Thoughts on Firing People in Ministry

Unemployment

This is a difficult post. About a difficult issue. One we don’t necessarily like to talk about. But sometimes we must.

I came out of a business background, so some things that are done in ministry are different for me. And, frankly, many should be. Ministry isn’t business…it’s ministry. At the same time, we should never use “ministry” as an excuse to waste Kingdom dollars. We need good practices of financial accountability. Just as the business world has to have in place simply to stay in business…we need them in ministry so that we stay in ministry. What we do is too important not to consider every dollar.

And, also frankly speaking, that hasn’t always been my experience in ministry.

One prime example is in the area of staffing…people who are paid by the church. I’ve seen and encountered numerous times where staff people were allowed to continue drawing salaries from a church when their effectiveness is in serious question. Everyone knows something needs to be done, but no one is willing to make the hard decision.

One of the hardest decisions any leader ever makes is to release someone from their employment. It should never be taken lightly. It always hurts. It is never easy. It wasn’t in business and it isn’t in ministry. But, sometimes it’s the right thing to do. And, it seems in ministry we are often much slower…if ever…to get there.

I was talking with a pastor recently who knows he needs to make a hard decision regarding a member of his staff, but he simply hasn’t been able to garner the support or gumption to do it. This person isn’t productive (and isn’t trying to be), has a damaging personality on the team, and continues to work against the pastor’s leadership. The pastor has counseled with the person, has agreement from elders that something needs to be done, but no one has been willing to make the hard decision. And, this has been the case for years…not months…years. In the meantime, Kingdom dollars are admittedly being wasted. (I have had that same conversation numerous times with other pastors.)

Many times, in my experience, churches haven’t made the decision because of fear and they use ministry simply as an excuse. After having this discussion countless times with church leaders, I felt the need to address it. (Please know, I’m talking strictly about poor performance, not about those who lose their jobs because of tightening budgets. That’s a growing issue, but not one I’m addressing here.)

Here are some of the objections I’ve encountered:

We love the person – Of course. We love everyone. It’s what we are called to do. Is that a good reason to empower bad behavior or to waste Kingdom dollars?

We don’t want to hurt their family – Of course not. And we should be gracious and generous in the exit strategy, and be willing to walk with the person through the recovery process as much as is reasonable and welcomed by the released person. But are we not hurting families who sacrifice and give to the church by misusing their resources on an ineffective staff member?

We are afraid we haven’t extended enough grace – I understand. We are to extend grace, but hasn’t there been a lot of grace given to allow the person to stay this long? When does truth come into play?

We are afraid of the ripple effects – That’s understandable. You should always consider how decisions will impact others. Yet the reality is you probably have ripple effects now anyway. You are injuring other ministries and jeopardizing future progress by delaying what you know you need to do. It will only get more difficult with time. At some point you may have to cut your losses.

Leaders have to make hard decisions. We should first do everything within our power to redeem the person’s job. (We did that in business too. It’s much more efficient to retain an existing employee than to hire a new one.) But, protecting the vision for all may involve tough love for others. Many times when we delay decisions like this we delay the healing that needs to occur and the benefits of making the right (and difficult) decision. Also, we send a dangerous message that it’s acceptable to do whatever this person isn’t doing or is doing that merits being let go.

Notice I didn’t say this was easy. But genuine leadership never is easy. Don’t use ministry as an excuse. Pray about the matter diligently. Do everything in your power to redeem the person. Work through due process. Get wise advice from others before you make the decision. But, when the answer is clear what you need to do…do it.

Let me close with a word to those who have lost or may some day lose your job because of poor performance. I am not insensitive to your plight. In fact, I’ve helped numerous people pick up the pieces and begin again. I’ve hired people who were fired from a job and some of them made the best team members.

Sometimes being let go allows God an opportunity to do something new in your life…even something better. If you made mistakes, own them and learn from them. There is grace to begin again. Sometimes it was a matter of fit more than anything else, but whatever the reason, grow from it and let God restore the broken pieces. He specializes in restoration.

Okay, I’ve opened a can of worms. Please know I’m not trying to add insult to injury. These are difficult issues and should be prayerfully considered. They certainly, however, shouldn’t be ignored.

Would a post on some thoughts on how to do this gracefully help?

Ann Voscamp: 3 Game Changing Principles for Life – Catalyst

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Ann Voskamp spoke at Catalyst Conference recently. Her Twitter bio says, “Wife to the Farmer: Mama to 6: Author of One Thousand Gifts (Zondervan: NYTimes Besteller) Seeking to follow One alone.”

Her message was one of my favorite talks, possibly because it spoke to me in this season of my life. She kept her audience captive throughout her talk. It was a powerful message.

I also learned Ann is an introvert like me, so even though I saw her at a backstage event, I didn’t bug her. I just processed her message.

Here are my notes from Ann’s talk:

  • “You can’t walk anywhere honestly and authentically apart from His promises”
  • “Nothing can overwhelm you like his grace can overtake you.”
  • “The enemy only has two battle plans. To blind you from who God is and blind to who you are in Him”

Three game-changing principles for absolutely everyone…including pastors…

From Jehoshaphat’s story in 2 Chronicles 20:

1. When overwhelmed. Pause.

  • It’s counter cultural and counter to our natural inclination, but it’s Christlike.
  • Only then we will remember who we are in Christ and live out of our identity.

2. Be present to His presence in the present moment.

  • Enter into His presence with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is always the right response to the presence of God.
  • I know who God is…He is good. In one minute you have your identity.

3. Pour – We can only pour out of the filling of His presence.

  • So many of us spend so much time fighting tomorrow’s battle with worry and yesterday’s battle with regret that they can’t live effectively within the battlefield of the present.
  • Why would we rather strive hard for Jesus than be satisfied with what Jesus has already done for us?
  • If you want your love to change the world, slow down enough to enjoy more of His love.

This was a life-giving message for me. Thanks Ann. Thanks Catalyst.

4 Things For Profits Can Learn From Non-profits

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I’ve been in vocational ministry…my primary income came from ministry work…non-profits…for over ten years now. My professional career, however, is much longer. I had over 20 years in management and leadership positions in secular (for profit) work prior to ministry.

Recently I heard a great talk from Jeff Henderson (read my notes HERE), on what non-profits can learn from for profits. I agreed with the points Jeff made.

In discussing the talk with one of my sons, he asked a great question. He asked, “What have you learned in the church (non-profit) work that could have helped you in business (for profit)?”

Great question. I love that my boys are old enough to start challenging my thought process and make me better.

Here are 4 things for profits could learn from non-profits:

People matter – In the church or non-profit world…the vision…almost always involves people (or living parts of creation)…above profit. Hence the “non-profit”. Frankly, that can be frustrating for those of us who like our balance sheets and income statements to reflect financial health, but I’ve learned…often the hard way…that why we are doing what we are doing is most important. Improving the overall health or spiritual well being of a child, for example, is more important even than having a positive cash flow at the end of the month. (That said…my business minded friends are thinking…without positive cash flow…in time we will cease to make any difference in the child’s life…but the point is people matter most. The for profit world could many times stand a lesson in that truth.)

It’s the little things – It. Always. Is. In business, we tended to move towards and place our energy on the big. Big projects. Big profit. Big customers. We knew the small things mattered, but the big seemed to overshadow that in our actions. If the numbers were big…we could ignore that someone was a real jerk to work with others…for example. In the ministry and non-profit world, we’ve learned that many times the little things matter most. When the father who has never been to church shows up one Sunday…small deal to some…big deal to us. We see the potential. The smallest moments of time can often be the biggest excitement for us.

Money is not enough – We know this because we seldom seem to have money. And yet the work must continue. So we have to get real creative at times. We’ve learned it’s more about the people involved than the budget. We would rather have the funds, but in lieu of that, we adapt. The best non-profits are real good at utilizing volunteer labor and rallying people to support a cause.

At the end of the day, what you do for others is most important – We love visions. We love progress. We love strategies and systems and structure. We’ve actually gotten pretty good at them. But, if you check our heartbeat…if you measured our pulse…we get most excited when others succeed. We dance at the betterment of people we love. And, we love people. It makes he DNA of who we are as churches and non-profits. A few for profits I know could learn from us in this area.

The bottom line is that both worlds have things we can learn from each other. Often what appears to be opposing mindsets may be complimentary if we allowed them to work for us rather than against us.

So, here’s a thought…what if non-profits got together with for profits? And for profits got together with non-profits? And we learn from each other? Just a thought.

One way I’ve done this is to form leadership circles I meet with regularly, comprised of leaders from both sectors. It is proving valuable for all of us.

What else could for profits learn from non-profits?  

Dr. Henry Cloud – Boundaries for Leaders – Catalyst

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Dr Henry Cloud is a popular psychologist and author. I have recommended his book “Boundaries” dozens of times. We all need them in our life.

Recently Cloud released the book “Boundaries for Leaders”. It’s a needed book. He spoke to us about it at the Catalyst conference.

His ultimate theme for the presentation:

Proper boundaries for leaders help us to be productive for the long haul.

An outline of that process:

1. Pay attention to what’s most important. (Ultimately our identity in Christ.)

  • Understand and know our identity.
  • What is it that you’re good at doing? What in your life needs attention now?
  • Written visions are more likely to be achieved.
  • Have guard rails of what you need to focus on now. Don’t let 86 other things interfere. And over time your mind will begin to form around your true identity (of what’s important).

2. Positive emotional climate. Built up in your true identity in Christ.

  • A traumatized brain divides…into two parts. The creative side, that can think through decision making.
  • Other side of brain is a defensive mode. If a train is coming at us we don’t have time to think. Just react defensively.
  • But we need the thinking side to realize our true identity.
  • To live in the reality that God is generous with grace and wisdom.
  • James 1:5…He will give wisdom…without finding fault.

3. Relational Connection

  • Someone to walk through the process with us.
  • Someone to hold us accountable. Disciple us.

4. Control

  • Learn to self-control.
  • God designed our brain where it loves to have control.
  • We were designed for self-control. But we try to control everything else out of our control, instead of ourselves.
  • The number one factor in accomplishing a goal is believing that we can.
  • Believing, by faith, that God can make in us who He has designed us to be. Our identity is in Christ.

My notes, of course, are just an outline…perhaps you need to read the book. I intend to soon. While this is not a post with an intent to promote the book, Cloud’s books have been helpful to me in life and leadership. From this talk, I believe this one will be likewise.

Let Hope In – By Pete Wilson

Let Hope In

One of the parts I miss about being gone from the Nashville area is I no longer get to see my friend Pete Wilson. Thankfully, I can keep up with him through his writing. And, I’ll read whatever he writes. Pete has a way of packaging thoughts into an easy to digest and apply way. I love his most recent book “Let Hope In“, because I believe it’s what we need the most these days…hope. The church must be an agent of hope for a dark world. In this guest post, Pete shares some thoughts about hope as it relates to leadership. Enjoy.

Let Hope In – By Pete Wilson

I’ve always heard that hurt people, hurt people. I agree with this sentiment and would take it a step further and say that if hurt people, hurt people then hurt leaders, hurt LOTS of people.

I realize that in my position of leadership, my hurt, my patterns of sin, and my unaddressed issues can bring a tremendous amount of pain to the people entrusted to my leadership.

I think somewhere along the way, we leaders, (especially Christian leaders) have bought into this idea that we should be “beyond” or “above” being hurt. We think, “if I were a stronger Christian, then I wouldn’t hurt so much“.

This misconception has created a lot of habits for us. It’s why we keep secrets. It’s why we can put on facades and pretend we’re someone we’re not. We’ve learned how to say one thing and mean another, and how to hide fear and deceit behind a fake smile.

We learned how to respond to the question, “How are you?” with “I’m fine.” But deep down we know this isn’t true. We’re not fine. We’re not fine at all.

We are…

Hurting,
Lonely,
Confused,
Frightened.

And in the midst of these whirling emotions I’m often tempted to want to exchange friends for fans, relationships for respect, and intimacy for influence.

Can I offer you a bit of advice as you head into the last 3 months of the year? Don’t be seduced by life on the pedestal.

Part of what I write about in my new book Let Hope In is that we are leaders but first we are human. We hurt, bleed, suffer, doubt, and stumble just like anyone else. We must learn to allow Christ to transform our pain or we’ll just transfer it to the people we lead.

I Need Wisdom…You Do Too!

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I’m at Catalyst conference this week again. It has been a couple years since I have been here and I missed it. I didn’t decide until recently to attend, but was grateful at the opportunity to blog from here. The catalyst for this particular post may have been the reason I came.

I sat in on a session by Dr. Henry Cloud. He’s a popular (and one of my favorite) author of the book “Boundaries”. Recently he wrote the book “Boundaries for Leaders.” I may blog later about his talk, but one line he said prompted my thought process far beyond just what he said. I guess that’s what conferences are supposed to do…aren’t they?

He quoted James 1:5:

Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him.

The part that jumps out at me is the two words “without criticizing”. Powerful. Life altering. Needed.

Maybe this is just for me. Perhaps you need it too.

God wants to share His wisdom with us. Nothing new there. He does it in various way…through His Word…through others…through life experiences. Nothing new there.

But, He does it without criticizing.

He knows you don’t know. He knows you make mistakes. He knows you need help. He knows you mess up. He knows you need more wisdom…which is why He’s willing to share it in the first place. Duh! Of course! So, you aren’t disappointing Him when you don’t know how to do what He’s calling you to do!

Thinking you should have the answer…just because you’ve been doing this pastor/leader thing a while…is dumb! You don’t have all the answers. In fact, when you pretend you do you are evidencing the reality of this post and proving you are very misguided.

God shares wisdom…when we seek it…without criticizing us for needing wisdom.

What wisdom do you need today?

Seek it! Unashamedly!

10 Sets of Words We Often Confuse in Leadership, Part 1

Words

I’ve noticed we confuse a lot of words in leadership. They seem related, and are often used interchangeably, but they are very different. I decided to break this post into two parts, so I will share 5 more in the next post.

Here are words we often confuse:

Possibility with probability – Just because something has a chance of happen, doesn’t necessarily mean the chances are good. In making changes, for example, I want to know what’s possible…what might happen…but also what is probable…what probably will happen. The leader needs to be clear as to the risk involved…not pretending a possibility is a probability…and vice versa.

Opportunity with obligation – Just because I could do something…doesn’t mean I have to do it or even that I should. This is incredibly important for those of us who struggle to say no at times. We could easily become ineffective if we make every opportunity an obligation.

Challenge with impossibility – Sometimes we dismiss the hard work, because it seems impossible, when really, if we are honest, it’s just a bigger challenge than we are willing to accept. We don’t always like the things that make us walk by faith into the unknown. But, really, what’s impossible if it’s of God? I know numerous pastors, for example, who have made change in the church they pastor seem impossible, when really it’s just harder to implement than they care to tackle, so they live with status quo.

Delegation with assignment – Some leaders I know confuse assigning someone a task with delegating. Delegating is far more than that. Giving an assignment is easy. I tell someone what to do and get to walk away from it. Delegating involves much more. It’s ensuring the person assigned a task has the skills, knowledge and resources to complete the task and then following through with them until the task is complete.

Responsibility with authority – This is a personal pet peeve of mine. Responsibility means I have to do it. Authority means I have the actual ability to get it done in a way that matches my skills and talents. If you want me to be a good follower…give me responsibility. If you want me to develop as a leader, and feel like a valuable part of the team…give me authority.

I will share 5 more next time. I also realize all of these could be blog posts of their own. I have expanded on some of them previously. Which would you like me to expand upon?

Add to this post. Maybe even guess some I will have next time (It’s already written, but can always be improved). Can you think of any other words we confuse in leadership?

5 of the Worst Leadership Traits I’ve Observed

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Someone asked me a great question recently. It came from a young pastor. He appears to be doing a great job leading, but he wants to do better. I admire that. I hope he (and I) continue that attitude throughout his career (and mine).

His question was this:

Knowing what you know now about leadership, what would you say are the biggest traps to avoid? What are the worst leadership traits that you’ve seen limit a leader’s potential to lead well?

That’s a hard question, because depending on the circumstances I think there could be many different answers. I wrote the “most dangerous” traits previously, but this question seemed different to me. It wasn’t addressing the dangerous traits, as much as the ones that were just bad. You can have these and perhaps still see some success as a leader, but they are still bad leadership traits….the worst. And they keep one from leading well. Eventually, they may derail a leader if not addressed.

There are many I’ve observed. I’ve seen laziness, for example, cripple a leader. But, with the right team around him or her, even a lazy leader can experience success. I thought of incompetence, but I have seen some dumb leaders (like me at times) smart enough to surround themselves with wise people. But, what about the worst?

So, I’ve narrowed my list to the following 5 of the worst traits I’ve observed personally. Feel free to disagree or add to my list. I certainly don’t have all the answers.

Here are 5 of the worst leadership traits I’ve observed:

Poor character – Nothing can overcome a flawed character. Dishonesty in a leader, for example, will always overshadow even the most worthy vision. You can’t hide a corrupt heart. Immorality always shines brighter than competence or ability. And it can be argued whether it should be called success, but I’ve seen some bad characters leading what appears to be very successful organizations.

Avoidance – The leader who ignores problems invites trouble to the church or organization. Problems never go away on their own. They fester and eventually explode. It may take a long time for them to be exposed but they will eventually catch up with the leader. Yet I have seen some leaders survive a long time while avoiding the real problems.

Indecisiveness – Every decision a leader makes is subject to opinion and there are always at least two. Most of the time many more. But, leaders are called to make decisions when no one else can or will. Indecisiveness stalls progress and frustrates people. Yet I have talked with countless staff members of very large church who say their senior pastor can’t or won’t make decisions.

Control – Inflexibility on the part of a leader limits the church or organization to the level of performance solely of the leader. That’s always bad. Even if the person is a genius, there’s a lid placed upon the organization or church’s future. People feel squashed of their potential and under appreciated, producing half-heartedness and poor morale. Who needs that? But, there are still growing organizations with controlling leaders (I didn’t say healthy…growing).

Pride – Perhaps the worst trait I’ve personally observed is the arrogance of a leader. It turns people away in disgust when they hear a leader brag on all his or her accomplishments. The braggart feels good personally, but is never as popular as he or she perceives. I’ve found if a leader is really good at what they do, they won’t have to tell others about it. And, yet, know any arrogant leaders who apparently lead “successful” organizations…even churches?

That’s my list. Again, these are all bad leadership traits, in my opinion and observation. Some will argue you couldn’t have these and lead successfully. That would depend, I suppose, on your definition of success, but regardless they are still bad traits…I would even say…the worst.

What would you add?

7 False Thoughts of a Pastor or Church Planter

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Here are 7 false thoughts of a pastor and church planter:

If we build it, they will come – They might. They might not. Actually when God builds it they will come.

We need to pay someone to do this – You could, but chances are there are people with margin in their schedule, looking for a place to serve, who don’t necessarily need your money right now, as much as they desire the opportunity.

Some people will always stay – They won’t. Period. Some will leave even if you do everything the way they wanted you to do them. And if you change anything you may be helping some make the decision they may have been talking about but just haven’t done.

I need to know everything that’s happening in my church – You could try, but the church would be very small and the potential will be very limited. And, I like to ask myself…is it my need to know or my need to control?

They couldn’t do this without me – Yea…that sounds impressive. Not true. At all. The more we think it the less it’s probably true.

People will give when they are ready – They won’t. Period. You’ll have to encourage them. Give them a reason to give. Provide them opportunity. Teach them.

I’m responsible for everyone’s spiritual maturity – You’re not. Period. You teach. God’s spirit grows as they yield to Him.

Any you would add?

7 “Must Do’s” for Long-Term Leadership Success

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If you want to last in leadership long term and you want to genuinely make am impact that outlasts your leadership, you will have to be intentional. It isn’t hard…okay actually it is hard…but it can be much easier if you are purposeful in your approach.

Here are 7 suggestions for long term leadership success:

Abiding – Sit with God regularly to talk and listen. Do more listening than talking. Learn to take your relationship with Christ into every aspect of your life, not just into your quiet time.

Health – Get sufficient rest. Exercise. As my muscles stretch, so does the mind. Be reasonable in what you eat and drink. You only have one body and you want it to last for the duration.

Friendship – Be accountable. Allow a few people the freedom to speak into your life. Have some relationships that are beyond surface level. Live a transparent life.

Learning – Do it continually. Read. Sit with other leaders. Attend conferences. Continue your education. Learn something new everyday.

Sharing – Spread the load. Learn to be a friend and an expert at delegation.

Investing – Spend energy on the next realm of leadership.

Celebrating – Learn to enjoy the smallest moments of life.

What would you add?