Monday Morning Manna: Should You Care What People Say About You?

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Now the queen by reason of the words of the king and his lords came into the banquet house: and the queen spake and said, O king, live for ever: let not thy thoughts trouble thee, nor let thy countenance be changed:

There is a man in thy kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of thy father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar thy father, the king, I say, thy father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers;

Forasmuch as an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams, and shewing of hard sentences, and dissolving of doubts, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will shew the interpretation.” — Daniel 5:10-12 KJV

“I really don’t care what people think about me.”

Or when frustrated, it’s: “well, they can say what they want… as long as I know the truth.” Or the defensive line: “they don’t know me anyway.” Or the sassy line: “no matter what you do, people will always have something to say. I can’t waste my time and energy worrying about that; I have things to do! They don’t pay my bills!

Most of us are taught at an early age not to worry about what people say about us, and the truth is, you’ll drive yourself nuts trying to correct misperceptions and wrong impressions. But too often, we use that as an excuse to continue poor behavior and attitudes, and while there is value in not obsessing over what unreasonable people say, we must be cautious not to disregard and dismiss the importance of maintaining a good reputation – whether in our families, at work, at school, in ministry, at church, in social networks online and offline, and everywhere else.

Why should I care?

The Bible has a lot to say about the value of a good reputation. In Acts 16, we learn that Timothy had a good reputation, which probably played a part in Paul’s decision to bring him along on his missionary journey. In I Peter 2, believers in exile are admonished to take special care to conduct themselves properly in front of the Gentiles so that even when their names were slandered, their good behavior would testify for them. He then said that their righteous conduct would “silence (muzzle, gag) the ignorant charges and ill-informed criticisms of foolish persons” (I Peter 2:15 AMP). In other words, Peter was saying that your behavior can change what people say about you.

Several hundred years earlier, Daniel had already proven this to be true.

When Daniel and his friends were taken captive into Babylon, they must have already had a reputation for being “skillful in all wisdom, discernment, and understanding, apt in learning knowledge, competent” (Dan. 1:4 AMP) since they were selected to be a part of the king’s special training program. Even in adverse conditions, Daniel was determined to maintain his integrity by refusing to adapt to the Babylonian cultures, traditions and norms – even when his life depended on it. But over time, by demonstrating character, competence, commitment and the courage of his convictions, Daniel strengthened his reputation even more and it earned him promotion, prestige, and perquisites. More importantly, it earned him additional opportunities to minister. (And we all know that preacher/prophet/musician/singer/workshop instructor who will never get another invitation to minister at our church because of what is attached to his/her name).

In Daniel 6, we find that King Darius named Daniel the first of three presidents, preferred him above the presidents and princes, and planned to set him over the entire realm. This promotion, and the related prestige and perqs were a result of the excellent spirit that was found in Daniel. Daniel was known for his excellence. As we saw in Chapter 5, excellence was attached to his name. It was his reputation. As I said in A Few Things I’ve Learned Along the Way, your name can take you places skills alone can’t.

At the heart of the matter is character, because you can’t really address reputation without addressing character. The longer I live, the more I realize that one of my greatest assets is my name, supported by my character. I don’t run around chasing down rumors to try to correct lies, but I will do everything I can to make sure that my character nullifies any lies or falsehoods attached to my name. After all, a good name is more desirable than great riches (Proverbs 22:1). So my final answer is yes, we should care about what people say about us.

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Should the Church Take Lessons from Corporate America?

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The title subject is one that I’ve pondered for many years, but never really studied beyond the surface. But a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of listening to Brien’s Place, a daily radio show hosted by musician Brien Andrews. (Major plug for my buddy who is doing great things in an excellent way. He definitely gets my personal stamp of excellence! And as a bonus, music lovers will LOVE the show’s background music and BGVs!).

From Pastor to CEO

On the show, Brien mentioned how the use of corporate titles such as CEO, CFO, COO, CAO, and CMO is becoming increasingly common in today’s churches; and that, overall we are adapting more of Corporate America’s policies.

In the many leadership workshops I’ve taught over the years, I’ve said that church leaders could learn a lot from Corporate America. Certainly, we can learn more about structure and order, communication, punctuality, networking, excellence, productivity, efficiency, attention to detail, teamwork, responsibility, conflict resolution, marketing, budgeting and the value of having a good reputation. I’ve even heard some suggest that the church needs to learn the principles of good customer service, considering its members as “customers.” At my own church last summer, I taught a session on branding, and frequently teach leaders at other churches on many of the subjects I mentioned above.

But when I heard Brien say that we are “adapting more [of] Corporate America’s policies,” I felt the unspoken implications resonate in my spirit, and I felt the wheels of my mind begin to turn.  So about a week ago, I asked a few friends what they thought about this subject, and while many of them raised really good points, two in particular addressed the points I had considered myself. Thanks to Vanessa Miller, Bennett Yancey, Philip Brown, Robert Jones, and William Spruill for your input.

Corporate America Needs to Take Lessons from the Bible

In her book, Jesus, CEO: Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership, Laurie Beth Jones uses the ministry of Jesus Christ as the model for a perfect CEO as she shares leadership techniques and lessons inspired by Him. One of the things I learned from reading Jesus, CEO is that we really can get all the tools and lessons we need to be good leaders from the Word of God.

The Bible is full of strong examples of leaders, Jesus being the best example, and each one’s story provides lessons for leaders, lists of what to do, what not to do, and demonstrates the characteristics of excellent leaders. We can learn about excellence and having a good name from Daniel; the importance of detailed planning, networking, and resource planning from Nehemiah; building under duress and overcoming obstacles from Ezra; conflict resolution from Paul; attention to detail from Noah (or Solomon); succession planning from Jesus; budgeting from Solomon, and so much more from those powerful Biblical leaders, and the many others I didn’t name. I would go as far as to say that there is NOTHING a Christian leader needs to learn that s/he cannot learn from studying Biblical principles and Biblical leaders. I cannot think of any concepts, principles or values in Corporate America that are not covered to some degree in the Bible.

So if we desire to pattern ourselves after the strongest Biblical leaders, in an effort to be more like Christ, what reason do we have to seek out secular sources to achieve success as ministry leaders?

Conflicting Goals

Another HUGE reason I can’t support churches taking lessons from Corporate America is that we have some insurmountable differences in our values, missions, goals, and overall purpose. As one friend put it, “Many principles that dominate Corporate America conflict with Christian values.” Another friend pointed out, “the corporate world is cut-throat,” and I have to agree with her.

The overall corporate focus is on producing revenue. Furthermore, the “moral decay facing companies today,” including its self-serving values, make it a fairly dangerous model for churches to follow.

The Church’s overall mission is to declare the gospel of Jesus Christ to all mankind, compel those who are lost, edify its members, and minister the love of Christ to all so that God is glorified. When fulfilled, our mission and purpose, as a friend said, will profit the entire body of Christ. On the other hand, in Corporate America, only the corporation itself benefits.

Taking lessons from an entity with such a conflicting mission puts the Church in a position to receive lessons possibly contaminated by greed, self-centeredness, malice, lies, ruthlessness and immorality. I can easily see us slowly trending into an institution that has unknowingly disregarded its purpose for the pursuit of worldly success and material things.

As Brien said in his radio show, the church simply “can’t forget what your real purpose and your real mission is, and that’s about souls. It’s about people. ‘People’ is the church’s ‘product.'”

So… what’s my final answer? No, churches should not take lessons from Corporate America. Churches should position ourselves to be the organism Christ built us to be so that Corporate America can take lessons from us. We are made to be the head, not the tail; the leaders, not the followers.

So what do you think? Should the church take lessons from Corporate America? Okay, I can’t read your mind, silly! Use the comment box below to tell me what you think. 🙂

5 Signs You’ve Outgrown Your Assignment

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Over the weekend, I was carrying two new plant pots, one of which was pretty large, and 3 African Violets out of Home Depot when a kind, older gentleman offered to help. I declined his offer (I’m just one of those people who can’t let people do things for me… ugh!), and explained that it was actually very lightweight, despite its ceramic appearance. Trying to make small talk, I guess, he asked “so how many of those do you have? A house full, I bet.” I told him that I really only had about 6 or 7, but that I couldn’t deny how much I love plants. In fact, I recently ordered this one online since I couldn’t find it in any of the local garden stores. Isn’t it beautiful?

It's a prayer plant, so named because its leaves "close" (point upward) at night, like praying hands. Cool, huh?

Anyway, I told the gentleman that I love plants because tending to them always gives me revelation. Plus, it’s just awesome to see God in nature – it makes you realize just how detailed and orderly and thoughtful and creative and just how HUGE He really is.

**this is a good place to bust out in a rendition of “How Great Thou Art” (can’t you hear it? Then sings my souuuuuuuul, my Savior God, to Thee: How great Thou art…)** Okay, so back to the point…

I explained to Kind Old Guy that I had a plant that I had nurtured from its baby stages for the past couple of years, and that after flourishing for months, it suddenly stopped growing. (Raise your hand if you know where I’m going with this). Now, I’m not new to this whole plant thing (and I’m a pretty smart chick in general *toot, toot*), so I knew immediately what that meant.

You see, my plant had outgrown its pot. As plants are nourished properly (with water, fertilizer and sunlight – and talking to it doesn’t hurt either), they begin to grow. Their roots will extend further and further into the pot (or ground), and they will stretch out as far as their soil base will allow. When there’s no more room for them to stretch out, they will become “pot-bound” and the roots will begin to grow around each other, getting all coiled and tangled and basically strangling the plant. You’ll know the plant has outgrown its pot because it will stop growing, or will grow a lot more slowly than usual. Some of the leaves may begin to wilt or fade, and eventually, the plant may even die.

That's my baby! Notice how a couple of her leaves are fading?

Just as plants can outgrow their pots, leaders can outgrow their assignments. And hey, growth is not a bad thing. In fact, Colossians 2:7 says, “Have the roots [of your being] firmly and deeply planted [in Him, fixed and founded in Him], being continually built up in Him, becoming increasingly more confirmed and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and abounding and overflowing in it with thanksgiving” (AMP). Peter makes it clear that if we hunger for the sincere milk of the word, we’ll grow (I Pet 2:2), and that we should grow in grace (II Pet 3:18). Growth is good. And it’s a normal part of the life-cycle. If you don’t believe me, take a look at your kid (or at your high school graduation pics).

What are the signs you’ve outgrown your assignment?

You’ve succeeded in and fulfilled the current assignment, AND:

1. You’re no longer growing. If you’re not learning anything, being challenged, pushed, expanded, or stretched beyond your comfort zone, it’s possible you’ve outgrown your assignment and are ready to advance to something new.

2. You’re cramped or immobile. When your roots (or core assignment) are no longer enabling you to move about and explore new ideas, tapping into creativity and inspiration, your pot could be too small for you.

3. You’re chronically unfulfilled. No matter how much you’re “fed” or nourished, you still aren’t finding any satisfaction from the assignment. (And yes, God’s assignments do yield satisfaction).

4. You’re wilted. When there’s no energy fueling your work, no more excitement, you feel as “blah” and drab as you look, you probably need a bigger pot.

5. You’re not effective. Perhaps the most telling sign of becoming pot-bound is that you’re no longer effective in areas where you once were. If the people under your leadership are no longer growing, you’re unable to excel and accomplish new things, fix what’s broken, or improve what is outdated or worn, you may have reached your capacity in that pot.

Each of these, when examined alone, could mean a host of other things. Maybe you’re just burned out. Or maybe you’ve lost your connection with God. Or perhaps your skills need to be polished. But chances are, if all five are in play, it’s time for a bigger pot.

Just to make sure we’re clear: I don’t suggest you run off to Home Depot shopping for new pots to try to re-pot yourself. Sit still and pray. Talk to your pastor (or if you’re the pastor, talk to a trusted confidant or your spiritual leader). No need to hurry, unless of course, God has already spoken and you’re just sitting around waiting for someone to come re-pot you. In that case, you’re probably strangling yourself, which could turn out pretty badly.

Side Note: Yes, I realize how… ummm… weird this article is. I decided to embrace the thorn in my side instead of running from it. So if I sound a little ADDish, it’s because that’s how my brain was working today. 🙂

Monday Morning Manna: Leading by Influence

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Last week, I came across this quote while perusing the internet. I think it might be credited to Russell H. Ewing, but there were so many variations, that it’s hard to tell.

A boss creates fear; a leader creates confidence.
Bossism creates resentment; leadership breeds enthusiasm.
A boss says “I;” a leader says “we.”
A boss knows all; a leader asks questions.
A boss fixes blame; a leader fixes mistakes.
A boss knows how; a leader shows how.
A boss relies on authority; a leader relies on cooperation.
A boss drives; a leader leads.

As a person who has had quite a few titles in church and in my career, this quote spoke volumes to me.  Anyone with a title can be a boss, but it takes a different quality to be a leader.  I went to the Word and came across this Old Testament passage:

And Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among the scouts who had searched the land, rent their clothes, And they said to all the company of Israelites, The land through which we passed as scouts is an exceedingly good land.

If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land flowing with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord, neither fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their defense and the shadow [of protection] is removed from over them, but the Lord is with us. Fear them not.

But all the congregation said to stone [Joshua and Caleb] with stones. But the glory of the Lord appeared at the Tent of Meeting before all the Israelites. — Numbers 14:6-10 AMP

This is a passage from the familiar story in which God told Moses to send a few leaders to scout out Canaan, after promising the land to them. Among the 12 sent was Joshua. At this time, Joshua didn’t really have much clout, so when it turned out that he and Caleb were the only two who thought they’d be able to take the land, nobody paid him any attention. In fact, it was like he and Caleb hadn’t even spoken. The Israelites were so disappointed and frustrated by the majority’s report that, as was typical, they got loud and belligerent.  Joshua tried to help them out and encourage them, but they weren’t hearing him.

The problem, I think, is that although Joshua had status and leadership skills, he had no influence – or at least not enough to gain the support needed to lead the Israelites into the promised land. So one lesson we can learn from this story is that it takes more than a position and title to move people. In order to get things done easily, you need influence. According to best-selling author John Maxwell, the true measure of leadership is influence. The authority a leader has can drive his team members to do what they’ve been asked to do, but it takes influence to inspire them. And inspiration yields enthusiasm, mentorship, a positive work environment, thoroughness, generosity, commitment, and the list goes on and on. Authority can get the job done; but influence makes it easy and pleasant.

So how does one develop influence?

  • A leader who will become influential should have an influential mentor. (Joshua had Moses). Not only does this help you to learn the skills your mentor models, but it also validates you before people who don’t know you well enough to trust your leadership.
  • Position is not enough; you must build a relationship with the people you lead. Joshua was a tribal leader, but that wasn’t enough to help him to influence the others, especially since there were 10 other tribal leaders who opposed him. It’s important to have the trust of the people, and they won’t have much confidence in you if you haven’t demonstrated a track record of solid leadership.
  • Make sound decisions and operate in integrity. Even though Joshua was right, he still couldn’t influence the people to listen to him. That had to be frustrating. Surely you’ve been there (I know I have). But, even when you know you’re right and no one will listen…
  • …You must be consistent and trustworthy. To develop influence, you have to be willing to hang in there and be consistent and reliable, even when no one is following you. This inspires confidence and stability, and as I’ve said before, no one is going to follow a leader in whom they have no confidence.
  • Be sure to use your influence wisely and not to manipulate, take advantage of, or abuse the people who trust you. Joshua used his to lead the Israelites to success.

Leaders may start out with positions, power, authority, and titles, but they never start out with influence. It must be developed and earned. When Joshua returned with his recommendation for taking on Canaan, he couldn’t get one person from the congregation to take heed, even though he was right. What a far cry from what the Israelites said to him later on in Joshua 1:16-18 (MSG):

They answered Joshua: “Everything you commanded us, we’ll do. Wherever you send us, we’ll go. We obeyed Moses to the letter; we’ll also obey you—we just pray that God, your God, will be with you as he was with Moses. Anyone who questions what you say and refuses to obey whatever you command him will be put to death. Strength! Courage!”

Gotta love influence. 🙂

For more on this subject, I recommend Becoming a Person of Influence: How to Positively Impact the Lives of Others, by Jim Dornan and John Maxwell.

Managing Volunteers: 5 Things to Know

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In my former life, I worked as a Field Representative for a labor organization in New York. In addition to fighting for justice for nursing home workers in workplace disputes and negotiating employees’ contracts, a large part of my job responsibility was recruiting, training, and managing on-site delegates, who served as volunteer representatives at each nursing home. It didn’t take me long to learn that leading volunteers requires a totally different skill set and different habits from that which is used to lead paid staff.

There’s no question that volunteers are the engines that keep churches running. The mistake many church leaders make is letting their volunteers’ engines burn out or forgetting that volunteers have less of an incentive to stay if they’re suffering poor treatment or frequent frustration.

Here are five things you need to know about leading volunteers.

1. Make sure they fit.
One of the leading causes of volunteer burnout is having people serve in areas in which they’re not called or equipped to serve. One of the principles we can take from the corporate world is the job interview. Too many churches throw people into positions where they may not fit because of one aspect of their personality or experience, and never really get to know the person or attempt to find out whether the person will be able to work well with the leader. This also shows volunteers that you take the job seriously, and that you’re running a ministry, not a circus.

2. What’s In It For Them?
Though most job-seekers consider benefits, opportunities for advancement, and building up their resumes, the main factor most applicants consider is compensation. Since most church workers aren’t paid, it’s important that you as a leader can articulate what’s in it for them. It not only helps them to stay motivated, it also helps you to know how to develop their skills, talents, and gifts. Perhaps they are looking for a position where they can grow spiritually or professionally. Maybe they recognized a character flaw, such as impatience or pride and are looking for something that will help them develop patience or humility. Maybe they want to practice some skills they learned in school or are looking for an opportunity to socialize more after a recent life change.

Of course the rewards that come from God are the best benefits, but identifying other benefits will help keep your volunteers motivated. If volunteer work isn’t rewarding, volunteer workers won’t stick around too long.

3. Be Crystal-Clear on the Roles, Rules, and Expectations!
Just because you’re leading a team of volunteers doesn’t mean you can’t set expectations and rules. At the same time, leaders must know that what works on your day job may not work as well with volunteers. Make sure they know what is expected of them and what they can expect from you (this should come out in the interview process). Put everything in writing, and communicate clearly and adequately. At work, you can get away with changing things up at the last minute every month. At church, not so much. Don’t be too demanding or unreasonable, or else you might end up having an army of grumpy, resentful, or burned out volunteers. Some things you shouldn’t do:

  • Yell. Actually, you shouldn’t yell at paid staff either, but especially not at volunteer staff. Totally uncool, either way.
  • Work their fingers to the bone. Keep in mind unpaid church workers have lives outside of church: jobs, families, hobbies. Don’t demand too much of their time and don’t make them do the work of 2 or 3 people. Either YOU do it (that’s leadership, after all) or recruit more volunteers to help.
  • Assume they love the Lord so much they won’t ever quit. Ha!!!
  • Chastise or demean when you can coach or develop.
  • Take them for granted.
  • Forget that they don’t have to do what they do.

4. Make sure they have the tools they need
There is nothing more frustrating than trying to do a job well, and not being able to because you don’t have what you need. Those tools might include support, leadership, a computer, a work space, supplies, staff, or a host of other things. In some cases, you can learn to get by or cut corners – you may even tap into some creativity you didn’t know you had. But volunteers are more likely to burn out or even quit if they have to work harder because they don’t have what they need to get the job done.

5. Motivate, Reward, Acknowledge
One church I worked with had an annual volunteers celebration. Each year, the leaders (pastors and pastors’ wives, clergy, and department heads) put on black pants, a white tuxedo shirt and a black bowtie to serve lunch to all their volunteers. They decorate the banquet hall, cook all the food themselves, don waiter uniforms and serve those who serve all year long.

Not every church has the resources (or desire) to do something like that, and that’s okay. There are so many other ways to motivate your volunteers. From what I’ve seen, most volunteers truly are in it for the love of servanthood, so they don’t necessarily look for celebrations or appreciation services. But they will admit it feels good to hear encouraging words from time to time, receive a “Thank You” card once in a while, or even just an e-mail that says “thanks.” Nothing makes you feel appreciated like a random, out of the clear blue “I’m-not-asking-for-anything” note. Acknowledge the extra things your volunteers do; make mention of their growth or skill improvements. When they do something especially well, let them know you noticed it.

Motivation is the most important item on this list. You MUST keep your volunteers motivated by making sure they can see the goal they’re working towards, by rewarding them, by appreciating them, treating them well, and developing them. If you want your church to grow, you’ve got to take good care of your volunteers. They are the engine.

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!

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.

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