The first couple weeks of leading through the COVID-19 crisis the staff team at Sun Valley Community Church (the church I have the honor of serving at) has been fantastic! I’m so proud of how hard they’ve been working, how quickly they’ve been able to pivot, and how well they’ve been pastoring people through this. Like every church staff team around the country we’re dealing with a level of disruption that we’ve never experienced before. We’re leading in a new normal, and I’m not sure anyone really has a great handle on what things are going to look like for the church in North America on the other side of this…but we know it’s going to be different.
In an effort to support and encourage out team through this time I sat down and recorded a conversation with Dr. Ray Branton. Dr. Branton is the founder and Clinical Director of Arizona Psychology Consultants, as well as the founder and Clinical Director of Professional Counseling Associates. He’s been a part of Sun Valley for years, and I trust him. I was hoping to simply provide a resource to our team. Some way to encourage them through the chaos they are leading through. The conversation was really well received and I received some requests by the team to share it. Typically I don’t share resources like this that are intended for the team at Sun Valley on my blog. Simply because it’s designed for this team, for who they are and for what they’re leading through. But at their request, with Dr. Branton’s permission, and in the hope that this may be helpful for other church staff team members out there I’m sharing this resource with you. Understand that this was designed for our team here, so there’s going to be some “insider” moments that may not make sense for everyone viewing.
My concern is that if we don’t somehow figure out how to do the “both-and” of leading through crisis while paying attention to our own soul we could get ourselves into trouble. And all of that is coming from a guy (me) that likes to get things done and take new ground. But my friend Lance Witt at the Unstuck Group has challenged me by telling me, “Following Jesus cannot be done at a sprint. You can’t live life at warp speed without warping your soul.” I’m trying to listen.
know that’s not a very intriguing or sexy title…no clickbait there. However, to
this day, the best leadership book I’ve ever read is the Bible (and like you, I’ve
read a lot of leadership books). One of the most interesting leadership
interactions I’ve ever read about is out of Exodus chapter 18.
is actually pretty early in his personal leadership development and along comes
Exodus chapter 18, which turns out to be a crucible moment for Moses. It’s one
of those moments where Moses’ leadership grows exponentially. Exponential leadership
growth, or crucible moments, are usually a result of pain in our lives, and in
Exodus 18 Moses is experiencing all kinds of leadership pain. In fact, it was
so painful it affected his family so badly that his father-in-law had to step
in. Not a great moment for a son-in-law.
we are the lid to our own leadership
next day Moses sat to judge the people and the people stood around Moses from
morning till evening.” Exodus 18:13
was his own worst enemy, and the worst part is he didn’t even see it. He had
led himself into a corner. Every decision had to go through him. He chose
control over growth. He could control everything if it came through him, but by
doing so he stunted his own personal leadership growth and prevented himself
from being what the Israelites needed him to be. At first, for a new young
leader that may make you feel important and valuable. But like Moses you’ll
quickly learn that when you’re running from sunup to sundown, that kind of
approach can lead to some very unhealthy behaviors in your life and actually
hurt the Church.
all have blind spots
Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is
this that you are doing for the people?’” Exodus 18:14a
had a blind spot. He was doing something that wasn’t good for himself and it
wasn’t good for the people he was supposed to be leading. And by the way, it
also wasn’t good for his family…that’s probably why his father-in-law butted
in. We all need people to butt-in from time to time and hold up a mirror to
help us see things that we just can’t see on our own. When people hold up a
mirror to your leadership is your first inclination to listen and ponder or
fight and offer excuses?
don’t have to lead alone
do you sit alone, and all of the people stand around you from morning till
evening?’” Exodus 18:14b
by its very nature is exclusive. After all, how many CEO’s of Amazon are there?
How many CEO’s of Apple are there? I think you get my point. However, just because
leadership is exclusive doesn’t mean it needs to be lonely. Those are two
different things. While it’s true that the leader has decision making power and
carries weight that others in the organization don’t, it doesn’t mean they need
to do that in isolation. It’s never good to sit alone in leadership like Moses
was. Bad things happen when leaders become lonely.
not the only one who can do it
father-in-law said to him, ‘What you are doing is not good.’” Exodus 18:17
church leaders buy into the lie that says, “no one can do it as good as me,”
all kinds of bad things happen. You suffer, everyone around you suffers, and
the mission of Jesus suffers, You suffer because you carry more than you are
called and designed to carry. People around you suffer because they carry less
than they are called and designed to carry. The mission of Jesus suffers because
less people are involved in the mission and as a result the reach of the Gospel
is diminished. Are you carrying out your calling, or have you picked up things
that it’s time to let go of?
help you need is probably right under your nose
Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. Moses
chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of
thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.” Exodus 18:24-25
we can’t see the solutions God is providing us because we’re more focused on
being a victim and find a solution. Moses had become a bit self-absorbed and had
a bit of a “woe-is-me” attitude. As soon as Moses started looking around to see
what kind of solution and resources God had provided him and got his eyes off
of himself things started working for Israel and for Moses. Stop feeling sorry
for yourself and playing the part of a martyr, take a different approach and
find a solution.
You can have a great vision, but if the team isn’t healthy and high-performing, the church won’t experience health and growth.
More than ten years ago (gosh that’s hard to believe) I started The Unstuck Group.
This was after being a part of several great teams both before and
during my life in ministry. My sophomore basketball team wasn’t so good.
I cheer for some teams that aren’t so good. (I’m looking at you…the
Cleveland Browns.) But, when it comes to my workplaces, I’ve been on
think my experience being a part of great teams clouded my perspective
about helping churches get unstuck. I thought all we had to do was help
churches align around vision, strategy and action plans. If we did this,
it would lead to healthy, growing churches.
In many cases, that was true. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work in every situation. What I learned was this—
you can have a great vision, but if the team isn’t healthy and high-performing, the church won’t experience health and growth.
For the first 10 years of The Unstuck Group, we’ve been solely focused on church health, but that’s about to change.
couple of years ago I started talking with my long-time friend Lance
Witt about helping us design a process to help teams get unstuck. Since
then, he’s written a phenomenal book on that topic. The book addresses both the health and performance of becoming a high impact team.
Then, last December, a group of us got together and started to map out a new process to help teams live out the principles Lance wrote about in his book. We designed Unstuck Teams to address these aspects for having a higher impact team:
Any leader worth his or her salt will pause right now a do a little self-assessment. Which of those six areas are a strength in your leadership? Which of those six are weaknesses? Here’s a hint. Your team will reflect your leadership in all six of these areas.)
In my experience, it’s rare to find a team that’s firing on all cylinders in each of these areas.
I’ve worked with teams who are healthy, but lack in the area of
performance. I’ve worked with teams who appear to be getting results,
but team is not healthy and relationships are strained.
some instances, it wasn’t about health or performance at all. Instead
the culture was toxic or the structure wasn’t well-defined. Employees
didn’t know who was responsible for what. Some didn’t even know their
own roles and responsibilities. As you can imagine, none of these gaps
set the team up to have a significant impact. And when the team is not right, the church will never be healthy.
After designing the Unstuck Teams
process, Lance joined our staff full-time. I wish Lance could join
every team full-time. He not only writes and trains leaders on these
topics, he lives them out. Lance is an incredible leader. (I would use
that “he’s smoking what he’s selling” cliche, but Lance is from
Colorado. I don’t want you to take it literally.)
the last six months, Lance and the team have been fully developing the
tools to address the six aspects of high impact teams. Then they started
test-driving everything. That included piloting the new Unstuck Teams
process with four distinctly different churches. Our entire team
gathered in Phoenix this past December to get a preview as well. I know I’m biased, but it’s an unbelievable process.
probably will not shock you. My strengths as a leader are around
performance, systems and structure. I really have to work hard at the
health side. I have to be intentional about what it takes to create the
right culture. I can lead in those areas, but it’s not my natural
wiring. I have to really discipline myself about how I invest my
leadership capital in those areas. I want to make sure those aspects of
our team don’t suffer.
suspicion is that you are no different than me. In some of these areas
you have strength as a leader. In some of these areas there is weakness.
Those areas of weakness can prevent your team…and your church…from
having its greatest impact.
the next weeks and months, you’re going to hear more of my voice on
this topic. You may get tired of hearing my voice on this topic. I’m
willing to take that risk. I know the health and performance of the team will dictate a church’s Kingdom impact.
other words, if your church is stuck, it might be because your team is
stuck. You don’t have to remain there. Let us help you take a step
forward in your leadership while we help your team get unstuck.
Through the Unstuck Teams Process, we can guide you to lead staff teams that love working together and get stuff done—spiritually, emotionally, and relationally healthy, as well as productive and high-performing.
Tony Morgan is the Founder and Lead Strategist at the Unstuck Group. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He’s written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.
I mentioned when I began this countdown that team culture came up. I’ve fielded a lot of questions from church leaders on this topic and this post resonated with those conversations.
The best ideas don’t always come from where you think they come from.
In the Church we tend to hire professional pastors who are supposed have all of the answers. After all pastors go to seminary to learn theology and all kinds of good stuff about the Bible and how to teach it. The very nature of the structure lends itself to people thinking pastors have the answers. But guess what? We don’t. We may have some of the answers and even a few good ideas from time to time, but we don’t have all of the answers and we certainly don’t have the best ideas in the room.
The best ideas typically come from people who are closest to the problem.
So, for all of you who want to lead in a big church here’s one of the unfortunate implications of that statement. The larger the church is that you serve at and the more removed you are from day to day interaction with volunteers and people who attend your church, the more likely it is you have no idea what the best ideas are, in fact you probably don’t even know what the biggest problems are.
But your culture needs to allow ideas to flow up, input to be given and problems to be solved. Many churches never come to close to identifying or solving their biggest problems because their culture won’t allow it.
Here’s a few ideas about how you can start changing that.
1. Ask Good Questions
Asking instead of telling can quickly shift the culture of a team. Telling people what to do actually keeps them from learning to problem solve and think for themselves. Even if you have a strong opinion and you think your idea is the right idea, exercise restraint and start asking questions like, “What do you think we should do?,” “What do you think is best for our church?,” and “Is what we’re doing actually working?”
2. Push Decisions Down
If low level decisions consistently get escalated to high levels, then you’ve got a culture that is preventing you from solving problems. People are afraid to do the wrong thing, so they are escalating everything for input. Start to refuse to make decisions on things that you know others should be deciding on (otherwise you’ll train everyone to come to you for every decision). Do you have to make this decision?
3. Do Something About It
If you ask for input and then don’t actually do anything about it, you are training people not to answer you. If all you ever do is listen to problems, identify problems or talk about problems, the biggest problem you may have is a lack of courage to act.
4. Allow People to Make Mistakes
Each of my four kids can walk. I know that may not impress many of you, but there was a time when they were younger they could only crawl. When they got old enough and strong enough they would pull themselves up using a piece of furniture and attempt to take a step or two. They always failed. Every single one of them failed. There were some bumps and bruises and painful crash landings. But they’d get back up and try again. My wife and I would sit a few feed away from them and literally cheer them on. We’d tell them how proud of them we were for taking one lousy little step. You get where this is going. If you want to build a problem-solving culture in your church, you’ve got to cheer on little steps, little failures, and all of the moments they get back up and try again. Demeaning them won’t help them walk.
one thing when people have to follow you because you sign their paycheck or you’re
the “boss.” It’s another thing when people want to follow you. Becoming the
king of leader that people want to follow is the kind of stuff you should be
paying attention to and spending your time on.
want to follow leaders who take more blame than they should, and people want to
follow leaders who give away more credit than they should. And I want people to
want to follow you.
Blame Goes Up
every problem in the church is the Pastor’s/Leader’s problem. If you’ve been in
your seat for more than three years, it’s your problem. Before that, feel free
to blame the prior administration. If you’re facing a problem most likely it’s
because of somebody you hired, something you trained or something you allowed. And
you know what? You’re never going to go wrong taking responsibility for what is
going wrong. Being quick to take ownership and get on the solution side of
issues deescalates tense situations. It also teaches people on your team that
it’s okay to make mistakes and it frees them up to lead.
Credit Goes Down
of taking the credit when things go right, start giving it away. The world is
few of leaders who take. Instead be a leader who gives. Be quick to point out
what went right and what your team did to make things go right. Blame them for
what went right instead of what went wrong. They’ll love you for it and they’ll
do it again. Because, what gets celebrated gets repeated.