In a lot of ways, yesterday was a Bloody Wednesday in Bristol Connecticut. Up to 100 people were released from their employment at ESPN. This isn't the first purge from the Worldwide Leader. In 2013 and 2015 a number of cuts were made. But this one was different, because it impacted on-camera talent. Some of the names released were astounding--long-time, credible, respected men and women like Andy Katz, Danny Kanell, Ed Werder, Dana O'Neill, and Trent Dilfer. Deadspin continues to report the growing list. Many of us who are sports fans have welcomed these faces and voices into our living rooms, offices, and cars over the years.
In the middle of the chaos, a tweet from former NFL quarterback and college analyst Danny Kanell served as a reminder of what's most important. Massive corporate layoffs seem to be a common news report, and with the upheaval comes the impact felt by spouses, families, friends, and the co-workers left behind with survivor guilt.
All of it yesterday serves to show us some important leadership lessons in ministry.
1. None of us are irreplaceable - This morning ESPN went on with its programming. When I resigned from my previous two ministry assignments, the next Sunday things went on. No matter what role we fill, none of us are more important than the Kingdom. God is faithful to His promise to His Bride, and what's humbling is He doesn't need us to make it happen.
2. We are all interims - I've met guys who held ministry positions for decades at the same location. I've spent time with people who literally married and buried multiple generations. And when they left where they'd served, someone else came in. In a lot of ways, all of us are interims. We're called for a season, but eventually we'll find ourselves nervously reading a letter.
3. Our identity shouldn't be found in our role - When we seek to find our identity in what we do, rather than who we are (and whose we are), we're setting ourselves up for a crash. Our primary identity as ministry leaders isn't as pastor, youth leader, worship pastor, or intern. It's primarily as a Child of God. Second, it's as a spouse and parent. Third, it's in our role in ministry leadership.
4. Difficult moments serve to sharpen our faith - A couple weeks ago I had a great talk with a guy seeking God's will for ministry. During the call, something just resonated: God doesn't send us to the path of least resistance, everything that happens to us is meant to make us more like Christ. Moments that happen in ministry like crisis, transitions, changes, and conflicts are all part of God's plan for our sanctification--even when it doesn't make sense.
5. Enjoy the ride - For so many who shared about their layoff from ESPN, they talked about the joy of being part of something special, working alongside special people. Sometimes in ministry leadership we need to step back and enjoy the ride God has us on. We need to see the great people He's surrounded us with, to appreciate His provision and kindness to us, and to marvel and what He has and will accomplish through us. It's pretty cool getting a front row seat to the Kingdom expanding.
I have yet to ever meet anyone who sits down with a Policy Manual and jumps for joy. Writing them is less fun than reading them, which is less fun than editing them, which is slightly more fun than having dental work done. But a Policy Manual provides a skeleton for your church and ministry team to thrive by giving structure and boundaries. I think four necessary policies for you to consider are:
1. Social Media - Like it or not, when people want to know about us, they look to our social media profiles. They're out fingerprint on the Internet, and they offer an interactive approach to engaging with our community and our congregation. That's why you need to have a clear understanding of how you and your ministry team will engage and present on social media. What you post, share, or comment on is out there for everyone to see. It's wise to live "above reproach" online, both in the content of what we put out but also in the quantity of our online presence. If you spend all day posting, commenting, and interacting on social media, you give the impression of being a screen jockey.
2. Interaction with Opposite Gender - A lot has been shared about the "Billy Graham Rule" that Vice President Pence practices in order to protect his reputation and build boundaries on his marriage. A number of views have been shared about it, but as a ministry leader I cannot emphasize it enough: you need to make sure you have a written policy about how you interact with the opposite gender. You will find yourself in counseling appointments, meetings, and digital communication. Whatever your policy is, make sure it's one designed to protect your ministry team members, those you serve, and all the marriages represented. Rick Warren has a great list he uses with his staff.
3. Work/Family Balance - Unfortunately, work/life balance in ministry is a myth. You'll never be able to keep score and balance your time every week between work and home. But what you can do in ministry is make sure that your Policy Manual includes sections on ensuring a healthy life at home and at work through capturing the rhythm. In this section, make sure to include comments about Vacation/Off Time, family health and commitment as part of the formal evaluation process, and alignment of priorities of devotion (first to Christ, second to Family, third to Ministry). Remember, your church can always find another ministry leader. But your spouse and kids can't replace you.
4. Benevolence - Every Church wants to help. Every ministry leader wants to help. Around us in our communities are dozens of people who find themselves on hard times and need assistance. But few churches find themselves in a place of having an excess of funds available to assist their folks or those in the community who reach out for assistance. Because we must be good stewards, we must set up parameters for our assistance. In ours, we have a system of checks-and-balances where assistance must be approved by a deacon, can only reach a certain dollar amount (without additional approval), can only be used for utilities/rent/groceries, and can only be solicited a certain number of times. We also make it a point not to do direct cash assistance from our office--that's a safety concern for our team! However your church chooses to do its assistance, make sure you have a network of other churches, ministries, or assistance groups to protect yourself from scams and to effectively communicate needs.
What other policies have you found essential for your ministry team?
Yesterday I got a text from Carrie of a Facebook memory that popped up on her page. One of the things I was so glad to be able to do in youth ministry was involve her, Sam, and Gray. It was a joy to take Sam along on mission trips and fellowships. He got to hang around 30 aunts and uncles who didn't mind him tagging along and played with him, he got to see that serving God is a joy, and as a bonus I got some extra time with my mini-me.
In ministry, you'll find yourself available and engaged at times that aren't always convenient. No one plans their emergencies around your family time or evening commitments, and because many of the people in your church work full-time you'll have meetings and events scheduled when they are available. That's part of what you sign up for.
I think it's also why it's so important for you to engage in ministry with your family. They are part of your ministry and an extension of your impact in the church and community. Sadly, many PKs look back on their childhood and don't have happy memories of ministry. By involving your family, you're showing them that serving Jesus is a joy, it lets them into your world, and it helps them understand that ministry opportunities come up and that it's OK.
Be Sensitive - Not everyone wants your kid tagging along. Sometimes hospitals have specific rules about who is allowed to visit (the ICU doesn't let anyone under 12 in). Other times it's not a situation that you need to have your spouse around. So use wisdom when deciding whether or not to take your kid or spouse along with you. I had a great new member visit with a couple who didn't mind my 2 year old playing on their floor. He got to hang out with Daddy, and it helps our people see where my priorities are.
Use Your Car Time Well - Whether you're visiting the hospital or nursing home or following up with a visitor/guest contact, use the time in the car to help understand what you're doing and why. Explain that sometimes people need someone there to pray with them or encourage them, and that's what God wants us to do for each other.
Don't Lose Focus - It can be very easy to slip into full-on family mode, but whenever your family is involved in ministry with you, they're doing it while you're "on the job." So it's important to make sure that your attention is where it needs to be, while not neglecting your family. That's what I love about cell phones. As a youth pastor, I could check in with students/chaperones via text while on an event.
Keep It Fun - When my kids get older, I want them to remember that serving Jesus was something they enjoyed doing, was something I enjoyed doing. I want Carrie to look back on these chapters and remember them well. One pastor I knew shared that whenever he did a funeral, the honorarium he received was for his family to go to Chuck E Cheese. It got to where his kids wanted him to do funerals all the time!
One of the biggest challenges facing churches and leadership now is the overwhelming complexity of their congregations. In most churches, we're facing something unprecedented: five generations worshipping together. If we assume a generation to encompass roughly 20 years, we have almost 100 years of experiences coming together, 100 years of shared values, 100 years of advances and trends. For many in my church, they can remember with wonder the first time they saw a television, where they were when JFK was shot, and what they did during the Second World War. Their lives are incredibly different than their children's, different from mine, and different from my own children.
But in this generational diversity is an incredible blessing. With so much at the table, rather than seeing this as an obstacle, we need to see it as an opportunity. In no other time in history have so many generations been alive and active together. Each generation has its own benefits to bring to the table, I want to give three from each:
Silent Generation (1925-1945)
1. Institutional Loyalty & Stability - This generation was in the mindset of staying in one place and working one job/career until retirement. They're loyal to the church. They'll be a steady hand and presence through conflict and difficulty.
2. Wisdom & Discernment - Gray hair is a sign of wisdom in Proverbs. This generation lived through the Depression, through WWII, and has seen it all (moon landings, hippies, Nixon, etc.) so they're incredibly valuable for their wisdom in making decisions.
3. Financial Commitment - These are steady givers in many churches. They will be the ones who leave behind an estate with contributions, they are the backbone of giving for many churches (many pastors I've talked to are so thankful for these tithes and offerings off Social Security and retirement checks).
Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
1. Experience - The oldest Boomers are transitioning into retirement, but the rest are still involved in their careers, they're connected, they've been around long enough to know how things work.
2. Equipping - At this stage, it's time to build into the next generation. The great news is that Millennials want these mentors. So Boomers have the ability to invest and engage with the younger generation. They can show them what it means to be a parent, a spouse, an employee, and a church member.
3. Discretionary Time - Many in this generation are empty-nesters or retired. They don't have the busy school or soccer calendar to navigate. Rather than spend the time in leisure, they have additional time open for serving, for investing, and for engaging.
Generation X (1965-1979)
1. Volunteers - Older generations may have the time and the resources, but may not have the physical health or energy to do what they had done before. In steps Generation X, who are busy but still able to do a lot for the Kingdom. Because many of them have children or teenagers (see #2) there's an internal drive towards serving in next-generation ministry.
2. Concern for Children - They worry about their kids. They hope they make good decisions. They want the best, whether it's career, college, sports, or relationships. There's plenty of "Helicopter Parents" who hover and make things difficult. But they genuinely care, and most want to help.
3. Network of Relationships - Whether it's connections made at the gym, at work, or during Little League games, this generation is able to build relationships outside the church and outside their family. Many times it's through their children's activities. Use your access, your network, to make a Kingdom effort.
1. Technological Access - We grew up with personal computers, and the Internet opened up the world to us. Millennials not only understand the technology, they are adaptable to it. They have an ability to understand the benefits, the pitfalls, and the flexibility of technology. They can use a multitude of platforms: desktop, smartphone, tablet, Windows and Mac. They can help a church establish a "digital footprint" on the web and embrace using technological advances to multiply the Gospel.
2. Global Presence - Through social media, opportunity for travel/study-abroad, and the expanding diversity of their schools and neighborhoods, Millennials have a global platform. They recognize opportunity around the world, aren't scared of new cultures, and are able to plug in to what's happening across the planet from them.
3. Diversity of Perspective - Millennials came of age during the social shifts on gender, marriage, and sexuality, on top of being the first largely post-Christian generation. Even for those who hold to biblical or traditional understandings of social issues, they have been surrounded by the conversation. They also do not have the institutional loyalty (especially to political parties) and so are able to be fluid in their networks and alliances. They've spent time with people who disagree with them, and are able to build bridges, rather than walls, for dialogue and engagement.
Generation Z (2000-Today)
1. Unparalleled Potential - This generation is still in its development, but the world is laid out before them. They have been making YouTube channels, have been building projects online, are able to do incredible things. They have a potential, I think, that exceeds what Millennials have.
2. Non-Competing Interests - This generation is still (at the oldest) in high school. They don't have families, mortgages, jobs, bills to pay. They have time, they have minimal responsibility in the "real world" besides a part-time job and school. In front of them is an opportunity to give their time in service, and they are free to do a number of ministry areas.
3. Network of Relationships - Friends on their football team, coworkers at the movies, who they ride the bus with, who they play Call of Duty with, and their Snapchat following means they have relationships. It's not the "talk over the fence" that their grandparents had, but they still have a network. By encouraging them to leverage this network for the Gospel, to look for ways to bridge their faith in Christ with their passion and develop a burden for their friends, an Xbox can become a missionary tool just the same as an English School.
How have you seen the generations benefit your church? How about benefit each other?
One of the things that I've learned about ministry over the years is that it's unique in the fact you're never really "off the clock." There's several other fields like this as well, if you've been to a movie and they ask if there's a doctor, police officers are always keeping their eyes open, and engineers want to tinker with things.
The challenges of ministry mean that you're always one phone call away from a crisis situation, and much of your time is spent dealing with sensitive and sometimes difficult situations. You're counseling marriages from the brink, you're holding a widow's hand as she says goodbye to her husband, you're listening as people share the overwhelming problems they deal with. Top it off with the administrative duties, sermon/lesson prep, and your own obligations to your family. It's a lot.
Pastor, can I tell you something? You need a "Safe Space," one that's established by setting boundaries and carving out the importance of refreshment.
You need time where you don't have to be "on." You need to relax. You need to release the worry for a little while. The burden of knowing has to be put on the back burner. One of the most influential pastors in my formation shared with a bunch of us that ministry is like a cup with holes in it. You're pouring yourself out to others. But if you're not refilling the cup, you'll run out and that's when Danger sets in.
Have a Daily Safe Space - I call it decompression. It's the time where I let go of what I'd been working on all day, the burdens I've been carrying, and the busyness... so that when I walk in the door I can be Husband & Dad. I love using commutes to make phone calls, but sometimes you need to just take a deep breath, pray, relax, listen to the radio or a podcast, and chill for a bit. That also means you have to be willing to leave some things unfinished. There's always tomorrow, always next week.
Take Your Vacation - Unused vacation time is piling up, and it's not just a small number. Bankrate found the average number of unused days is 19, the median is 7. That means a lot of days are going unused. It's not different in ministry. Your family needs it. You need it. And your people need you to take your vacation. They need you at your best, not one bad week away from burnout. Delegate your responsibility well, communicate in advance, and protect that time away.
Network Well - Every month a group of us meet for lunch thanks to an incredible organization who loves blessing pastors. The #1 rule of the lunch: No Church Talk. There's no agenda, we're not there to plug our ministries. We're there to eat, tell funny stories, talk college football, share about our families, and sometimes gripe. If you're in any form of ministry, you need a network of people you can be honest with, you can confide in, and who will let you be you.
Retreat - One of the best things for you and your ministry is to take a retreat. Not a vacation. That's when you're having way too much fun with your family, wearing Mickey Mouse ears, or sitting on a beach. A retreat is where you're able to be ministered to by people who care about you. If you can get away to one of these, with your spouse, you'll be blessed. I cannot recommend, endorse, or plug Shepherds Haven of Rest (SHOR) enough. Contact them. You'll be glad you did.
A few days ago, ESPN released its rankings of NBA coaches, GMs, and overall franchises. It was a compilation of on-court performance, drafting, salary cap management, and other factors as observed by a panel of NBA experts. No surprise, perennial title contenders San Antonio, Golden State, Cleveland, and recent successes like Miami and Houston were ranked highly. At the bottom though is a glaring one: Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks.
Little history if you're not an NBA fan, Phil Jackson has 11 championships. One for every finger. And his big toe. He won 6 with MJ and another 5 with Kobe (and Shaq). He's regarded throughout basketball as one of, if not the, greatest coaches in history. His triangle offense opened up scoring titles for Jordan and Kobe, and he was able to navigate the biggest egos in a generation in basketball.
So when he was hired by the Knicks to run the franchise, a lot of people assumed he'd be able to work the same magic he had in Chicago and LA. Until he didn't. Now he's ranked at the bottom as a GM, he's burned through coaches, he has a roster of players without an identity, and doesn't have much prospect of free agents or the draft.
The reason? He's not serving in his giftedness. It's the same reason great salesmen don't always make great managers, why great players don't make great coaches, why some managers can't be innovators, and why great bands don't always have great solo careers.
Serving in ministry means serving where you're gifted, passionate, equipped, and called. There's nothing worse than serving outside of that-I know my last 18 months in student ministry weren't pleasant for anyone, including me-because my sense of calling and gifting had changed. In the Body of Christ, every member has a part, and every part is important, and every part has its function. Beyond vocational leadership, it's important for volunteers and other leaders to be serving in their areas of giftedness. I think you can ask yourself 7 questions to know if you're in the right area.
1. Am I good at this? - This is the core, do you have the skill and ability? Spiritual gifts are often mixed in with our natural talents. So when you're serving in something you're good at and something you've got experience with, you bring a level of expertise to the table. That's valuable. If you can barely keep a beat and you're the praise band drummer, it might be time to explore your options.
2. Do I enjoy it? - Our emotions are fickle sometimes, we can go from highest high to lowest low so quickly. But if we enjoy how we're serving, if we look forward to each new opportunity, if we find ourselves excited about it, then chances are you're in the right place. We can't be too dependent on our emotions, but they can be a barometer for us. If you don't enjoy kids, don't be a preschool minister. It's that easy.
3. Do I daydream about other things? - If you're serving in an area and you're wondering about what else is out there, you're struggling with contentment. Sometimes we get a restless discontent, which I believe is often a God-given internal drive to explore His calling elsewhere. And other times we have a selfish discontent where we want the praise or position someone else gets.
4. Have others recognized my gifts? - In my book Dream Teams, I wrote a whole chapter on calling with the idea that God never calls in a vacuum. He always brings in people to confirm, friends, pastors, other leaders, your spouse. Do others recognize a gifting you have that serves you well where you are? Or do they see you gifted and called to something else? Wisdom is one of God's great gifts to the Church, and we need others to speak into our lives.
5. Is there a fresh passion? - Do you look at your ministry service as something fresh each time, or do you find yourself walking through the motions because you've done it long enough? Again, don't put too much stock in your emotions, but if you find yourself going through the motions, you're not serving with a fresh passion. So either take some time away to recharge, or start asking questions.
6. Has something changed? - Life changes. When you're single you can do so much. When you get married that drops. When you have kids it gets even less. Have you gone through a major life event that means you need to realign your priorities? Have you gotten additional training and education to prepare for something else? Has the leadership around you changed and you're not sure you can follow where they're heading? None of these are bad. In fact it's really good to recognize changes. That's healthy. That means it's not about you.
7. Would someone else be a better fit? - We always hear about the boss who stays too long and doesn't raise up others, or the coach who muddles through the last few years because they're a legend, or the volunteer who never rotates off. Sometimes, we need to ask if we're the right person for a ministry assignment, and be honest with ourselves if someone else is a better fit. I had a group of junior high guys I discipled for a long time, and when I knew I was moving away, it was such a relief to let someone else step in and take over that group. He was a better fit, he was staying in the area, and he had a freshness about him.
How else have you asked if you're serving in your giftedness?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.