Leadership

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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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When a church is doing well and growing, the people’s confidence in their pastor increases. This may be warranted, and maybe not. When a church is struggling or not growing the people’s confidence in their leader decreases. This may be warranted, and maybe not.

What do I mean by “may be warranted, and maybe not?” Very few people in our churches really know why their church is growing or why their church is shrinking. They think they know but usually their explanations are naive and simplistic. Ask your normal parishioner why they think their church is growing and they might attribute it to their dynamic worship, or the great preaching, or small groups, or the youth ministry. Ask your normal parishioner why they think their church is in decline and they might mention how they can’t offer the same ministries as the big church down the street, or our building isn’t attractive, or our pastor is a dear soul but the preaching is just ‘so-so.’ They might say, “We need to attract more young people.” Like that’s as simple as pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

Now it’s true, some pastors are better leaders than other pastors. Some pastors are better preachers, visionaries, better at leadership development, have better people-skills than others. There are really good pastors and really poor pastors (I’m referring to skills, not character) and all kinds of pastors in-between. But here’s the thing; it is seldom that I hear of a church growing or declining and it’s all because of the pastor. This is especially true when a church is shrinking. But, reality is, when a church is struggling or not growing the people’s confidence in their leader often decreases. How then might one regain their confidence?

  1. Occasionally teach on the dynamics of church growth and church decline, i.e. reasons why some churches grow and others don’t. Just make sure you mention that, for the most part, growth and decline can be a mystery.
  2. If your church is in decline, don’t ignore it, sweep it under the rug, or put a spin on it. You don’t want to give your people the impression that you’ve got your head buried in the sand.
  3. If your church is in decline gather a few of your best people and try to asses what is gong on. I often tell pastors, “Do you have a big P problem or a little p problem? Do you have a Problem or a problem. A capital P problem is when you know people are leaving because they are unhappy, disgruntled…and sharing this with others. A lowercase p is decline due to members moving out of the area or the normal attrition every church experiences…even that big church down the road.
  4. Every once in a while your people need to hear that our focus and fascination with numbers and church growth is mostly a western mindset and not necessarily a Biblical mindset. Big is not better than small. Small is not better than big.
  5. Evaluate if you have any ‘health-inhibitors.’ I help pastor with this all the time. ‘Health-Inhibitors’ are things we are doing or not doing that are sabotaging our attempts to grow a healthy church. Correcting said inhibitors is no guarantee that your church is going to start growing numerically, but it doesn’t hurt and you have more control over church health than you do church growth.

I can help. Drop me a line.

 

 

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In the absence of information, people will come to their own conclusions, and often times the  conclusions they come to are not the ones we want them to come to. Never underestimate the importance of regular, clear, and sometimes if needed, honest communication.

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How do you communicate what is going on in your church? Announcements? Bulletin? Newsletter? Facebook? Emails? Texting? Or better yet, all of the above? You see…I don’t think we can over- communicate. In my last church, each year I gave a ‘state of the church’ address, much like the President’s state of the union address. I shared what we accomplished the previous year, what goals we didn’t achieve, and what we’d be aiming at in the coming year.

Clear

Just because you think you’re being clear does not mean you are being clear. Never underestimate your ability to be vague and all the while think you’re being clear. Sometimes when we’re passing on information we accidentally leave out details, it’s all clear in our heads but something can happen when we communicate that results in gaps. It’s those gaps that can make communication of information less effective than we would like.

Honest

As a rule (and there are always exceptions to the rule…and I’ll probably hear some of them) our policy should be full disclosure…or at least close to it. If the church is struggling financially, our people should know. If our numbers have been shrinking, our people should know. If someone gets mad and leaves the church (and this is especially true if they are a leader or a person of influence in the church) the people should know, and they should know why they left. If you know why attendance is down, the people should know. If you don’t know why attendance is down, the people should know. If the pastor is struggling financially, the people should know. If the pastor and leadership are considering the need for the pastor to take a part time job…or full time job outside of the church, the people should know.

The smaller the church the more people expect to be kept in-the-loop. And this ‘loop’ can be positive things as well as negative things. If the church is doing well financially, the people should know. If you have added some people to the church, the people should know. If some ministry is really successful, the people should know. Communicate and celebrate victories.

Remember, in the absence of information, people will come to their own conclusions, and often times the conclusions they come to are not the ones we want them to come to.

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I think it was John Maxwell that said, “Everything rises or falls on leadership.” The tribe I was a part of (The Vineyard) drilled into us the need to ‘raise up leaders.’ Some experts have even told pastors that your church will only grow as large as your base of leaders. That sounds a little like those ‘golden-keys’ we read about (Grow leaders and your church will grow…I promise.) so I’m not sure I agree entirely with it, but the first two statements I do…most of the time, agree wth.

Often pastors want to talk about leadership development. And if they don’t bring up the subject, eventually I will ask them, “What are you doing to raise up new leaders?” But first I want to know how many active adults (adults, not adults and children) they have in their church, why? Because…

The smaller the church, the less the pastor needs leaders and the more the pastor needs helpers.

Now let there be no mistake about it, leaders will come from your team of helpers. Of those who are helping you, someone will stand out and catch your attention. Chances are, this could be a future leader.

The smaller your church the more likely it will be that you have more, sometimes way more, helpers than you have leaders. You see, if you are searching for leaders you are probably looking for a certain level of maturity and commitment to Jesus and the church. You may, or may not have such a person. But if you are looking for helpers the bar is a little lower and you will have more to choose from. Besides, it’s better to wait until you have the right kind of person you are going to call, or think of as a leader, than to put someone ‘in leadership’ prematurely and later regret it.

Once you call someone a ‘leader’ everything changes. Calling someone a leader changes their relationship with you and your relationship with them. Calling someone a leader changes your churches perception of the person. And…sorry to say this, sometimes people change, and not always for the better, once you are calling them a leader. For example, they might think this means more than you intended for it to mean. I suggest that you hold off on calling anyone a leader until you’ve had enough time to know if they are ‘leading’ in the way you want a ‘leader’ to lead.

Do you need ‘leaders’ or do you only need ‘helpers?’

Here are some steps you might find helpful:

  1. If you think you need a leader, what is it specifically that they need to lead?
  2. What concrete reasons do you have for thinking they would be a good leader of (fill in the blank)?
  3. Do you need to call them a leader or could you call them something else?
  4. Who are your helpers?
  5. Who among your helpers stands out the most?
  6. Who among your helpers comes in at second place?
  7. Pray over this/these people asking the Father to show you if he regards them as potential leaders.
  8. Begin to pour your time into them.
  9. At some point, but only if you think you have a future leader on your hands, let them know that you think they have potential. Don’t be thrown off if they immediately tell you that they think you are crazy. This can actually be a good sign.

Almost all leaders started out as helpers. Know who your helpers are and you will eventually know who your leaders are.

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I had a friend who for years was plagued by poor health. She experienced fatigue, constipation, muscle weakness, muscle aches and pain, depressed mood…and could never find out why. She tried this and she tried that. One doctor told her one thing and a different doctor told her another, but still, no change. Finally she gave one more doctor a try. They ran a test to check her thyroid and (drum roll please) THAT WAS IT! The technical term is ‘low functioning thyroid’ or ‘hypothyroid.’

Does your church have a low functioning thyroid? And for the purpose of this article I’m thinking of a person or small group of people who are causing unhealthy symptoms?

If you are like so many other small church pastors there is a good chance you have someone in your church that is causing trouble for you. Examples:

a. A church bully

b. A church gossip/slanderer

c. A church member who purposely opposes change

d. A church critic

e. A church pastor critic

Never underestimate how one or two individuals can be holding your church back. The smaller the church, the fewer it takes to sabotage your mission and your joy.

Usually doctors treat hypothyroid holistically or with drugs. Occasionally they conclude that the best treatment is a thyroidectomy, the complete removal of the thyroid gland.

I talk to many pastors who have some low functioning thyroid person in their church. They avoid them. They try to talk to them. They pray for them to change. They hope that something will change. But often times…they tolerate them. Well…you get what you tolerate. If you want something different you’ll need to do something different. You might try to address it holistically, but chances are you’ll need to remove the gland.

These types must be told, “STOP IT, or leave. Those are your choices!”

It takes a brave pastor to tell someone this. It’s risky. It’s dangerous. You’re gonna make them mad. They might leave. They might take some people with them. You might get fired. They might cause a stink…but they’re already causing a stink.

Do you want a smelly church or a healthy church? Do you want a sick church or a healthy church. Do you need to treat a low functioning thyroid? If so, you probably need to say…

STOP IT, or leave. Those are your choices!

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Let me begin by saying, yes, I am aware of Matt. 28:19-20. Having reassured some of you…

I was talking to a Pastor who wanted to discuss “making disciples.” This is not an unusual topic, in fact, this is one of the most frequent areas of focus pastors bring to a our coaching call. It goes something like this:

Me: So, what do you want to focus on today?
Pastor: How can I make disciples? I mean real, dedicated, all-in-for-Jesus, committed, fully devoted followers of Jesus…you know, disciples.
Me: Never gonna happen.

No…I don’t say that. I might think that, but I don’t say it.

One of my favorite questions to ask pastors is, “What is your plan to make disciples?” Nothing of any importance is achieved without having a plan.

The first step in developing a discipleship strategy is to ask, or determine, what is our (the pastor, the leaders, the church) responsibility? Where does our job begin and where does it stop? How much of this is on us, and how much of this is on them? These are very important questions.

It seems to me that many pastors feel an unnecessary degree of obligation to make discipleship happen. Notice that I said, “unnecessary degree?” We do have a part to play in this but it is my conviction that more of the responsibility is on the shoulders of the Christian. In other words, if the day comes that I stand before God (I’m counting on that happening) and he chastises me for my lack of commitment (I’m counting on that not happening…time will tell. Yikes!) that I will not be able to blame my church or my pastor.

Our people need to hear us say, “You are responsible for your own spiritual growth. We will provide tracks for you to run on if you want. We will try to give you encouragement and good teaching on Sundays. But…you have a bigger part to play in this than the church does, or I do. You will be as close to God as you want to be.”

Do you know where your job begins and where it ends?
Do you have a discipleship plan?
Do you have in place tracks for people to run on that will help them become disciples?
Do you take on more of the responsibility for discipleship than you should?
Do you regularly remind your people that a vibrant and growing relationship with Jesus is their responsibility?

These are things to think about. Oh…by the way, I can help you develop a discipleship strategy. 😉

IMG_4324I’ve been coaching pastors for almost ten years. In addition to being a coach, I also serve churches as a consultant.

A consultant functions much like a coach to the church. Whereas a coach relates to an individual, the consultant relates to the church board, governing body, or leadership team.

A consultant comes in when a church feels stuck or in need of a fresh set of eyes to help them walk through a challenging situation. The consultant is someone objective and experienced.

A consultant provides honest feedback, practical ideas, and resources that are tailor-made for the current size and specific challenges of the church.

20 Reasons why a church might benefit from a consultant:

When they feel stuck.

When considering a new direction.

When they need a fresh set of eyes.

When considering their first hire.

When considering their first church plant.

If momentum or morale is bad.

When they are in decline.

When they have plateaued.

When nothing seems to be working.

If there is a need for someone to mediate conflict.

When bringing in a new pastor.

When determining the pay-package for their pastor or
staff member.

If they are a new church plant.

When faced with a crisis.

When wanting to do a church diagnostic test.

When considering getting their first building.

When the leadership feels they’re running out of ideas.

When preparing to set new goals for the up-coming year.

When faced with the likelyhood of needing to fire or lay-off someone.

When they have a mutiny on their hands.

 

You might be thinking, “Oh, we could never afford a church consultant.” Yes you can! Because my consulting happens over the phone via conference calls, the cost is kept to a minimum. Even the smallest of churches can now afford a church consultant.

Want to set up a free, no obligation 45 min. phone call to see if this is the right time to team up with a church consultant or to answer any quesitons you might have about consulting? If so, contact me at: dave@smallchurchpastor.com

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Do you remember the scene in that great military courtroom drama, A Few Good Men?

Lt. Kaffee: I want the truth!
Col. Jessep: You can’t handle the truth!

 

 

For a while there I was hearing a lot about the need for pastors to be more transparent with their people. They want to know that you are human, they said. They need to know that you struggle with the same things they struggle with, they said. It’s good for them to know the truth, they said. But the problem is…

THEY CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH! Or at least most can’t.

It’s true, Pastors need someone safe to talk to, but it is rare that a pastor finds such a person in their own church.

If you’re having a crisis of faith, you probably shouldn’t talk to a board member about it.

If your marriage is really struggling, you probably shouldn’t talk to a deacon about it.

If you’ve slipped into some type of harmful, addictive habit, you probably shouldn’t include this in one of your sermons.

If you’re struggling with anger or hate, directed towards individuals or the church as a whole, you probably should find someone outside of the church to reveal this to.

I’ve had pastors share with me all of these things, and more. The thing is…I’m safe. I’m removed from the situation, so I can offer some objectivity. They are not running the risk of getting fired with me. I’m not going to turn their transparency around and bite them on the….well you get the picture. Someone once said, “Don’t bleed around sharks.”

Maybe this isn’t you. Maybe you’ve got some wonderful people or good friends in your church that you could tell anything to and you would not regret it. But if this is you, and I really hope it is, you are in the great minority.

In order to be spiritually and emotionally healthy, pastors need someone they can be transparent with, but chances are they will not find that kind of person in their church. This is sad, but true.

So is it hopeless? Are pastors destined to live a life alone, with secrets or hurts no one knows about except, maybe their spouse? I’ve been there. I’ve felt that way. But let me suggest some ways you might find that ‘safe’ person.

  1. You might find someone in your local ministerial association.
  2. You might find someone outside of your church but inside of your denomination.
  3. You might find someone from your old college days, someone who might even live outside of the state but who you could connect with over the phone. I’ve personally seen this work.
  4. You could get a coach or a spiritual director.
  5. You could connect with a counselor.

Can you think of any other possibilities?

Don’t give up. Don’t assume that this is the way it is and nothing can be done about it. Come to Jesus, unburden your heart to him. Jesus is not a shark. Ask Jesus to lead you to someone safe whom you could be transparent with.

You can find someone who can “…handle the truth!”

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Last week I read an interesting article on the subject of “dissonance.” Not dissonance in music (which I didn’t even know there was such a thing), but dissonance in relationships. I wrote down some of the main points and then deleted the article so please don’t ask me for it. Sorry.

Dissonance occurs when you think you’re coming across in one way but people see you in a totally different way. Dissonance works the other way around, too: it occurs when you think you perceive someone else accurately, but the other person doesn’t agree.

The author suggested that dissonance is a common culprit in marital disputes. And that made me wonder how often dissonance is a common culprit in church disputes.

Again, the author said, “The greatest single cause of dissonance is the fact that people behave their worst when they feel most powerless.” Think about that. Isn’t that interesting? Have you ever found that to be true with someone in your church? Have you ever found that to be true about you?

Dissonance keeps you from reaching people, and it keeps other people from reaching you. You are not immune to dissonance. You might not be the one to blame…but you could be.

I’m always on the side of pastors. This is my bias. I know it. I think there’s a need for it. This is part of who I want to be, i.e. the champion of pastors. But sometimes we’ve created out own problems…not the church member(s). Pastors can do dump things, say dumb things, and think dumb things of others. Often times this results in dissonance.

Never underestimate your ability to come across in a way you didn’t intend. Never underestimate your ability to choose the wrong word to use at the wrong time. Never underestimate your ability for body language and facial expressions to sabotage your relationships with others. Never underestimate your ability to contribute to dissonance.

But here’s the challenge: how can you know how other people perceive you? The answer is two-fold, simple, but uncomfortable:

  1. Ask God to show you how you come across to others. Yikes! I’d rather have God hold a mirror up to my face than someone else who might just smash it over my head. And speaking of someone else…
  2. Be brave enough to ask someone how you come across. This very well might hurt, but it will be worth it. You see…we don’t see what we don’t see and often times what we don’t see hurts and frustrates those around us.

Do you have someone like that in your life, someone who is for you, but at the same time will be honest with you? What if you asked someone on your broad, or someone on your leadership team, or the whole team, or your spouse, “What do you see in me that I might not see? If I had a blind spot, what might it be?”

Did I already use the word “yikes?”

 

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