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Lecture 15: Pastoral Leadership and Leading the Staff
I. Lead the Staff
It is one thing to find the right staff, it is another to lead the staff. In this session I want to talk about leading the staff. Then a more difficult subject and that is, releasing the staff when sometimes that is necessary.
A. Determine reporting relationships
Let’s start with leading the staff. Part of leading the staff is making sure we are really clear on reporting relationships. The staff needs to know who they are responsible to. Those who are responsible need to take serious their responsibility of revealing, of watching, of mentoring, shaping if necessary. So determining reporting relationships, determining how often those reporting relationships should happen. It may be meeting once a week or it may be meeting once a month.
What you want to do – and we are back to order again – is not to just kind of let it haphazardly happen. It is not an unrealistic expectation of a lead pastor to say, “We want to do the best job we can, and that means we need to be accountable. That means I need each of you to be accountable to hold this person accountable and I want it to be maybe the first of every month” or whatever it is, but it is something that is regular.
B. Establishing the proper procedures for supervising
Establishing the proper procedures for supervising. It is really important to know what procedures to set up here and knowing the lines of communication.
C. Develop effective staff meetings
The third thing is developing effective staff meetings. As we lead the staff, we’re back to meetings again. Let me say a few more things about meetings. By the way, one of the great books that I found really helpful is Lencioni’s book, “Death by Meeting.” It doesn’t sound like a very exciting book, but in his typical way as he story tells, he talks about things in a story that lead to principles about how to have good meetings and bad meetings.
Here are some components of good meetings. These are pretty close to what I’ve already shared, but here they are, I’m going to give you 10.
Regularity. Staff should meet on a predictable, regular basis, not when people free themselves in the schedule. By the way, it is also important to say, “As you join my staff, this is priority. This comes before everything but family emergencies or speaking engagements out of town,” something like this. There needs to be regularity.
I want to stress a clear agenda. That people know what is going to be covered. That there is a predictable time frame. People are going to say, “I hate staff meetings, I’m so busy.” Part of it is saying, “We meet every Tuesday morning from 9:00 to 11:00. So just put it in your schedule, block it out. It is part of your job description, so it is not a matter of choice.”
Participation. I want you to come engaged. We are going to deal with issues every week and it is important that everyone participates. It should be a meeting filled with encouragement with people hopefully going away, not brow beaten, with people feeling like they have been lifted up, for the most part.
Let’s come back to our mission, let’s come back to our vision, let’s come back to our operational plan. What are we doing here? It is more than just pure information.
Here is how some staff meetings go. “Hey, just checking in with everyone here. Let’s go around the room for a moment, Jim, starting with you, tell us what you are facing this week.” “Oh, kind of same old, same old.” “Okay, thanks Jim.” We go around and everybody gets a brief thing and we move on. That is really bad. Here is what is really good. “As you know, our mission is to reach lost people. We are here to worship God and we are here to pursue truth and we are here to love one another. That is our mission as the church. So, let’s check in on how we are doing with our mission. By the way, our vision is, we are trying to get here.” I like to always talk together about, are we making some critical steps towards getting there? Let’s think about our strategy. Are our strategies working? Do we have the right strategy? Let’s talk about what tells us they are right or they are wrong.
Then, let’s talk about our operational plan. Every staff should work by an operational plan. An operational plan should flow out of strategy and the strategy should flow out of the vision and the vision should flow out of the mission.
The mission: Why are we here? Vision: Where are we going? Strategy: How are we going to get there? Tactics: Who is going to, and by when? That is where now we get into assignables. Now we are talking about staff as we go around the room.
Let’s talk about the assignables. I read this recently and I’m convinced of it. This book was largely about execution. It made this point, that execution only happens where there is accountability. Going around the room to check in means: “Jim, as I look at the operational plan here, you have committed that by December you would have this finished. This is strategic to our strategy and our vision. So, give me a progress report. Where are we now? Are you going to make what you said, by the way, because the staff put the operational plan together corporately and they set marks and every single thing in that operational plan should flow out of the bigger statement of mission, vision, strategy. So, Jim, are we there?” “You know, I really haven’t gotten to that.” We might go, “Okay, I understand. Life gets busy.” Or, we could say, “Are you serious about the plan? Are you serious about what we are trying to do? I assumed when you put that date, it is because you believed you could get to that date, so just help
me understand. It is okay if we need to put it off, but I need to know why you didn’t get there.”
All of a sudden people know, I’m going to staff meeting today and I had better have my life in order and my ministry in order. There are some expectations. If they know you are doing it, not in some legalistic, abusive leadership authority way or power; but they see that you are passionate about the mission and the vision and the strategies and the objective, then maybe they are going to get it.
Every now and then a pastor, even in a staff meeting, needs to pause a moment and say, “Does this break your heart like it does mine, that the church is so ineffective today? Does it seem like our church is impacting culture? Is the City of Portland, with all of its churches, does it feel like the Spirit of God is moving in greater, more powerful ways than we think? Does it feel like we are going backwards? This last election, did it seem like there was anyone who ran for office that really cared about our vote? Because it seems like most people I listened to were trying to make sure that they were getting the votes from people who are very much against our world view. It would appear like we no longer matter in culture. That really concerns me, because that seems to suggest the church is losing its influence. Would you agree?” I think most people, unless their head is in the sand, would say, ‘Yes, I think we have lost a lot of influence.’ Do I need to make the case why this mission and vision and strategi
es matter? Because if we don’t get our head out of the sand and start getting intentional, we are going to just keep sliding, too. Yes, I am serious about accountability. I am serious about expectations.”
We talk about board/staff relationship. What is really great is to tell your board chairman to let the staff know that when they put their operational plan together, which is usually once a year, that flows out of the mission and vision and strategy, that they bring that operational plan to the board and say, “Hold our feet to the fire.” Which means that on occasion, part of the agenda of the board is to review the operational plan. The good thing about that is that then it keeps the board focused on the mission and the vision and the strategy and they don’t get so bound with fiduciary matters that they get lost in the forest and they no longer can see above. The other thing it does, I can tell you from experience, is when a board chairman or somebody on the board, says to a pastor, “Pastor, it says here that you were to have this done by November, and here we are in December.
All I’m saying is, if you put a date on there, that tells me you are intentional to get this done and I just need to know why it didn’t get done.” That happens two or three times in a board meeting, staff starts thinking, “It does matter.” It does matter when we come to a meeting, that we are intentional, not to just check in.
I can tell you, in one of my courses I teach on leadership, one of the assignments is that the students must attend a board meeting or staff meeting, some meeting in the church, and evaluate it. I use “Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team.” I say, “Try to use this as a grid that starts with trust.” I am guessing 90% of the reports back and the papers I read tell me that most meetings are incredibly dysfunctional. It seems like, “One person talked the whole time.” “All we did was pray” or, “We just had a great time, great food.” I rarely hear anyone say, “When we come, there is intentionality. There is accountability. We are serious about expectation here. We also pray for one another and love on each other.” Something like that is what I’m looking for.
So establishing the things that are effective. Meetings that do focus on the mission and vision are informational. We should get our calendars and everything we all need to be aware of so that we are not surprised, should come out. There should be a certain innovation. We should come and say, “Let’s pick a time to share a new idea, something that we have read recently or we have thought about that could make ministry so much more creative or innovative.” Here is what I’ve discovered sometimes. Has anyone read something lately? Sometimes when I ask my pastors, “What are you reading?” It is like a deer in the headlights. “Well, you know, I just don’t have time.” You don’t have time? You are paid to read. You are paid to think. You are leaders. Leaders are thinkers. Leaders have to be innovative. Leaders are influencers, right? Wouldn’t it be great if we came out of more meetings and went, “Oh, wow, the discussion was so amazing, so innovative.” Yes, it should be also nurturing and praying together and disce
rning and reading, also being sensitive to cultures.
I have just written a book on multicultural leadership. My last two churches were very multicultural. Also, part of effective staff meetings when you have different cultures is to know some of the things that you need to be very sensitive to. For example, to an American, I might call him on the carpet and say, “That is really not adequate.” I might do that to a Korean and the shame that he might deal with might cause him to so curl up, if you will, that it might take a long time to get him to pull out of. With different cultures, you also have to know how to ask questions. It doesn’t matter what culture you are, they need to know that you as a leader expect accountability. We will talk about performance in a little bit.
It is not about, he just wants to get bigger or it’s all about achievement and goals and ambitions. No, I really care that the church makes a difference. If I looked around and saw the church making an incredible difference almost everywhere I looked, I probably would not feel so passionate about it. But it is not what I see today. I feel like a lot of churches are just, as the old saying, “straightening the chairs on the Titanic” and getting focused and wrapped up all around, majoring on the minors and minoring on the majors. So, develop effective staff meetings.
D. Use the right leadership style
Use the right leadership style. Leadership has to be a mix in leading your staff of guiding at times, helping them see the way of directing. Taking time when it is the right time to say, I think I need to explain, I’m not sure we are getting this. Taking time to persuade, knowing when it is the time I need to persuade, that they are not quite there with me. Taking the time to encourage, problem solve. Letting them see that you are observing, you are monitoring, stepping into their offices, that is really important.
Some of you are leading much smaller churches and some of this maybe just doesn’t feel really that relevant. Nonetheless these are things you start training and learning so hopefully, if your ministry is growing, you are not going to make mistakes on the other side, you are going to be prepared for what you need to do here.
E. Establish personnel policies
Personnel policies are always a vital thing. Here are some things I have written down. An understanding of hours, pay periods, vehicle use, personal calls, use of e-mails, computer use – I could probably say a lot about this. I fear too many of us chalk up a whole day on the computer as ministry. Vacations, holidays, personal leave, sick leave. These are all the standard things, but things that a church needs to really think through carefully. Bereavement, working hour expectations, benefits, inclement weather policy and procedures, sexual harassment, confidentiality policies. What are you setting up when you talk to people? Jury service, sabbatical leave. Do you have sabbaticals? You should. Use of professional expenses, use of credit cards, outside compensations, church membership, ministry guidelines, dress, ongoing education and development. These are just some examples of what in leading a staff, you need to try to think through. What are your policies and procedures regarding these?
F. Establish an assessment plan
There needs to be a kind of an assessment plan for these performance indicators. You can look at various churches if you don’t have one, so that when you do perform, it is reviewed. You have some categories to work with. As I have already said, make sure you are assessing regularly. Don’t leave people in the dark. Have a corrective action plan, sometimes referred to as a CAP. You are going to need that. A corrective action plan is when you have a low performance staff member and releasing is not a good thing necessarily, especially if it comes as a surprise.
G. Have a proper release plan
When we release someone, it does not come as a surprise and is kept a clear track record. Whoever you are responsible to lead, it is really important you keep a file and whenever you have a performance review, you keep everything in your file. It may come back to bite you if you can’t show a trail here. Certainly on a corrective action plan, it is getting them to agree with you and sign off together. Here are three things that have to change if you are going to remain on the staff. We have every desire for you to succeed. I will do everything I can to help you succeed. But here is the time frame in which these things have to change. When they don’t, then therefore there is no big surprise.
It is important to maintain your guidelines, keep records, keep the board apprised. This is where you sit down confidentially with the board and say, “Just a heads up. Here are some of the issues we are facing here” so that they are not shocked or surprised. Give time for this new work to happen and give them time, if you have to release them, so that they can begin to look . We always want to be generous in severance and whatever we can do to help them launch on their next step, unless we had to release, fire if you will, because of moral failure or something else. What has made this very difficult thing easier for me, it is never easy, but to say something like this: “Gary, I want you to know that my first responsibility is to do what is best for the church. So, this is not about what is best for you. It is not about even necessarily what I want. This is about what is in the best interest of the church. And it is in the best interest of the church that you are released of your responsibilities. We have
talked about these things and things have not changed. So here is a release date that hopefully will give you some time. We want to send you off. I’m really sorry for this. It is really painful. But at the end of the day I am accountable to my board and I am accountable to the church, to say, I’m leading this church in the best possible way. Keeping you on staff is not leading the church in the best possible way.” Then give a gracious farewell.
As we have talked about already, there are a lot of things you cannot share with the church and this is what makes it very difficult. Hopefully over time people begin to see, “He made a good decision.” There is nothing that helps you recover more quickly than to find an able replacement who is far better than the person you released, and people start to say, “I really liked that youth pastor, but you know, I’m starting to wonder, what did that guy do with his time?”
So we have talked about finding, hiring, the right staff, leading them, leading them together towards execution and then a proper release plan, if you have to come to that.
What questions do you have?
A. Why are sabbaticals for a pastor important?
Question: Reasoning for a sabbatical. I don’t know if this is the right place to ask you, but unless you have been in ministry, most people do not understand the weight that is on pastoral staff, the spiritual weight of caring for a church. They do not understand why, “I don’t get a semester off every seven years, why should you?” I have a friend to whom I said, “Every seven years even Jewish slaves got released and you at least should get a sabbatical.” He said, “ My board won’t talk to me.” From your comment, I see that you believe a pastor should have sabbaticals. How do you help an elder board, maybe full of professional people that work all of the time anyway, how do you get them to understand that pastoral leadership is different and they really need a break.
Dr. Johnson: I’m not sure I would try to build a big case on, pastoral leadership is different. Some of you will probably disagree with me here. I acknowledge as a pastor for 33 years that it comes with its hardships and challenges and things. But I’m not so sure if we sometimes set ourselves up to think that we face a much more difficult challenge because as I have gotten to know my people over the years, there are a lot of professions and a lot of pressures that the people I minister to face that transcend mine. I want to be careful not to say it is different for us because it is a 24/7 job. A lot of my people have 24/7 jobs, too. I do know that I don’t think it is a hard sell for some. We had a lot of engineers from Intel. They do get a sabbatical every seven years. There are professions out there that recognize the value and benefit of a sabbatical. That is not a hard sell at all. With some who don’t, they might wonder then. That is where I think it helps to say, ”John is not just going up aIone to th
e cabin and he is just going to float on the kayak for two months. He has set out a sabbatical plan and here is what he is going to be doing. He wants to work his way through Augustine’s Confessions. He has been shaped and mentored by Eugene Peterson and he wants to take some time to drive to Flathead Lake and spend time with him.” I did that a couple of summers ago.
I think sabbatical has to have intentionality. Obviously it is not exchanging one workload for another. But it has to be more than just rest and relaxation. That makes it easier to sell to the board. This sabbatical is structured so this person comes back spiritually renewed. It can be meditating on a pastoral epistle. It can be working through Walker’s Commentary on Proverbs, I don’t know. Or there are three devotionals that he or she has identified as, they can hardly wait to get into and be changed. There will be a report that will come to you, the board. I have asked this person, when they come back from sabbatical, that both with the staff and with the board, to give a brief summary of what happened. We all want to know. That helps a person too, to know. Yes, we want to underscore that we are not asking for a 12-hour schedule each day. We do hope you sleep in. And we do hope you relax in the kayak. But there is more than that.
B. The importance of mentoring others that will be prepared to step in when a leader takes a sabbatical
Question: Could you speak to the continuity of a sabbatical with a pastoral leader who is investing in family lives and oftentimes those things change when the pastor takes himself out of the picture to do a sabbatical. What kinds of things need to happen in the church to allow that person to leave?
Dr. Johnson: You mean, like a doctor leaving his patient’s kind of thing, so much attachment? We are sort of back to that we should always be mentoring and shaping and developing leaders around us and under us. Hopefully we can say, I’m taking a sabbatical. I have a couple of people I’ve poured into and if you get into a crisis, please call them. They will do a great job.
Sometimes it is not all that bad for people to get a release from us, too. Sometimes people can get too dependent on us. I want to be careful that while there is a healthy dependence, there is an unhealthy dependence. If someone is going to have a really hard time surviving because I’m on a two-month sabbatical, I wonder about the health of that relationship. There are some pastors who have a hard time giving up the pulpit and somehow, too, they can get misguided, thinking nobody can do it like them. They may find that actually things got on quite well.
I think if we start with the understanding, and everybody knows, in the job description of our people on staff, every seven years they get a two-month sabbatical, and in 14 years they get a three-month sabbatical, and at 21 years they get something like that; and everybody knows that in advance, then they are not blindsided or surprised when someone says it is seven years. I think if we can convince people that as much as you might need me, I’m going to be far better for you when I come back than basically I am now because basically you are just getting me on fumes, and I will be a better pastor.
C. Balance and common sense in visiting and counseling situations
Question: You also include in instructions that you have in specific types of expectations some conversations about perceptions and helping people to do things in a way that are going to protect them, like when they are meeting with people, to keep the door to their office open. Or having a policy about when they are going to drive kids home, who is going to be in the car, things like that. Especially for younger staff members that may not have thought through some of those issues, the implications of that.
Dr. Johnson: You certainly want to be proactive and not reactive. What is a little bit hard here is that, some can to over here to say, I never allow for a pastor to take a single woman home in a car, just with her, or to visit a woman if she is alone in a house, or the door needs to always be open if a person of the opposite sex is going to be there.
I think there are reasons for that and they can be really good reasons. I am also sensitive on the other side, that we can almost treat women like they are problems or they are dangerous. I wonder sometimes in statements we make, how offensive they can be to women. It is back to what we should always exercise as good judgment. Have I gone out to lunch with a single missionary woman, off the field? Absolutely. But I always tell my wife, “Heather, Ruth and I are going to have lunch today. In case someone is there who says, ‘I saw your husband with another woman,’ it was Ruth.” So she knows. If I feel like for confidentiality sake, I need to close the door, I will close the door. In my office at Village, we had a window in the door, so I knew that no-one could charge me with something, making assumptions, because there was a window there. I think that makes common sense.
I would caution against on visitations, visiting a single woman unless maybe she is 85. I remember even there once, my first church rented two homes right next to the church on church property. We rented them to widows that really needed help. I remember one time I was visiting this widow. She was in her late 80s. We had a pleasant conversation. As I was walking out, she took my arm and she said, “You know, Pastor, I may be old on the outside, but I’m still young inside.” I thought, Is she making a pass? I don’t know. I just think I’ll get out of here. You never know. But I know, on the other side, of a story that I won’t go into, of a woman who came to my church, who came forward after the morning service on an invitation and we stepped into my office and she said, “I have to tell you, I am having a sexual relationship with a pastor in the city” who happened to be a fairly influential pastor. As it turned out, I had to do something with that information. I couldn’t sit on that, so I went to the board of t
hat church. It turned out that the pastor had visited her in her home. Nothing happened, but she used that to make claims of things. I remember when that happened, I thought, you must never be in a home with a single woman. That is just a setup.
Somehow, by hearing me saying all of this, there is a certain balance, if you will, of not going too far over here that I think some guys go, which may reflect sometimes their moral hang-ups, or going too far over on the other side and just not being careful.
D. How do you deal with a person in the church who has been convicted of a sex crime?
Question: I would like your advice on a scenario. We are sinners. We run afoul of the law. There was an incident where this man had committed a sex crime and he had returned to the church with his wife. Some of the pastoral body was aware of it, but it was not open knowledge. Later he committed another sex crime and that enraged some of the women in the church, as they felt vulnerable in the absence of any knowledge of such. How would you manage that type of scenario?
Dr. Johnson: That is really hard. On a few occasions where we had known sexual predators in our church, it always comes with a recognition that the pastors are aware and that that person is really monitored and that person is aware of really strict boundaries. If there is compromise at all, that person is barred from the church. It is a mix of trying to say, “We want to be a redemptive culture.” However, if there was a recurrent pattern, let’s say, I think the church would probably be wise to say, “You cannot be here.” We have to protect the church.
I want to guard on the other side, that someone that maybe is truly repentant, has changed, is working through issues, knows there is redemption here. But they also know that because of their behavior, pastors know. Sometimes my executive pastor would pass out a sheet on a person: Here is information. Here is the picture. We sat down with the person. There are certain boundaries. They cannot go into the children church area at all. They have to stay within these parameters. We will be watching this person the whole time. If we do that and we do that well, then if people say,”Why don’t we all know?” Then we say, “What you need to know is that we’ve done everything to protect you.”