Whenever we think about growth in the local church, we typically think about it in two threads: Transfer & Conversion. There's a third as well, which is what I affectionately call "The Great Commission 9 months at a time" where families in the church add through children. But for purpose of this let's think along the Transfer & Conversion.
Transfer is where someone from another church attends and joins yours. They have already made a profession of faith, they've been baptized, and they come with a "letter" (if your denomination practices that) affirming their membership in good standing. These are folks who have been Christians for years and may have served in a number of areas. Their reasons for changing churches could be a relocation for work, they wanted to attend closer to home, they have family in your church, or there may have been a reason to leave their previous church home.
Conversion growth is where someone is brought into the membership through salvation (and baptism) as a result of a personal connection, invite, or some other introduction to the Gospel and to the church. Conversion growth where people are discipled from spiritual infancy, are mentored, and many times are introduced to the culture and practices of a church.
All conversion growth is good. It means your church is reaching into its community and sharing Jesus with neighbors. It means you're doing your mission. At the same time, not all transfer growth is bad. Sometimes you'll have people join because they want to be part of a church doing something. Sometimes they'll join because they got mad and left. Sometimes it's because they can't make the long commute. Sometimes it's because they lost a power struggle. Not all transfer growth is bad. It can be really good.
Perhaps the best way to draw the analogy is to look at college basketball (I'm from Kentucky, if you're not from there you have no idea how big it is). In basketball, a team can get new players two different ways: graduate transfers and recruiting classes. Graduate transfers are players who have finished their degree at a school and can transfer for one year of eligibility at a new school. Recruiting classes are the players brought in as freshmen who coaches have built relationships with for years. Both help a team, and both carry over into church growth.
Graduate transfers can immediately contribute, and so can transfer growth - What I love about transfer growth is that it brings in people who know how churches work, who have a heart for ministry, and who many times have years of experience in previous contexts. They can, in many cases, be an immediate help to meet needs. In the same vein, graduate transfers don't have to learn college officiating or unlearn AAU tendencies. Many times, they immediately start and can contribute.
Recruiting classes are hard work, so is conversion growth - The thing that sets apart college sports from pro sports is that in college, coaches recruit. They can build their team. And many of them spend more time & money on recruiting trips and visits than they do on practice and game prep. Not every player recruited will commit. Some will back out. Others will sign with a rival. Sometimes a coach will spend months working on bringing in a player only to lose out. Conversion growth is hard work. Sometimes people will reject the message. Other times they might not want to talk further. Sometimes it can take weeks or months to get them to make the first visit to your church. One thing I've noticed is that it can take more than a year to assimilate from conversion to active membership.
Graduate transfers are short-term, recruiting classes are long-term - As much as I love good transfer growth, it's not sustainable. You can't constantly depend on others to drop in your lap. A college coach can't chase the graduate transfer route year after year. They aren't able to develop a healthy culture or long-term success. Conversion growth in the church is the sustainable option. Churches that engage in mission, that have people sharing Jesus with their friends and neighbors, that are baptizing regularly, are churches that see long-term fruition.
Losing people is hard, but you pick back up - Graduate transfers are a zero sum equation. If your school gets a player, another school has to lose a player. Transfer growth in the church is like that as well. If someone joins your church, they left another. If someone joins another church, they leave yours. It's tough. Sometimes you'll spend months or years investing in people and they get a job transfer or something happens and they decide to leave. It's hard for a coach when a player decides to leave the program. But they can't delay, because the season is around the corner. In ministry, we can be sad when people leave. But it doesn't take away from our responsibility to serve and minister and invest in our community.
How have you seen transfer growth help your church? How has your church been blessed by continued conversion growth?
One of my favorite movies is Office Space, and in the movie the main character has a really rough start to his week (TPS reports, 8 bosses, traffic, and getting static shocked by the door). He has a "case of the Mondays."
If you've seen the movie, you have that line stuck in your head now. You're welcome.
Pastors aren't immune to a case of the Mondays. We're coming off a very emotional day on Sunday with worship, preaching, meetings, spiritual crises, and more. We've poured everything we had into our message and are on empty afterward. To flip the calendar to a Monday and have to restart everything might sound discouraging and daunting.
Some pastors respond to this by taking Monday off. They're so emotionally drained after Sunday they need a day before they can bounce back. They'll do yard work, projects around the house, and step away from the meat grinder of ministry for a day. It's their Sabbath. If that's you, go for it. Some guys are able to do that and function and process and be ready to roll on Tuesday morning.
Everyone has a different way of handling their Mondays. Some people knock out meetings on Monday. Others do all their administrative work and are "peopled out" for a day. It's part of how God has uniquely wired each of us.
If I can offer a few suggestions for kicking your case of the Mondays:
1. Write thank you notes - One of the things I've been most blessed by lately is writing thank you notes on Mondays to people who made Sunday awesome. It's helped me be more grateful and appreciative of all that goes in to make Sunday happen. This week it was for people in our children's ministry who jumped in as volunteers to cover for stomach bugs!
2. Follow up with guests - Quick phone calls, emails, texts, and social media contacts are some easy ways to connect with people who visited on Sunday. For me it's a source of joy to talk to people who made it a priority to visit us. I love hearing their story, asking who made their visit special, and what we can do to minister to them. Sometimes Monday is a pastor's worst enemy, when we don't feel like we got anything accomplished on Sunday. But hearing from guests is a quick remedy.
3. Map out the week - I love iCal because it lets me schedule things in blocks and shape out the week, color coded by function. Monday is the time to lay out doctor's appointments, sermon prep time, meetings, ministry commitments, personal activities, and more. And what I love about block scheduling is that if emergencies arise, all I have to do is move the block.
4. Do mindless work - Type out agendas, answer emails, tidy up your office, update spreadsheets, look at attendance numbers, and make Powerpoints. None of those take critical thinking energy, and you can knock out a lot from a weekly to-do list in one day.
Whatever and however you do your Monday, do what you need to so your week can thrive and be most faithful and effective in ministry.
How do you kick your case of the Mondays?
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!
This week on LifeWay's Pastors Blog, a helpful article on why pastors should ask for feedback and welcome critique came out. One of the hardest things in leadership is deliberately exposing yourself to potentially negative feedback. As a leader, you'll get plenty of feedback without asking for it! But beyond the comments, anonymous letters, and vanilla "nice job pastor," it can be difficult to know where to get feedback. That's where your younger leaders, ministry staff, proteges, and other emerging leaders come into play. Yes, I'm asking you lead pastors to get feedback from your youth minister in his 20's, I'm asking you to get feedback from your worship leader, I'm asking you to get input from the people you serve alongside.
It validates those second chair leaders - It can be tough being a second chair leader (someone who has leadership responsibility but without the authority of the lead role). But when you as a leader solicit feedback and value the opinion of your second chairs, you're elevating them, validating their capacity as a leader, and encouraging them. Nothing can deflate a second chair more than having their opinion or perspective blown off by their leader.
It gives fresh perspective - Many older lead pastors serve on a multigenerational team, and soliciting feedback from those who are younger than you can help you navigate the channels of Millennials, can help you see how your message is being received by a changing audience, and keep you abreast on trends, technology, and new avenues for communication. Sometimes you see the same thing so many times you don't even realize what's wrong. Fresh perspective fixes that.
It keeps you humble - Soliciting feedback isn't necessarily "throwing yourself to the wolves" but you are exposing yourself to constructive critique. It's important to handle this feedback with humility and grace. Those around you want you to succeed. They want to see a healthy ministry. And when you solicit this feedback, you realize it's not all about you. That's healthy for a leader. It keeps us from thinking our success comes from us.
Your credibility multiplies - This goes with the first point about validating those leaders. When you engage in honest conversation, asking for honest feedback, and listening to the perspectives of those around you, your leadership credibility goes up like a rocket! Leaders in the church only have the ability to influence others based on their credibility, and when you invest in those around you and let them help shape the vision, you'd be surprised at their willingness to chase that vision. When you shut out those around you or don't seek their honest feedback (too many leaders spend their time soliciting pats on the back rather than honest assessment), don't be surprised when they're less than excited about the vision.
Leadership isn't easy. Rocket science, huh? But seriously, if you're going into leadership because you want to be popular, feel good about yourself, or because you need other people's affirmation, you're going to be sorely disappointed. Leadership is hard. Selling ice cream isn't. That's what I tell younger leaders, that if they think this will be easy or fun, they need to start selling ice cream instead. Everybody loves the ice cream guy, but not everyone will always like a leader.
Why? Because leadership has to make decisions that are difficult, that carry a cost, and that deeply impact people. We want to make sure we have a zero-sum or win-win perspective, but there are times that we can't do that. Sometimes in order to do what's best for the organization/ministry/company/church, we make decisions that are painful. It's not always this way, there are lots of times when decisions are easy because there's a contagious vision and the momentum pushes things forward. Those great times are when it's fun to be a leader because you're along for the ride.
But the reality is, leaders need to have security. The security of who they are as a person with specific gifting and abilities, serving where and doing what God has called them to, and hanging on to their identity in Christ. I knew someone who served with an incredibly insecure leader, who once called him into the office because he hadn't been liking or commenting on the leader's Facebook posts, who called meetings to have people tell him he was doing a good job, and who spent time creating narratives of how people perceived him and agonizing over these delusions.
Insecure leaders are toxic to any organization, because the focus of the leadership goes from pushing things forward to stoking whatever insecurity the leader has. Meetings take on the feel of a therapy session rather than dreaming, and little risk is ever taken. The end result is an inertia, a loss of vision and enthusiasm, and in many cases the loss of solid people in the organization.
Leaders should be secure in Christ - The first place a leader needs to be secure is in their relationship with Christ. In Christ, we become new creations, we cast aside our timidity and doubt and instead have the power of the Spirit. We have crossed over from death to life, have gone from Enemies to Friends, and we know that nothing on earth or hell can ever shake us from being God's child. If that doesn't get a leader through difficult times, nothing else will. Leaders secure in Christ are not proud, nor do they carry an air of super-spirituality, but instead carry themselves with a contagious humility--an attitude of prayer, repentance, and gracious service to others.
Leaders should be secure in their Calling - As spiritual leaders, we know this is something God has called us to. Let me say that again, God has called you to serving Him. He knew your weaknesses, your shortcomings, your besetting sin, but yet He still called you. I love how Peter describes our calling, becoming a people so that we can "proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into marvelous light." Spiritual leaders aren't better Christians than others, nor are they closer to God, they simply have been given a calling that puts them in a position to influence others for effective Kingdom service and ministry.
Leaders should be secure in their Assignment - The same God who called you to spiritual leadership has also called you to the specific place and role you are serving now. So when it stinks, remember God was the one who brought you there. Insecure leaders constantly keep checking job sites or feel like they're not being used. But there's also something special knowing that God has brought you to a specific leadership position, and that He is going to use you where you are. You can't be an insecure leader and expect to be content where you're serving.
Leaders should be secure in their Team - Secure leaders know that the people around them were also brought there by God, called to some form of spiritual leadership, and above all else their brother or sister in Christ. Insecure leaders isolate themselves from their team, don't develop meaningful relationships with them, and question their role on the team. A secure leader isn't threatened by others' success, nor do they find themselves intimidated by someone on the team who shares their gift set. Secure leaders know that the others around them are there (hopefully) for the same objectives, and can be an incredible partner for accomplishing the vision.
The great thing about leadership is that it's possible for someone to go from being insecure to being secure. Work through this list, starting at the top and moving down, and ask God to help you grow and develop in those areas. Above all else, guard yourself from the discouragement and deception from the Enemy, who only seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. And that includes your security as a leader. Cling to the Savior who rescued you, who called you, and who will never, ever leave you. He is enough, and He is what we can depend on when selling ice cream sounds a whole lot better.
It's surreal sitting in a Starbucks after my third week as a pastor. I'm so grateful to the wonderful folks at Emmanuel Baptist for their kindness, hospitality, and genuine enthusiasm for charting a new course in our journey of being faithful to Christ's call to make disciples. It's been exhausting, busy, challenging, and when you throw in being 14 hours away from Carrie and the boys, it's been somewhat lonely too.
I'd say there's 7 big lessons I've learned about ministry in such a short time.
1. Listening > Talking - So many times we assume our ministry activity happens when we're preaching, teaching, praying, and discipling. In essence, the times our mouth is moving. And those are all extremely important things to do, but sometimes the best thing we can do is keep our trap shut and hear someone share their story.
2. Trust and Delegate - It's really hard to have hands-on leadership in every little detail, and pastors who do that tend to err on being micromanagers or control freaks. Because there are so many issues that need to be addressed, I've learned how important it is to delegate responsibilities and not be involved in every minute detail. With that delegation comes trust, when I have to let go of my authority to handle something, but still bear responsibility for it. That's tough. But if we don't do that, we're not living out Ephesians 4 to equip the saints for the work of ministry.
3. Proactive Scheduling - Time is a leader's most valuable, and nonrenewable, resource. Taking control of time and proactively scheduling is the only way to manage the numerous responsibilities (see #2) while maintaining priority. My iCal looks like a coloring book, but it's the only way to be in control of time, and not let time control me.
4. Sunday Sneaks Up - It's felt like once I had the week under control, I wake up and it's Sunday and back around we go! I know every pastor has a different style and practice, but I love working ahead on sermon preparation, and I've found that's been a great way to be ready for when Sunday (inevitably) rolls around. Everyone has a different time frame, but if you can stay 4-6 weeks ahead on message preparation you'll find a cushion for when Sunday gets there much quicker!
5. People Aren't Projects or Interruptions - Speaking of #3... I was leaving in a hurry to go to a meeting across town when someone met me in the parking lot with "Hey pastor, do you have a minute?" One of the hardest lessons I've learned in ministry is that people aren't problems to be fixed or interruptions to be managed, they're people who God loves and who you love too. Seeing those as "God Moments" rather than interruptions changes everything. John Maxwell talked about it as "walking slowly down the halls" in 360 Leader, and there's so much truth to that imagery.
6. Time Away is Essential - God created a work/rest rhythm in Genesis 1 not because He needed it, but because we do. If you're a ministry leader and you're hitting the grind without any time off in a long while, you need to stop what you're doing and get some rest before it kills you or your ministry. I love being 25 minutes from the beach, and taking some time away to rest and hear the ocean waves has been exactly what my soul and body have needed.
7. Family is Priority #1 - I love our new church. I'm so excited about what God could be doing in our midst in the next few years and beyond. But the reality is they can find another pastor if I leave. The other reality is that Carrie cannot have another husband, and Sam & Gray cannot have another daddy. One thing I think that contributes to pastoral burnout is the imbalance between work and home, either they spend too much time at work and flame out at home, or they spend too much time at home and not enough at work and they fail to meet expectations. Have trusted people around you who can hold you accountable to keeping that balance strong.
And boys, when you and mommy get here in a few days, we're gonna have fun at the beach!
One of the biggest complaints from leaders is that they don't have time to get everything done they wanted to, that they're "too busy." It's true there's way more expected of leaders today, especially in ministry, than a generation ago. But the problem isn't because of greater expectations and longer to-do lists, it's a problem of priorities. That's why I don't think we have a busy problem in leadership, we have a mixed-up priority problem.
Think about it for a minute, you can always find a couple hours to watch football on a fall afternoon, or a morning on the lake, or to interact on Facebook. We make time for what we think is most important. That's priorities. Aligning your productivity with your priorities won't take away the stress level of leadership, but it will free you up to focus on what's most important and devote less time to what's not (You can read more about Urgent & Important through the Eisenhower Decision Matrix).
1. Schedule Interruptions - We're surrounded by the interruptions of text messages, emails, and other instant correspondence. So build blocks into your schedule to account for these interruptions. Close your email application on your computer or change the settings on your phone so you don't have the constant ding. If you check and respond to this on scheduled intervals, it provides you uninterrupted focus time.
*Note: Emergencies are a different story
2. Delegate - There's a big difference between delegate and dump. When you delegate, you're giving away leadership which helps spread your influence. Delegation involves giving both responsibility and authority. If you give someone an area to oversee, they need the freedom to lead and decide without getting your approval. Delegate as much as you can. It might hurt, but there's not much that only you have to do. When you delegate you're multiplying leadership, which helps build a healthy ministry climate. People not only do ministry but they have ownership of it.
3. Keep Your Places In Order - When I worked at Starbucks I was introduced to this, that our "First Place" is home, "Second Place" is work, and "Third Place" is our recreation. If you're going to be an effective leader, especially in ministry, it starts at home. How are you leading your family? How are you loving and serving your spouse? What about your kids? Are you an engaged parent or are you constantly distracted? Are you staying healthy and balanced with recreation? Or has your hobby and interest crossed the line into one of the other places?
4. Develop Accountability - Do you have someone or a group you are accountable to? Not just surface "how's it going?" accountability, but real accountability. The kind where you have to be honest because they have your best interest in mind. Having accountability lets you have a structure in place to keep balance, and to have a forum to share how you're doing professionally and personally. This group helps you to balance priorities, focus on what's most important, and protect you, your marriage, and your family. Leaders without accountability are doomed, because they will continue to spin plates until it all comes crashing down.
5. Use An Effective System - Some people do time blocks, some do day planners, some use Covey's Seven Habits, or a dry erase board. Whatever system you use to schedule your time and emphasize your priorities, use it. I love time blocks because they can always shift around based on emergencies, crises, and drop-ins. Using a system helps keep the rhythms of ministry leadership in front of you (Sunday will be here quick, have you built time for sermon prep; Hospital visits planned throughout the week show you when you have time for deacon lunches, etc.).
6. Focus on Your Calling - As a ministry leader, you need to do this as a reminder for why you are where you are. You're there as a shepherd, leader, servant, teacher, counselor, and more. You're there because God has placed you there. And you're there because God has gifted you to handle what's before you. You're there because He is going to finish the work He started (Philippians 1:6). So when things get crazy around you, that's where we have to come back to our calling.
What would you add to this about priorities, busyness, and ways to manage time?
One of the things I love about living in Kentucky is how distinct every season is. And as a bonus, sometimes we can get all four in a week! But each season has its own feel, its own qualities, and its own challenges. Leaders travel through different seasons in their journey--each has its own qualities and responses. And like the calendar, leadership seasons are cyclical. Here's my best shot at how the seasons flow.
The Honeymoon season of leadership is where a new leader enters the scene and everything is exciting, new, fresh, and optimistic. If you come into a dire situation, you are viewed as a source of hope. If you come into a healthy situation, you are viewed as the successor to continue pressing on. In ministry, this is the equivalent of the "Freshman 15" for college students. Be ready for a lot of casseroles, baked goods, and people wanting to have lunch with you. The emphasis in this stage should be adjusting your family, developing relationships, and spending time talking and listening to folks.
The Pushback season of leadership is when the honeymoon ends. You had this too in your marriage. This was that first fight after settling into your apartment. Our first pushback was over how to sort laundry. Sounds silly, but your first argument with your spouse probably was too. In leadership, pushback happens when you make a change or when they find out you're not Superman. It's not wrong or bad, it's reality. None of us can ever live up to the expectations or imagination of what people think a leader should be. Or pushback can come when a leader feels impressed to make a change of something that has "always been done this way." It's important for a leader to remember to that any change initiative should be done slowly, with others on board, and with careful calculation of the cost and impact on your strategy. Changing something because you don't like it is dumb. Changing something because it doesn't advance the mission or connect people to Jesus is worth exploring. But no matter how small or insignificant you think something is, it likely means something to someone. So be ready for the pushback season. How you handle this is important. Will you listen to people or will you surround yourself with yes men? Will you communicate clearly your heart and intent? Will you build a coalition of other leaders or will you go out on the ledge with a chainsaw alone?
The hopeful next season after pushback is what I'll call "Values, Vision, and Purpose." This is the season where who you are starts to shape who the church is, and what's important starts to rise to the top. Maybe you've got a dream of what you want things to look like down the road? When you share that and craft that, and ultimately write it down, you're capturing a vision. When you write down your values, you're laying out what's most important to you as a church, and what you will shape your priorities, budget, programming, and emphases around. And when you lay out purpose, you are laying out why and for whom you're working. These are huge, because now you're in the season of creating new norms, of cultivating a culture, and beginning the process of transformation. Like working outside during August, this season is hard work. It requires a leader to be proactive, to be relational, and to keep the endgame in mind. It's a huge task, but effective leaders are able to wear multiple hats.
The next season is Mission. This is where things click, where what's been laid out as important is now put into practice. Maybe one of your values is building strong families. At the mission season, you're developing effective next generation ministries, hosting marriage seminars, and preaching regularly on the importance of the home and family for faith formation. If you're into Tuckman's Group Stages, this is similar to the "Performing" stage. Because you've laid out a vision of where things could be, you've given people a goal to chase. Because values have been normed, there's focus on what's important. And since you've laid out purpose, people are willing to serve and take on new projects and ministries because they see the One they're serving.
The last season in the cycle is Transitions. Every church is both organization and organism. People come and go, jobs will take key leaders away, funerals will mark the end of a faithful legacy of people you counted on, and new people will be moving from attender to member to minister. Along with that, healthy organizations occasionally need to go through a process of evaluation and modification. Maybe there's a ministry that once was effective but has gone past its time, or a staff member gets a shift in their job description to match a new sense of calling. These things are normal, healthy, and good. But they require transitions. A transition is different than a change. In a change, things get shuffled and flipped. But in a transition, there's an intentional effort to honor what's been done, identify who can step into the gap, and turn the page to a new chapter. So cheer on the deacon who took a new job across the country, cry with their family, and let them finish well. Then, fill the gap with another qualified leader.
Because the Transition season marks a whole shift in the leader's emphasis, we renew the cycle. So after a leader goes through Transitions, they'll go through Pushback as new leaders and new processes start to take shape which are different than what had been done before. And from there it moves to the Values, Vision and Purpose, then to Mission, and again back to Transitions. What's also worth mentioning is that like Kentucky where the seasons change daily sometimes, there is some fluidity in the Pushback, Values Vision & Purpose, and Mission seasons. Sometimes you'll float back and forth between those, and that's where a leader's flexibility and adaptivity is important (for more on this, check out Situational Leadership).
The season that hasn't been mentioned is the Departure season. In this, a leader is the one making the transition. But it takes a tangent off the cycle because it impacts things much differently. And in the Departure season, the church takes the initiative to make sure that the leader is able to leave well and move off the cycle. In my book Dream Teams, I talk about the importance of leaving well. It's important for a leader to make sure they are setting up the church to continue on without them, and for the church to make sure the hard work and legacy of the leader is celebrated (but not idolized). Because a Departure season naturally means a significant transition, I took it off the cycle, it's inevitable that a Departure season is going to be a "lame duck" in a lot of ways. It's hard to get behind new initiatives because the next leader will bring a different set of ideas, gifts, and personality.
A few weeks ago I was sitting in a doctor's office answering questions about how I was feeling. The questions were part of the process for the doctor to figure out what was going on with me. Individually, the symptoms weren't a huge deal, but taken together they provide a picture of what's happening. In ministry we need to regularly ask ourselves diagnostic questions about our leadership, especially when it feels like we're on the roller coaster of ups and downs. Those times, with their uncertainty and unpredictability, can be debilitating for us unless we dig into the issues. So here are 7 diagnostic questions to regularly ask yourself in ministry, but to really look at on the rough days.
1. Is your personal spiritual life growing, regular, consistent, and engaging? - In ministry we're only able to give to others what we're getting ourselves. That starts by the regular practice of spiritual disciplines, the practices we do to engage our faith. If your time in the Word isn't charging your heart, if your time in prayer isn't shaping you to be like Jesus, and if you're not regularly fasting, serving, giving, witnessing, and sharing hospitality, it's no wonder your ministry leadership feels dry. You're running on an empty tank.
2. When was the last time you dreamed? - Daydreaming is a waste of time, that's pretending you're high-fiving Lebron James when your name gets called as an NBA starter. Start practicing your jumper or start studying for that Physics test. But dreams are a whole other thing. Dreams are where the energy for our effort comes from. Dreams are where we picture an ideal future of what we want our lives and ministries to look like. Sleep studies have shown if we don't dream, we can really hurt ourselves. Are you dreaming of what your ministry could look like? Or are you content to just let things continue?
3. Is your marriage and family life balanced and healthy? - The downfall for far too many pastors who burn out or disqualify themselves happens not in the pulpit but in their home. Are you engaged with your kids or distracted by your phone? Are you involved in their lives reading bedtime stories or attending games? Do you date your wife? Are you regularly intimate (physically and emotionally)? Satan will attack your home before he attacks your church (cf. Mark 3:27), so take an assessment and see if things are strong?
4. When was the last time God answered a prayer? - James tells us we have not because we ask not (James 4:2-3) and sometimes I think that happens when we stop praying expectantly. If it's been a while since you can remember God specifically answering a prayer, check to see if your prayer life is vibrant or perfunctory. Are you praying to seek God's face and plead with Him, or are you running through your church's sick list?
5. Can you name who's shaping you and who you're shaping? - I'm a huge fan of mentoring, both to have someone shaping your life but also for you to shape someone else's. One of the best uses of a leader's time is spending time investing in another leader--that multiplies your influence. If you shape someone and are being shaped, you're constantly sharpening yourself. If your ministry influence isn't being replicated in others, you're not developing a culture of leaders, you're creating a dependency.
6. Are you reading something right now? - Ministry leaders fill their offices with books, a lot of it comes from spending 3-8 years in intensive study in seminary (especially if you're crazy enough to go for a doctorate!). But when a ministry leader doesn't have to read for class anymore, many times they fall into a trap of not regularly reading anymore. Harry Truman made it clear when he said "leaders are readers" because if you're not growing and expanding yourself as a leader, you're on your way to turning into a Dead Sea. Check out the book Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books for more on sharpening yourself as a reader. Also, don't be scared to read outside of your tribe. I've gleaned so much from secular leadership books, there's so much to take from them that are observable principles of working with people.
7. Can you remember the last time you depended on faith to do something? - One thing I've learned in almost a decade of ministry is that we are trained to be risk-aversive. Risk isn't always good or wise, sometimes when we think we're taking a risk to accomplish something we're actually being stupid. But our risk aversion means that more often than not, we're not depending on faith to get anything done. We're so good at "counting the cost" that we forget to look to the Lord of the harvest. If you can't remember the last time you needed to depend on faith for something, maybe you've been depending on yourself and your ability more than God's. Take a step back and look for a BHAG that only God can accomplish, get wise counsel, and after much prayer take a leap of faith. Watch how God provides, protects, and works through you.
The best way to tell if a leader is truly invested in their people is to look at what happens when they get to a buffet line. Does the leader push his way to the front or does he let others go ahead of him? What about their place in the line? Are they content with being in the middle or are they willing to go all the way to the back, and in the process get the cold leftovers and pimento cheese? That's the big question Sinek poses in the book Leaders Eat Last, which he observed while watching a Marine Corps meal--the officers waited until all the enlisted men had gone through to eat before they did. The message behind it was clear: the goal of a leader is to make sure those under their care are taken care of first.
You can check out a really helpful review of the book here, and even though Sinek isn't writing from a Christian worldview, his book has several implications for Christ-like leadership. Sinek's major arguments come from a naturalistic worldview that looks at sacrificial leadership as a survival instinct, and points out the physiology of our body chemicals (Serotonin, Dopamine, Endorphins, and Oxytocin) and their role in shaping our social bonds and personal interactions. As believers, we recognize that our body chemistry and social interactions are part of God's design and what makes us unique as His image-bearers.
1. Christian leaders can set the thermostat - Leaders have the ability to shape the culture and environment they lead in. If a leader is poised, composed, and strategic, the environment is much less chaotic than a leader who lives by a "crisis of the week" mentality. Never underestimate how much people are looking to you as a leader, they will feed off your cues, both spoken and unspoken.
2. Christian leaders lead by sacrificial service - Jesus models this for us, and Paul shares in Philippians 2 the sacrificial servanthood of Christ, who emptied Himself to the point of a servant and died in our place on the cross. As leaders, we do not lead by barking orders from the back, we lead from the front. I remember one mission trip watching a youth pastor sitting under an umbrella telling his students what to do on a construction project. If you want to lead, be willing to work harder, longer, and right there with your people.
3. Christian leaders recognize the needs of others - When we lead, we're not setting our agenda, we're serving and meeting the needs of those around us. That's why we need to be flexible with how we build our time. The desperate man whose wife just left him can't wait for you to finish your sermon prep to talk, your response as a leader is to respond to the immediate needs. It's also important to make sure the long-range needs are met, which means your agenda as a leader becomes their agenda.
4. Christian leaders need to have the big picture in mind - Leadership isn't doing what Jack Welch at GE did, which was create a spirit of fear among managers and a roller coaster of performance. It instead looks like Costco, that recognizes the value of employees and making sure they can thrive at work by thriving at home. It's what I love about Southwest Airlines, their primary focus is their employees, because they know if they take care of their people they will take care of the customers. As a Christian leader, we need to keep the big picture in mind, looking ahead to what will make the most lasting impact. One question I ask often as a student pastor is "What do I want them to take with them when they graduate in 3/4/5/6/7 years?" That helps me frame everything we do in a way that equips them for living as Gospel witnesses.
5. Trust is the currency we lead with - Whenever we lead as Christian leaders, we're doing so in the crucible of relationships. Our effectiveness as a leader only goes as far as the depth, quality, and breadth of our relationships. The currency we spend in this is trust. As we develop relationships and build into people, they give us trust deposits. Occasionally we need to cash those deposits in to make a difficult decision, change, or navigate through the rhythm of conflict resolution. These withdrawals are a necessary element of leadership, and the more people trust us, the more we're able to lead, inspire, and cast vision.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.