What Church Experts Won’t Tell You About Pastoral Leadership

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There are some things the church experts speaking into pastoral leadership won’t tell you. 

To be clear, I believe in listening to people considered experts in their field. I serve as a consultant and coach to pastors and churches. I hope my work is helpful. Some even refer to me as an “expert” in leadership – to which I would tell them I’m still very much in the apprentice stage in many ways. I do have lots of leadership experience – good and bad.

For example, not claiming to be an expert in crisis leadership, but I once helped lead a city through a tornado recovery serving in elected office. You might want to read my posts on things to do and not to do in times of crisis leadership. Prior experience helped me lead in the pandemic.

Early in the pandemic, I posted about voices that church leaders should be listening to – and voices I was listening to also. I mentioned a number of church experts in that post, so I do believe they have value.

But when the experts blog, podcast, or show up at your door, there are some things they simply won’t tell you. And knowing what they aren’t going to tell you may help you better implement their suggestions. 

7 things church experts won’t tell you: 

It’s hard – and there are no easy fixes.

I tweeted recently – “In my experience, decisions are easier to make when you aren’t the one who is actually having to make them.” It was while we were making some of the hardest decisions we had to make in a pandemic. People were so divided in our church and community.

There were lots of “expert” opinions about how to capitalize on the moment and win the digital world for Christ. And I’m an advocate for all of that. I believe in it and think we should. But it wasn’t that easy for most of our churches (certainly not the 180 plus year old one I was trying to lead at the time). 

I heard from so many pastors feeling the same way as me I decided to pin the tweet to the top of my Twitter account for a while. 

Formulas won’t always work.

What makes sense and seems to work for others may not work for you. It is a matter of context. The small, rural church may not be able to pivot towards a fully digital expression, for example. Even though I have said with a computer and strong internet connection I think you could change the world, that simply might not work for the people who attend Full Freedom Baptist in Knuckledown, USA. (And I just made up that church and city. I hope it isn’t a real place. If so, I apologize for picking on you.) 

One reason I never come into a church with an already built playbook is that I want to learn the landscape of the church first. There are “formulas” or models that work well and should be considered. I may even recommend some of them once I learn the context of the church. But the best of them won’t work every time and everywhere. 

You’re not all that wrong.

Sometimes when you read a blog post (maybe even one of mine) you start feeling you’re doing everything wrong. Likely you are not. Sometimes a little tweak can make a huge difference. Often the answers are in the room and it is the job of leadership to draw it out of your people. 

They learn from you.

This is huge. You have to know their expertise is coming from somewhere. I think we mistakenly believe these experts are simply geniuses that have all the right ideas. Most likely they became experts by observing 100 ministry leaders like you. They are watching what some are doing to figure out what others might or could do.

When I consult with churches, I always come back with great ideas. They pay me to pick up tricks from them. (Isn’t that cool?) Collaborative learning is so important in the church and in the Kingdom. And it is happening. 

Innovation is NOT in the extremes.

Again, it might be that you need a complete overhaul of your church. If nothing has changed in 20 years it is probably time. I love to talk about church revitalization and often major changes are needed. But sometimes what has worked in the past can work again. What you need is a little more energy behind it and perhaps some new ways to celebrate it.

In church revitalization, one of my favorite encouragements was to “rediscover don’t reinvent”. Everything may not be broken. 

They don’t have a magic potion.

No person does. That would be the voice of the Holy Spirit in your ear. If you hear that, run with it – fast and hard. Yet, if you have led in the church for long you know God often allows us to wrestle through situations. I believe it is how He builds our character, keeps us on our knees and allows us to develop principles through pain that can help others. (2 Corinthians 1) 

They are an opinion.

Having served many years in the business world let me tell you the same is true of auditors or attorneys. For that matter, it is true for church members too. Don’t assume because “Expert So and So” predicts something that this is the way it will always be. It could be. Certainly it is worth considering and filtering for context. But it isn’t the “Gospel truth”. It is their educated opinion – which might or might not be correct. 

One reason I like to have an active role in a local church is so I stay relevant to the work actually being done. Another leadership saying of mine is “You can’t see what I see until you sit where I sit“. I believe that is so true of pastoring a local church these days. Context is everything, so experts won’t tell you what they simply don’t know.

I intend this post as an encouragement to my fellow pastors. It is not meant to downplay the great work the outside thinkers, consultants and voices are providing – many whom are my friends. We need them and we need to listen to them. But we need to use them as a source of information – not THE source of information. 

Nate and I have launch a new season of the Ron Edmondson Leadership Podcast soon. Subscribe now so you don’t miss the next one.

7 Ways to Keep Leaders on Your Team

By | Business, Church Planting, Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | No Comments

One of the biggest challenges for any organization is to attract and retain leaders. Yesterday I posted 7 reasons leaders tend to leave an organization. (Read that post HERE.) The goal then is to find ways to keep a leader energized to stay with the team. I never want to stop someone from pursuing a better opportunity, but I don’t want to send them away because I didn’t help them stay.

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5 Ways Leadership Can’t Be “Normal” Anymore

By | Business, Church Planting, Innovation, Leadership | One Comment

If an organization wishes to be successful today, it must learn to think outside the once considered normal lines of leadership. Research after research has been done and book after book has been written on the subject of leadership being as much these days about the informal aspects of leadership as it is the formal aspects of leadership. In addition to a set of rules, policies and procedures, for a leader to be successful today, he or she must engage a team to help accomplish the vision of the organization. In an informal leadership environment, the way a leader leads is often more important than the knowledge or management abilities of the leader. That may have always been important, but now it is critical.

Here are 5 examples of how a successful leader must lead in today’s environment:

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7 Indicators You are Serving on a Dysfunctional Team

By | Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | No Comments

Chances are, if you’ve served on very many teams, you’ve served on one which is dysfunctional. It appears to me we have many to choose from in the organizational world. There are no perfect teams. And we are all dysfunctional at some level and during some seasons.

In case you’re wondering- my definition of a dysfunctional team – in simple terms – is one which cannot operate at peak efficiency and performance, because it is impacted by too many negative characteristics. There’s more going wrong than right more days than not.

In my experience, there are commonalities of dysfunction. If you have been on dysfunctional teams before you’ve probably seen one or more of the common traits.

See if any of these seem familiar.

7 indicators of dysfunctional teams:

Team members talk about each other more than to each other.

The atmosphere is passive aggressive. Problems are never really addressed, because conflict is avoided. The real problems are continually ignored or excused.

Mediocrity is celebrated.

Everything may even be labeled “amazing”. Nothing ever really develops or improves because no one has or inspires a vision bigger than what the team is currently experiencing.

It’s never “our” fault.

It’s the completion or the culture or the times in which we live. No one takes responsibility. And everyone passes blame. Will the real leader please stand up?

Communication usually brings more tension than progress.

There may be lots of information, but it’s not packaged in a way which brings clarity. No one knows or recognizes a win.

The mention of change makes everyone nervous.

Either change is rare, or it’s been instituted wrong in the past. Any real progress must be forced or controlled.

Only the leader gets recognition or can make decisions.

Team members never feel valued or appreciated. No one feels empowered. The leader uses words like “I” or “my” more than “we” or “us”.

There are competing visions, goals or objectives.

It’s every team member for his or herself. The strategy or future direction isn’t clear.

According to my observations have you served on dysfunctional teams?

Granted, every team goes through each of these during certain seasons. And, again, there are no perfect teams. But if there are at least two or three of these at work current I’d say it’s a good time to evaluate the team’s health and work to make things healthier.

Nate and I have finished our fall semester at the Ron Edmondson Leadership Podcast. New episodes will begin in early 2021. Subscribe now so you don’t miss the next one.

7 Excuses “Leaders” Use for Not Leading Well

By | Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership | No Comments

In my experience in the business world and church, it seems we are desperate for good leadership. Organizations and teams thrive on good leadership. Yet, I’ve seen some leaders make excuses for not leading well.

As much as we need good leaders, it seems whenever I meet a leader struggling in their role, rather than admit it could be them, often I only hear excuses. It must be easier to pass blame than to own the problem as our own.

In full disclosure, I’ve probably been as guilty as anyone at times in my leadership career.

The excuses, however, are fairly common.

7 excuses I’ve heard – or used – for not leading well:

I don’t know how.

With each new season in leadership there will be a learning curve. If you’re leading, then your introducing change – you’re taking people somewhere they haven’t been before. This means there will be lots of unknowns in your world for a while. But, don’t use this as an excuse. Learn. Take a course. Get a mentor. Read some books. Ask better questions. Grow as a leader.

I can’t get people to follow my lead.

Well, we may have to check our leadership definition, but don’t give up. If God has called you to this – discover how to motivate people. Most people will follow someone if you’re taking them somewhere they need to go, but aren’t sure how to get there.

Make sure you have a vision worth following, learn to communicate well and do all you can to help people attain it. In terms of communicating well – I often tell pastors – you’re best “sermon” may be the one you give to motivate people towards the change or vision. Early in my leadership career I participated in an organization called Toastmasters to help train as a communicator.

I can’t keep up!

This can be a legitimate excuse at times – leadership can be overwhelming with the amount of change in our world, but we shouldn’t let it remain this way. Leaders have to learn to pace themselves. You have to surround yourself with others who can help carry the load. You can’t try to do everything or control every outcome. Learn delegation.

And don’t try to change everything at once. My rule of thumb is to be working on no more than 3 major changes at a time. This requires patience, because I may see 100 things which need to change. The only thing which works well though when I try to do too much at one time is I get to add to my excuses for not leading well.

No one taught me how to lead.

That might be true. I have found many leaders are terrible at reproducing leaders. We don’t apprentice well. So, what are you going to do about it? Leaders find solutions to problems. They don’t let problems become the excuse.

Learn from experience. It’s the best teacher anyway. Learn from trying. Learn from watching others. Just learn. It’s never too late to learn something new.

Times have changed.

This is true also. Times have changed. Cultures have changed. The workforce has changed. And they will keep changing – fast!

Good leaders adapt accordingly. They discover new approaches. They don’t make excuses.

I don’t have the right team.

Well, instead of using it as an excuse, you have a few options. Give them a better leader – you. Train and empower them. Figure out what’s keeping them from being the “right team”.

Or get a new team.

I’m suffering from burnout!

This excuse can be real. It happens to all of us at times – especially in a year like this. But don’t settle for this one. Get help. Heal. Rest. Renew. Regroup.

Get healthier so you can lead again. Sometimes stopping for a while is your best answer – even amidst the busiest times.

I’m not trying to be sarcastic, arrogant, or unsympathetic with this post. I realize each of these deserve their own post. I really do believe, however, good leadership is mostly finding a worthy vision, recruiting the right people and discovering ways to help people get there. And we get better the more we practice.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring a spiritual aspect into this – I am a pastor. My best leadership book is the Bible. My best leader example is Jesus. And I have learned when I am being obedient to Him I lead better naturally. It doesn’t mean everything falls into place beautifully – it does mean I have all I need to lead – even when everything around me is a mess.

Seriously, look over the list again. Are there any of them that can’t be overcome with a little determination?

Let’s stop the excuses and make better leaders!

Check out our new podcast where we unpack leadership issues in a applicable and practical way.

5 Stages All Organizations Experience

By | Change, Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership | One Comment

Every organization goes through life cycles. In fact, there are five stages all organizations experience.

(These are not my terms. I learned them years ago in a management class and can’t find where to attribute them. The explanation of terms and application is mine.)

I realize these are secular terms, and the church is not subject to the “rules” of a secular organization. At the same time, I have observed they are also true for most churches.

Leaders who recognize them and adapt to them can continue to experience health and growth in the organization. Two things to understand. First, each stage has overlap. Also, individual areas within the organization may also have similar life cycles.

5 life cycles of any organization:

Birth

This founding period usually involves a few people with a big vision. This is the initial stage where learning takes place and the organization begins to develop leaders – sometimes by trial and error. Everyone on the team at this point has the potential to become a leader.

Having planted a couple churches, we launched one with one staff member (me), my wife, and twenty or so people. The other was with three staff members, our wives, and eleven couples. Each member of both teams were forced to lead areas outside their comfort level. We gained some of our best leaders that way and several people found a passion they did not know they had. In both church plants, which grew quickly, this stage lasted less than one year.

Childhood 

A deepening and maturity process begins at this stage. The organization still has few policies and procedures in place and everything is still “fun”, with the excitement of still being a young vision. New leadership develops and responsibilities spread to new people within the organization. Mistakes are common as the organization figures out its identity. The DNA of the organization begins to form. In this stage, the organization begins to recognize its need for more structure.

This was a fun stage and time for both church plants. The normal for this stage appears to end in three to five years. For larger organizations, this could be a longer time frame.

Adolescence

Greater levels of responsibility are handed out to more people and the weight of responsibility spreads within the organization. The organization has had some success at this point and so it begins to take new risks and dream new and bigger dreams. This is a continued growth time and usually full of renewed energy.

If the organization is not careful some of the initial leaders of the organization can begin to experience burnout; and often a loss of power as new leaders emerge.

More developed structure becomes necessary at this point and the organization must begin to think about maintaining growth. Organizations are forced to “grow up” during this stage. It usually happens in the first ten years, but again, this may depend on the size of the organization.

Maturity

At this stage, the organization has many experiences of success and some failure. The organization must begin to think through continued growth and health as an organization. The organization needs constant renewal and regeneration to remain current and viable. Leadership has been developed, but the organization begins to plan out succession of leaders.

The structure of the organization is usually well established by this point, but must remain flexible enough to adapt to changes outside the organization. At some point all organizations enter this phase. The goal at this point needs to shift into breathing new life into the organization.

(A lot of churches reach this stage and cease to change and grow, often steeped in their own traditions, and this is where plateau begins.)

Renewal

It is sad, but this stage almost always has to be forced on an organization. Either by leadership or for survival purposes, something new must occur or the organization will eventually die or cease to be viable. This can be scary for people, but it does not mean the organization must leave its vision, traditions, or culture, but it must consider new ways of realizing its potential.

Some will say renewal comes at each stage of the organization’s life cycle. That may be true, but I contend there is a definite stage in a healthy life cycle where an organization improves and almost reinvents itself to continue to experience health and growth.

Another thing to remember is that the speed of an organization’s growth can cause life cycles to complete much quicker. Consider the child who has to face adult decisions early in life and is forced to “grow up fast”. A similar thing happens to organizations.

Check out our new podcast where we unpack leadership issues in a applicable and practical way.

Don’t Address the HOW until you Address the WHAT

By | Church, Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Team Leadership | No Comments

I have a simple leadership principle. Don’t address HOW you are going to do something until you decide WHAT you are going to do. Or if you’re even going to do it.

I’ve seen it many times.

You have an idea – it’s not a bad idea – it may even be a great idea. You just don’t know yet. As soon as you present the idea the team instantly starts to ask tons of question, begin implementing the plan, and gets bogged down in details.

And then, after time of discussion – sometimes hours – the team decides its not a good idea after all.

Here’s my advice. I use this with the teams I lead.

Spend your energies at first on deciding whether it’s an idea worth pursuing.

The WHAT.

The what is “what” you are going to do. The current dream you have moving forward. The overall objective. The big picture of what’s next.

Decide the what – what are you doing or not doing – before you spend a lot of energy on the mechanics of the idea.

The HOW.

The how is how you are going to do the what. These are the details. The nuts and bolts working plan. You may have to talk about some of the how to decide the what, but spend your first, best and most energy on the what.

For example, let’s say you have an idea to add a third church service to allow for more growth – or maybe you are thinking of going multi-site – or the idea could be to launch an online campus. Don’t spend too much time on the how, until you decide the what.

Ask hard questions such as:

Is this an idea worth pursuing? Are we willing to give it a try? Has this been birthed in prayer? Do we believe this is something we are supposed to do?

Yes or no?

Spending too much time on the how before you address the what:

  • Gets you bogged down in details you may never need.
  • Wastes energy which could be used elsewhere if you aren’t going to do the what.
  • Solves problems you don’t yet and may never have.
  • Creates division about change prematurely.
  • Builds momentum before it’s time. (And, it’s harder to build momentum a second time.

When you know you’re going to do the what – you have to, you’re called to, it’s what or bust – you’ll figure out the how. You’ll find a way to make it happen. You’ll have more passion, clarity and energy to address the how.

Try that next time an idea surfaces and is discussed by your team.

Note: This is assuming, of course, you already know your “why” as an organization. You know why you are doing whatever you are doing. This post addresses a more specific aspect of realizing the vision. If you don’t yet have the why – start there.

Check out our new podcast where we unpack leadership issues in a applicable and practical way.

RELP – Episode 9 – 4 Realities Every Senior Leader Sets for the Team

By | Church Planting, Church Revitalization, Leadership, Podcast | 7 Comments

In this episode of The Ron Edmondson Leadership Podcast, Ron and Nate discuss four realities every senior leader sets for the team.

One reason leadership can make a person feel isolated is the weight of responsibility on the one who serves as the senior leader in an organization. That has been even truer while leading during a pandemic. Whether in the business world, non-profits or in churches, there are some things which happen in any organization that senior leaders help determine – whether intentional or not. In each of these cases, inactivity also determines them just as much as activity.

The weight of this responsibility can be overwhelming at times, but it’s unavoidable to a point. It comes with the position.

All that said, the senior leader doesn’t have to do everything. Successful senior leaders are cognizant of their input in a few key areas and place intentional energy towards them, freeing the team to lead elsewhere.

I hope this episode helps you be a better leader.

Would you do me a favor? If you enjoyed listening to this episode of The Ron Edmondson Leadership Podcast where we discussed four realities every senior leader sets for the team, would you subscribe, share and leave a positive review about this podcast? We are enjoying doing this together, but it is especially encouraging when we know it is helping other church leaders. Thank you in advance for doing this. It is a great help.

Also, let me know leadership issues you would like us to cover on future episodes.

And be sure to check out all the great podcasts on the Lifeway Leadership Podcast Network.