The pastor’s principles of staff leadership and team management

From time to time, pastors run situations by me for my response.  Often it has to do with a conflict with a staff member. Particularly if either the pastor or staffer is new, conflict often arises.  That’s why…

I suggest that pastors have some tried-and-true principles to govern their relationships with ministerial staff and the office staff. That is–to clarify–some bedrock rules you go by in your dealings with your team.  In most cases, you have acquired these the hard way, by breaking them or being broken upon them.

Anyway.   Here are a few I have lived with, just to get you started….

One.  No leader  likes surprises.

That’s why we have weekly staff meetings, to talk things out, to plan the calendar, etc.  Once on a Sunday morning, the student minister announced to the church that the mission trip for next Summer would be to New Hampshire.  Next morning in staff, I said, “At what point did we decide the youth would go to New Hampshire next summer?”  He turned twelve colors, swallowed hard, and said, “Uh oh.”  We had a head knocking–in love, actually–and he learned an important lesson.  And yes, he took the youth to New Hampshire.

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Too toxic to keep, too popular to fire: What to do about that difficult staff member

“Shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

I once asked a pastor friend, “Are you afraid of (a certain member of his staff who was causing him grief)?”  He said, “No, I’m not afraid of him.  But I fear  the damage he could do if I were to fire him.”

Therein lies the dilemma:  What to do about a team member  too powerful to fire but too difficult to keep.

Read on.

I’ve been reading H. W. Brands’ The General vs. The President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War. Dr. Brands is a highly respected professor of history at the University of Texas. Back when Brands taught at Texas A&M, Stephen Ambrose brought him to New Orleans for the 1998 conference on the Spanish-American War. My son Neil and I took in the conference and have been big fans of Professor Brands ever since.

In April 1951, Truman fired the most popular general in American history, becoming in one act the most reviled President in memory. During this period of his presidency, historians agree that Truman had become  one of the most unpopular presidents in history.  Interestingly, however, history vindicates Truman in his decision to dismiss the egotistical and out of control general.  You will search long and hard to find a military historian who thinks that MacArthur should not have been fired.

Someone asked Dwight D. Eisenhower once, “Didn’t you serve under General MacArthur?” (Ike had been his right-hand man in the Philippines in the 1930s.)  He answered, “I studied dramatics under him for eight years.” He is quoted as saying, “MacArthur could never see another sun, or even a moon for that matter, as long as he was the sun.”

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What a sharp staff member looks like

(Sometimes when a church staff member comes across as unmotivated and directionless, it’s because no one has taken him/her under the wing to mentor them in how to be sharp and do their work well. We send this little piece forth to encourage staffers to seek out mentors and veteran pastors to become such.)

Sometimes a visiting preacher can tell the pastor something about a staff member he was too busy to notice.

We were hosting an evangelist friend for a weekend of meetings. That Saturday night, we had bought  20 huge pizzas for a hundred young people.  After the meal, my friend would address them about their relationship with Christ. As  they were eating and fellowshipping, the evangelist took me aside to point something out.

“Joe, look at your student  minister.”

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Longevity in ministry: How to stay as long as God wants!

“Certainly, I will be with you” (God to Moses in Exodus 3:12).

Poor Moses.  He served the same congregation for forty years.

During all that time, Moses had no opportunity for advancement. And instead of getting easier as the years came and went, the work seemed to never let up.  One challenge after another.  It was enough to age a fellow prematurely.  Which is why, perhaps, the Lord chose a fellow who was already old–like eighty!–at the start.

Think of that.  Just at the time most people are getting fitted for a rocking chair and ordering their walk-in bathtub, Moses took on a new assignment.  Clearly, the Lord did not ask a committee of Israeli leaders what they wanted in the next shepherd.

Not only was Moses’ congregation the largest one around, it was the only one!

During those forty years, Moses did not receive a single raise.  And not the first award or recognition.  Well,  other than from God, which as it turned out, was more than enough.

The writer of Hebrews said we should ‘consider Jesus “who endured…” (Hebrews 12:3).  True. But we may also want to “consider Moses.”  He was a lot like us and demonstrates a hundred lessons on how to hang with a difficult job through good times and bad until you get the people of the Lord to the promised land.

Here are a few of those lessons.

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The team member who is your biggest headache

“…a thorn in the flesh was given to me …lest I be exalted above measure” (2 Corinthians 12:7).

They’re standard equipment, these “thorns in the flesh.” Burrs under the saddle.  Pains in the, well, you know.  They come with the territory.

I’m reading Jack “Dusty” Kleiss’ memoirs of his service in the Second World War.  “Never Call Me a Hero: A legendary American Dive-Bomber Pilot Remembers The Battle of Midway” is the lengthy title.  I recommend it highly.

As a student of the Second World War, I must have read a dozen or more of such books, memoirs of veterans of this greatest of all conflicts.  In spite of the title, Kleiss deserves the recognition and accolades of a hero as much as anyone ever has.  Again and again he risked his life flying planes of all kinds throughout the Pacific in the war against Japan.  He kept good records, his team did great research, giving us details on the days he served, the planes they flew and the men he served under alongside, which included Admirals Kimmel, Halsey, and Nimitz.

All is good, except for one guy who keeps popping up throughout the story.

Lt. Clarence Dickinson was his thorn in the flesh.

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Crisis Management: How to keep our people during a crisis

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16).

We can’t say the Lord didn’t warn us. Although, clearly, some did not get the word.

In Matthew 10:16-42 our Lord is preparing His people for their future ministry with its pressures, persecutions, betrayals, and conflicts.  He tells us how things will be, what to expect, and what actions we should take when bad things occur.  To our shame, our people are rarely taught this, and thus are blindsided when turmoil erupts in a congregation.

And so, when the enemy attacks the church, God’s people panic and flee like chickens in the barnyard when a hostile dog arrives.

We all pay a big price for our failure to prepare the people.

It’s a familiar story, one which I heard again today.  When the pastor resigned suddenly due to his own foolish behavior, many in the congregation panicked and went into a tailspin.  The leadership wants to carry on the program, but people are leaving the church in droves.  What to do? Can anything be done at this late hour to keep members from jumping ship?

The best time to act is two years ago. (“Oh, thanks a lot, wise one.  You’re a big help!”)

Seriously.

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They criticized the pastor. So, being a great champion for God, he resigned.

“Christ also suffered for us…when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him who judges righteously….” (I Peter 2:21-25).

Quotes on enduring criticism abound.  Go online and pull up a chair.  Here are a few we found in a few minutes….

–The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment.(Elbert Hubbard)    -You can’t let praise or criticism get to you.  It’s a sign of weakness to get caught up in either one. (John Wooden)   –A critic is a legless man who teaches running. (Channing Pollock)    –You are a glorious shining sword and criticism is the whetstone.  Do not run from the whetstone or you will become dull and useless. Stay sharp.  (Duane Alan Hahn)

Pastor and church leaders:  You do not want to live and work where there is an absence of criticism.

You think you do. But you don’t.  Only in the harshest of dictatorships is there no criticism.  But in a free society–like ours–criticism abounds.  If the society is indeed free, much of the criticism is fair, just, and well deserved.  Likewise, much of it will be unfair, unjust and unmerited. A leader who survives has to develop discernment in order to know what to ignore and what to treasure and learn from.

A friend texted:  “Joe, write something about criticism!  Some good pastors are resigning because not everyone in the church likes them!”

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Turning sarcasm into “sic ’em!”

“Jesus said, ‘No doubt you will quote this proverb to me, “Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” No prophet is welcome in his own hometown'” (Luke 4:24). 

John Fogerty’s group Creedence Clearwater Revival is unforgettable to anyone who has owned a radio in the last 50 years.  Two years ago, in an interview with Dan Rather, Fogerty was remembering a key moment in the 1960s.

The group was one of many bands to perform at a particular event.  As the final group to warm up, and thus the first band to appear on stage, suddenly CCR found they had been unplugged.  John Fogerty yelled to the sound man to plug them back up, that they weren’t through.  The technician did so reluctantly, then added, “You not going anywhere anyway, man.”  Fogerty said, “Okay.  Give me one year.  I’ll show you.”

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Thanking God for the pain. It can be a great friend.

This morning, as we were sitting at the breakfast table discussing memories good and bad, my Bertha said something I wrote down so I’d get it just right.

We have a wagonload of memories of God’s people who have loved us and cared for us. But we also have painful memories that we wish we could edit out of our lives.  But the Holy Spirit has shown me that if He took out the pain and strife, He would also be removing the lovely things that happened during that same time. Or, that happened as a direct result of the bad event. 

It brought up a painful memory from my junior high days.  A teacher said something really harsh that forever left its mark on me. Over the years as I have sometimes reflected on that incident, my primary focus has been on the offense. I’ve wondered about that teacher, why he did what he did, what it meant, and so forth.  But I realized something from what Bertha said today.

The teacher who scarred the kid 

Early in the semester of the 7th grade, all the students–perhaps a hundred of us–were  herded into the gymnasium. The band director, a Mr. Keating, called everyone to order and announced that today we would be electing class officers.

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Pastor, try not to sound so much like a preacher! (This is about communication.)

“Your words have helped the tottering to stand; you have strengthened feeble knees”  (Job 4:4). 

Speak clearly.  Enunciate. Use simple, active language.  Avoid wordiness. Never try to impress the audience with large, unfamiliar words.

Encourage people with your speech.  “She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the law of kindness is on her tongue” (Proverbs 31:26).

“Take with you words,” said the prophet to God’s people, “and return to the Lord” (Hosea 14:2).

Words.  They matter so much.  You’re reading a compilation of them right now.  Ideally, I have so arranged them as to make sense and convey a message.

The major reason writers edit their writings is to find the culprits that would hinder communication.

It’s essential not to use a word that would impede, stun, or burden the message. .

In today’s newspaper, the food section carried a huge article on how a good salad can improve a meal.  The headline said: “Ameliorate any meal with a simple pasta salad.”

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