Who Should Serve on Your Leadership Team? 4 Traps to Avoid

An exceptional book on teams by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird just came out this week. It’s called Teams that Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church LeadershipI highly recommend it! I asked those guys (who are really smart dudes, especially in the area of church leadership) to write a guest post. Their post below offers wise insight on avoiding traps when deciding who should serve on your leadership team.

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Determining who should be on your team – and who shouldn’t be – can become a challenge, especially when many different people are vying for a spot at the table. Plus, many pastors understandably want to do whatever they can to please as many of those people as possible (as Charles Stone writes about in People-Pleasing Pastors). But establishing a small yet powerful team made up of the right people – and not the wrong people – is essential to your team’s success.

To help you make the bold, sometimes difficult decisions necessary to take your team to the next level, your leadership team doesn’t need to – and in many cases shouldn’t – be:

1. Merely the lead pastor’s or executive pastor’s direct reports.

While it’s common practice to identify the senior leadership team by drawing a circle around the top two or three layers of the organizational chart, doing so is neither necessary or advisable. Sitting at a particular place in the organizational hierarchy does not automatically qualify someone for senior team membership. For instance, the senior team at one large church we studied does not include the CFO, communications director or worship pastor, even though each of them report directly to the executive pastor. Though each of them brings outstanding individual skill and commitment to their roles, the leadership team was designed to be as small as possible, and so their positions on it were not guaranteed. As you determine your team’s membership, you don’t have to be a slave to your organizational chart.

2. A democratic representation of all church constituencies.

Leadership teams are not mini-democracies. Every special interest group in your church does not need a seat—or direct representation—at the senior leadership team table. A “representative” approach means people tend to lobby and protect their constituency rather than fight for what’s best for the church as a whole. Also, because they are representatives, they tend to encourage even more representation, and therefore a larger number on the team, making it cumbersome and ineffective.

Instead, it is important that the members of your leadership team—or at least one member of your leadership team—can think strategically and broadly enough to be able to generally understand the important interests of your church’s various constituencies and consider them in the team’s discussions. Special-interest pleading is a fatal practice of leadership teams.

3. People you include largely to make them feel special.

A senior leadership team is no place to assuage a staff person who has been passed over for a promotion or whose role has been recently downsized. Nor even is it the group to offer an automatic seat solely because someone is a long-standing volunteer or long-term staff member. While placing (or keeping) that person on the leadership team might soften someone’s potential ego blow, you can be sure it will be a huge hit to your team’s productivity and overall health. Don’t fall to this temptation. At the same time, use extreme caution when using a seat on the leadership team as an enticement to lure a new staff member.

4. The “team” that was here when you got here.

Just because you inherited a team doesn’t mean you should keep that team. You may realize that the current members of the team don’t possess the needed “stuff” to lead the church to new levels. Or perhaps history indicates a particular position has always sat on the team but doesn’t contribute much. In these cases, make a move, and do it soon (and graciously). Too many leaders take too long deal with team members who sap the life out of the team; by doing so, they simply prolong the inevitable. In essence, the only reason a person should be on the leadership team is to bring a critical talent, perspective or skill to the group that enables the team to accomplish its unique purpose.

For more about how to determine your team’s optimal membership and a host of other tips to help your team thrive, see Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership.

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Excerpted with permission from chapter 8 of Teams That Thrive: Five Disciplines of Collaborative Church Leadership by Ryan T. Hartwig and Warren Bird, InterVarsity Press, 2015. Visit www.TeamsThatThriveBook.com for the book itself, exercises, and other tools to help your team.

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5 Mistakes Pastors Make when Planning Staff Retreats

Dave Berry, one of the funniest guys on the planet once wrote, “If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be: meetings.” I’m not sure if he’s 100% right, but he’s close. Meetings, and extended ones like retreats, often don’t achieve their intended purpose. Why? Because we make significant mistakes when we plan them. Consider these five mistakes and potential corrective measures.

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Here are some dumb mistakes I’ve made when planning and holding retreats.

  1. Packing too much into a retreat (which have ranged from 1-3 days). I once handed out about 20 different documents for review and study.
  2. Talking too much. At times I’ve talked/taught so much that I left little time for thorough interaction.
  3. Going too long. As the adage goes, “The brain will absorb only what the rear can endure.”
  4. Not including R&R.
  5. Including other leaders too late into the planning process. In one church I asked our elders to join us after we had completed our planning. They ended up not being on the same page and the pastors felt like our retreat was a waste of time.

As I’ve grown in my retreat leading and planning, these factors have contributed to better success.

  1. Narrow your discussion to a fewer number of topics.
  2. Create a “talk about later” list of subjects that surface during the retreat.
  3. Hold your retreat off-site rather than at the office.
  4. Begin and end at a reasonable hour. Don’t wear people out.
  5. Do something fun like watch a movie together.
  6. Listen more that you talk. Remember the acronym, WAIT, which means Why Am I Talking?
What tips can you share that have helped make your retreats effective?
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4 Simple Decisions that Can Boost Personal Productivity

Our church is growing and as we grow, our staff faces greater demands on their time. So, we must work smarter. Since I’m trying to build a learning culture here at West Park Church, I asked myself, “How can I help our staff work smarter?” I’ve adapted and used the Getting Things Done process for years, but sometimes it seems cumbersome. Recently, however, I discovered insights from a Microsoft employee who wrote the book, Getting Results the Agile Way. (I highly recommend it) It’s a simple process that helps improve personal productivity. I’ve summarized below the 4 simple decisions he suggests that can help boost our productivity. I’m beginning to apply them and they really work.

Production has really picked up since we installed coffee pots.

THE FOUR DECISIONS

  1. Monday vision: every Monday look at your week and determine the top three things you hope to accomplish. Write them down.
  2. Daily Outcomes: every day determine the top three things you want to accomplish. Write them down.
  3. Rule of Three: as you might have guessed it, practice the rule of three. That is, keep your high priority daily and weekly task/project lists to three items.
  4. Friday Reflection: on Friday look at what you accomplished, what you learned, and what you hope to do differently the following week.

This seems so simple that it seems simplistic. But, that’s it’s beauty.

Less is often more. Simple is often better.

 In his book he expands upon these principles, and many more.

Here’s how we’re trying to incorporate this insight thus far.

  • Each week we read 2-3 chapters of the book.
  • When we meet in our weekly staff meeting we discuss our learnings.
  • I created four posters reflecting the four key insights above and as a reminder I taped them to our conference room wall where we meet.

This author is quite unselfish. He offers a 30-day free plan here where he takes one key insight and expands it each day for 30 days.

As I seek to boost my productivity, while keeping healthy margins, I’m reminded that the Bible even tells us to use our time wisely.

  • Making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Eph 5.16, ESV)
  • So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Ps 90.12, ESV)

How can you boost your productivity this week?

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What Makes a Great Staff Meeting? This May Surprise You.

Staff meetings…a necessary part of the ministry and the workplace. I’ve led hundreds. Some went well. Some, well, didn’t. My friend Tim Stevens just wrote a great book to help leaders not only lead great staff meetings, but become better leaders as well. It’s called Fairness Is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace. I highly recommend it. He graciously offered to write today’s guest post to share his insight on what makes a great staff meeting. He calls this snippet from his book, the 3 S’s of a great meeting. You’ll appreciate his insight.

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The 3 S’s

If I were only allowed to give one reason why the organization where I served for twenty years was often described as having a healthy culture, it would certainly be a decision we made many years ago to meet together on a weekly basis.

You might be saying, “Uh, you have a staff meeting? Congratulations. Every organization has staff meetings.” But this was different, and let me explain why.

This was a meeting we had every week that was for the distinct and single purpose of creating culture. We called it our weekly “SWAT” meeting—which is a cheesy acronym for “Staff Working As Team,” but within this title is the purpose of the gathering.

This wasn’t a meeting to make decisions; it was not a meeting to share prayer requests or worship (I know you think church leaders do this at every gathering); and it was not a meeting to fix things that were going wrong. None of those are bad, and they all help create culture to some degree. But instead, we focused solely on three areas we believed were the most effective at creating a healthy culture.

Stories

We spent the first fifteen to twenty minutes of every gathering sharing stories. We began the conversation by saying, “Where have you seen God at work in and through the church in the past seven days?” And then it was an open floor. We heard about changed lives inside and outside our walls. We heard stories from student ministry, small groups, and children’s ministry. We found out about the person in Canada who wrote in after watching an online service. We heard about the experiences of people who attended for the first time, and the baptism of someone who had been away from church for decades. We learned about the woman who walked into the building lonely and afraid on a Monday afternoon, and who left having found encouragement and hope. We heard about the guy who was delivered a box of food in last year’s food drive, and who came to help others receive food this year.

You can’t underestimate the power of a story. It is so easy for people to get caught up in the micro-purpose of what they do: cleaning floors, organizing small groups, rehearsing lyrics, or preparing to teach kids. And sometimes you can work week after week and never see any tangible results from your work. But when you have an opportunity to gather every week and hear stories from your area and others, it does three things:

  1. It keeps you from a silo mentality, or thinking you are the only one getting anything done.
  2. It gives you a reason to celebrate what is happening all across the organization.
  3. It gives you hope and reenergizes your vision when your team may be going through a tough season.

If I were running a company, I would do exactly the same thing. I would orient the story-telling segment of the meeting to share reports of great customer interactions or feedback. What are our customers saying? Where is our product helping better people’s lives?

Spotlight

Following stories, we spent time putting one individual in the spotlight. With no warning ahead of time, we asked someone to sit up front and field questions from the rest of the team. We found out about his or her childhood, likes and dislikes, faith journey, spouse, hobbies, and history. This gave us an opportunity to get to know someone on a level we never did before. It took us out of the subculture of our individual departments, and it communicated that we were all on the same team, caring for one another as individuals.

Following the Q&A, we stopped and said, “Now let’s tell [Jill] why we are so glad to have her on the team.” And one after another we told her how her life added joy and meaning to the rest of us. People who were very close to her got to voice in front of others how significant she was to the team. The executive leaders got to communicate the value she brought to the entire organization. People who barely knew Jill got to tell her how they had been encouraged by her presence, smile, or attitude.

Stuff

The final segment in our meeting was used for sharing inside information. It added value to the team when they knew stuff ahead of time. Sometimes we talked about upcoming events; other times we were throwing concepts out that hadn’t been decided on but that needed input from the team. They had ownership when they knew stuff before others, and it equipped them to answer questions and carry the vision.

Occasionally our “stuff ” section consisted of one of the leaders talking about vision, teaching values, or sharing a spiritual lesson. These tended to be unprocessed thoughts. They felt more as if the leader was sharing off the top of his or her heart rather than delivering a prepared talk. Sometimes it was a bit raw, as it hadn’t been written for a larger audience, but the staff really appreciated the authentic nature of being able to hear from their leaders as they were learning—not when it was all finished and packaged.

These weekly gatherings kept everyone on the team energized and focused. We realized, It’s not just about me or my department; I’m part of something bigger. Even if we were having a tough week, for a few minutes we were pulled above that and realized again why it mattered. By the way, I would start this even if my business were brand-new with only one or two paid staff. And in the church setting, this would be fabulous to do regularly with a room full of volunteers. So I’ll say it again: if I were going to do one thing to create a positive culture, I would start with a weekly gathering and the three Ss. With our team at Granger, this ritual was hugely effective in keeping us focused in the same direction.

Tim Stevens is a team leader with the Vanderbloemen Search Group, an executive search firm that helps churches and ministries find great leaders.

Previously he was the executive pastor at Granger Community Church in Granger, Indiana. During his twenty years there, he helped grow the church to more than 5,000 gathering weekly in three locations and saw a worldwide impact.

Learn more about his new book, Fairness Is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace.

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8 Reasons Why Our Elder Board Works so Well

I just passed my one year anniversary at the church were I serve as lead pastor, West Park Church in London, Ontario, having served my entire ministry in the U.S. prior to my move to Canada. One of my greatest joys has been working with our current elder board. I’ve never worked with a board that has accomplished so much with so much unanimity and harmony. I believe these 8 reasons explain why this board works so well together.

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  1. PRAYER: We always begin our meetings with a focus on God’s Word and prayer. And our prayers are not the perfunctory prayer-ettes. We often pray for an extended time for the needs in the church. This keeps us focused on our shepherding role.
  2. PREPARATION: I meet with the chair and vice-chair a few weeks prior to plan our meetings. We prepare an agenda that we email to the entire team before the meeting. They know what to expect.
  3. NO TIE BREAKERS: Although I’m an elder, I don’t have a vote on the board. When the board has to approve some significant issue, I give my perspective, but I’m never in a position to be a deciding a vote. Most of the decisions the board has made have been unanimous or near unanimous.
  4. UNITY IN DISAGREEMENT: Our meetings are not filled with all happy talk. We’ve had serious discussions and shared different perspectives on issues. But we agree that when we leave the board room, we speak as one.
  5. LISTENING PERSPECTIVE: Every one on the board truly listens to everyone else’s perspectives. When we disagree, we do so with respect having first truly listened to each other.
  6. BLOOD, SWEAT, AND TEARS: No church is perfect and neither is ours. Before I arrived the board had invested extremely long hours dealing with significant issues the church faced. They have invested much and don’t sit in an ivory tower apart from the day in and day out tough stuff in every church. They have ‘paid their dues,’ so to speak, and want what’s best for the church.
  7. FOCUSED MEETINGS: We meet twice a month and just recently decided to give each meeting a  unique slant. Our first meeting of the month deals with tactical matters and the second meeting of the month deals with strategic issues. During the strategic meeting we set aside time to discuss usually only one key issue.
  8. APPRECIATION: Often I hear different board members share words of appreciation to each for a member’s unique contributions. I also often thank and appreciate the board members for their service.

It’s a joy serving on a board that works through tough stuff, but does so with grace and intention.

What keys have made your board work well?

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