A couple years ago, Forbes Magazine ran an article titled "People Leave Managers, Not Companies." The basic premise behind it was that employee engagement and retention was rooted less in the company they work for and more in who they directly work under. Employees who had a healthy and positive environment from their manager were more likely to stay, be productive, and be happier in their work. But when employees left, they more often than not left directly because of their supervisor.
The connection to ministry is unavoidable. Those who are senior leaders in a ministry, whether you're the lead pastor of a church or the director of a para-church ministry set the environment where those we serve alongside will either thrive or disengage. Whether you realize it or not, even though God called the team you work with, they serve primarily with you.
If you want to make a positive impact on those you serve with:
1. Don't be a jerk - Easy enough. A jerk makes it all about them. A jerk can't celebrate the successes of others. A jerk gets jealous of high performing team members. Jerks make terrible leaders because they're more interested in protecting themselves, elevating themselves, and generally make everything about them. Making a positive impact on your team means you're building them up, cheering them on, championing their success.
2. Listen well - The people you serve alongside carry a lot on them. They deal with the ups and downs of ministry. They carry burdens at home. They get tired. Make sure you take time to listen, sometimes even let them vent. As much as possible, keep an "open door" policy, especially with those on the team.
3. Allow input - Few things can discourage a team like a leader asking for their opinion, only to do the opposite. Sometimes you'll have to take the least popular course. But more often than not leaders ask for input when they want affirmation. In business too often employees feel like cogs in a wheel, and it's often no different in ministry.
4. Champion them - Sometimes in leadership your job is to be a grease trap. You're the filter that catches all the crap that gets thrown your way. That's part of the deal you signed on for. But when you're the filter, you're helping keep your team clean from the critics and grumps. Most of the time the criticism levied at ministry leaders are matters of preference or personal opinion. As the leader, your job is to filter that and keep it away from your team. And in doing that, you're their champion, defending them and deflecting any unwarranted criticism.
5. Value honesty first, loyalty second - On a team where no one feels like they can share, or be honest about concerns, it doesn't take long to get awkward. It gets worse when there's an expectation (or demand) for loyalty. The first thing we should desire is truth. We need someone to tell us our great idea will blow up because it's terrible. We need our team to remind us of our need for prayer. Loyalty is a byproduct of trust. Never forget that.
6. Follow through - Your team is looking to you. They're depending on you. They're loyal to you. They're excited to serve with you. They're committed to your vision. So follow through. Return the phone calls. Don't blow off meetings. Spend time with them. Keep things going forward towards the vision. Reject passivity and being content to exist.
What would you add to help build a positive team environment?
Back in 2013 the Barna Group released the results of a study that found professional athletes were carrying more influence than faith leaders. It shouldn't be surprising, especially among Millennials (or Mosaics, or Gen-Y), that the role of institutional religion is waning. It's a generation, and a culture -at-large, that is inherently distrustful of organized institutions. For many, it's warranted - with the growing sex abuse scandal in not only Catholic but Protestant churches, the reports of extravagant spending of televangelists, and the seemingly weekly cycle of fallen leaders. It should be no surprise that when faith leaders drop the ball, someone else will pick it up.
So the question becomes, how do we reclaim the influence? How do we lead and shape the next generation? I want to use some buzzwords to drive the conversation.
Authentic - If we want to influence, we can't put on the plastic veneer anymore. We need to be ourselves, not the caricature of what we want to be. When we speak, we speak as ourselves. We don't speak in pithy sound bites of trivia. We are who we are, regardless of where we are. One of the ironies is that in spite of being over 90, many hold Billy Graham in high regard, even those outside the Church. Why? Because there's never been a doubt who he was, in the pulpit or outside.
Relationship - We cannot lead those we do not know. And even though Millennials (and our culture as a whole) are more connected than ever before, we find ourselves starved for relationship. We have Facebook friends by the hundreds, but few we can call in desperation. We can connect online on message boards and forums with people around the world. But we struggle to know our neighbors. We must seek out to have relationships with those we seek to lead.
Community - This is the handmaiden to Relationship, the longing for and the unmet need of community. Are our churches places where people find true fellowship, true community? Or are they places where people superficially interact with one another? Are our prayer times simply a sick list or do they yearn for true koinonia, true fellowship with one another.
Purpose - One of my convictions lately has been that far too many churches, ministry leaders, and Christians are simply content to exist. They don't accomplish anything. They just exist, until they die. How can we expect to engage and influence when there's nothing we're aiming for, no reason for our existence other than to simply exist?
Truth - Our culture asks the same question that has been asked since Pilate stood with Jesus, "What is truth?" I believe our influence has waned over the years because of our reluctance to let the doubters push and dig about what we truly believe. We've settled for cliches or dismissive answers to the real issues of life: the problem of evil, the universal guilt of people, the emerging views of gender/marriage/sexuality. And rather than taking time to explore truth, we've embraced tribalism. The difference? Exploring truth seeks answers, tribalism stifles the journey.
I'm optimistic about the role of the Church and of ministry leaders. It won't look the same as it has in the past. We won't have the automatic credibility and influence of a generation or two ago. But when Jesus said "The fields are ripe for the harvest," He wasn't just talking about a cookie-cutter culture. Let's influence well, for the sake of the Kingdom.
The slogan of Coach Taylor on Friday Night Lights was "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose." This was something often repeated through the show to emphasize what it took to win. If we were to take the same concept and apply it to ministry leadership, it'd be "Thick Skin, Soft Heart, Can't Give Up."
Thick Skin - Leaders who accomplish anything will find themselves taking barbs. It's inevitable. In fact, if you want to avoid any criticism, the answer is simple: Do nothing. Nothing never leads to conflict. Nothing just leads to more nothing. As a leader, you can't allow those criticisms to get to you. You need thick skin to absorb and not allow critics math (see below) to take over. Leaders with thin skin take everything personally, obsess over each critical comment, or feel the need to respond or lash back.
Remember: the person who made the sharp comment to you more than likely moved on from it on their way to the parking lot.
Soft Heart - In ministry you're going to deal with the muddy mess. You'll have families falling apart, funerals, medical emergencies, spiritual crises, and requests for financial assistance. And in those moments we can't allow our hearts to become hard. It's the corollary to having thick skin. A soft heart is able to lead graciously, to shepherd well, and to respond with empathy to problems (even when they're self-inflicted).
Can't Give Up - Guys, don't give up. God called you. God sustains you. God will be with you. God has promised that He'll faithfully finish what He started in you. Don't give up. Don't look for greener grass somewhere else. Don't take the church as a mistress at the expense of your family. And don't give up. Keep a soft heart, you need it to love people through the mess. Keep thick skin, you need it to lead courageously. And you can't give up.
Today at my 1st graders school all the dads were invited to walk with their kids to class, and they had it all done up special for us. We had a check-in area where we got a treat and a sticker saying we were VIP's (Very Important Pops). We even got photographed for the school to post on social media and bulletin boards. Pretty cool way to start a Wednesday.
Dads, let's not ever undersell our importance to our kids. Let's never forget that the impact we have on them extends way beyond the years they're in our homes. It impacts their marriages, their children, their grandchildren, their careers, and most importantly their faith.
Far too often many of us lead our kids spiritually when the sticker is handed out. We bring them to church on Sunday, we give a semi-lukewarm blessing at dinnertime, and we look up from our phones or work or projects to answer questions with "That's really good, go ask your mother."
Dads, God has called us to something much greater. He's called us to shepherd our homes, to love our wives as Christ loves the church, and to raise our children to love God. That's more than something we can do while we wait for the sticker. That means it's something we commit to every day when we get up, that we'll be what God has called us to be.
1. Start by loving your wife (their mom) - If you want to display what it means to be the dad God wants you to be, it starts with your wife. Love her, serve her, cherish her, pursue her, date her, and show your kids why you married her. Jesus loves the Church enough to die for her, and that's the model of love we're expected to have for our wives.
3. Pursue authentic faith - You can't share what you don't have. That's why I'll never be my kids' basketball coach--me teaching them to make a jump shot would be a joke. And unless you're walking with Christ, seeking Him in the Word, passionately worshipping, and faithfully serving, don't expect your kids to do the same. They'll hear, but they won't see.
4. Show up - When you're home and engaged, be home and engaged. One thing I try to do is wrap up everything in the car, even if it means sitting in the driveway on one last phone call. That way I can drop my bag and invest and engage with the boys and Carrie. Emergencies happen, and crises will come, and sometimes you'll need 10 minutes to chill before playing Legos or helping with homework or talking about your day. Regardless, make sure you engage.
How else as a Dad can you make an eternal impact in your kids' lives?
The digital world was on fire this week after the release from CBMW of the Nashville Statement, which was written as a series of affirmations and denials of what Scripture teaches about marriage, gender, and sexuality. CBMW was founded and driven by the Danvers Statement (1987) that set the stage for the recent surge in complementarianism. Complementarianism is an understanding of biblical gender roles that sees men and women equal in value, dignity, worth, and as image bearers, but with different functions in the church & home.
When the Danvers statement was written, it was long before what we see today where gender identity is fluid, same-sex marriage has become not only legalized but normalized, and the "new tolerance" has created a culture largely unengaged with Danvers.
One of the criticisms of the Nashville Statement was the timing of its release. It was released while the nation was focused on Harvey and the images of destruction coming from Houston. For what it's worth, I agree the timing wasn't a good look. I'm sure it was set in place weeks before, but a week or two delay in light of the national landscape may have been wise. That said, I was happy to put my name on it as a signer. I don't believe the Nashville Statement has said anything new or clever - it's affirmed an almost unanimous understanding through church history of Scripture's view on marriage, gender, and sexuality.
But as pastors we don't deal with the abstractness of documents. We deal with the hurting hearts of people. Some who struggle with same-sex attraction, some who have family members who identify as a different gender, some who may not even agree with the affirmations and denials in the Nashville Statement. Now that it's been released, what shall we do? May I propose a few suggestions?
1. Listen Well - It can be very easy to be dismissive of those with whom we disagree. We don't have to read their tweet. We can roll our eyes at their concerns. But as shepherds, we must love people well enough to listen to them. We need to hear the fear and concern and hurt from those that find themselves wondering if God loves them, if we love them. It doesn't mean we agree with them, but we must display what one of my seminary professors called "Convictional Kindness."
2. Stand Firm - Where God has spoken, we must not back down. And God has spoken from the opening pages of Genesis what His design and delight are for us. He has spoken on gender, He has spoken on marriage, He has spoken on sex. And while there have been historical examples of misapplying Scripture to justify an evil (slavery, racism, eugenics, etc.), past mistakes do not automatically mean current convictions are wrong. God's design for marriage, gender, and sexuality is by nature good (Genesis 1-2), and because it is good it is for our best.
3. Love Hard - My heart broke as a former student of mine shared that he was gay. But what never changed, and never will, is my love for him and my prayer for him. We cannot love those whom we do not know, and we cannot know those whom we do not seek. Jesus did this, he came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). He didn't wait on them, He went. And He loved. And He loved people enough to tell them "go and sin no more" (John 8:11). I'll never forget what the first pastor I served under said often, "God loves you just the way you are. But He loves you too much to let you stay there."
4. Avoid the Muck - The people who wrote the Nashville Statement are adults. They knew what they were doing. They also can defend themselves. They don't need us fighting their battles for them and slinging around on Twitter. Stay above the low hanging fruit on Twitter. Keep your eyes focused on what God's called you to - to lead, teach, serve, and love the people placed under your care.
5. Buckle Up - The backlash against the Nashville Statement has been swift and from multiple directions. Even conservative Christians have taken issue with some parts of it (especially Article 10 which implies an "all or nothing" understanding). The mayor of Nashville expressed her anger at the city being attached to the document, a community of artists called The Liturgists released a counter statement, Jonathan Merritt wrote a thoughtful piece for Religion News Service, and many of us have had our inboxes and social media hit with comments, questions, and backlash. Expect that to continue. Those who hold to a "biblical" view of marriage, gender, and sexuality are moving to a minority. Our voice will no longer be one from majority or tradition, but more as the prophet calling from the outside for the city to repent and return.
6. Keep the Gospel - The end goal isn't for people to be straight or identify by their biological gender. That's missing the point. The goal is for people around the world to treasure Christ. The Gospel is the main thing - that Christ came for sinners. That includes you and me. That includes the addict, the adulterer, the guy with a secret porn habit, the young adult who runs to dysfunctional relationships, the middle aged man who thinks his job is where his treasure is, and the senior citizen who thinks there's always going to be tomorrow. The Gospel sets us free. And it sets us free from whatever we might find ourselves enslaved by. If you want proof of what the power of the Gospel can do, check out Rosaria Butterfield's testimony sometime.
I love how Merritt ends his article, "Proclamations don’t shape history; people do."
He's right. And as shepherds and pastors, let's lead well to see people from every tribe, nation, and tongue treasuring and worshipping Christ as Lord.
Over the course of his entire career, NBA legend Larry Bird hit 649 3-pointers. Famous for being one of the most deadly long range shooters in the game, he was reported to have shown up to the 3-point contest and asked "Which one of you is coming in second?" For perspective, the 2016-17 Houston Rockets hit 1,181 3-pointers, breaking the 15-16 Warriors record of 1,077. The style, nature, pace, flow, and analysis of the game has completely changed. Bird's season high was 90 made 3-pointers, which would put him 8th just on the Rockets.
What can we take from an obscure basketball stat for churches and leadership? I believe the biggest takeaway is that growth and change are linked together. Churches that find themselves on the slow tick towards death are churches that aren't growing. They're also churches that are unwilling to embrace change. Not the superficial changes we usually think of, like music style or branding. But the philosophical, deeply-rooted change that affects a church's DNA.
I sat in a crowded room interviewing for a student ministry position when a question came from the back "What are you going to do to get our youth group back to the way it was?" My response was simple: "I'm not." What that person, and later I learned the entire church, wanted was to recapture the magic in the bottle that had happened 10-20 years before. They wanted to relive those glory days. But those days were long gone. The people who were part of that had moved on, the community had changed, the leadership had changed. But by trying to relive the glory days (including singing the exact same songs they had for 20 years) they couldn't see why their efforts weren't working.
Whenever there's growth, change will happen - You can't escape it, if you bring new people in they're going to have new backgrounds, new experiences, new baggage, new ideas, new gift sets, etc. One thing we're often too guilty of in churches is demanding that new members acquiesce to who we are, rather than adopt them into a family dynamic. When you start seeing young families attending, there will be an increased emphasis on next generation ministry. New leadership will bring their personalities and giftedness into their position. Most visible is the music ministry - It never ceases to amaze me that churches are aghast when worship leaders do things different than the previous guy, especially if there's an age gap between them.
Change is a two-way street - The other day I tried getting a shirt on one of my kids that they loved (and had picked out). When my wife came in she saw that the shirt was way too small. Rather than adjust to his growth, I tried making it work. A lot of churches, and leaders, do this when they fail to adapt to the rhythms of a local congregation. Leaders who try to replicate whatever they did in a previous assignment are no different than a toddler who tries to hammer the square peg into the round hole. Every context is different. So the nature of change has to work both ways. A leader has to be willing to embrace making adjustments and changes just as much as a congregation should. After a few weeks I had a church member approach me and ask why I didn't preach from the Bible. I was floored and said "Well I do, I keep it and all my notes on my iPad." Lovingly, he shared that it gave a bad impression, so the next week I made sure to have a Bible (and my iPad) on the platform. Something small like that made a big impression and was a big deal.
Superficial change is like painting a haunted house - Adding a new service, changing the name, rebranding the website, bringing in a new leader (I was once told by a church I know that the answer to all their problems was an extrovert in an associate role) are all good things. But they're not a silver bullet. Dumping all your resources into a new worship service when your facilities are falling apart isn't going to attract and retain new people. Adopting a cool name or a splashy website isn't going to fix a church's inward focus. I believe these kinds of visible changes are important (side note: your website is your front door, is it updated? What about your social media presence?), but they won't fix anything. They're means, not an end.
Lasting changes are slow and intentional - Lasting changes are those that outlast you, and hopefully extend several years. And the way to get there is to work slowly and work intentionally. Nothing meaningful ever happens overnight. It's a slow, daily, plodding process. It involves sharing the vision, rallying leadership, building support, and soaking everything in prayer. If you're familiar with John Kotter's Leading Change, you may have found it transferable but lacking something for ministry. That's why I love Them Rainer's Who Moved My Pulpit? I felt like it took the principles from Kotter and applied them specifically to ministry. The driving question behind any change is "Why?" If the change is rooted in a desire to advance the mission, magnify the Gospel, impact the community, remove distractions/barriers in worship, those are good reasons. But if it's about preference, style, something is annoying, you might want to tread slowly if at all.
Growth & change happen when you have an external focus - One of my favorite writers is Carey Nieuwhof, who challenged his readers with the question "Are we focusing more on who we want to reach or who we want to keep?" As we see our communities growing more disengaged with the Gospel or with the local church, we can either turn our focus inside or we can see ourselves as a beacon of light, of hope, of peace, of joy. If we focus inside, we'll build a nice community for ourselves by ourselves. But if we focus outside, we'll see stories of rescue, salvation, relationship repair, and more.
I like the sound of that.
Yesterday was our quarterly Membership Orientation, and I had one person there. On the surface, that'd be disappointing. Putting in time and effort to coordinate a meal, space, materials and resources is a lot of work. But beyond the surface, behind what's visible, is a really beautiful picture of ministry: one.
We lead one at a time. When you're sitting with a prospective member who's excited about what's going on, who has a love for the Lord, who has a desire to jump in and serve, it's a nice reminder that God's up to something all around us. So rather than seeing it as a "waste of time" I came away from that lunch excited about who God has been bringing to us, and the joy from hearing her testimony of God's work in her life. Coolest fact: she got saved at a Billy Graham crusade and found a church "because Billy said to find a church that preached the Bible."
We lead one at a time when we invest in a hurting family. I never believed in the "ministry of presence" until I became a pastor and made ICU and hospice visits. My training is in words, but more important was me being there. We're leading by loving, by serving, and by hurting with those families.
We lead one at a time when we disciple. I wish it worked like a factory, where we could mass produce disciples like Apple makes phones. But it's not mass produced, it's organic. That means you can only do it one at a time. I look back with gratitude at the guys who discipled me over the years. They gave their time and energy. And when we disciple others, we're leading them well.
We lead one at a time when we cast vision. Vision doesn't happen from the platform (although it's important to communicate regularly), it happens as we have conversations in the hallway, over lunch, on visits, and more. That's when we share what God's put on our hearts, how we've sensed His leadership in the church, and what the future can hold if we'd trust Him enough.
We lead one at a time when we're preaching/teaching. When you look out to the crowd, hopefully you don't just see faces. Hopefully you're seeing stories, people who need a word from God that morning, people who are longing for hope, who are teetering on a decision to follow Christ, or more. I'm not saying you tailor your message to Sally or Fred, but as you're preparing and something jumps out because you're dealing with a person or issue related to your passage, pray for wisdom and grace and boldness and compassion as you share. This past Sunday I spent some time sharing about letting anger go, knowing there were several who I'd talked with with long-reaching grudges or past hurts.
How else do you lead one at a time?
One of the things that will undoubtedly happen to you as a leader will be disappointment. You can't escape it. An initiative or program you feel strongly about might land flat, you might be betrayed by someone you trust, you might learn the couple you invested months in to try to save their marriage filed for divorce, or any number of things. Leadership is always messy because you're not perfect, and it's messy in the church because you're leading people who like you aren't perfect. Yesterday I pleaded and shared with a man who visited off the street, and gave him a Bible because he had no assurance of his relationship with Christ. Before leaving, I found that Bible left behind, discarded. I won't lie, it stung.
When you find yourself in those moments of disappointment, I think it's important to do three things:
1) Remember Your Calling - When you entered ministry leadership, it wasn't your idea first. It was God's. He called you. He prepared you. He sharpened you. He shaped you. He led you through intense training. And He's the One who continues to be with you. In those moments of disappointment, it can be tempting to wonder if you should've gone into sales or retail instead. But if God is the one who called you to ministry, you can rest assured that He's going to sustain you through it. You've not been called to be successful, you've been called to be faithful. There's a huge difference. Our responsibility is to be faithful to what we've been called to and who God has called us to be.
2) Don't Take It Personal - Most of the time, the disappointment we face isn't because of us. Sometimes it is though, and when we blew it we need to own it and learn from it. But more often than not, we'll find ourselves as collateral damage in the wake of the disappointment. That's when we start playing the "what if?" game. Can I ask something? If God's in control of everything, and nothing happens apart from His wisdom and leadership, do you think He knew what He was doing when He put you there? Everything that we go through is part of God's process of sanctifying us, of making us more like Christ, of chipping off our pride.
3) Pick Up and Go On - My wife and I love medical and law shows on TV. And sometimes in those shows they lose a case or a patient dies in surgery. It's awful. It's gut-wrenching. They have to break terrible news to a grieving family. But the next patient is already prepped. The next case is on the docket. They can't dwell on the past. They have to pick up and go. So do you. The responsibilities of ministry will be there after you've been let down. And for the faithfulness of your calling and your responsibility to lead God's people well, you need to carry on. Yes it will be hard. But that's when your prayer is Paul's words from God in 2 Corinthians 12:9 "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
How have you as a ministry leader worked through disappointments?
You've spent time in prayer, you've refined your resume, you've networked well, and you've answered more email questionnaires than you could ever count. Then one day you're invited to a conference call or an in-person interview with a search team. Whether you're on your first or twentieth interview, preparing yourself is always important. It's a chance for a search team to get to know who you are, and for you to see if you'd be a good fit for the church.
Most interviews are limited in nature; you're dealing with volunteers who are giving their time to sit and talk with you. So you want to honor them and their commitment as much as they are trying to honor your time.
I think there's four things crucial to bring to your interview:
1) A Philosophy Of Ministry - God has called you to ministry, that's obvious in your own heart and in the search team's willingness to talk to you. But He hasn't called you to be like your childhood pastor, or the youth minister who discipled you. He's called you to be who He wants you to be. A philosophy of ministry is a way of explaining who He's called you to be and what He's called you to do. It's your heartbeat for ministry. It's what makes you unique. It helps a search team know who they're getting, and it helps you identify your gifts/passions/talents.
2) References - You may have put them on your resume, and even if you did have some names of people who know your ministry chops, who've served with you, who know you well, and most importantly who will speak truthfully about you. Yes you need people to say good things about you (I heard a story from a church who looked at a candidate until his references said not to hire him!), but you need people who will share your strengths and your weaknesses, your gifts and your areas for improvement. A church is potentially willing to make a huge investment in you, honest references help determine if you're a fit.
3) Success Stories - I know this can be tough if you don't have a lot of experience, or if you're looking to transition into a new area of ministry (I was in youth ministry for nearly 10 years before becoming a senior pastor). But if you have any stories of experience, whether it was a win or a lesson, that have helped shape you and prepare you for your potential ministry, share them with the search team. Don't reach for them, be honest about the context and scope.
4) A List of Questions - This is perhaps one of the areas many ministry candidates don't take advantage of during the interview. Most interviews will transition with the question "Do you have anything for us?" In that moment you have free reign to ask them what you need to. They have opened the door for you to explore and probe them, the church, the ministry position, the history, and more. (Note: This is not the time to discuss salary) Don't waste the opportunity by saying "No, thank you." unless you're certain God is not calling you there. Here's the questions I asked my current church when I interviewed with them. Feel free to use them, or this list produced by Thom Rainer.
On your Sunday morning routine greeting people in church, you come across a man sitting by himself in the back. You immediately recognize the voice, the charisma, the presence, the awkward looks from people sitting around him, the whispers and pointing. It’s OJ Simpson.
Yesterday during a Nevada parole hearing, OJ Simpson was granted release from his prison sentence stemming from an armed robbery in a Las Vegas hotel. In October, he’ll be a free man, able to reenter the work force, collect his NFL pension, and face the never-ending litany of cameras, reports, and questions. The former Heisman Trophy winner, NFL star, celebrity, actor has now become a shamed and outcast by the very public that launched him to fame.
So what do you do if you see OJ in your church on a Sunday?
It’s doubtful that you’ll have OJ in your church. But you will have visitors and guests. And if you’re doing it right, you’ll have visitors and guests with checkered pasts. Have wise policy and procedure in place so that with kindness, grace, and a sense of devotion to your calling to lead and shepherd your people well, you can embrace those around you and invite them to be a part of the Kingdom where the only measure of their accomplishments died on a cross for them.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.