Setting High Expectations for Volunteers

Man pushing a boulder on a mountainOne of the realities of leading in a ministry setting is that getting things done means recruiting and leading a lot of volunteers. For me, leading volunteers is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. I get to do ministry as a job, but there are hundreds of volunteers at our church who give some of their free time each week to take part in furthering our mission and vision: to help people meet and follow Jesus.

One of the tensions ministry leaders live in is how to set the bar high for our volunteers while acknowledging the reality that they are unpaid workers giving their time—meaning we can’t really limit their vacation time each year. Volunteers are amazing for what they give, but every pastor knows the feeling of holding the bag because a few volunteers forgot to tell you they’d be out of town or someone volunteered to lead a program but didn’t follow through. How do you lead exceptional teams of volunteers without being a dictator that volunteers eventually don’t want to work with?

Lead with vision

If you’ve been burned by low commitment in the past, it’s tempting to lead volunteers with a heavy hand. A volunteer is late two weeks in a row? They can’t serve if they’re not committed. Someone calls in at the last minute? Your response is…firm. Volunteers are just like anyone else: They want to be a part of something that matters. Inspiring a volunteer is far more effective than being a dictator. Sure, it takes some extra effort, but in the long run, it’s worth it.Continue Reading

10 Lessons From a Year of Assimilation

Multiethnic People with Startup Business Talking in a CafeOn Monday I shared about a change in my life a little over a year ago as I transitioned from being a youth pastor in to a position at our church that combined the leadership responsibility for small groups, assimilation, and guest services into one role. In reality, I had next to zero practical experience for this new position, other than having led small groups for teenagers as a youth pastor. When it comes to assimilation—the practice of helping people become connected into the local church—I’ve learned a ton in the past year, mostly from others who have been willing to put down in book form what they know as well as from my own mistakes. Here are some of those lessons:

1) Assimilation is a weird church term to anyone who has never led or worked in a church.

This is true especially for those who are Star Trek fans (resistance is futile). And as much as I love systems—my pre-ministry background is in mathematics—it’s a really impersonal term. Assimilation is about helping people connect with your church, so about two weeks into my new position I asked if I could change my job title from “Pastor of Small Groups and Assimilation” to “Small Groups and Connection Pastor.”Continue Reading

10 Lessons From a Year of Guest Services

2447778421_be0dc88c3f_oLast January, I moved from my position as a youth pastor at our church—I had been a youth pastor for eleven years at that point—to a newly created position that combined the leadership of small groups, assimilation, and guest services into one role. Though I attended seminary, enjoyed working with people, and leading teams, I really had no experience or specific expertise to take on this new challenge. They were areas that we knew as a church we were weak on, and my task was create systems and build teams to help us improve in those areas.

It’s been an incredible year of learning. On a personal level, I have had to rely more on the wisdom and experience of others in the form of books, mentoring, and visiting other churches than I ever did the first eleven years of vocational ministry. In that respect I’ve grown as a leader far more than had I done a job that I felt like I had a pretty good handle on. Still, most of what I’ve learned has been trial and error, and I thought it might be time to jot down a few (or ten) of those lessons.

1) Guest services volunteers are at the front lines of your church’s mission and vision.

This might seem dramatic, especially since guest services isn’t exactly the sexiest (am I allowed to say that on a ministry leadership blog?) ministry in your church. But think about it: The first people that a visitor—including someone who has yet to meet Jesus—encounters on your campus are your guest services volunteers. So yeah: guest services is more important that you think.Continue Reading

Learners Make Great Leaders

Quality leaders are gold to any organization. No matter what role they play, a solid leader makes those around him or her better, keeps their area of influence focused on the organizations mission and vision, helps their team accomplish more, and makes the most of the resources they are given.

But how do you find great leaders, and how do you help the people you have lead better? There’s a lot that goes into finding and developing leaders, so there’s no silver bullet or one way to do it. I’ve noticed, however, that of all the great leaders I’ve known—those I’ve worked for, those I’ve worked with, and volunteers who serve on a ministry team once or twice a week—there’s a common trait that they all seem to share: they are learners.

Being a learner doesn’t necessarily mean being a scholar. In fact, there may be some people on your team that you’d never peg as a learner because they weren’t interested in pursing an education beyond high school or they shy away from the classroom settings at your church. A learner is simply someone who wants to do whatever they are doing better and does what they need to figure it out.

Learning involves more than just reading books (although it certainly helps). Learners also seek out people who can help them be better leaders, they like learning about how other effective organizations operate, and they’re always asking good questions. It’s not so much a desire for knowledge that makes a learner; it’s the humility to know they don’t know it all and the initiative to find the resources and information they need to do whatever it is better. So how can we make sure to have leaders on our teams who are also great learners?Continue Reading

10 Red Flags When Choosing New Leaders

4779009114_37a08ba853_bOne of the roles of a ministry leader is choosing other leaders to lead alongside you. Whether you’re hiring a staff member or recruiting and screening new small group leaders, getting it right when it comes to selecting leaders is crucial to keeping your teams healthy. One of the most frustrating parts of this process is when a leader seems to have the gifting, skill set, and background to make a great leader on paper, but later on they prove to be ineffective or even damaging. While we can’t always (or even often!) predict such situations because it’s simply a part of the messiness of working with people, hindsight sometimes shows us that we missed some warning signs along the way. Here’s a list of red flags you can look for when choosing new leaders—compiled mostly from my own mistakes:

1) Lack of transparency

I don’t expect a potential staff member or volunteer to bare their entire soul in a half hour conversation, but when someone won’t let others have even a glimpse into their life—especially the difficult stuff—it may not be the time for them to step into a role where they’ll lead others.Continue Reading

Confusing the What and the How

Rugged Leather Carpenters Work Bag With Worn Tools Isolated On BThe next time you’re talking with someone from your church or chatting with people between services, pose this question to them: “If someone were to ask you, ‘What does your church do?’ what would you say?” Chances are, the answers would range some, but you’d begin to see a pattern. Conducting worship services may be a common theme. Perhaps some would want to share about the ways your church serves people in your community. Some might get philosophical and offer an answer about loving one another or following Jesus.

Assuming those answers are true, they aren’t bad answers. But as you’ve guessed by now, I would’t be talking about this if I didn’t see something problematic with those answers.

The issue is this (stay with me on this one): When it comes to leading churches, we often confuse the what with the how. Let me explain.

WHAT has to do with purpose; HOW is the strategy and methods we use to get it done.

This is more than a mere parsing of words. It’s a crucial distinction that gets to the core of why your church exists. When you ask a carpenter what he does, the answer you get probably won’t be, “Sawing, hammering nails, and making accurate measurements.” A carpenter certainly does those things, but you’re more likely to hear something like, “I build homes” or “I remodel kitchens and bathrooms.” Because at the end of the day, a carpenter isn’t in it for the measuring and cutting. At our church, the what is Helping people meet and follow Jesus. The how includes many things, such as creating meaningful worship environments, small groups, and serving people in need. What your church does should rarely change. How you get it done is always open for discussion.Continue Reading

What Role Does Conflict Play on Your Team?

Grizzly Bear (Ursus arctos)If you’ve ever worked on a team, you probably have a story of how conflict kept your team, company, or office from accomplishing its goals or getting anything done. Conflict can negatively affect the most talented of team members and bring things to a grinding halt.

On many teams, conflict is a something that is avoided at all costs. After all, conflict is bad, right? Not always. Conflict can play an important role in a healthy team. In fact, unless the people on your team has the exact same opinions on every issue, there will always be some level of conflict. The question is, what role does conflict play on your team?

Option 1: Conflict is avoided at all costs

On some teams, conflict is avoided at all costs. Usually, the root cause is a dictator-like team leader who demands allegiance to him and his ideas. There is no point to bringing up a differing opinion—no matter how minor—because people who don’t get in line often find themselves looking for another job.Continue Reading

Video of the Week: Leadership Development

Really enjoyed this video on leadership development by Mike Ely and Warren Bird. It’s a long one, but really worth it if you’re thinking of developing an intentional leadership development strategy in your church. Check it out:


How to Be a Great, Expendable, and Unimportant Leader

14639958316_d659227eba_bWhen it comes to leadership lessons in the Bible, few Old Testament figures get more press than Nehemiah. Nehemiah had his heart broken for his home country Israel and how Jerusalem and its wall had fallen into disrepair. Though he was in a position where it seemed impossible he could do anything about it—he lived hundreds of miles away and was in service to a foreign king—he sought God’s direction and leveraged his position of influence at his job to take on the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall. When he arrived in Jerusalem, he dealt with workers who were less than courageous in the face of difficult circumstances and encountered opposition from other leaders who had much to lose should Nehemiah’s mission succeed. In the end, Nehemiah and his followers prevailed. Effective leadership carried the day.

Depending on which historian you read (or what kind of point the author of the leadership book you’re reading is trying to make), Nehemiah either 1) Left a cushy job where he was a major leader in Persia with all the perks that go with it in order to fulfill a God-given vision that only he was in position to accomplish, or 2) Nehemiah was an expendable part of Artaxerxes’ court (since his job was to die instead of the king should someone try to poison the king’s cup), and it’s incredible that such an expendable figure accomplished all he did. Both are great storylines, and both are inspiring. However, we don’t have to choose between the two, because both are part of Nehemiah’s story: Being a leader means making as big of an impact as you can while realizing that you’re not all that important at all.Continue Reading