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.
The Gospel Coalition hosted a round table discussion with Danny Akin, Ryan Kelly, and Colin Smith with one of the questions centered around "How do staff members disagree with their senior pastor?"
The conversation is worth the time to watch, both for first chair and second chair leaders. But the biggest takeaway I had from the discussion wasn't about disagreement, it was about trust. During my doctoral dissertation I polled pastors and staff members about leadership development. A number of staff members emailed asking me not to share their answers, that they had no real relationship with their pastor, or that they didn't feel they could have an honest discussion. At the end of the day, I ended up with a 150 page Seinfeld episode (it was a dissertation about nothing!) because the staff dynamics were crippling. During my defense I even commented to my committee "It was like these people don't know each other."
Which brings everything back to trust. In ministry we don't lead by dangling the carrot of results like in the business world. We lead through relationships. The capacity for our leadership is directly related to the amount of trust people put in us and we foster in them. Without a healthy level of trust, we cannot accomplish anything.
Trust takes time, which flies in the face of our microwave society. If we want to foster trust in others, we have to be willing to last. We have to be willing to accept the fact that trust deposits are pennies at a time. When Kelly and Smith shared about their staff dynamics, they pointed to the overwhelming staff camaraderie they shared. That came after making lengthy trust deposits over years, not weeks or even months. That came after going through difficult times, having victories, the proving ground, and more.
Trust also comes before loyalty, except for us. One of the most uncomfortable meetings I've ever been a part of was when I had a boss demand/expect loyalty, without a track record of showing loyalty to those under him. For us in senior leadership, the loyalty of those we serve with comes after a lengthy period of trust building. But for us, our loyalty to them comes before trust. We must demonstrate to those we serve with that we have their back first.
Pastors and ministry leaders, be willing to work hard to earn trust. Get to know the others you serve with. Love them. Protect them. Serve them. Invest in them.
A few weeks ago a leaked memo from comedian and TV host Steve Harvey sparked a tidal wave of response on social media. I don't want to pile on Harvey. Enough of that has been done, and he's had a pretty rough year after the Miss Universe fiasco. But it goes without saying that his memo caught the attention of people in leadership. In it, he basically told his staff to not bother him anymore, and to not catch him off guard or try to approach him without an appointment. The most telling line in it was "It is for the good of my personal life and enjoyment."
Unfortunately, it's too easy for us in leadership to wall ourselves off from those around us. Life gets busy. Deadlines approach. The never-ending demands and cycles of ministry require us to give constant attention to preparation, study, and detail. Because you'll wear a number of hats in ministry, you can find yourself being frustrated by the "interruptions" that can happen.
But unlike Harvey who puts up walls for the protection of "his" time, in ministry it's really not your time after all - it's God's. And we don't get the benefit of demanding walls around what's not really ours to start with. Knocks at the door, hallway conversations, prayer requests, and late evening phone calls are opportunities, not interruptions. Yes it means you won't get done what you'd hoped for. That's where you depend on God to provide during these Divine Appointments. Rather than wall your time, manage it and block it.
Communicate with your team - Sometimes you'll need to be off the grid for lengthy prep time or to really focus on a project. Or you might have a high priority meeting. Communicate with your team, especially your assistant. That way you're not "unavailable," you're engaged somewhere else.
Embrace the flexibility - Unlike many other jobs, we don't have a time clock. The bummer is that you're always "on call" but the perk is that you have a lot of flexibility in your schedule. Take advantage of that. I'm writing this in my living room before leaving for a meeting.
Guard your time loosely - It's a reality that in ministry so many deflect responsibility because "it interrupts family time." That's a hard sell because we ask our volunteers to work their regular jobs, invest in their families, and give time for ministry. When we guard our time loosely, we acknowledge that there will be times that there are cancelled plans because of the unique demands of our calling. Again, embrace the flexibility. One of my seminary professors shared his key: whenever he did a funeral, he'd use the honorarium to take his family out for a fun day. It got to where his kids wanted him to do more funerals because it meant they'd go to Chuck-E-Cheese!
Be quick to pray - Last week I had a drop-in that ended up with a gut-wrenching story and many tears shed. When you find yourself caught, work on building the discipline of praying before. You never know what you might be able to do in those moments.
Use your vacation time - I say this to churches too, make sure your ministry leaders have generous vacation time and that they use it each year. There's no telling how many thousands of unused days there are in ministry. And the results are likely contributing to the rise of burnout. When you don't rest, you're telling God you have it under control and don't need Him to work when you're not. The Sabbath is for our good. And that Sabbath includes time away, when you're really away.
It's popping up everywhere on social media: time to dust off the Academic Regalia, wear a pointy hat, walk across a stage, and get a diploma. Graduation season is upon us. Thousands will make the long walk to shake hands and receive the reward of their labor. They could be high school graduates making the first step, college graduates balancing family and work responsibility, people entering their professional world with advanced degrees.
Congratulations class of 2017. Especially to those of you who are leaving the relative safety and security of high school and moving into college. You're entering the stage of life where 4 years will shape the next 40 of your life. So here's my wisdom:
1. Get Connected to a Church - When you arrive on campus you'll find sign ups, rush weeks, season ticket lists, and a number of things competing for your attention, spare time, and your meal card. Make sure the first thing you do is get connected with a church home away from home. Over the summer look up churches in the area, contact a campus ministry and begin getting to know other believers on your campus. This church away from home will be a rock for you during these years, will provide you a sense of community, and if you're lucky will keep you fed!
2. Don't Bomb Money - It could be for some new gadget, or a credit card application (true story my first credit card came from someone offering me a free t-shirt), or a ridiculous student loan. Be wise with the money you have, whether it's your scholarship or your meal plan. The easiest way college students lose money is with credit cards. You're easy prey for these, and the promise of buy-now-pay-later is almost too much. But avoid the debt trap if at all possible.
3. Call Home - A lot of you will probably stay nearby and maybe even live at home. But for those who move away, make sure to call your mom. Keep in touch with your family. Don't fall into the routine of being too busy to touch base. Your parents have worked hard to help get you to college. Don't forget about them once you're there.
4. Have Fun - I'm not advocating taking a weekend bender. But do enjoy late night runs to Waffle House, tailgating on Saturday football games, and enjoy life in the dorm. Some of the best memories you will take with you, where the longest friendships and relationships will be formed, won't happen in a lecture hall. They'll happen at a conference out of town, or on a spring break mission trip, or on your weekly Walmart run.
5. Have God's Eyes - When you sit in class or walk through the dorm, ask God to give you His eyes. These are the eyes that see whether or not those around you have Christ. You haven't been placed on your college campus so you can just get your education. That's secondary. Your primary purpose for being on your campus is so that you can share and show Jesus. Don't take that lightly. You've been sent as a missionary, so find ways to engage and share with your classmates and the people you run into.
In the peak of his domination, Mike Tyson gave one of his most memorable quotes when reporters were telling him about how his opponent planned to deal with Tyson's unprecedented power.
Management guru Peter Drucker also shows us how important it is to keep who we are at the forefront rather than rely on what we say (or plan).
In leadership it's very easy for us to come up with strategic plans, to lay out goals, and to develop a methodology for achieving our vision. But what's harder (and in the end more necessary) is to influence the culture of our ministries.
The connections of those quotes extend way beyond boxing into every aspect of life. We all know what we want to do until we're hit with adversity. And we know that who we are is much more than what we say. So how do these connect to our ministry leadership?
1. Who > What - As leaders, we must remember that our primary focus is on people. We're not developing programs, we're developing people. We're not building a "mini-empire," we're stewarding the Kingdom and the Church of people Jesus loves. Strategy is important. We need a plan. Entering into something blindly in the name of faith is just as stupid as jumping into an empty pool hoping it will fill up. But our greatest emphasis should be on developing people, leading them into greater Christlikeness.
2. Be Flexible - A few years ago I watched a special on the unveiling of George W. Bush's Presidential Library. And in the interview, he commented about his initial plans for domestic & foreign policy. All that changed with 9/11, and he instantly became the face of the war on terror. When we develop long-range plans, cultivate strategy, and build intentional routes towards Kingdom growth, we have to be willing to adjust. A community tragedy occurs. A staff member gets fired for sexual immorality. A giant subdivision and retail complex is announced within walking distance. Any of those can radically change the course of our leadership. Good leaders adjust, bad leaders double down.
3. Lead Collectively - We're always going to do more together than we ever could apart. And it's not only helpful but wise for leaders to bring others into the process. Decisions made from a group have greater buy-in, they help shape an underlying culture, and there's someone else out on the limb with a chainsaw with you in case it flops.
4. Depend on God - If we have a successful ministry without an increasing dependence on the power of God, we've built a lovely kingdom for ourselves. That's the difference between a spiritual leader and a Fortune 500 leader. Spiritual leadership requires an inherent trust and dependence on a wisdom and direction greater than yourself. Ministry leaders joining together in prayer and dependence on God's wisdom and leadership demonstrate the most important rule of ministry leadership: It's not about you.
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.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.