A Letter to the Church, from a Pastor

I’m blessed with so many pastor friends. I have the opportunity, through my blog and personal ministry, to interact with hundreds of pastors every year. After hearing many of their concerns, I decided to write a letter to the church. Obviously, I can’t and won’t attempt to speak for every pastor, but this will represent many.

I actually posted this a few years ago, (now edited) after holding on to it for a while. I was concerned it would seem self-serving. I thought some may feel I was ungrateful. Thankfully, I have good support around me. I’m in a good situation and I have years of experience navigating (sometimes better than others) work and home life, so this is really designed to speak for other pastors. Again, God has given me abundant support in ministry, but I feel the weight of many pastors and ministers – maybe especially those who serve as the only staff member in the church.

So, this is on behalf of some of my pastor friends.

Dear church,

I want to be honest with you on behalf of many pastors I know. You would want me to be honest, right?

It’s sometimes hard to know who to trust.

Honestly, that’s hard to say, because we are a church and, if there is any place we can trust people, it should be in the church. But, many pastors I know have been burned so many times by trusting people. It seems people love to repeat the pastor. They love to share things they know about the pastor – some of which was shared in confidence or not shared with them at all. I know so many pastors who simply don’t trust anyone. They keep their private life so removed from the church and never really let anyone get to know them. It’s not wise. It’s certainly not the way the church should function, but it often feels safer. Be the one your pastor can trust – every time.

We love you, but we love our family too.

Would you help us protect our family time? We like having a night at home. We want days occasionally which are completely ours, to do what we want, with no church responsibilities. No church texts, no church calls, no church emails, no church visits. I know, sounds selfish right? And, we know there are emergencies, and we want to be there for them. But, if your need can wait until the next morning we are in the office, that gives us an opportunity to rest – and be better prepared when an emergency does come. And, do we really have to be at every function of the church? Aren’t there some things others could handle for us? And – please understand this is hard to ask – but since these are my friends I’m asking for, would you consider keeping our kids some night so we could have a night just for the two of us?

Sometimes people make leading very hard.

Like someone said, “Leadership would be easy if not for the people.” We know every decision we make is unpopular with someone. Most pastors wish they could do everything everyone wanted them do. But, we simply can’t. We know we are called to lead the church as God leads us – not to be popular. But, sometimes, we are made to feel very uncomfortable for not doing what people want us to do. And, many pastors struggle with a bent towards people-pleasing. That may make us seem shallow, but it’s true. You can help by being a supporter of your pastor. You don’t have to always agree, but the way you disagree says a lot about your support.

We need a few people who are “in it” for Jesus and others, more than for themselves.

When we find those people – wow – it makes our day. We feel like we are accomplishing something. Those people fuel us for ministry. They are the ones who keep us going on days we are ready to quit! Oh, how we need people who are committed for all the right reasons! Can you be one of those?

We have to wear many hats.

And, that’s okay. It comes with the job, but some things we are asked to do we simply aren’t skilled to do. You thought seminary taught us everything, didn’t you? No, in fact, we feel very inadequate at much of the things required of us. We need your help, but sometimes it’s hard to ask, because we don’t know who to trust – remember? It’s a gentle giant who comes along to support us expecting nothing in return. An older, more mature person who simply wants to bless a younger pastor – that’s gold to us. Someone who simply says, “Pastor, let me know what you need and I’ll do my best” – wow! Go ahead, make my day!

We want you to love us in spite of our flaws.

That makes sense to us, because you want us to love you that way, but sometimes we feel you love us only as long as we are “performing” as people would have us perform. (Wow, did I just say that?) It has sometimes been said a pastor is only as good as their last good sermon. We feel the pressure to be perfect sometimes – yet, we know the temptation people face we face. Pastors are flawed humans too! And, sometimes the enemy works extra hard on us – loving when a pastor fails. Those who pray for us regularly – and really do – those are some of our heroes in the faith.

We feel so responsible – for everything.

Church growth. Church discipline. Church health. Church budget. Church strategic planning. And, people’s spiritual growth and often their personal happiness. We know ultimately Jesus is in charge of all things, but we feel the weight of our role to see that each of these are completed well in the church. That’s a lot of self-induced pressure, isn’t it? But, I thought you’d like to know so you can pray for us better. (Thanks for doing that.)

Lastly, I would remind you – we love you. We really do. I don’t know any pastors who don’t really love people. I know no pastor is perfect, and some know how to show love better than others, but with the calling comes a calling to love people. It’s easier some days than others, but we truly do love you. We consider it a high honor, a great privilege and a tremendous responsibility to have the role in the church we have. Thanks for loving us back!

Sincerely,

Pastor

Thanks pastors, for all you do. A couple years ago my then 93 year-old mentor pastor said it is harder today than ever in his ministry to pastor a church – and he had just taken another interim pastorate. The pressures are great. People are distracted by many things. The church is often not the revered and loved place in our communities it used to be.

Personally, I’m thankful for good leadership and staff around me at each of the churches where I’ve served, but my heart goes out to the pastor who doesn’t feel the support of the church and is the only staff member. Remember, you are doing noble work and you are part of something bigger than today, you and your church! The local church – the body of Christ – is still in God’s plan today and nothing will overcome it. Praying for you today!

10 Easy Phrases Which Point to a Healthy Team

Do you want to be a part of a healthy team?

Do you like simple?

Maybe we’ve made this more complicated than it has to be. I think there are values we can strive to attain which can help make our teams healthy.

Let’s be honest, in team dynamics – just as in relationships – there are seasons when things are better than other times. But, over the course of months and years we should be able to identify a healthy team. You certainly know one when you serve on one.

I have noticed a few key things which are taking place when I’m on a healthy team.

Here are 10 easy phrases which point to a healthy teams:

  1. Relationships matter way more than structures or systems.
  2. Titles never determine the importance of a person’s voice.
  3. Good communication is highly valued.
  4. Conflict is never avoided and used to make the team stronger.
  5. Everyone embraces and loves a common interest and goal.
  6. A person’s character is equally important to their intellect or abilities.
  7. The team rallies when times are tough.
  8. No one gets all the recognition.
  9. Enjoying the journey is part of the plan.
  10. There are no minor roles or minor players.

How many does your team score?

Which of these does your team most need to improve upon?

And, if we do it right, we may be able to stop at number one!

4 Easy Steps To Healthy Delegation

Even a potential control freak leader like me knows healthy delegating actually improves the organization. 

Yet, I work with dozens of pastors and leaders every year who struggle to release authority and responsibility.

How do we let go of responsibility when we are wired so heavily towards not doing so? How do we delegate when the church holds us responsible for getting things done? How do we let go when doing so makes us sometimes feel so out of control?

I often say there are three underlying reasons a leader doesn’t delegate.

Pride. They don’t think someone else can – as well as them.
Selfishness. They don’t want someone else getting the credit.
Ignorance. They simply don’t know how.

I can’t help with the first two, other than point you to Scripture and hope it convicts you otherwise. But, I can help you with the third one. And, I’m not trying to over simply a complicated leadership issue. It’s certainly not “easy” to implement as the title indicates, but the understanding the process really is simple.

Here are 4 easy steps to healthy delegation:

Identify

It could be a specific one-time task or an ongoing assignment, but find something which would be better delegated – either because you aren’t as skilled as others, don’t have adequate time to commit to it, or have lost interest. You have to get gut honest here, but look for things know someone would be better suited to lead. They have more time or talent in this area. And, don’t get stuck on this one. Make sure you find something. There is always something when you look for it.

Match

Find the right person/s for the responsibility based on passion, experience, and follow through capabilities. This can be volunteer or paid, but pick people who will do what they say they will do and you trust. Otherwise you will constantly be looking over their shoulder and back to not delegating again. And, you may not know until you give someone a chance to try. And, please don’t say there is no one to trust in your church or organization. If that’s the case, I see a couple options – you can change organizations or change the leader – and, most of the time it is the leader. Part of leading is raising up others to lead. (I’m not trying to be harsh, but it’s true.)

Release

This is the “letting go” part. (This is the scary part for many leaders. You may simply have to walk by faith on this one. I suspect Moses did when he followed Jethro’s advice.) Few leaders really do this well. Leaders usually lean more toward control than release, in my experience. But, if you want to be a delegator, especially a healthy delegator, you have to learn to give up your right to control. It won’t likely be done the way you wanted it to be done. It may not be done at the pace you expected. You have to release authority to do the delegated work. Help cast a vision of what a win looks like, give them the tools they need, but, this is the part of delegation you need the most – getting out of the way.

Follow-Up

Healthy delegation isn’t a dumping of responsibilities. If you are the senior leader even when you delegate you have some responsibility, even though you have released authority. Set a reminder on your calendar to periodically follow up with the person. Remain close enough and Xavailable to them should they have questions or need help, but stay out of their way as they complete the assignment.

I realize it’s not easy for some to delegate responsibility. It comes with discipline and practice. One way to improve at this is to consider the overall purposes and goals of the organization, recognizing they can better be attained through delegation, and allow accomplishing them to be the leader’s principal responsibility – rather than simply completing tasks personally. 

The journey to complete a worthy vision, includes delegating. Letting go to achieve greater success should be a key motivation for leadership.

10 Ways to Create an Unhealthy Team Environment

I am not sure why you would want to, but just in case you ever did, I know some keys to creating an unhealthy team.

Seriously, I realize no one intentionally sets out for unhealthiness, but I’ve seen it so many times. There are things which injure the health of a team.

Perhaps understanding how it develops can help, because just as with a healthy team environment, creating an unhealthy team environment doesn’t happen without intentionality. We have to work at it.

Here are 10 ways to create an unhealthy team environment:

Make people question their role or performance on the team.

Avoid all conflict.

Pretend things are okay when they are not. In fact, exaggerate the positives and avoid the negatives.

Add rules which impact everyone, rather than dealing with the real issue.

Never applaud. Always critique.

Keep people wondering what the leader is really thinking.

Allow innuendoes, finger pointing and excuses to govern decision-making.

Hold mistakes against people rather than using them as a learning experience.

Limit the control of decisions made to a few people.

Have no clear purpose for the team.

How many “points” did you score?

Anything you would you add?

One Sure Sign You’re On a Healthy Team

I’ve often said good leaders never assume silence means everyone is in agreement.

Especially during seasons of change the leader can’t assume everyone is on board because they aren’t hearing complaints. On one extreme people may feel there will be retribution for stating their opinion. The reality is leaders can be intimidating just by position – whether they intend to be or not. On the other extreme people may not say say what’s on their mind simply believing it would be something the leader already knows. But, all of us only know what we know. We don’t know anymore.

The leader doesn’t always hear what they need to hear, which is why good leaders ask good questions.

There is one caveat to this principle, however.

When a team is healthy – really healthy – so that the leader is approachable and team members know they are encouraged to participate in discussion. When there is no unresolved conflict or underlying drama. And, when people are on the team not just for a paycheck, but because they believe in the mission and love the team.

When the team is really healthy…

Silence can be interpreted as agreement.

That’s because:

  • The freedom to challenge is present
  • The fear of retribution is absent
  • The power of unity is prominent
  • The spirit of cooperation is elevated
  • The synergy of differences is celebrated
  • The collaboration of ideas has been utilized
  • The sharing of thoughts is welcomed

When you are on a really healthy team people feel freedom to speak up when needed, so if they don’t, you can often safely assume they are in agreement.

I’ll be candid, I’m not sure I have been there more than a few times in my leadership career. I’m not even sure we are there yet with our current team. We have new staff members and we are in a season of rapid change. But, in the months to come, I’ll be looking to measure progress in this way. I’ll be reminding our team of this principle and the ramifications of it.

A good personal evaluation for the leader is to ask yourself this question: What does silence on my team indicate?

If people aren’t pushing back against change what does that really mean?

And, for your sake, I hope it means you’re really serving with a healthy team.

The Fuzziness of a Healthy Team

Clarity is often king in organizational dynamics. Clear communication is vital for healthy teams. A huge part of my job as a leader is to help people understand our vision and where we are going next to try to realize it (as well as I know at the time).

While this is true there is a paradox when it comes to clarity and organizational health.

Some things are actually fuzzy on a healthy team. Indistinct. Muddled. Unclear.

As strange as that seems in an age of instant and constant information it’s actually healthy.

Let me give some examples.

Here are 3 areas of fuzziness on a healthy team:

The lines of authority are blurred

In some of the healthiest organizations I know, the organizational chart doesn’t matter as much in accomplishing the vision. It’s often fuzzy in regards to who is in charge. One person doesn’t have all the ideas answers. Everyone has an equally important role to play, and while everyone knows what is expected of them, who is “in charge” is determined by what is being attempted at the time. Leadership often depends on the task. People lead based on their passions and gifting, more than because of their position or title. And, titles and positions can change as needed to fit current challenges and opportunities.

There aren’t a lot of burdensome rules

Obviously an organization needs structure. Rules have to be in place. But, on healthy teams, rules are designed to enhance, not limit growth. Rules help keep people empowered not controlled – and likely there are fewer of them. Bureaucracy diminishes progress and frustrates the team. Granted, this fuzziness can produce a lot of gray areas, which can even be messy at times, but removing all the hard lines around people promotes their individual creativity and encourages innovation for the team.

Some things are subject to change quickly

Certain things like vision and values are concrete. They aren’t changeable. In a healthy environment, however, methods of accomplishing the vision are always held loosely. There is no sense of ownership or entitlement to a way of doing things. As needs change, the team can quickly adapt without a ton of push back and resistance. Admittedly, this can cause some uneasiness for those who favor structure. That’s where the fuzziness can get uncomfortable, but the team has an attitude of unity, so even people more resistant to change can embrace it.

I am certainly not promoting fuzziness. I would still aim for clarity – whenever possible. Even in times of uncertainty some things, such as the values which drive the team should be clear. But, just as life is often full of unknowns – even messy – so is life on a healthy team. Figuring out how to navigate through these times and keep the team moving forward together is a part of good leadership.

A Leadership Quandary: To Change or Not to Change

I love continual improvement. I am one of those who actually enjoys change. If things stay the same too long I get bored and begin looking for a new challenge. I even stir things for fun sometimes – just to keep life interesting around me. (This is not always a positive characteristic. Ask my wife.)

Personality aside, however, the truth is not everyjthing needs to be tweaked. Some things are probably working okay, achieving great success, and are best left alone for the time being. Change for the sake of change sake is not always good. When Momma said “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and the other cliché about “the grass is always greener”, she was speaking from some life experience.

There is a fine line between making things better and messing things up. One of the great challenges for the leader is carefully considering the balance intention between instigating change for the good of the organization or team and allowing progress to continue without interference.

Determining when to make change and when to leave things the same is one of the most delicate decisions of leadership, but I know one thing for sure:

It’s working” should also never be the primary reason to avoid change, either.

It could be a reason. But, it should not be the fallback reason or used as an excuse not to change.

There are some indicators change could be needed. A few might be:

  • When energy is starting to wane with the status quo
  • When potentially damaging variables are beginning to impact the organization
  • When change can result in greater efficiency or realization of the organization’s mission
  • When it is clear a change will be needed soon to remain competitive or relevant

Organizations and teams need change. (Churches are included here.)

Change keeps momentum going. At times change is needed simply to build a culture of change. And, you often discover something wonderful you would have never discovered without change.

I am always reminded leaders want to be in environments of change. Leaders are most comfortable when they can explore, take risks, and keep things stirring. There’s a reason marketers are always changing things – it’s not just leaders who want change – people tend to like change too, even when they don’t think they do. (Apple has made a fortune knowing this.)

Sometimes a little change, even a little drama, will motivate a team into action.

There is an example which illustrates a change principle of organizational dynamics.

You’ve seen it happen many times. Your ball team is behind in the game. The referee makes what you and the rest of your team’s fans believe is a bad call. It energizes the crowd and the team and helps spur your team on to victory.

If things are becoming dull or routine in your organization, as the leader you may need to stir up some change, even if it seems disruptive at the time. There are times to change just for the sake of creating more energy. This doesn’t mean you change your overall vision and your attempt should be to make a positive change, but if things are stagnating some change may be needed. It would almost be better to have a change that didn’t work than to allow things continue at a standstill.

So while change isn’t always necessary, “it’s working” shouldn’t keep you from considering change either.

Which makes the decision of when to change that much more difficult, doesn’t it? I almost need a default zone for when to make change and when to leave things alone.

One rule of thumb for me: If there hasn’t been any change recently – chances are good it’s time.

The One Question I Ask When Receiving a Complaint

It would be difficult to be in leadership and not have people upset with a decision you made at some point. In fact, with every decision comes a variety of responses. Leadership guides people places they’ve never been before, so leading always involves change. Change of any kind stirs an emotion, which can be positive or negative. The more the change is uncomfortable the more negative the response may be.

So, receiving complaints or criticism is not a rarity in leadership. It comes with the position. But, there is a question I try to ask every time someone complains to me.

This question is powerful in determining how I will respond.

When I have complaints or criticism I ask a question:

Is the complaint individual or representative?

In other words:

  • Is it one person with a problem or are there multiple people with the same problem, but I’m only hearing from one?
  • Does this complaint represent one person’s opinion or is it representative of a larger number of people?
  • Is it a personal issue to or a public issue to multiples?

The answer is critical to me before I respond.

It doesn’t mean I don’t need to pay attention to the one complainer. Their point may be valuable. They may see something I can’t see. I need their input. And, I listen to them. (I think good listening and responsiveness is part of good leadership.)

But, I also know I can’t please everyone. Some individuals are simply going to disagree with the way I do something. And, some people simply don’t like any change. And, if it’s just one person’s complaint I can listen, we can talk, we can agree to agree or disagree, and we can move forward. I know where I stand with them. 

But, while I listen and respond even to individual criticism, when there is a growing tension among a larger group of people, I know the issue demands even more intentionality.
It may or may not alter my response. Leaders shouldn’t lead to be popular. They lead to do the right thing. We don’t lead alone, but after we’ve done all we can to include others and the decision has been made, we move forward.

But, when a larger group are upset about change it will likely alter the intensity of my response.

I’ve learned when a larger number have the same complaint or criticism, even if we certain about the change, the damage done to the perception of my leadership may disrupt all the other good we are trying to do.

In those cases where the criticism is widespread often its for a few reasons. People don’t understand, because they don’t fully understand why. People haven’t felt included along the way. Or, frankly, some people simply don’t like change and will rebel against it regardless. When I realize the complaint from an individual is representative, I can talk to more people to figure out the root of the problem. I can tell the vision (for the change) more often and tell it in more ways and in more places to help people understand the why behind the change. (Zig Ziglar told me years ago, “When people understand the why they aren’t as concerned with the what.”)

Finally, when I know there are more people involved I can monitor people’s perceptions closer. I’m no longer wondering how one person feels, but I know I have a larger group to track with through the change. (And, again, not to make them happy, but to help them through the process of change.)

Individual or representative? Knowing the difference is huge.

Are You a Better Leader or Manager?

Self-evaluation is good here

Are you more of a leader or a manager?

This may be one of the most important questions we have to answer as our careers take us to new roles.

Every organization needs both. There is no shame in either answer, but it’s important we know the difference. We need to figure out which one we do best and then try to arrange our career where we can realize our best potential.

There are lots of descriptions of each role. I’ve written about it numerous times. And, I understand some argue they are the same. But, I simply don’t believe it.

In the book “Reviewing Leadership”, the authors Banks and Ledbetter write, “Leadership and management are two distinct yet related systems of action. They are similar in that each involves influence as a way to move ideas forward, and both involve working with people. Both are also concerned with end results. Yet the overriding functions of leadership and management are distinct. Management is about coping with complexity – it is responsive. Leadership is about coping with change – it too is responsive, but mostly it is proactive. More chaos demands more management, and more change always demands more leadership. In general, the purpose of management is to provide order and consistency to organizations, while the primary function of leadershp is to produce change and movement.”

I think that’s a great summary of the differences between leadership and management for organizations and individuals to consider.

Too many times we ask good managers to be great leaders or good leaders to be great managers. The problem with being in the wrong fit is we tend to burn out more quickly when we are not able to live out our giftedness. In addition, we frustrate the people we are supposed to be leading or managing and ultimately we keep the organization from being the best it can be.

Do a self-evaluation of which you are more skilled at doing.

Are you a better leader or a better manager?

Don’t try to be someone you are not.

Through experience I’ve learned I identify with one of these roles more than the other. One description fires me up and the other drains me. (Can you guess which one fires me up?) One comes more naturally for me and the other I struggle to learn – and attempt to delegate when possible.

What about you? Are you in your proper fit? Do you see the difference?

How You’re Perceived as a Leader May Be More Important

Than how you lead

I have learned how your team sees you may be more important than who you are as a leader. The perception people have about you matters greatly

Obviously, character is most important. Integrity matters even more than perception.

You’ll often be misunderstood and you can’t please everyone. In fact, somedays, as a leader – it seems – you can’t please anyone.

So I’d rather know my character is genuine, be loved most by those who know me best, than to be perceived one way, yet actually be someone different in reality. I don’t care about a false perception.

The reality of the success of a leader, however, may depend more on how you are viewed by the people you lead than it does on what you do as a leader. I’ve learned, often the hard way, that the two are not always the same.

  • Do they see you more as an agent of empowerment or an agent of control?
  • Do they see you more as a champion for their ideas or a killer of their dreams?
  • Do they see you more as a proponent of change or a protector of tradition?
  • Do they see you as a friend of progress or the enemy of success?
  • Do they believe you will protect them when their back is turned?
  • Do they think you have their best interest ahead of your  own?
  • Do they genuinely believe your heart is fully committed to the team?

Much of your success as a leader will depend on the perception you create among the people you attempt to lead. They will follow closer when their perception of you is for them more than for you – or against them. Of course, perception is created by how you lead, but sometimes – just as vision does – perception leaks. And, people form perceptions regardless of whether or not you do anything. Perceptions may or may not be reality. I must be keenly aware of this principle, so by my words and deeds I can be even more intentional to build my perception in their mind.

Candidly. I’ve seen this go in seasons in my leadership. I’ve often had to reinforce my perception in their minds. It could be after a busy or stressful time, when their is tension on the team, or during times of change. They need to perceive I’m still the leader they want to follow.

If you’re still trying to get your mind around my thoughts, here is an example. We recently made some rather significant changes to our organizational structure. It will mean fewer people report directly to me. When we announced the changes I reiterated my open door policy and availability to our staff will continue. For people who work with me long they have learned this is how I lead. But, human nature kicks in for all of us. And, change evokes an emotional response – which helps shape people’s perceptions. I wlll need to take intentional actions in the weeks ahead to make sure the perception of my leadership is as strong as my actual leadership.

Have you ever known a leader who thought he or she was doing better than the team thought?