. It's because God does incredible things and we are simply the conduit for it. So the hero isn't us. In fact, most of the time our job is to stay out of the way! So instead of pointing to us, we point to Jesus.
5. Passion for People & Place - Ministry leaders have not just been called to a church as an organization with a Tax ID and the ability to write you a paycheck. You've also been called to a particular people. And to a particular place. And we're called to love them where they are for who they are. We can't love them where we want them to be or who we want them to be. And we can't think we'l be effective if we don't love the people God has placed us among and the community He's placed us in. I'll be honest, this was a hindrance for me where I never really felt like I loved the place. It was good. We enjoyed it. But I focused more on what I didn't like about it than being burdened for the city.
6. The Gospel Brings Together - I was amazed listening to how Family Church does ministry in South Florida, which is one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse areas in the nation. Over a dozen languages are spoken in the church, and their staffing reflects the multicultural communities they minister in. On the surface, it's everything wrong. We want to put ourselves with others like us, who look like us, talk like us, make the same money we do, have similar interests, etc. We put ourselves in demographic boxes. But the Gospel tears all of those down and brings together as one people everything the world and its exclusion is confused by.
7. Behind the Scenes Matters - Most of the time what we do publicly is what gets the most attention. The message we preach. The songs we sing. The teacher leading a class. But so much happens behind the scenes no one else sees, and those roles are crucial. Think about all the people who serve in your church behind the scenes, who never get noticed. They unlock doors, make coffee, set up chairs, fold bulletins, empty trash cans. The work they do matters. And we need to remember to recognize, appreciate, and thank our volunteers.
8. Each Contact/Connection Leads to Another - Whenever we meet someone new, we can either let that be a closed interaction or an open interaction. Closed interactions end with "Thanks for coming today, we're glad you're here." Open interactions say "Oh I see you guys have kids. Would you like to meet our Children's Ministry Director? We have a nursery and children's ministry available if you'd like to check it out." Or "Are you new to the area? Have you gone to the beach yet?" We live in Florida, you get to ask that here! The point is this: whenever we meet new people who are our guests or prospects, we need to identify ways to multiply connections. Introduce them to other people. Introduce them to leaders.
9. Simplify the Process for Guests - We often have blinders when it comes to our facility because we've been there so long we forget what it's like to be new. So we simply know where to go because we know where to go. We use lingo and slang no one knows except those on the inside. And we don't have signage or name tags because "Everyone knows who we are." But beyond those visible processes, we often make guests make more decisions than they really should. So we simplify the process by having clearly designated guest parking. We simplify by having clear signage and friendly faces at strategic locations to give directions. We simplify by asking guests to give whatever information they feel comfortable giving.
10. It's not our fault, but it is our responsibility - Whatever situation you inherited. Whatever community you're in. Whatever demographic shifts. Whatever messes you have to clean up that were left for you. Whatever it might be, it's not our fault, but it is our responsibility. We weren't there when the bad decision was made that crippled the church for decades. But it's our responsibility to fix it. We've been tasked to care for God's people, lead God's church, and impact our neighborhoods (whether our neighbors are here legally or not, whether they're white or brown, whether they're gay or straight) for God's glory.
Earlier today the first episode of the U40 Ministry Leaders podcast dropped. It's something I've been working on for about a month, still don't have all the bugs figured out yet. It's getting there!
The goal of the podcast is to provide content geared towards helping younger ministry leaders (guys & gals under 40) be better leaders in the local church. The goal is to have most of the episodes featuring a guest with whom I'll have a conversation about an area of ministry. The first episode is where I get to talk with Dan Sardinas, who is the pastor at Northwest Baptist Church in Bradenton. Dan and I spent about a half hour talking about a phenomenon most younger ministry leaders will experience: they'll be leading up a generation (or 2!). So how do we engage and lead those who are old enough to be our parents?
You can find the podcast on iTunes or Google Play.
I loved an article that came out today on Forbes by William Vanderbloemen on ways that talented people blow it in an interview. They boil down to punctuality (showing up late), posture (slouching in the chair), and preparation (not doing your homework). Interviews often serve as a first impression, and we only get one, and its impact is lasting.
One thing that's inescapable during leadership is walking through the interview process. It's incredibly stressful, I've likened them to a first date, where you're trying to get a read on each other and see if you're compatible. Sometimes you put on such a good face that they don't see the real you, and they neglect to tell you about their baggage (I turned down a position once when I learned the church had recently gone through a scandal of sexual misconduct).
So how can you navigate the interview process and find it beneficial and enlightening for you and for the church?
1. Do your homework - They've got your resume and your social media sites. They've looked you up. They've maybe even called your references. They've watched your teaching/preaching online. They've maybe even visited your church. So what does it look like for you to do your homework on a church you're interviewing with? Contact other pastors, especially guys you know, in the area and see what they know of the church. Ask for their most recent budget, bulletin, newsletter, and bylaws. Check out their website and look to see if they have any Google reviews. Find out if they have any debt or skeletons in the closet.
2. Take notes - One time during a face-to-face interview, I wrote down everyone's name around the table so I could have a quick reference guide in case I needed to ask them something. I was so nervous I knew I'd never remember their names. But taking notes goes beyond that, it's where you jot down things that come up in the interview that you want to follow up on, it's where you briefly summarize their answers, and it's where you look back later after you've had time to reflect. Good notes can help you take away more from the interview than you'd ever remember.
3. Be honest - Whenever they ask you a question about your theology, your convictions, why you're looking at leaving your current church, or whatever they ask, you owe it not only to them but to God to be honest. So if they ask about your perspective on Reformed theology and you've got a kid named Calvin Piper, don't wish-wash around it. Or if they ask your convictions on divorce/remarriage and you feel your view might offend, don't duck from your own integrity of conviction. You and your church don't need to agree on everything for it to still be a good match. But it's always a terrible match when you (or they) are dishonest.
4. Prepare questions - Normally in an interview, most of the time is taken with them asking you questions. And then as a customary ending they'll ask you "Do you have any questions for us?" In that moment, the worst thing you can say is "No thank you." This is your time to ask what you need to know. Remember, you're the one potentially relocating your family. You're the one leaving a place God's called you. You're the one who'd be coming in to a new ministry. You're allowed to ask questions. I wrote out 33 questions for my interview with Emmanuel, and I didn't ask all of them because some were answered in the discussions.
5. Find out what they're looking for - Interviews are a great time for you to figure out what exactly they're looking for. You might be a good fit. You might not. So in the interview, explore who they are, what they believe, where they're going, what the vision is, what the history is (by the way, always ask what happened to the previous leader), and what's most important to not only the search team but the church, what their expectations are for your spouse/family. During the interview, you'll learn a profile of what they have in mind. And you'll know if you fit. If not, that's ok! God has His place for you.
6. Follow up - When it's time to hang up the phone, log off Skype, or catch your return flight, find out a timeline on when you can expect to hear back. They owe it to you to be forthright and mindful of the anxiousness of being in limbo between where you're serving now and where God could be moving you. But it's also good to follow up with a thank you note and express your gratitude for being considered and being interviewed. I've done a fair bit of hiring since becoming a lead pastor, and I have kept resumes on file of people who followed up from the interview with a note (even when we turned them down), just in case an opening came up later!
What have you done to help succeed in the interview process?
One of my favorite podcasts is Rainer on Leadership. Their episode today on "Six of the Most Common Reasons for Church Staff Conflict" is incredibly timely for anyone serving alongside other people. Inevitably, whenever you're on a team, there's going to be conflict. Differences of opinion becomes divergent visions. The quirks that were once appealing in the early stages become incredibly frustrating. And the adjustment to a new setting becomes a realization of a lazy work ethic.
At the root of most conflict on a team is a lack of chemistry. It's hard to define and describe what chemistry is, and even when I tried writing a book chapter on chemistry the best I could come up with was Friendship, Unity, and Trust. Even that I don't feel like totally captures the essence of chemistry. But we can see it when it's not there. We can see when the players on the bench are disengaged from the game because they don't care. We can see the rolling eyes during a meeting. We can see when times are tough that everyone turns to self-preservation and throws others under a bus.
Ultimately I think most of our conflict comes down to a breakdown in chemistry. We fail to fall back on the Friendships, the Unity, and the Trust that make a great team. Instead we see others as rivals, we're driven by jealousy; or we break into factions; or we build intricate webs of conspiracy and questioning. And because most of us are conflict aversive, we see things spiral out of control until the only way to resolve the conflict is to break the relationship (or in this case see turnover on a staff).
So how can we work towards a healthy team with healthy discussion with healthy resolution?
1. Friendships - Remember that no matter what, relationships > being right. If it costs you a team member or an ally or a friend to prove a point, you lost. Any team, especially one that's in ministry, is driven by the strengths of its relationships. And that means you put the relationship first, you put the reconciliation of a relationship first. If not, you're setting yourself up for an implosion. Friendships on a team don't mean that you're always hanging out on the weekends. But it does mean that you enjoy working together.
2. Unity - One of the biggest frustrations and causes of conflict on a church staff is a lack of direction. No one can articulate what the vision is, what the roadmap is. There's a competition for resources, facilities, time, and money. There's no coordination in scheduling. There's no clear process for how things work on a weekly or monthly basis. But beyond systemic or structural unity, there's no personal unity. One of the biggest lessons I've learned as a lead pastor is that I have the unique ability to advocate for my team. If those serving with you should know anything about you, it's that you've got their back. One pastor I served with told me "I'm in your corner, I'll go to bat for you. Unless you steal, commit adultery, or teach heresy."
3. Trust - Trust is so important because trust has the ability to absorb risk. Risk is when we feel like we need to step out in a bold move, make hard decisions, or put in vision. With any kind of risk we have to come back to the team around us and the trust they've put in us. Conflict happens when risk is taken without sufficient trust (reckless leadership), or when sufficient trust is there and risk isn't taken (maintaining the status quo). Conflict can be mitigated on a team when there's a piggy bank of trust built up. And that takes intentional time to get there. It's not automatic, you have to spend time working to build trust so you can absorb risk.
How do you and your team help work through conflict with chemistry?
Side Note - One of the best resources on church staff conflict is a little booklet by Speed Leas.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.