Whose Fault is it Really? The Practical Path to Perfect Performance

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Are they supposed to know what they’re doing?
A few years ago, I had lunch with a few friends.  One of them had been pastoring for about two years, and had reached his (first) breaking point in ministry.  “What on earth happened?” I asked, after he had stated he was ready to kick everybody out and start all over with a whole new group of members. After he exploded into an uncharacteristically emotional tirade, I read between the lines of his rant and asked in slight disbelief “are you saying that all this is because your ushers look a mess and don’t know what they’re doing?” After he laughed and agreed that this was indeed the problem, I asked him “well, are they supposed to know what they’re doing?

You can’t measure up if you’ve never seen the yard stick.
One thing I’ve noticed lacking in many small churches is the ever-existent failure to clearly communicate and train ministry workers. If you’ve ever had a job, even as a paperboy, you know that the employer will communicate what his expectations are of the person he hires to fill this role in the job posting and reiterate it during the interview. After an offer is extended and accepted, you typically begin a period of training and/or orientation.  They tell you what you can and can’t wear, what time you should arrive, what you should do, what reports are due on which days, how to answer your phone, etc. And they tell you what the consequences are for failing to perform up to their standard.  Usually within 90 days, and periodically thereafter, your performance is evaluated to give you and your supervisor a clear picture of how you measure up to their expectations.

Small churches rarely do this. What we do instead is put people in positions, assume they know how to do what we’re asking them to do (and will do it with excellence), expect them to learn by watching, and complain about them when they don’t measure up. What we do is set them up to fail, which really sucks. I mean, really, who wants to be a failure… AT CHURCH?? It doesn’t get much worse than that.

Well, I’m not really a “new” pastor. My people are already settled comfortably in their positions. How do I correct this?

I knew you would ask that. And guess what? I have an answer for you, and it’s a simple one.

Expect. The first thing you’ll need to do is determine what it is you expect from those who serve in the particular capacity. In my friend’s situation, I asked him to tell me what he expects of the ushers (well-groomed, punctual, kind, attentive, helpful, good posture, in uniform, prepared, etc.). List everything from personality characteristics, to skills, to anointing, to specific tasks, attire, conduct, etc.

Evaluate. Then, list those who serve in this capacity, and evaluate them against these standards. A simple “check, check plus, check minus” will do. Or you can use a scale of 1 to 5 or letter grades. Whatever works for you.

Categorize. Separate them into three groups: (1) those who can and do perform well, (2) those who can, but don’t perform well, and (3) those who can’t and don’t perform well. (Now I know church folks don’t like the word “can’t” and are gonna want to pull Phil 4:13 on me. I get that. But umm, not everyone “can” sing on the praise team and not everyone “can” usher. Got me? Good). Now remember the categories, we’re going to come back to it in a minute.

Communicate. Next, make sure everyone knows what is expected of them in detail. And, make sure everyone is clear on what the consequences are for failing to perform. Keep it simple and give it to them in writing, to ensure there are no… uhh… “misunderstandings.” Review it with them and allow them space to ask questions.

Classify. Remember those who fell in the 3rd category? The ones who just don’t fit in? Direct them to a specific person in an area of ministry where they would be a better fit. Or if your church has one, refer them to the appropriate person who can help them determine what ministry area in which they may be a better fit.

Coach. Remember the ones who fell in the 2nd category? They’re the ones who would probably do well if they knew what was expected of them. After communicating the expectations, you should coach them to success. Give them regular feedback (constructive criticism and commendations) as frequently as possible.

Evaluate. Yes, I know I said that already.That’s because it’s important to formally and continually evaluate ministry workers’ performance on an ongoing basis. People want to know how they’re doing. Schedule periodic meetings (every 6 or 12 mos.) with each ministry servant to discuss their progress, goals, expectations, roles, strengths, and areas that need improvement.

The bottom line? Most people want to excel. You, the leader, can help.

Questions? Comments? Say so!

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This Ain’t No Game of Tag!

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At a previous church, the letterhead was changed at least once a month. It was a running joke. The pastor was pretty temperamental and prone to having tantrums. Any leader who displeased him in any way was likely to be stripped of their title and subsequently have their name removed from the church letterhead. We laughed about it, but it’s really not that funny.

Churches – especially small churches – have a way of putting people into positions they don’t really fit in. Sometimes, it’s one of those cases where someone volunteered to fill a vacancy, and the pastor didn’t want to hurt her feelings so he appointed her.  Or sometimes, it’s a matter of the pastor choosing his friends and family, or those who have “the look” (or the “talk”), or those who are the most popular and can draw in the biggest crowd.  Usually, it’s just a case of working with what you have. Sis. Jane may not be a good choir director, but she’s on time for every rehearsal, and knows all the latest choir songs, so it just seems like a natural fit. This doesn’t seem like much of a big deal, but it could actually be detrimental to the foundation and stability (and image) of a church.

I often advise new pastors to refrain from assigning titles and roles for 6-12 months. Though it’s difficult to do, I tell them, just sit back and watch the leaders emerge. A leader will step in when he sees a need, and do the work. A leader doesn’t wait on a title, a paycheck, or a coronation. A real leader just does what needs to be done.  He or she WILL emerge. But many times, pastors of new churches are overzealous in their attempts to get the ball rolling, so they assign roles based on who is supportive, who is faithful, who is… there. Eventually, this leads to chaos, frustration, instability, and hurt feelings. The “leader” is frustrated in the struggle to fulfill an assignment s/he isn’t called to handle; the people experience chaos because they’re trying to submit to someone who isn’t equipped to lead. Then, a few months later, the person rightfully assigned (by God) to this ministry area emerges, the pastor realizes his/her mistake and has to make some changes, which inevitably hurts somebody’s feelings.  The congregation then feels a sense of instability because of all these leadership changes. Nobody comes to church to play a game of tag.

It is crucial that any person assigned to any leadership role be a good spiritual fit, relational fit, skill fit, and passion fit.

Recently, I read an EXCELLENT article called Selecting the Right People is Key to Successful Leadership.” In it, Dr. Rick Ezell discusses five things to look for when selecting leaders:

  • People who are called – “called people are not trying to promote themselves, but a higher cause
  • People who have character – “no matter how gifted, trained, or seemingly mature a person is, the true usefulness of those attributes will be determined by character
  • People who are committed – “have made a mature, consistent commitment to Christ and His kingdom’s purposes.
  • People who are compatible – “turn diversity into unity. They turn an audience into an army.
  • People who are coachable – “are aware of their own limitations and inadequacies and eager to learn and improve.

It’s pretty hard to gain momentum when you’re constantly stopping to regroup, realign, and readjust. Not to mention, turnover is expensive: it costs time and money to retrain, and it puts undue stress on the people who have to learn to work with a new leader. And how dumb is it to change your letterhead every other month? What message are you sending to the congregation and community?

I urge pastors and others in senior-level leadership to seek God for each and every vacant position. Get some advice from a consultant. Talk to these candidates. Find out whether they are qualified. Ask them about their vision. Take notes. Go to a quiet place and pray.

As a friend put it, if you get a new Sunday School Superintendent every six months, this might be a good time to seek God. You can’t just say eenie-meenie-miney-mo.

Five Reasons This Administrator Couldn’t Be a Pastor

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If I had a dollar for every time a prophet told me I had an Apostle’s anointing… well, I’d have $4.00.  But still, that’s pretty big, considering it means that one very specific, prophetic word was confirmed by three other people.

I’m assertive, yes. I’m a visionary. I care about the people of God and their growth, salvation, and deliverance. I’m a pretty good administrator. With all that in mind, I can accept being thought of as an executive pastor – that’s pretty much what I’ve done anyway. But trust me, you wouldn’t want me to be the senior pastor of your church. Senior pastors have to endure too much, and having witnessed much of it first hand, I’m already fed up just from watching. Here’s why it couldn’t be me:

5. Because my church would give a placement exam and weekly quizzes. The placement exam will be to ensure we identify the busybodies, gossips, whoremongers, liars, robbers (a.k.a. non-tithers), stuff-starters, and those who need Similac, not steak! It will also include a hearing exam so I don’t have to worry about the “I didn’t hear you” excuse; a math test so I know you know what 10% is, and a reading comprehension test, so I know you know what “thou shalt not” means. The weekly quizzes will show whether you actually RETAINED and APPLIED whatever I preached the week before. We can’t have all this shoutin and fallin out and cryin and spittin and stuff, and you’re still going home the same way. Not in THIS church!

4. Because I would do a background investigation. I’m checking Facebook, Twitter, and yes, even MySpace to see how you conduct yourself online. I’m going to Google you and check references at your previous church(es). Plus, I’ll require 3 other references from clergy not related to you. Also, I’m checking credentials. You tell me you’re a master prophet, you won’t step foot in THIS pulpit until you show me a license and a certificate. And yes, I’m calling the person who signed it.

3. Because I will give you a pink slip. I never really thought it was okay to remove a person from the fellowship. Then, I became a church administrator, encountered a few rebels, and changed my mind. Today, I have no problem sitting people down, silencing them, or disfellowshipping them. I consider it spiritual chemotherapy. Sometimes you have to get rid of those cancerous cells in order to protect the healthy ones. It is uncomfortable, tiresome, scary, and even dangerous. But, if you don’t stop cancer, it will spread throughout the body on a mission to destroy. So, I don’t care if you’re the minister of music, the Sunday School Superintendent, the chief intercessor, #1 tither, or president of the Deacons Board. You come up in THIS church being unruly, ungodly, unteachable and unrepentant, and you will get kicked out.

2. I will “pull a Pastor Blake” and stop you in the middle of your “shout” if I know you’re in the flesh, just trying to get attention. I will also pull a Bishop Boyd and say, “I don’t know what y’all doin all this walkin for, but I want everybody in a seat NOW!! Saddown! You ain’t important!” And if you catch me on a bad day, I might pull a LaRue and scream from my seat “will somebody please put a pacifier in that baby’s mouth? Geez!” Yeah, I don’t think I have enough patience for all that. Not in THIS church.

1. Because I have no problem leaving people who are “on the way.” When I say “please arrive at the church no later than 5:45p because the bus is leaving at 6:00 p.m.,” that’s exactly what I mean.  You get there at 6:01 and you will find locked doors and gravel-dust that’s been circulating for about a minute.  I really don’t care that you signed up and paid your $10. We’ll catch you on the next trip (and I bet you’ll be on time for that one). And yes, you can have your $10 back.

And no, I’m not pulling over so you can catch up. If you happen to catch us at a red light, you might have a chance… either way, I bet you won’t be late next time.

Yeah, so at the end of the day, I’d probably have like 12 members. Umm, just point me to the Administration Office please. I’m a much better fit there.

He’s an On-Time God… Yes, He is!

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I love Miss Dottie, but this one isn’t about her…
Raise your hand if you’ve ever busted your behind to get to church, praise team rehearsal, a ministry meeting, or something else… fussing at the kids because they’re moving too slowly, mumbling under your breath because the person you’re picking up wasn’t outside at 10:17 like you asked her to be and then had the nerve to ask you if you could stop at the store so she could get some pantyhose… but through it all, you still managed to screech into a parking space and make it to your seat by 10:45… only to sit there and wait 36 minutes for somebody to take the mic and begin the service.

I don’t know what it is about small churches (or their pastors) that make them think it’s okay to start stuff late. That is so uncool… and it just doesn’t seem to reflect the characteristics of God. No, there’s no hidden commandment that says “Thou shalt start all thine services at the appointed hour and thou shalt end at the appointed hour.” There may not be a scripture, but c’mon seriously… can you picture God saying “make me a sanctuary and I will dwell among you. I’ll meet you there at 11:00a for prayer” and then He strolls in at 11:15? That’s just not God-like. God keeps His word. In fact, He watches over it to make sure it happens the way He said it would. Lateness is not only NOT God-like, it tends to reflect a nonchalant, lackadaisical attitude toward worship and the things of God. The Bible admonishes us to do all things decently and in order, and to excel in everything we do. Starting late (or BEING late) is not “excelling” — it’s doing less than average. It’s failing.

Below average… failure
Beyond the spiritual and moral implications of lateness, it also shows a lack of regard for other people’s time – which is a major no-no in my book. I once sang with a praise team that would only start rehearsal once everyone had arrived — and of course, someone was always late. So I would just have to sit there for half an hour (or more) waiting… I would feel so disrespected. So disregarded. It was as though the leaders and other praise team members felt like my time wasn’t worth much so it was okay for me to sit there and waste it.

And what about the first-time guest who was told your service starts at 11:30, so she arrives at 11:25… and just sits there in the sanctuary… just her and the sound guy… for 20 minutes… sitting uncomfortably, smiling awkwardly, trying not to appear bored, adjusting her pearls, watching the door, checking the big clock hanging in the back… her mind on everything BUT worship, at this point.

A good name is better…
You’ve been there. A friend invites you to a service at a church you’ve never visited before. You ask “do you all start on time?” They say, “well… I wouldn’t rush, you can get there at about 8:15 or so.” The pastor may not know it, but he’s building an image, and everything his church does – good or bad – is a pixel in that image. In their reputation. Their name. Their name.

Tardiness is such a vicious cycle. You can’t start without the people, so you wait for them. They come late, so you start late. If you ask them, they will tell you they come late because you start late. You say: if you come on time, we’ll start on time. They say: if you start on time, we’ll come on time.

You can’t start a service without the people there, can you?
I know some of you are wondering, “how can I fix this? We’ve been starting late for 8 years, you can’t start a service without the people there, can you?

I’m so glad you asked that question; I knew you would. Yes, you can indeed start a service (or a rehearsal, prayer, meeting, class, whatever) without the people there. You want to know how you can fix this? It’s simple: start. on. time. Accept no excuses from yourself or your leaders. Be a person of integrity and one who keeps his word… just like God. Protect your name and image. If you say that service starts at 11:00 and there’s no musician there and not nary member in the pew, YOU start service. YOU open in prayer. YOU sing a song. YOU read announcements… after a while, they will come on time because they will see that you’re starting on time. YOU must set the example, oh fearless leader, and they will follow.

The Dirty Word?

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Ask 10 random pastors and I bet you at least 6 or 7 of them will admit to having a disdain for raising the offering at some point in their pastoral career (okay, calm down – when I said “bet” I didn’t mean bet for real, ‘kay? It was just a figure of speech). As a result, some churches have tried to “hide” offering time in the service or rush through it. Some just put ushers by the door and “invite” parishioners to give on their way out. Some encourage first-time visitors not to give, and “just enjoy the worship service.”  Some have gone to opposite extremes and try to guilt, brow-beat, or threaten members and guests alike into giving.  Somehow, “giving” has become a dirty word in the church.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand what went down here. From what I can tell, a number of things contributed to the “g” word’s removal from the Mother Jenkins’ Clean Language Dictionary of Jesus Christ.

  • Somebody’s dishonest pastor and/or finance staff misappropriated or just flat-out STOLE funds.
  • Somebody else’s pastor and/or finance staff mismanaged funds, perhaps with good intentions.
  • Somebody’s pastor and/or finance staff didn’t see the importance of keeping their records current, accessible and accurate so that contributors would have a sense of confidence in their stewardship.
  • Somebody’s pastor just refused to be transparent, creating a shroud of “mystery” in the “back room” where all things financial take place.
  • Somebody’s pastor doesn’t work, is never seen giving, hasn’t written any books, won any lottery, or inherited any riches, yet always seems to buy new luxury cars, meanwhile the church hasn’t had running water in 3 months, all except ONE of the light fixtures are out, and the building fund hasn’t funded any buildings in 22 years.
  • And a whole buncha somebodies have pastors who engaged in unGodly and unBiblical “tactics, tricks, and gimmicks” to get money: offering false prophecies, employing guilt trips, manipulating them into giving their rent money (and then refusing to help when they get evicted), locking doors demanding that “nobody leaves until this money is raised…”

And the list goes on and on… I’m sure you are probably thinking now of one or two I missed.

So yeah, the picture is pretty grim. But, where does this leave the honest, well-meaning, Bible-abiding pastors who – like all others – rely primarily on tithes and offering to keep the doors of the church open (and the A/C running, thank ya Jesus)?

The bottom line is this: pastors who think of giving as a dirty word are impeding their members’  blessing and financial overflow. There are Biblical promises that ONLY apply to tithers (Malachi 3). The Word declares that God LOVES a cheerful giver (II Corinthians 9:7). In fact, the Bible says that our gifts aren’t really gifts anyway, they’re investments (give and it shall be given back to you – Investing 101… and Luke 6:38). So we’re not really giving to God, we’re loaning… your members are guaranteed in writing to get it back, maybe even multiplied. Pastors should never refrain from reminding their members and guests what the Word says about giving – just as they would freely remind them what the Word says about repentance, salvation, baptism, or anything else. Giving is a form of worship, and should be taught with great emphasis and without shame or reluctance. It is as essential a part of the worship service as praise & worship. Moreover, it is a Biblical mandate. There are countless scriptures that serve as direct examples of God instructing the people to give; you know them, and your members should too.

I believe that if we do it God’s way, we will have the same experience Moses had in Exodus 36 when the gifts were so abundant that he had to restrain them from giving. I bet you’d love to have that problem, wouldn’tcha?

So how do we get “giving” reinstated in Mother Jenkins’ Dictionary? Pastors should ensure that the principles of giving are adequately taught and that the income is properly managed. Members should give cheerfully, liberally, and deliberately.  Offering time should be simple and Biblical. The mood (or “atmosphere” for those of you who are churchy) should be celebratory and exciting. There should be an announcement that it’s offering time, followed by loud clapping, praise, and shouting music in B flat… (okay, well maybe that’s just how it goes in LaRue’s Perfect Church Land).  There should be some sort of brief scripture-based encouragement to give, perhaps a reminder of the benefits of tithing and giving offerings, and then the people should come running with their gifts, under the direction of the ushers. And then the stewards should pay the bills according to the budget (which was developed with prayer and prudence). And then everyone, including God, should be happy.

Your thoughts?

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