Leadership

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You’ve heard it before, “Set the bar high. People will rise to the level of your expectations.” Or, “Expect great things from God.” To be honest with you, and please don’t burn me at the stake for heresy, I’m not sure such statements always come true. Now hold on. Give me a second before you unfriend me on Facebook.

I think one reason why we experience frustration and disappointment in the ministry is due to unrealistic expectations. You can have unrealistic expectations of your people and you can have unrealistic expectations of God. Let’s start with God.

An unrealistic expectation of God is when we expect God to do something that He hasn’t clearly promised to do. Now, granted, Christians will differ on what God has promised in His word and what He hasn’t. Based on your theology, or hermeneutics, or denomination, you might think one thing is a promise to expect God to fulfill, while another pastor might think differently. But what I’m referring to here are the many voices (usually pastors of large churches) that tell us things like…

God wants your church to grow.
God wants to use you to reach your city for Jesus.
If you want to grow your church focus on _____ or _____ or_____.
God wants to do great things in your ministry and through your church.

I kind of believe those statements but the problem, as I see it, is that such statements revolve around formulas and numbers. There are more ways for a church to grow than merely by numbers. A church might grow in numbers but it be a very, very slow process. I haven’t heard of a church that has successfully “reached it’s city for Jesus.” Why is it that “great things” are seldom “small things?” If formulas work then why are there so many churches that have implemented the formulas and still are not experiencing numerical growth?

What are you believing God for? What are you expecting Him to do for you? What are you basing that on? If you are convinced that your expectations are based on the scriptures then fine. Hold on to those promises. But if not…rethink your expectations. And what about our expectations of our people?

If you expect your people to be as ‘into it’ as you are then you are setting yourself up for disappointment. If, by raising the bar of commitment, you have seen your people leap up and over that bar like Superwoman (or man) then good for you. Congratulations, you’ve accomplished something most pastors never experience. I’m not exactly suggesting that we lower our expectations…but maybe I am. Maybe it’s more about having realistic expectations than unrealistic ones. And to be honest with you, many of the pastor I interact with have, again, in my opinion, unrealistic expectations and that is why they are so discouraged, frustrated, and lack peace and joy in the ministry. In regards to goals, I have a saying, “Set the bar so low that you can’t help but step over it.”

Before you ‘unfollow’ me on Twitter…just think about it. Keep praying and planning to reach new people for Jesus. Ask God to do great things with your church…just be careful of your definition of ‘great.’ Be content without becoming complacent. If you want to have more peace, discover those unrealistic expectations you have with God and your people and adjust them accordingly.

I’m about to wrap up my tenth year of coaching pastors. Ten years…that’s a decade…that’s a long time to be listening to, encouraging, and resourcing pastors and church leaders. But I’m telling you, if I had twenty bucks for every time I’ve spoken to a pastor who is dealing with someone in their church that is a gossip…I’d be a rich man. Well, maybe not rich, but I would have a significant amount of discretionary fun-money in my wallet. My point is, if you have a church you will have gossip. Everybody has to deal with it at some time. You might be dealing with it right now. Gossip (and it’s cousin Slander) are two of the most dangerous sicknesses to infect a church.

Let me share with you seven steps to deal with gossip in your church.

  1. Compile a list of all the verses in the Bible where the words ‘gossip’ and ‘slander’ appear.
  2. Come up with a working definition of gossip and slander.
  3. Review the verses on your list and the definitions you came up with and using a scale of one to ten (one being lowest) score the degree of problem you have in your church or with a specific individual.
  4. Clearly identify the guilty party(s).
  5. If you were to confront this person, what response might you expect from them?
  6. What risks are you taking by confronting them and what risks are you taking by not confronting them?
  7. Are you willing to get bloody over this? You probably will. Gossips and Slanderers usually don’t repent, stop, or leave the church without putting up a fight. If the gossip has a great deal of influence in the church you could get in trouble at best, and lose your job at worst.

You might be surprised to hear me say this but my experience in working with pastors is that they fail to deal with gossip early on and this results in the problem growing and growing until they have a much more serious situation on their hands than when the gossip originally raised it’s ugly head.

If you decide to confront the person don’t forget to:

  1. Pray before you go.
  2. Take someone with you.
  3. Don’t sugarcoat the seriousness of the situation to the person.
  4. Don’t be afraid to tell the person to stop it or they will have to leave.
  5. Don’t forget to duck.

 

 

Dictionary

vision:

noun

– the faculty or state of being able to see: she had defective vision.
– the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom: the organization had lost its vision and    direction.
– a mental image of what the future will or could be like: a vision of retirement.

Let me ask you, how’s your vision?

In a couple weeks I’m going to see my Optometrist. It’s been a few years. My glasses aren’t working as well as they should. Well actually, it’s my eyes that aren’t’ working as well as they should. My vision is failing. Nothing drastic, only what’s to be expected as one gets older. Hopefully all I’ll need is a slight adjustment to my prescription, order some new glasses, and I’ll be set. No more squinting.

It’s not unusual for a person to have to stay on top of their vision as they age. The same is true of a church, or a pastor. We’ve all read those articles on ‘vision’. Maybe you’ve attended a conference on “Getting your vision for 2017.” And I know you’re familiar with that often pulled out of context verse, “Without vision the people perish.”

In the church world, when we talk about ‘vision’, we mean the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination, wisdom, or, hopefully, the leading of the Holy Spirit. Vision is the mental image of what the future of your church will or could be. Here are five reasons why your vision might fail.

  1. Multiple vision. I remember hearing someone say, “The problem with the church today is not a lack of vision but multiple vision.” What they meant was that often in a church there will be too many ideas as to where the church should be headed. If everyone is not on the same page you will be frustrated while trying to lead in a direction some don’t want to go in. How unified is the vision of your church. Is everyone on board and paddling in the same direction?
  2. You don’t see it clearly. It’s my belief that vision starts with the pastor. I’m not saying that your leaders don’t play any part in developing and implementing the vision of your church, but I do believe, for the most part, that vision begins with the pastor. If you are not clear on the direction of your church don’t be surprised if what you see (fuzzy as it may be) fails to get traction. Do you see where you want to go clearly?
  3. You can’t articulate the vision in a simple, easy to grasp way. I think it was Albert Einstein who said something like, “If you can’t describe something in a simple way, you don’t really understand the thing you are trying to describe.” Until you can articulate your vision good enough for a fifth grader to grasp you’d better hold off.
  4. You haven’t gained ‘buy-in.” Remember to give your leaders and people at least as much time to buy into your vision as it took you to develop your vision. I see this all the time. The leader has been working on the vision for weeks, maybe for months. Finally they’re done. They’re excited to share it at their next leadership/board meeting, but when they do they are met with blank stares, objections, or initial rejection. They go home discouraged and defeated. But the problem often is not their stiffed-necked, visionless, hardhearted, reluctant to change leaders…it’s simply that they needed more time to process, to think, to question, to chew on things for a while. These things take time.
  5. A failure to program around the vision. You might see it clearly. You might be able to articulate it simply and clearly. Everybody might be on the same page. But if you don’t program around the vision, it will never be anything other than a nice idea on paper. To program around vision, ask these questions:

a) What do we need to start doing to see our vision succeed?

b) What are we doing that we need to do more of to see our vision succeed?

c) Is there anything we need to do less of to see our vision succeed?

Are you suffering from multiple vision?
Do you see your vision clearly?
Can you articulate it simply and clearly?
Have you allowed enough time for everybody to get on board?
Do your programs move your church towards your vision or away from your vision?

Now…where did I set my glasses?

 

 

Well it’s that time again…the beginning of a new year. This is when you feel obligated to announce your ‘vision’ for 2017. It has to happen sometime during the month of January or it is not a legitimate ‘vision.’ So…if you haven’t formulated or communicated your vision yet, you better jump on it.

Here are three questions that will help you and your team evaluate if you should start something in or stop something in 2017.

Is It Essential? Not all good ideas are essential enough to implement. The smaller the church (and this is multiplied if you are a bivocational pastor) the more careful and selective the pastor has to be when choosing what she/he gives their time to. Small Churches, and the pastors who lead them, must become experts at dong a few things well. Is it essential to our mission? Are we currently doing anything that is not essential? You know how to start or stop something by asking, “Is It Essential.”

Is It Effective? Ministries, departments, or programs currently happening in your church, need to occasionally be evaluated. Are they accomplishing what we hoped they would accomplish when originally started? Did we take the time to nail down clearly what it was we were hoping to accomplish? Have you, or someone else, ever asked, “Now why are we doing this?” And before you start something new, don’t be afraid to challenge the idea. By this I mean…ask, “Are we really sure that this idea has the best chance of succeeding or helping us to achieve our objectives?

Can I justify the time and energy it will cost me to do this? I’ve heard some pastors say, “Well if just one person is blessed it will be worth it.” Baloney. What if there was a better idea that would bless three people instead of just one? You have to be careful of overextending yourself. You only have so much time to give to your church without something else more important suffers. Your health, your soul, your marriage, your family are your first priorities. One skill all leaders must learn is when to say ‘no’ to good ideas in order to protect the truly important things in life.

Well I hope this helps some, especially if your haven’t announced your ‘Vision For 2017’ yet. Remember, if you wait until February or March…it won’t count.

 

One observation I’ve made is that many pastors don’t have a plan to recruit leaders. You can’t just pull them out of a hat like a magician would a rabbit. In order for your church to be healthy and move forward you will need leaders, leaders who will partner with you in leading the church. Paul put it this way…

“The job of the pastor is to train and equip the people in their church to do the work of the ministry.” (Eph. 4:12)

Here is a time-testing way to help you do just that.

  1. Think. What exactly do you need help with? What exactly is it that needs oversight? And…who has the most potential to take this on? Notice I said, “the most potential?” Nobody can do it as good as you do…probably, at least not at first. One pastor I spoke to recently said, “I don’t have anyone qualified to be a leader.” I said, “I understand that but who you have that is the closest to ‘qualified’?” Start where you can. Work with who you have, not who you don’t have.
  2. Recruit. Nobody, and this is especially true in a smaller church, will be better at recruiting than you, and face-to-face is best. Don’t be afraid to make ‘The Big Ask.’ Remember, the answer is always ‘no’ if you don’t ask. But before you ask, make sure you are ready to describe exactly what you are asking them to do. Be flexible, by this I mean, if you need them to commit to too many things, there is a chance that they can say yes to some but not all. And don’t ask them to commit until the the return of Christ. Make it temporary, an experiment. Ask them for a few months and tell them that after this time the two of you will evaluate. If they don’t like it promise them that you will move them into something else.
  3. Train. Now some responsibilities require more training than others. For example, handing out bulletins or being a greeter requires less training than leading a small group.
  4. Deploy. Turn them loose to do it. Pray for them. Encourage them…and then, release them to their job. Keep in mind that most things have a learning curve. They might make mistakes at first, but then, so did you.
  5. Monitor. Keep checking in with them to see how things are going. The better they get at their ministry the less monitoring you will need, but you always need to monitor. You can ask them questions such as: How is it going? Is there any way in which I can help you? What’s working well?
  6. Maintain. The leadership rule is: If you don’t maintain your leaders they will not remain your leaders. This is closely related to Training and Monitoring. What on-going training and encouragement can you give them? There are a lot of good, free resources out there that you could give them or point them to.
  7. Reward. Of course you don’t pay volunteers or they would not be volunteers, but there are other way to pay them. Pay them with your time, i.e. occasionally take them out to lunch or for coffee Pay them by telling them how much you appreciate their contribution or how good of a job they are doing. Brag on them from the pulpit on Sundays. Sometimes an occasional gift is nice.
  8. Repeat. I remember once training some leaders from another church. At one point I asked each department head to tell me how they were don’t with recruiting volunteers. One leader of the youth group said that they were fine, they had all the leaders they needed. And it was true…at that moment…but things can change quickly. One day you can have a leader and the next they resign, or want to take a break, or get mad and leave the church. You can never, never, never stop developing leaders and volunteers.

What plan do you have to increase your number of volunteers and leaders?

 

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In our last church I had, possibly, the best children’s ministry director in my twenty eight years of pastoring. Carrie was one of those really gifted people who had a passion for kids, was pro-active, you never had to worry about her. But one day she came into my office and said, “Dave, sometimes I feel like the only reason we meet is to talk about my ministry. I don’t feel like you care about me as a person, I’m just someone that helps you accomplish your vision for the church.”

Ouch!

You know what? She was basically right. Of course I cared about Carrie, but is was true, our one-on-one meetings were all about how her department was doing. I never met with Carrie to simply talk about life, how was she doing, etc. I apologized. She accepted my apology, and we were able to move forward. But Carrie helped me learn an important lesson.

Your leaders need two types of meetings.

Leadership Team meetings. Even if you only have a few leaders you need to gather them for prayer, communication, vision-casting, and leadership development. But never forget, group meetings accomplish something different than the one-on-one meetings. Understanding this difference is essential if you want to keep your best leaders.

One-on-one meetings. This might be in your office, over a cup of coffee, or for breakfast or lunch…it doesn’t matter where but it matters, it matters a lot. You need time to check in with your leaders to find out how they are doing. Not how their ministry is doing. Ask questions like:

  1. How’s your relationship with Jesus?
  2. If you had to choose one word to describe your currently relationship with Jesus, what would it be?
  3. If they are married: If you had one word to describe your current relationship with your spouse, your children, etc., what would it be?
  4. How can I better serve you?

I guess you could accomplish some of the things mentioned for leadership team meetings in a one-on-one meeting but be careful. Make sure you start out with the personal stuff first. If your whole time with them ends up being about personal stuff…that’s okay. Followup some time later to find out how their ministry is doing.

Ellen use to remind me, “Dave, it’s all about people, not programs. People before programs.”

Make sure that group meetings and one-on-one meetings show up in your schedule. If you want to keep your best people, give time to your best people. Show them you care about them, not just how they are serving in the church.

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Pastoring sometimes feels like getting up on a treadmill, you’re exerting a lot of energy, but the truth is…you’re not going anywhere. Just because you’re busy does not mean that you are productive. The trick is not to work harder but to work smarter. In fact, the smarter you work the less number of hours you need to be productive. It is possible to be a better pastor in less time.

In order to be more productive, more effective, and better at moving your church in the right direction you need three P’s.

Product: Your product is people. But not just any people, you’re trying to produce followers of Jesus. Few pastors would argue with this. However, if you get a group of pastors together and ask them what a ‘follower of Jesus’ actually looks like, you will get similar and different answers. That’s okay. What’s not okay is having some vague fuzzy idea of what a follower of Jesus looks like. I suggest you draw up a list, don’t make it too long or it will end up being unattainable, of what practices, attitudes, and focus a follower of Jesus should have…in your opinion. Is it clear to you what your product is?

Preaching: Too many pastors preach without purpose. Often there is no rhyme or reason to the things they decide to teach on. Whatever you are trying to produce needs to be reflected in your preaching. You preach on ‘this’ in order to produce ‘that.’ Are you preaching with a purpose?

Programming: Just as there needs to be a purpose to our preaching, there also needs to be a purpose to our programing. We do ‘this’ because we are trying to produce ‘that.’ Ministries or programs in your church that do not reflect or produce your ‘that’, need to be evaluated and sometimes eliminated. Is there anything your church does that is not producing your ‘that’?

Do you know what your product is?
Are you preaching with a purpose?
Do your programs help produce the product you want?

This might be a great topic for discussion at your next leadership team meeting.

 

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Badger is our outside cat, or what some call a barn cat, or a mouser. A mouser is suppose to kill mice. I’ve never known Badger to kill a mouse, at least not kill one and leave it for me as a present. Badger has left me some birds, and twice she has left me a mole.

Moles are one weird looking animal. In fact, to be totally honest with you, they creep me out. But I also don’t appreciate what they do to my lawn. Currently there is one out there wreaking havoc. Every morning I find two or three beautiful little mole hills. Thank you very much.

You know that old saying, “Don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill?” There’s a lot of wisdom there that applies to leading a church. But just as important as it is not to make a mountain out of a mole hill, it is equally important not to make a mole hill out of a mountain.

Mountain Out Of A Mole Hill

We do this when we make something a bigger problem than it really is. Pastoring eventually leads to paranoia. We can be constantly worrying about the ‘other shoe dropping’ or something blowing up in our face resulting in division or an exodus or some other unpleasant thing happening in our church. We can overreact and jump in to put out the fire when all there really is is smoke. Is there anything you might be overreacting to?

Mole Hill Out Of A Mountain

We do this whenever we minimise something that really should be taken more seriously. Some worry too much and others worry too little. For example, and I can’t believe how often this happens, a pastor tells me about some belligerent church member or board member who is constantly talking behind their back and purposefully sabotaging every attempt of the pastor to lead the church. And then, they qualify, “Now don’t get me wrong, Bill is really a good guy, it’s just that…” I typically respond, “Bill doesn’t sound like a good guy to me. He sounds to me like a slanderer who has a problem with submitting to spiritual authority. As long as you try to convince yourself that Bill is a good guy you won’t deal with him like he needs to be dealt with.” Mole hill out of a mountain. This is only one example. I could come up with more. Is there anything that you might be minimizing?

Sometimes it just takes experience to know whether something is a mole hill or a mountain. Hopefully you have some wise leaders in your church or you know someone whose wisdom you value, who you could ask, “Is this a mountain or a mole hill?”

Never underestimate your ability to fail to distinguish a mountain from a mole hill.

 

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When I was pastoring I had my fair share of frustrations with certain leaders. Something tells me you know what I’m talking about.

Maybe they are consistently late to meetings.
Maybe they skip, what you think to be, too many Sunday mornings.
Maybe they don’t do what they said they’d do.
Maybe they are called leaders but they aren’t leading anything.
Maybe they are always negative.
Maybe they think the church is going to hell in a hand basket.
Maybe they challenge every good idea you come up with.
Maybe they talk about you behind your back.
Maybe they are the first to leave on Sundays.
Maybe they aren’t very friendly to guests.

I’m sure you could easily add to this list.

One of the most common things I discuss with pastors is…frustration with someone in their leadership. If you are frustrated with a leader the problem is either with them, with you, or a combination of the two. Discovering which it is will be very helpful in developing your next step.

Before you do anything, ask yourself questions such as:

Is there any way in which I might have contributed to this problem?
Are there any expectations I have that the leader might be unaware of?
When was the last time I met with this leader and the conversation did not revolve around the       church or their ministry?
Have I spoken to them or have I been holding in my frustration?
Has my frustration crossed the line and is now anger?
What response could I give that would bring the most pleasure to Jesus?

Never underestimate your ability to be a contributor to the problem but convince yourself blame rests solely on the other person.

 

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Many pastors are really focused on church attendance, more specifically, ‘regular’ church attendance. ‘Flaky’ Christians (at least in regards to being in church every week) frustrate, confuse, and sometimes make pastors mad. Pastors commiserate with other pastors about this, preach sermons (Five Reasons Why You Need To Be In Church) on it, and guilt their people by pointing out to them how messed up their priorities are. But what some pastors have failed to recognize is that something has changed and I’m not sure there’s anything we can do about it.

About five years ago I began to notice (mostly from talking to pastors…remember, that’s what I do) that a higher percentage of people who are happy with their church, are coming out less frequently. No too long ago we were upset if someone missed one, maybe two Sundays a month. Now, more and more people are regularly missing two, maybe three Sundays a month. Remember, they like their church. They think their pastor is great. It’s just that they are really, really busy and the weekend is often the only time they have to rest and catch up. I’m not saying this is right, just that it is. And yes, we can complain that they have messed up priorities, or shallow commitment…this might be true, but busyness and overcommitment is the world they now live in. Most of the people in our churches are two income families which explains why they can feel so far behind and so exhausted on the weekends. For many of the people in our churches, the church is on their list of important things (which is better than not even making the list) but it’s not at the top…like it is for pastors.

The good news is that this cultural change needs to be taken into consideration if we are trying to figure out why Sunday morning attendance seems to indicate a drop or a plateau. The number of people in your church is probably higher than Sunday morning reflects. Your Sunday morning numbers might suggest that you are shrinking when really, it’s just that your people are coming out less often. You might actually be attracting new people but your numbers on Sunday have leveled off, why, people are coming out less frequent.

The bad news is that I’m not sure there is anything we can do about this cultural change. I’m not saying to give up (well maybe I am) talking about why church is important or why commitment to your church is important, but when we do so it often reflects an attempt to bring about change by using guilt and shame…and that seldom works.

There might have been a time when we could answer someone asking, “How large is your church?” by telling them our Sunday morning attendance, but those days are gone.

Back in the old days (I can’t believe that I am old enough to say something like that) we were told that if we had a good enough Sunday morning experience that people would be there. If people were irregular in their attendance, the problem was with the preaching, or music, or children’s ministry. It made sense at the time. It doesn’t make sense today.

A higher percentage of people who are happy with their church, are coming out less frequently. You can choose whether or not to let this drive you nuts.

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