Over the past eight years I’ve taken a number of different approaches to having a leadership/ministry/staff team. In this post I want to share a few of the things that I’ve learned over the years from my experience, both positive and negative, and the resources that I’ve learned from. When I first started pastoring, I walked into what I’d describe as a “replant” situation. The congregation was about fifteen years old and had somewhat hit a plateau and needed to make some changes. One of the things that we did early on was have an “open-to-everyone” leadership development class where we basically worked through Dan Juster’s Relational Leadership: A Manual of Leadership Principles for Congregational Leaders and Members. My advice to anyone who is looking to develop, foster, and maintain a leadership team is to not do that! From my experience and after talking to others, there’s a better way to go about developing and fostering than the “anyone-and-everyone-can-come” approach. In my experience you’ll have a lot of people come but very few will transition into leadership roles.
The best short introduction to getting your leaders, I think, is found in Michael Gatlin’s Launching Leaders: How to Multiply Leaders in the Local Church (7 Practical Sessions from a Classic Vineyard Approach). This is short and sweet and lays out how one identifies, recruits, trains, deploys, monitors, and nurture’s leaders. I love this little booklet because it is very practical and will help you go from A to Z as you disciple people into leadership. It’s perfect for how you relate to individuals who go from walking into the church, experience the transforming power of the gospel, and slowly become more and more responsible with leadership.
What I want to talk about now is more related to developing, fostering, and maintaining the team. How do you function as a team? How do you cast vision, plan and communicate, and take care of each other? Here are a couple of principles to consider:
Regularly gather together as a family.
Church size will likely determine how often this happens. Some churches have staff meetings daily, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. In our congregation, we have several “layers” of leadership. Our senior leadership team is our pastoral team, which meets twice a month to pray together, discuss pastoral issues, and plan sermons. We also have a Board of Ministry which meets once a month. This groups title is actually a bit misleading because it really functions more as an executive board to provide oversight and accountability for the church finances. Once a month we also gather all of our ministry team leaders. This would include our children’s ministry pastor, worship leader, small groups pastor, administrative assistant, etc. Lastly, I meet once a week with my administrative assistant, worship leader, and children’s ministry leader to discuss the day to day things needed.
This post is mostly about our monthly leadership team meeting. Because of that, I want to place emphasis on the word “family” here. You want to have gatherings that people look forward to attending because it helps them in their leadership role. You want them to leave refreshed and excited about the Missio Dei. You want lots of things and them dreading your meeting isn’t one of them. When you have to require attendance at your meetings, your meetings suck. John Wimber used to say that you can’t keep people from a party (I was pleased to hear Michael Gatlin confirm this the other day).
This is one of the reasons why I like to have many of these gatherings at my house. Gathering together in our living room seems to create an atmosphere that is far more relational and organic.
Put energy into your leadership gatherings.
A number of years ago we had some leaders in our church that would schedule meetings and either not show or show up late. And to make matters worse, you could tell they put almost no planning into their meetings. Guess what happened? Everyone who volunteered on their team quit. Three minutes of planning for a meeting as you pull into the parking lot is not sufficient.
Truth be told, I’ve done this a couple of times too. Guess what happened at those meetings? They sucked.
If you don’t take your leadership team meetings seriously, no one else will either. So spend time praying and planning in order that your meetings are effective and have quality substance. That’s generally hard to do fifteen minutes before people walk into your meeting.
Have a proportional amount of content.
I’m still learning about leadership, but back when I knew even less than I do now, I actually used to have two hour meetings where I talked for 95% of the time on “leadership development.” The other 5% of the time I would spend in prayer. You want to know how to spell what I used to do? B-O-R-I-N-G. I think I might have actually put myself to sleep several times.
In the same way that preachers need to have a proportional amount of exposition, illustration, and application, leadership meetings need to have a proportional amount of content. In our leadership team meetings, we basically do five things. Here are some brief explanations of what we do and about how much time we spend on it (give or take some time).
(1) Catch up. When people walk into my house, there is coffee and snacks ready to go. After they grab a cup of coffee or other beverage of their choice, they will sit down and catch up with their friends. Darcy, our snacks ministry coordinator, will sit down and talk with Don, one of our pastors. Brian, our future outreach pastor, will catch up with Lore, our food pantry director. Everyone is chatting it up and genuinely enjoying themselves. We do this for about fifteen minutes.
(2) Worship & prayer. We do one or two songs that focus our attention on Jesus and invite God’s presence into our gathering. After we sing, we have a little time for prayer where we ask for God’s guidance and pray for situations in the church. I love these moments of worship because so often the Spirit’s discernible presence shows up and draws our hearts toward loving Jesus more. Jonathan Edwards said this was the first distinguishing mark of a work of the Holy Spirit, so I’m going to guess this is an important part of our meeting. We do this for about fifteen minutes.
(3) What’s God doing? We then take some time to talk about what God has been doing in our community, who we can (and do) affirm, what major projects we have, what difficulties we’re facing and what we’re doing to grow and to stay healthy (spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically, etc.). Due to the large influence of Sam Crabtree’s Practicing Affirmation (and everything I’ve heard from Bob Logan), there is more power in affirmation than you could ever imagine (here’s a message I shared on this subject). There’s nothing quite as beautiful to a pastor as sitting back and watching the people he loves, serves, and leads talk good about each other, encourage each other, and pray for each other. We do this for about fifteen minutes.
(4) Vision Casting & Planning. In addition to giving everyone a heads up on the upcoming sermon series, we also take some time to talk about events. Sometimes this means that someone will share about an event they are planning or need help on and other times we’ll actually plan an event together or evaluate an event (we regularly use S.M.A.R.T. planning and do S.W.O.T. analyses, among others). I’ve found that it’s far more effective to include people in the creative process than to simply dictate plans. There’s certainly a balance to be sought, but I believe it’s rather important to recognize that the Spirit could just as easily work through the thinking and ideas of people on your leadership team as he can with you or I. We do this for about ten minutes.
(5) Equipping. The last, and what most of our time is spent on, is related to equipping, training, or passing on skills. Perhaps I should mention that my goal and purpose behind these meetings is to make sure the team is centered on Jesus, relationally good, on the same page, and equipped to lead. I’ve taught on discipleship, evangelism, praying for people, the Holy Spirit, communication, and a bunch of other topics. I’ve pulled from books, articles, websites and more. The point being is that if I’ve found something helpful for me as a leader, I try and pass it on. Last month I spent time refocusing us on discipleship and ended by challenging everyone to find someone to disciple. Previous to this I spoke about how the team should deal with criticism and the month before that, one of our other pastors gave some practical ways to see needs and meet them. The key is to provide practical and helpful items for your leaders. This isn’t the time to teach Hebrew or Greek, as important as biblical languages may be (by the way, just because someone doesn’t know biblical languages doesn’t mean they can’t be in ministry or aren’t way more effective than some who do know biblical languages). I intentionally keep this time very “conversational” and make sure we have lots of discussion and throw out a lot of questions. We do this for about 45 minutes.
What resources do I recommend?
If you know me, you know that I’ve been literally dying to tell you what books you should purchase. Here are a few books, with a bit of explanation, that I’d recommend you pick up and either read through or reference. I’ll also throw a couple of website links that you may find helpful too. These are not in any specific order either.
Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church Culture, by Aubrey Malphurs. Any time that a pastor asks me about making changes in their church, I recommend this book. Without this book, I don’t think I could have led our congregation to go from being an independent non-denominational church to being adopted into the Vineyard movement. Even though I knew that God was leading us to join the Vineyard, I needed help in how to properly make that transition (I wish I had owned a copy of this book when I first started pastoring). If you are going to go from not having a leadership/ministry/staff team meeting to having one, I’d suggest getting a copy of this book because I think it may save you some heartache at transitioning the culture of your church. Make no mistake; you may have to fight against some attitudes and ideas that don’t see the value of having a regular gathering of leaders, so being able to discern and know how to shape the church’s culture will come in handy. Aubrey Malphurs is basically a leadership guru and I have found all of his books full of helpful advice or, at the very minimum, food for thought. Check out his Amazon page for more helpful books (e.g., Leading Leaders, Advanced Strategic Planning, Being Leaders, and Building Leaders).
Winning on Purpose: How to Organize Congregations to Succeed in their Mission, by John Kaiser. This is one of the most practical books in existence on the “how to” of church leadership. I’ve read it and reread it many times and consult it regularly. If you want to know how to create buy in, cultivate responsibility and ownership, and develop a committed missional team, this is a great book.
Doing Church: Building from the Bottom Up, by Alexander Venter. If you are a Vineyard leader, you should own this. You could likely do a few years of the “equipping” aspect of your meetings based right from this. If you aren’t a Vineyard leader, I’d still recommend you check this out because it has a lot of helpful concepts that are very practical and often overlooked in other traditions (but are vitally important).
Church Staff Handbook: How to Build an Effective Ministry Team, by Harold J. Westing. This should be read shortly after you’ve read Winning on Purpose. It’s full of practical insights, charts, models, functions, explanations, and much more. I consult it any time I have questions about staff or administrative issues as well as have enjoyed the chapters on maintaining the team.
Feel free to post a question or thought in the comments below. If you need more details on some of these ideas or suggestions, let us know. If you have some different ways of approaching these issues, feel free to post your thoughts here and let us know what has and hasn’t worked for you!
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.