7 Helpful Skills for Pastors Leading Growing Churches

racial diversity

I came close to titling these “essential” skills, but I knew that was unfair. God can and does work through all different types of people. But, He has appointed some to be leaders, some teachers, etc. And, I know this from my experience working with and hearing from dozens of pastors each month. There are some great pastors who admit they aren’t skilled at leading the church.

I hear it at least weekly — “I know how to teach and cafe for the people, but I’m simply not always sure how to lead.” And, yet they recognize the value in and the need for leadership. They aren’t afraid of church leadership, as I’ve written about previously.

I believe there are some helpful skills for those who want to lead a church to not only care for and disciple the people in the church now, but actually grow and be healthy at the same time — where there is momentum and unity and excitement around the vision of the Great Commission.

Here are a 7 helpful skills I’ve observed:

Networking – For definition purposes, this is “the cultivation of productive relationships”. It is the ability to bring the right people to the table to accomplish the mission and it is invaluable for any position of leadership. This is true inside and outside the church. One place where good relationships are proving helpful in the community, for example, is within school systems. With the right people, churches can make significant missional differences in their community with school relationships. Those relationships are formed through networking. And, the possibilities here are endless.

Connecting – If the church is large or small, the best leaders bring people together. When a new person comes into the church, it’s important that they be able to connect quickly to others. First, the pastor needs to meet them, but that isn’t enough to really make people feel connected to a church. Good leaders connect them to people within the church, or help create systems of connection. They value connectivity — creating healthy, life-changing relationships in the church – and see that it is a natural, but intentional part of the church’s overall mission.

Visioneering – Good leaders are able to cast a picture beyond today worthy of taking a risk to seek. They may not always have all the ideas of what’s next — they should have some — but they can rally people behind the vision.

Pioneering – To lead a church by faith, a leader has to be willing to lead into an unknown, and take the first step in that direction. People won’t follow until they know the leader is willing to go first. Momentum and change almost always starts with new — doing things differently — creating new groups, new opportunities — trying things you’ve not tried before. Pioneering leaders watch to see where God may be stirring hearts and are willing to boldly lead into the unknown.

Delegating – No one person can or should attempt to do it all. It’s not healthy, nor is it Biblical. This may, however, be the number one reason I see for pastoral burnout, frustration and lack of church growth. Good leaders learn to raise up armies of people who believe in the mission and are willing to take ownership and provide leadership to completing a specific aspect of attaining that vision.

Confronting - If you lead anything, you will face opposition. Period. Leadership involves change and change in church involves change in people. And, most people have some opposition to change. After a pastor is certain of God’s leadership, has sought input from others, cast a vision, and organized people around a plan, there will be opposition. Perhaps even organized opposition. Good leaders learn to confront in love.

Following – Ultimately, it’s all about Christ. I can’t lead people closer to Him — certainly not be more like Him — unless I’m personally growing closer to Christ. But, following also involves allowing others to speak into my life. It means I have mentors, people who hold me accountable and healthy family relationships. Good leaders have systems in place that personally keep them on track. Self leadership — and following others who are healthy — keeps a leader in it for the duration.

That’s my list. Or, at least seven on my list.

What would you add?

My Greatest Success in Life

success

I was interviewed recently for a leadership podcast. One of the questions took me by surprise at first. I have been interviewed for this type of thing many times and so answers usually come fairly easily. They didn’t this time. At least to this question.

The question:

What has been your greatest success in life and what did you learn from it?

Greatest success? That goes contrary to my normal thought process. I don’t think I’m keeping a mental record of that. I guess I should more often. I didn’t have an easy answer.

The first answer that came to mind:

Apart from knowing Christ and being known by Him…

My greatest success has been failure.

And, in addition to that, the ability to get back up and try again.

Having had time to think about the answer I gave more — I’m sticking with it.

You see, I have had lots of failure. I’ve been on the bottom several times and, by God’s grace and through commitment and perseverance, I always climbed back.

I’ve gained my greatest lessons from life through the hardest times of my life.

And, something tells me I’m not finished learning.

I’m not sharing that to boast about anything in my life. I share it to encourage you. You may feel discouraged today. You may have just about lost all hope. You may feel a complete failure — like the best of life is past for you.

It’s not! You can stand strong again. By God’s grace — and through commitment and perseverance.

That’s almost always the story of people of success. You often only see them when they’re standing, but you didn’t see the times they fell. 

Your greatest success in life may be your ability to endure through the hard times — even through failure — get up and move forward again. 

The Church Afraid of Leadership

preacher bible

Leadership and the Bible

The more I write about leadership and the church the more my critics say I shouldn’t.

You knew I have critics, right?

I get push back for focusing so much on leadership on this blog. It’s like I’m being blasphemous. Like pastor and leader shouldn’t go together. Like I should discount the years of leadership experience and schooling God has blessed me with — and guided my life into — and just focus on being a pastor. Because, again, some don’t think the two can coexist. Good pastors can’t be good leaders. Right?

Those critics say Jesus is the church’s leader.

Well, I agree. Completely.

They say no one can claim expertise as a leader.

I agree again. (especially in the context of me).

Some even say we are never called to be leaders in the Bible. That servants, not leaders is the model.

Now, I disagree.

Not that we aren’t to be servants. We are. But, I disagree that leadership is not a Bible concept. It’s throughout the Bible.

If one wants to make the case that leadership isn’t defined well in the Bible, I can agree. I have an advanced degree in leadership. And, it wasn’t clearly defined there. We are still trying to adequately define it today — inside and outside the church. John Maxwell says leadership is influence. I agree, but other leadership experts have broader definitions. I’m not looking to the Bible to give me a definition either.

But, we find leadership throughout the Scriptures. You can’t miss it. However you define it.

From the creation of man, God gave Adam tremendous responsibility. God seemed to delegate leading the Garden to Adam. He couldn’t have “messed it up” had he not had some authority to make decisions.

The Holy Spirit of God does the real work of the church. No argument from me on that, but God enabled men and women to lead.

Moses was a leader…

David was a leader…

Ruth was a leader…

Joseph was a leader…

Gideon was a leader…

Nehemiah was a leader…

Phoebe was a leader…

Paul was a leader…

Esther was a leader…

Joshua was a leader…

Men and women God called to lead — sometimes reluctantly at first — humbled themselves before God knowing that without Him they could do nothing. They stepped out where no one else had gone before and guided people to a God-ordained victory. They used their influence to move people to a greater reality than they could have imagined.

That’s leadership — by anyone’s definition.

Jesus’ instructions were to make disciples — not wait on God to make them. Do something. Lead.

Pastor, don’t be afraid to call yourself a leader — or to lead!

And, every time you lead, you’ll find some critics. All leaders do.

The Downside of NOT Being a Controlling Leader

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I have a pet peeve about leadership. Actually lots.

But, this one is especially strong.

I have a pet peeve against controlling leadership.

I hate it. It’s so counter-productive to progress. It holds the team back from reaching it’s full potential. It stifles leaders. It never builds healthy teams.

And, the fact is if I allowed myself I could easily be a controlling leader. In fact, command is a “strength” of mine, according to Strengths Finders assessment. It can quickly become a weakness.

So, I discipline myself against controlling leadership.

I delegate.
I purposively bite my tongue.
I allow people to do things differently from the way I would do them.
I don’t micromanage.
I yield to others on my team.

And, when we remove controlling leadership it empowers people.

It means people take initiative.
They make decisions without me.
They proceed on their own.

But, that can create problems for the team.

It often causes miscommunication.
It can lead to fragmentation of the team.
It frequently brings frustration.

People lead. That’s no surprise. It’s what they’ve been empowered to do. But, many times they lead in different directions. Sometimes they lead too quickly. Often they lead into their own agendas — even outside the direction of the rest of the team.

And, the only way to keep that from happening is to be a controlling leader.

So, we have to learn to live in the tension.

We have to get better at keeping others informed. As leaders, we have to keep the vision in front of us and keep directing the team towards it, without controlling. We have to be better leaders.

It’s a constant challenge.

It’s even messy at times. But, it’s best.

7 Ways I Stay Forward Thinking as a Leader

man looking

One of the responsibilities of a leader is to be consistently looking forward for the organization. A leader has to continually be asking the question: What’s next? That’s a critical key to continued growth of the organization.

The problem for me comes with the immediate demands on my time. The now cliché statement goes “Sunday’s coming” is always true for a pastor. There are always immediate needs of people in the church. It seems there is something that continually occupies my immediate attention.

Still, if our church is to continue to grow and face the challenges of a changing community, I must discipline myself to pick my head up from the daily routines to think long-term.

Here are 7 ways I keep myself looking forward:

Read – I try to read something everyday and I read an equal balance of leadership and Christian books. In addition, I follow dozens of blogs with a variety of focuses, from technology, to culture and leadership. I take notes of ideas sparked along the way using Evernote.

Explore – I attend several conferences each year. I go to discover new techniques, strategies and ideas, but also to network with people doing what I do. The world of social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) has made it easier to connect with other leaders and I take advantage of the opportunities and ideas presented.

Hang out with a younger crowd – I love the idealism of youth. The newest ideas always seem to come from the younger generation at the time. One reason I like to be around college students is that they keep me fresh in my thought process.

Hang out with risk takers – I often need to be where creative energy isn’t limited by practical reasoning. There’s a place for that too, and I’m a realist by nature, but I don’t want to quit dreaming the impossible either. I certainly don’t want to be around those who have “It will never happen” as their first response. That’s another reason I love the idealism of youth. The newest ideas always seem to come from the younger generation.

Invest in others – As I invest in others I am personally energized. I feel I have even more to offer and have a stronger desire to keep a fresh approach when I think others value what I have to add to the discussion.

Let others invest in me – Sometimes I have to release power to others on my team and allow them to lead me. I’m stretched to dream bigger by the people on my team. I also have several people who regularly speak into my life. I surround myself with good, creative, seasoned leaders. When I stop dreaming, I find it necessary to allow others to push me.

Rest - When I’m tired or stretched personally I’m less likely to dream.  I have to discipline myself to stop sometimes, but it’s always productive when I do. In the busiest seasons, I am most likely to build into my schedule a day away more frequently.

Exercise – The best mind-stretching time for me is when I am running or exercising. The key for me is to break the monotony of busyness and allow my mind room to think. Something about exercising gets the blood flowing through my body to my brain. On especially busy days, I try to build in an hour in the gym or on the road. I keep exercise clothes at my office.

How do you keep focused on the forward picture, without being bogged down in daily routines?

3 Tips from Jesus Recruiting Methods

Handshake - extraversio

John Chapter One shares helpful insight into the leadership of Jesus.

I’ve written previously about Jesus’ leadership style.

12 Leadership Principles of Jesus I admire

Leadership Under Stress — The Jesus Model

In John Chapter One, I saw three more principles.

When Jesus began to organize a team, He used practices which maybe helpful for us today, especially those of us who are leading teams during a transition or start-up phase. Recruiting the right people is paramount to the success of any organization and Jesus obviously was the best.

Here are 3 tips of a Jesus recruitment methods:

Recruit transitional people – Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist and then of Jesus (John 1:35, 40).

When developing a team or starting a new team, it’s good to have someone with experience in what you are doing. You need individuals who know how to do what needs to be done, who have learned how to follow, can be influencers to the rest of the team, and who have proven their loyalty. These people are valuable assets to any team.

In my current role, the associate pastor offered me his resignation before I arrived. He had been at the church 15 years or so and had weathered good times and bad in the church. I refused to accept it. Instead, I encouraged him to move into a larger office, gave him greater decision-making authority, and worked to earn his trust. He has been invaluable in my success at the church.

Allow the team to help recruit the team – Andrew found Simon — Philip found Nathanael. (John 1:41, 45) Apparently, Jesus allowed some of the disciples to help recruit other disciples. The team helped add to the team.

This is a great reminder when you are building a team, adding other team members, or replacing a team member. Get your team involved in recruiting. Their support will increase for the new recruits.

When I arrived in this current position, I made sure I had hiring authority. I think it’s critical for a leader’s success. I would have been foolish, however, not to include others in the selection process, so I had several people interview and meet with the new staff members prior to them joining our team. They helped me by lending credibility to the new staff.

Recruit people who are ready for a challenge - Some of the disciples Jesus recruited were apparently already looking for the Messiah. (John 1:38, 41, 45) They were ready for Him when He came, because they were already seeking something. Jesus recruited with big asks — basically, “Drop everything else and follow me!”

Obviously, I’m not Jesus, but I believe it is important when looking for new people on a team to find people who will buy into your vision as a leader, who will remain loyal over time and who are ready for a challenge. If you have to talk them into something, or gain their initial trust after the hire, you’ll waste valuable time before they completely commit. (That doesn’t mean their isn’t deeper levels of trust to be gained, but initially they should be convinced this is where God wants them to be.)

One practice I have continually used in recruiting new team members is to talk them out of taking the position — after I’m sure they want the job and I want them to take it. I want to help them test their hearts. I want them to know the unique challenges ahead (as far as I know them at the time). I don’t hide anything; even the less than glamorous parts. One of our newer staff members was told we were hiring on faith the first year. The budget did not support him, but we believed God would provide. He did. This was almost always the case when I was in a church plant. If they are still interested after they know all the down sides of the position then I know we will make a great team.

5 Suggestions to Recover after You’ve Made a Leadership Mistake

Erasing Oops !

You know you made a mistake. It’s just a matter of time before someone finds out.

What do you do now?

I have often watched leaders struggle to recover from a mistake made that probably didn’t have to be as personally or professionally damaging to them as it was. They simply didn’t respond well enough and it cost them more than it should have.

Like the time a college pastor way over committed to a conference. He secured too many slots and not enough people signed up, so the church lost a lot of money. Or the time the worship pastor booked a concert in the auditorium, committed the church financially and with volunteers, and then found out the artist was hugely polarizing to the congregation. Or when a pastor signed a contract for services to the church, only to find out a key volunteer (and influencer) in the church offered the same services and was offended not being able to at least offer a bid on the services.

And, the list goes on…

I’m not addressing necessarily about moral issues or major failures. (I wrote about addressing them in THIS POST and THIS POST.) I’m primarily writing about mistakes that all leaders make. We make them frequently. It’s part of being human and being a leader. Although both lists are very similar.

(By the way, these are fabricated scenarios in that they aren’t specific situations I’m using as examples, but these type mistakes are frequent in leadership.)

Chances are you’ve made similar mistakes. We all have. You’ve seen others make them. They look different every time and there are different characters in each story, but the outcomes are similar. And, the damage is just as damaging if not addressed properly.

Because a leadership principle we can never escape is:

The way you respond after a mistake always determines the quality of recovery.

So, when you’ve made the mistake — and admitting it to yourself is the first step — what do you do now?

Here are 5 suggestions:

Communicate quickly – You don’t have to tell the world, but those who need to know should hear it from you and not from anyone else. Let the offended parties know and the people who will have to answer for the mistake. This can’t be done too soon. Surprises like this never turn out well, but with advance knowledge many times further damage can be averted

Own it – Don’t make excuses. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen. Don’t blame others. Don’t say, “I’m sorry”, but then try to wrap the other person into your story. Ask forgiveness if necessary, but own it now. You made a mistake. Be a leader. Own the mistake and be willing to accept the consequences. You’ll be far more respected and stand a better chance of bridging support in the recovery process.

Stop the loss – Do whatever you can to stop further damaging from occurring. If there are financial issues involved, try to recover as much as you can. If there is collateral damage with relationships, apologize quickly and try to restore trust. I have always found a humble, yet not martyred, but confident response is usually best in these situations.

Figure out what’s next – Help the team recover. Find solutions. Don’t leave the clean up to anyone else. As you lead into the mistake — or even better — lead through the recovery. Help bring people together, seek wisdom, and help steer energy back to a more positive position.

Learn from it – The best thing you can do is to grow from mistakes — all of them. They can shape us as people and leaders — either positively or negatively. The good news is that we get to decide which one. In the process of recovery, sometimes keeping a journal is helpful. Start with the question, “What can I learn from this that will help me make better decisions in the future?”

Of course, the intensity of need for this depends on the size of the mistake and the size of injury caused to the team, church or organization, but the principles still apply in context.

Do you have any examples to add to this post from your own experience?

What else would you add as suggestions for recovery?

3 Examples of a Leader For a Season

tree at four seasons

I am frequently contacted when someone is debating the right time to leave a leadership position. I once wrote 10 Scenarios to Determine If It’s Time to Quit.  It’s still one of my most requested blog topics. Deciding when it is time to leave a leadership position is one of the hardest decisions a leader makes.

Thankfully, there are still leaders with a sense of loyalty, who want to do the right thing, and they simply do not know how or when they should leave. If you want to see long term success in the place where you lead, you need long-term tenure.

We all love hearing how a church planter carried the church from infancy of a few core people in a room to the maturity of a healthy, established church. I am always impressed to hear of a long term pastorates. Some of the most successful churches have the longest serving pastors. The healthiest way, organizationally speaking, is to have one long-term leader, who goes through seasons with the organizations, who carries the vision forward over a long span of time.

But, that’s not the calling of every leader. And, there’s no shame in that.

Please understand, this is not a post encouraging anyone to leave their position. It’s not a post that indicates I’m leaving mine. (Please read that last line again if you’re in my church.) But, this is a post intended to help a leader who may be struggling, feeling it’s time to move on, but can’t bring themselves to make the hard decision. I’ve spoken with pastors who feel they’ve done all they can do. They’ve prayed and prayed about it and don’t even sense God telling them they have to stay, may even feel a sense of release, but their sense of loyalty keeps them from even entertaining the idea. In the meantime, the longer they do stay the more frustrated they become and the church starts to feel it.

And, that’s why I write this reminder.

Some leaders are only there for a season. A unique season. A special season, reserved for a designed purpose. It’s helpful when a leader can recognize or discern a seasonal assignment.

Here are a few examples:

Some leaders get things started – They are great starters, but horrible maintainers. They do best when they are allowed to begin something for someone else to carry forward. I have a friend who is a serial entrepreneur. He’s great at getting healthy organizations started, but lock him into somewhere for very long and he will frustrate a lot of people. Including himself.

Some leaders guide the organization through transition – These leaders can handle the tough times. They help once successful organizations start again. They love changing things. When things “settle” they are ready for a new challenge. I have another friend who in his career has helped several businesses recover from near disaster. He moves in, takes over, rebuilds confidence in leadership, provides a sense of direction and momentum, then gradually yields control to others.

Some leaders close things out graciously – This has to be one of the toughest assignments in leadership, but there are leaders who are especially gifted in helping things come to an end. When I was in retail, there were some store closing experts. Many times a new store was opening across town and one store, perhaps in an older, more established part of town, was closing to make room for the new. That’s never popular, but these leaders knew how to come in, evaluate, assess what could be salvaged, help the employees transition, and leave the area as painlessly as possible, so the excitement for the new would not be lost in mourning what would be gone. They were seasonal experts in leadership. (Frankly, for this last example, although this is the subject for another post — and this sentence only opens the can of worms — the church needs some of these leaders.)

Granted, each of these scenarios can often find new leadership positions within the same organization, but the key understanding is that they are leaders for a season. An assignment. A specific need. When the need is met the season often has to change.

If a leader does what he or she has been called to do, there is no shame in doing ONLY what the leader was called to do. Recognizing that and discerning it helps leaders and the organizations they lead to be healthier.

Have you ever been the leader for a season?

Better…Not Wrong. A Leadership Principle

hiding mistakes

Part of my job as a leader is helping people I lead get better at what they do. That often involves letting them know about areas I see where they can improve. 

That can be difficult for some people to receive. Granted, much of that has to do with my delivery of the encouragement to improve, but I’ve found some people especially struggle to receive anything with an appearance of correction. They don’t want me to believe they made a mistake or even that there is any room for improvement. Some, especially with perfectionist or prideful personalities, seem to feel that if something needs changing about their performance, then whatever they did wasn’t completely right. And, the opposite of right is — wrong.

For those people, I sometimes have to remind them: 

Just because you can do something better, doesn’t mean you did anything wrong.

Unless the person was blatantly or intentionality making mistakes or not giving it a good effort…

They did what they’ve been taught to do.

They did the best they knew how to do.

They gave it everything they had — so far.

But, we all have areas where we can improve — get better.

Just because something can be done better, doesn’t mean it was being done wrong.

Leadership is helping people know learn the difference. 

Want to be a better leader? Try Rather Than Leadership

Leadership Ahead

I consistently have leaders contact me who want help improving as a leader. What’s funny is, I have this leadership blog, and lots of leadership experience, but I’m still trying to improve also. I often encourage them to do something I do. One way to grow as a leader is to continually work to replace negative leadership patterns with positive leadership patterns.

That makes sense, doesn’t it?

Recently I posted about this subject in a post titled “Sometimes We Complicate Leadership Too Much“. This is a continuation of that thought process. Basically, if we want to improve as leaders, we don’t try to change everything about ourselves in one transformation. We work on areas that need improving one at a time. For example, I know I’m weak in the area of coordinating details, even the ones I’m responsible for doing, so I work on that area. Continually. It’s become a discipline. I delegate what I can, but I find ways to improve at handling the details only I can do.

I am fairly intentional, so I even coined a phrase that I often use as a subtle reminder to me of areas in which I need to improve.

Here are a few examples of rather than leadership:

Rather than needing to control everything…try utilizing delegation.

Rather than using intimidation to get what you want…try applying better inspiration.

Rather than having a culture of fear…try creating a culture of encouragement.

Rather than hiding information from people…try being more transparent.

Rather than trying to please everyone…try doing the right thing, regardless of the pushback.

Rather than having all the ideas…try embracing the creativity of others.

Rather than saying “I”, “my”, or “me”…try saying “we”, “our”, and “us” more often.

It’s Rather Than Leadership. 

The examples I gave are fairly broad, and thankfully, all of them aren’t my issues anymore. I’ve improved in areas. But, you can make them as specific as you need them to be for you. As an example, knowing I get distracted easily, am very big picture, and have a thousand ideas a day, I can have very unproductive days. And, it’s miserable for me, my team and my leadership. One rather than leadership principle for me then might be:

Rather than ending the day feeling that I’ve had little or no progress…try making a reasonable, but stretching checklist and completing it by day’s end.

The key is to find those areas of good leadership principles in which you are weakest and seek to improve up one them — replace them with better patterns of leadership.

If you’re a control freak — if you stifle ideas — if your language is “me-centric” — then you know what you have to do. Write out your rather than leadership principle. Replace them. Improve as a leader.

That will first require identifying your weaknesses, then learning the positive ways to improve in those areas, and continually disciplining yourself to grow and develop, but it helps to at least know where to start. I find mental simple stimulants or reminders such as this help me improve.

Try it. Rather Than Leadership. Or use your own term. Let’s just continue to improve as leaders.