3 Must-Answer Questions for Leading Church Staff

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by Alan Danielson

I’ve been in full-time ministry since 1990. I’ve worked at churches ranging in attendance from 50 to 28,000. I’ve worked as support staff, executive staff and as a senior pastor. I’ve been hired by the right church and by the wrong church. I’ve made good staffing decisions and bad ones. I’ve been fired and I’ve had to do the firing. Through all of this, I’ve learned three questions that I believe every church leader must wrestle with and answer appropriately in order to build a healthy ministry workplace.

1) Do I Emphasize The Right Word In “Human Resources”?

“Human Resources” is a term that on some level I hate! I hate it because of the fact that many leaders treat their “Human Resources” more like resources and less like humans. The difference between a good leader and a bad leader is how “Human Resources” are treated. The same can be said of good and bad organizations.

Are all “Human Resources” equal? Not really. Some are more talented than others. Some are more effective than others. Some are more likable than others. What they all have in common, however, is that they are all HUMAN. Leaders do well to remember that the people they lead are people, not tools. They are humans, not resources.

When we treat people like resources, people become expendable. When people believe they are expendable, they will perform to the lowest standards. They will happily leave their jobs or volunteer positions in search of other opportunities.

At the end of the day, remember Jesus didn’t die for policy manuals and procedures. He died for human beings. God loves humans…all of us.

So ask yourself, “Do the people I lead really feel like they matter to me?” If the answer is “no”, “maybe” or “unsure” then you’ve got a Human Resource problem. Start treating the people you lead like humans and they’ll become your greatest resource!

2) How Long Do I Want Team Members To Stay Here?

Last year my associate pastor became a daddy. Ah, I remember those days. The foggy expression due to sleep deprivation. The feelings of exhaustion that still lingered, even right after taking a nap. The desire to put my face on my desk at work and sleeeeeep…… And all of those things were worth it because we had a new baby in the house!

Why am I mentioning all this? Because I told my associate pastor to stay home from work quite a bit during that season. I told him to stay home because I want him to love working for our church. I want him to sense 100% support from me and from other staff. I want him to believe that his family is more important to me than his job.

The timing of his new baby wasn’t very convenient for me. We were gearing up for a big small group ministry push and I needed his help. We had urgent pressing issues that needed his attention. Making him stay home would cause him to fall behind. Other staff would have to take up the slack while he was out. Yet, I encouraged him to take time off, because it was the thing that was best for him. If he believes I truly want the best for him, he will want to do his best for our church. If he knows I genuinely care about his well-being and the well-being of his family, he will care about the well-being of our ministry.

Would I have liked for him to be in the office more? Sure. But when I was tempted to wonder, “Where is that guy?” I reminded myself of one of the most important staffing questions I can ask: “Do I want him here today or do I want him here in five years?”

3) Do I really Understand The Difference Between Micro and Macro Management?

Many supporting pastors at churches (i.e., Youth pastors, small-group pastors, worship pastors, children’s pastors) get discouraged by their senior pastor’s micromanagement.

Some people like to be micromanaged, because they don’t want to be accused of thinking too far outside the box or pushing the limits. So micromanagement fits them because someone comes alongside them and tells him what to do every step of the way.

However, leaders don’t like to be micromanagedin fact, they hate it. Most people who are hired to work on a church staff are leaders (meaning true leaders, not just those who are given the title “leader”, but those who actually have a gift for leadership). Checking up on every detail in a true leader’s work life feels to them like a lack of trust. Leaders never thrive in an environment where there is a lack of trust.

The bottom line for micro-managers is this: Stop it!! You are sucking the joy out of the people you are leading. When their work is not a joy, they will eventually no longer want to work for you. Micro-managers ensure that their organization will have a revolving door with staff going in and out all the time.

The Difference Between Micro and Macromanagement From Senior Leadership’s Perspective

Okay, let’s shift gears; my intent for the first part of this post is to address something that should never be mixed up or confused with micromanagement, and that’s MACROmanagement. What do I mean? Macromanagement is vision. It is setting the course from 30,000 feet, pointing the direction, determining the strategy, getting the team excited, and letting them run to fulfill the vision!

There are two tragic mistakes in organizational life where macromanagement is concerned. The first tragedy is when there is no macromanagement. Vision is the fuel for your organization, and for those you lead. Vision excites them, motivates them, inspires them, makes them want to try harder, and ultimately creates a stronger work-ethic.

The second tragic mistake regarding macromanagement is when macromanagement and micromanagement are confused with one another. They are sometimes confused because they both get results. However, they do it in very different ways: micromanagement gets results by lighting a fire under people’s butts, but macromanagement gets results by lighting a fire in people’s hearts! Remember, micromanagement is about the small picture and macromanagement is about the big picture.

If you’re an organizational leader, the first question you should be asking yourself today is “Am I motivating my team through nitpicking, pestering and over-analyzing, or am I motivating my team with inspiration, action and vision?” You’ll always lead further faster by motivating with the latter ingredients as opposed to the former.

At the end of the day, remember: Jesus didn’t die for policy manuals and procedures. He died for human beings.

Organizational leaders are at their best when they lead from a position of macromanagement rather than micromanagement. Macromanagement is about managing the passion and excitement level of your organization, rather than managing every nuanced detail of your organization. Okay, enough with my rant toward organizational leaders and micromanagement. Tomorrow I’ll write to those on staff who feel they’re being micromanaged.

The Difference Between Micro and Macromanagement From Staff’s Perspective

Now let’s shift gears once more and address those of you who are not in senior leadership and feel as if you’re being micromanaged. It’s vital that you also never confuse micromanagement with macromanagement!

When I was a youth pastor, my senior pastor once came in and told me something very specific he wanted to see happen in the student ministry. He told me that he wanted me to minister not only to students but also to intentionally minister to the volunteers and to the parents. In that one statement, I felt just as if he’d tripled my work!

It got worse when he started getting a little too detailed for my comfort. He said that he wanted my primary emphasis to be on the volunteers and the parents, rather than the students. This felt counter-intuitive to me. After all, my title was ‘youth pastor’. “Shouldn’t my first priority be ministering to the students?” I wondered to myself.

Then this new work assignment got even more granular. He told me he wanted me to start having a parent-gathering at least once every six weeks, and that every month I should have a relational-type-event with all of my volunteers. At the time, I found this extremely annoying! I felt like he was micromanaging me. On the inside I was indignant. I was thinking to myself, “Who does he think he is, coming in here and telling me how to run my ministry?”

I’m glad I kept my mouth shut and did what he asked. What I discovered was that he, in fact, did not micromanage me. Instead, he pointed me in a very intentional direction and told me the vision behind it. The reason he wanted me to invest in parents and volunteers was that doing so would ensure that students would not fall through the cracks. He set a specific direction on a macro level (30,000 feet) and then set me loose to fulfill that vision.

At the end of the day, all of the fine details regarding how I executed this vision were mine to decide. His direction was detailed and clear, but I had tremendous freedom within the boundaries of the vision he had created for me. What I initially found annoying became something empowering. By letting me focus on the micro-details and decisions on my own, while simultaneously giving me a macro-direction, my senior pastor set me up for huge success. By focusing my attention on adults first and the students second, our youth ministry more than doubled in the next year.

So if you’re a supporting staff member in an organization and you feel frustrated by perceived micromanagement, ask yourself, “Am I really being micromanaged, or am I being given a specific directive and allowed the leeway to fulfill that directive in whatever way I see fit?” Never confuse specifics for micromanagement. Good macromanagement requires plenty of specifics, so you’ll know when you’re successfully fulfilling the vision.

Oh, and if after you read this article you still feel that your leadership is micromanaging you, remember this bit of advice passed to me a long time ago: I will only have as much spiritual authority as I am willing to submit to myself. Independence will destroy me, but there is power in submission.

Alan Danielson is the Senior Pastor of New Life Bible Church in Norman, Oklahoma. Previously he served as Central Team Leader for LifeGroups at LifeChurch.tv in Edmond, OK, where he led over a thousand small groups on LifeChurch’s thirteen campuses in six different states. He then founded Triple Threat Solutions to help leaders master three essential leadership skills: vision-casting, creating strategy and fostering relationships. Alan is a popular conference speaker and consults regularly with ministries and leaders on topics relating to small groups and leadership. Learn more from Alan at www.3Threat.net.