Recently, I wrote about how leaders can be categorized as either gas or brakes, and how gas leaders might be damaging their credibility with their congregation. Today, as I wrap up this series on credibility, I want to talk about another group of people about which a “gas” church planter needs to think deeply: their leaders. Here are three ways you could be unwittingly damaging your credibility with your team:
Making Decisions for People, Not with Them
Planting pastors think about their plants 24/7, which outpaces their ability to communicate with lay leaders. As a result, they often come to their conclusion and then share the decision—not the process—in a staff meeting or other semi-public scenario. But ideally, volunteers who become leaders (and eventually staff in our experience) will take a great deal of ownership and responsibility. Every time you decide for them, you are taking their ownership and their motivation. If you blindside them, and they aren’t sure why your new idea should happen, how in the world will they convince their team? Consider the difference between the following:
“We are going to add another service this fall. Get your team ready.”
“We’ve all seen the numbers, and we know another service will be hard work, but can we agree that the mission is worth it and the numbers tell us that it’s time? I think we should do it this fall, so let’s talk about what you and your team would need from me to make that happen without burning anybody out.”
Both of those convey the same information. But the first one denies any agency to the team leader. The second one invites them to first engage with the problem, agree with the solution, and subtly assures them that this change won’t be foisted upon them without support. They remain at the helm of their team, and they can more confidently present this decision because they feel like part of it.
Confusing Delegation with Development
Church planters are a different lot, and like most people, they assume that others are like them. Early church plants are largely ad-libbed, relying on the intuitive abilities of the pastor. There’s little management, lots of relationship, and vision casting basically every day. But then somebody says they’ll help coordinate groups. Or lead music. Or coordinate the connecting of new people to the church body. Given the planter’s innate ability to figure out what needs to be done, they assume that lay leaders will do the same. Many volunteers end up with little support and less plan, and no idea how to move forward. If you don’t practically equip and support your leaders, you’ll leave a trail of people who don’t trust you and who will be gun-shy about their next volunteer opportunity.
Even if you meet weekly with leaders, if it’s all vision and zero logistics, it will be difficult for them to own a position that they don’t already have a lot of experience in. I’ve met with worship leaders who, while still needing help with vision and worship philosophy, had pressing logistical needs. They weren’t sure how often to do songs, how to handle relational issues between musicians, and needed help with liturgical planning. When they got those down, they were far more confident with larger decisions. Helping leaders understand the nuts and bolts of their ministries will give meaning to the aspirational vision of ministry, and they’ll stay longer and grow stronger.
For a small church, infrastructure may not be things like parking lots and lighting. But even a starting church will have portable signage, a stage setup, etc. Hospitality and kids ministries need to be steadily supplied for the Sunday experience to remain consistent. Similarly, behind the scenes, meetings and training sessions need a given level of organization that shouldn’t be ignored. Gas-type planters are always running ahead to the next thing, and can quickly appear bored with the current situation. Ignoring the immediate practical needs of your church tells people that you’re not serious about where you are now.
In most cases, the pastor doesn’t need to be the one putting out the portable signs. But the pastor should care deeply that the signs go out, that they aren’t trashed, and that people begin to see them regularly, which builds credibility in the community. The pastor also needs to indicate to those responsible for the signs that the church is not having a club meeting; it’s inviting new friends to a family dinner, and the table should be set with the nice dishes. It’s all about taking the trouble to be ready for who is coming today. If the pastor is too busy fantasizing about their keynote for that conference they’ll never speak at, today’s work won’t get priority, and the people doing the work will question its value and cut corners.
Most of these things won’t come naturally for you. If you are a gas-type leader, it will require some hard work to deal with these issues in a way that benefits your team and makes your leaders stronger. Hopefully, with the help of some brake-type leaders around you, you can have a more productive relationship with the people you lead and a healthier church plant because of it.