Pastoring people ain’t easy.
In fact, it can be downright messy.
- Is different
- Has different communication styles
- Has unique personality traits
- Struggles with sin
Learning how to work with all kinds of people is essential to succeeding as a church leader.
Not just your everyday, average, normal church member.
I’m talking about working with difficult people.
For starters, a difficult person isn’t someone who disagrees with you on every point of theology or life in the church. Instead, a difficult person is someone who is toxic or divisive.
Frequently, you won’t learn how to handle difficult people in seminary. Rather, you’ll have to learn through the hard-knocks of life.
In this post, we’re going to cover working with difficult people in three different groups:
- Church staff
- Church leaders
- Church members
My goal is to save you heartache, shorten your learning curve, and help you lead difficult people well.
Here we go!
How to handle difficult church staff
When dealing with your staff, the last step you want to take is letting someone go.
At times, there may be an extreme situation that requires immediate termination, like theft from the church. For the most part, these moments will be the exception—not the rule.
To deal with a difficult staff member, here’s the 4-step process we suggest:
- Follow up
Let’s take a look at these in detail.
#1 – Clarify
Challenges with your staff can take on many forms.
It doesn’t even matter if you’ve spent years building a healthy church culture.
You’re going to run into a problem at some point.
From sinful situations or underperformance to someone who’s creating division, you will eventually run into a challenge with your team—especially as your church grows and your staff expands.
How you handle these situations depends.
Before getting into the practical ideas, there’s one thing you need to do first:
Examine yourself to make sure you are not the problem.
When it comes to performance, there’s one practical reason why someone may underperform.
Know what it is?
It’s a lack of clarity and support.
After studying more than 80,000 managers, the authors of First, Break All the Rules identified what the best managers do differently. When determining the strength of any workplace (this holds true for church staff members too), here are the top two items great managers focus on:
- Clarifying expectations at work
- Providing the materials and equipment their team needs to succeed
Before addressing an underperforming staff member, these are the first two things you’ll need to clarify.
Does your staff know what is specifically expected of them?
Does your staff have the materials they need to do their job?
If your answer to either one of these questions is “no,” then put down the mirror and get to work by creating clarity and providing support.
After examining yourself, you’ll need to identify the problem.
During this time, be as specific as you can be. From underperformance to creating tension with your team, jot down specific instances you can discuss. This will enable all of you to be on the same page.
#2 – Discuss
Do you have something you need to discuss?
For starters, avoid talking about anything in public or without a plan. The best thing to do is schedule a meeting for both of you to talk things through.
Before your meeting, write down the specific issues you want to discuss. Fight vagueness, and be prepared to talk through details.
The goal of this conversation isn’t to run someone’s face through the mud. Your goal is to take a level-headed approach, be self-controlled, and ready to talk.
During this time, provide whomever you’re talking with the opportunity to respond to what you shared. When it’s their turn to speak, fight to actively listen—instead of worrying about what you’re going to say next. This will make a big difference in working toward a solution.
#3 – Solve
Is the problem a lack of performance? Or is your staff member struggling with a character or sinful issue? In either case, prepare ahead of time specific solutions you want to work toward.
When creating goals, follow the SMART goal template:
For solutions, there’s one more thing to consider:
Does your staff member need training, a coach, or a mentor to help them work through the situation? Depending upon the case, consider providing whatever support you can to help your staff member succeed.
After you’re done discussing your goals, take the time to make sure whomever you’re talking with clearly understands what’s expected moving forward.
Finally, at the end of this meeting, agree to meet again to talk about the goals you developed. This way, there’s a specific timetable to work toward.
#4 – Follow up
After discussing the situation and working together on a solution, you now have to plan on following up.
Not only will you need to follow up in the end with your next scheduled meeting. But you also want to plan on following up in the interim. For this check-in, your goal is to see if your staff member has what they need to succeed and how they’re doing as a person.
Remember, as a church leader, your goal is to help your staff succeed. Checking in with people before your scheduled follow-up meeting will give you (and them) a good idea if they’re progressing, and what else they need to do to resolve the situation.
So, when it comes to your last follow-up meeting, there won’t be any surprises.
Working with difficult church leaders
There are many reasons why pastors will resign.
One common reason why this is the case is because of tension with their church’s leadership, which usually results in stalled progress.
Think about it.
If you (pastor) and your church’s leadership (elders, deacons, board) are not in alignment or having conflict, then your church will not be able to move forward. When the leadership is at a standstill in making decisions or possess significant disagreements about the vision and direction of the church, then your entire church community will be stalled like a car in a parking lot. It ain’t going anywhere.
Below, many of the tips revolving around dealing with church members are also applicable here. But there are a few unique things you’ll need to keep in mind when dealing with your church leadership.
#1 – Pray
This goes without saying, but commit to pray for your church’s leadership.
Not in the “my will be done” kind of way.
Instead, you should regularly pray for your church’s leadership—including yourself.
As a church leader, it can be easy to skip over the verses about praying for your church’s leadership and think they’re only for your church members. Don’t fall victim to this way of thinking.
The verses about praying for your leaders are also relevant for you.
When praying for your church’s leadership, here are some suggestions:
Pray for them to receive wisdom
“Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them.”
“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.”
Pray for them to be peaceable
1 Timothy 3:3:
“Not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.”
Pray for them to be gentle
2 Timothy 2:24–25:
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.”
#2 – Think long-term
Let me state the obvious:
Possessing a long-term view will help you to work through leadership conflicts.
Now, let me make sure this sinks in:
When I say long-term view, what I mean is that you need to know that the church will go on with or without you. I don’t mean to be harsh. I just want to emphasize that the church you serve is God’s church and his timetable doesn’t always match up with ours.
In your church, someone plants.
Someone else waters.
But in either case, God brings the increase (1 Cor 3:7–9).
What is more, here’s another point to keep in mind:
According to one survey, the average pastoral tenure is six years.
Again, I don’t mean to be negative or imply that you have to let everything slide because you have one foot out of the door. If the church you serve doesn’t plan on closing its doors anytime soon, there’s a good chance God will continue to sustain it for many years after you transition off staff.
With this in mind, when you have a conflict with your church’s leadership, you’ll have to think through if the conflict revolves around short- or long-term implications. For example, if you are serving an established church, and you want to make cultural shifting changes, know that these will take time (some people may never accept them), and determine if the trouble is worth the fight.
As a church leader, patience is one of the best virtues you can exercise in working through conflict.
Know what else?
A long-term view is what you need to have when equipping leaders, which leads us to the next point.
#3 – Train leaders
Your job doesn’t require you to do everything.
One of your primary roles is to equip your church to do the work of the ministry (Eph 4:11–16).
From providing coaching (LINK) and serving as a mentor (LINK), there are two additional ways you can train future leaders:
- Teach biblical leadership
- Provide leadership resources
To lead your church, you need to develop men and women who are ready to lead (1 Tim 3). As you know, teaching biblical leadership toward life-transformation is a long-term process. Remember, be patient as you teach biblical leadership to your current and potential future leaders.
What is more, it’s a good idea to provide leadership resources. From working through material together or joining a program like Church Fuel, providing leadership resources is another way you can equip your leaders.
#4 – Find a partner
Is God leading your church to take a new direction?
Is there a consensus among some of your church leaders to make a big decision?
When you have a conflict with one of your church’s leaders, and you need to make a decision, you may have to find a partner within your church’s leadership to influence the decision-making process.
For whatever reason, there will be a time when you’ll be at an impasse with another leader. When this occurs, you may not be able to work directly with someone one-on-one. So, in this scenario, identify a partner among your other church leaders who you can help work out a resolution.
How to handle difficult church members
No church is filled with perfect people.
Even if someone has placed their faith in Christ, they will still struggle with the presence of sin. What is more, sin exists in the world, and Satan ain’t taking a nap.
What’s the point?
It’s best if you expect to deal with difficult people in your church.
When you expect to run into a difficult person, you can be better prepared to work with him or her.
At the end of the day, people in your church have been hurt in some shape, way, fashion, or form.
Know what hurt people do?
They hurt other people—not (necessarily) on purpose.
But when you understand and expect that people in your church are hurting and in need of grace and mercy in Christ, then you’ll be prepared to lead them to Jesus to receive grace and mercy.
Don’t be caught off guard.
Expect people to act like people who need grace and mercy.
To help you navigate these situations, here are some tips.
#1 – Pick your battles
Is a church member in sin?
Is someone causing division?
Or does someone just annoy you?
When dealing with difficult people, make sure you pick your battles.
Is it something sinful or damaging you need to address? Or do you feel agitated? There’s a big difference between the two, and you need to know the difference before moving forward.
#2 – Get clarity
Why is someone difficult?
Often, you’ll discover that whatever is causing someone to be upset may not be the real problem. There are many times when there’s a problem beneath the problem.
Is there a specific issue they’re passionate about? Or is their glass always half-empty?
Whenever you’re dealing with a difficult person, take the time to discover the problem beneath the problem. There’s no need to put a bandaid on a situation if it calls for surgery.
So, when you can, be like a child who consistently asks “why” to figure out the root of the problem. Whenever you discover the root of the problem, you’ll be able to chop it down in a loving manner.
#3 – Private
There’s one key to healthy conflict resolution:
Graciously confronting a difficult person in private.
This isn’t pop science, either. This is straight out of Matthew 18:15–17.
Talking about a difficult person isn’t the same as dealing with someone.
As a church leader, it’s essential to discuss difficult people with your leadership in a way that’s helpful, like, you need to be aware of this situation, which is different than gossiping.
If possible, avoid difficult conversations in public. If someone approaches you, and he or she is angry or visually frustrated, then focus on diffusing the situation and schedule a time to meet with him or her one-on-one.
#4. Focus on solutions
When your kitchen is a mess, you or someone else needs to clean it up.
Similarly, when you’re dealing with a difficult person, you have to deal with him or her or someone else will have to. Don’t pass the buck. Take responsibility and work toward a solution.
Regarding a solution, this doesn’t mean that you and the person you’re dealing with will agree, and that’s okay. This will be the case from time to time and to be expected.
At first, focus on a positive solution. Figure out what they’d like to see done differently, clarify what they want, and see if there’s some way you can find common ground.
Here’s the deal:
Your goal is not to have someone agree with you 100%.
That’s not the point or biblical.
Depending upon the situation, if it’s a non-essential issue, then you may agree to disagree. However, for more serious issues, such as a person is in sin and unwilling to repent, then you may have to consider church discipline. If the latter situation is the case, don’t walk alone. Be sure to work with your church’s leadership to work toward a healthy solution (Matt 18:15–17).
Over to you
Working with people isn’t easy.
What we shared here is a process to use or tips to try.
If there’s one thing I can leave you with, let it be this:
After you become aware of a difficult person, start preparing yourself to be ready to handle conflict.
Be in prayer, and be ready to graciously confront whoever is being difficult.
Don’t pass the buck.
Don’t plant your face in the sand.
By the grace of God, plan on shepherding well everyone in your church—even difficult people.
Leading a church can feel lonely.
Your church looks to you to cast a vision and make decisions.
You don’t have peers who can relate to what you’re experiencing.
When you feel stuck or run into a problem, you don’t have anyone outside of your church to turn to for advice. As you know, you can’t bare your soul to just anyone in your church about a church problem.
Before you throw your hands up in surrender, there’s a real solution you can pursue:
Get a ministry coach.
I’m not talking about a motivational speaker hyped up on Mountain Dew who tries to pump you up with pithy statements.
(You know that’s what you were thinking.)
Instead, I’m talking about a coach who can support, guide, and provide you with practical advice.
Now, here’s one caveat about ministry coaches:
A ministry coach isn't a mentor.
There are similarities, but there are some big differences.
Previously, we’ve shared why pastors need a mentor, and what it means to be a mentor and mentee. So, I don’t want to get into the weeds here.
In short, here’s what you need to know:
A mentor is unpaid and his or her focus is on providing advice, whereas a coach is someone who’s paid and whose focus is on helping you to achieve a goal or overcome an obstacle in your ministry.
As I said, there's overlap between a mentor and coach in how he or she helps a mentee or student grow. But there’s a big difference between their arrangements and focus.
In a moment, we’ll dig into the details of coaching.
But first, there’s one last point I’d like to address.
The different types of coaches
Coaches are different.
I’m not talking about their personality, experience, or ability to help you and your church.
What I’m talking about is the different ways you can receive coaching.
In general, there are two different types of coaching you can receive:
- Personal coaching
- Group coaching
Personal coaching can take place in person or online. Unlike someone who’s a mentor, a coach is someone who partners with you to provide support, guidance, and practical advice over the phone, on a video chat, or in person. The “medium” used to share their support doesn’t matter in this scenario.
When it comes to personal coaches, they should have experience in the area in which they’re providing support—in particular, they should know ministry inside and out. Since they’ve “been there, and done that,” they’ll be able to give you the advice you need to go from where you’re at to where you need to go.
Group coaching takes place with a group of people. During group coaching sessions, a coach normally discusses a general topic, such as church management, budgeting, or creating a work-life rhythm, and opens up the discussion for questions afterward.
In this scenario, you may not receive the undivided attention of a personal coach, but the advice he or she shares in a group setting can still be applicable and helpful for your situation.
At this point, you’re probably thinking:
What’s the best option for me?
At Church Fuel, we’ve found that providing a combination of personal and group coaching works best in empowering our members to fulfill God’s calling on their lives.
In seasons of your life, you’ll need a personal coach who can walk alongside of you, pointing out potential landmines and helping you navigate the way through the fog of unclarity.
In general, group coaching sessions are helpful for an ongoing basis. These sessions will force you to learn new lessons, and focus on growing yourself as a leader and your church in Christ.
The benefits of coaching aren’t theoretical—they’re extremely practical.
Let me show you what I’m talking about.
5 benefits of having a ministry coach
A ministry coach provides five powerful benefits. A good coach will:
- Push you beyond your comfort zone
- Guide you in creating a plan
- Help you overcome obstacles
- Help you create a life-giving, work-life balance
- Help you navigate the five-core ministry relationships
Time to take a look at these in detail.
#1 – Push you beyond your comfort zone
As a church leader, it’s easy to get stuck.
You’re on call 24/7/365.
You move from one fire of urgency to the next—all the while trying to prepare for your weekday activities or Sunday worship service.
Exhausting, I know.
When this happens, you’ll end up focusing only on what’s in front of you.
Over time, you’ll slowly neglect the mission of your church.
Not because of any fault of your own.
Rather, you get stuck in survival mode.
This is where having a coach can make a world of difference.
Like a coach in sports, a ministry coach can help you to step outside of your comfort zone. They’ll challenge you in your comfort, and help you break free from the shackles of your own limitations.
Unlike a mentor, a ministry coach will be more inclined to shoot you straight. Their job isn’t to be your friend per se. Their job is to support your growth as a church leader. In this arrangement, there will be times when they’ll have to say painful things. But this is all a part of the growing process.
Talking about the growing process, this leads us to the next benefits of having a coach.
#2 – Guide you in creating a plan
As a church leader, you need a plan to get better.
If you’re not learning and growing in your position, then you and your church are slowly dying.
The world and your community is constantly changing.
Think about it.
New technology is regularly created.
How people interact with one another has been changed by social media.
Beliefs and values are in flux.
Basically, if you don’t plan on growing as a leader, then your ability to make disciples will be throttled. In time, what works today in your ministry will not work tomorrow. If you’ve been serving in the ministry for longer than a minute, you know what I’m talking about.
Thankfully, this isn’t something you have to figure out on your own.
A coach is someone who can help you clarify your vision, talk through your church’s mission, and create a plan to accomplish the work God has called you to fulfill. What is more, a good coach will also hold you accountable to accomplishing your goals.
If we’re honest, anyone can set a goal.
To accomplish a goal, you should reach for something realistic and attainable, and when you hit a roadblock, you’ll need someone like a coach to encourage you to push through.
As a church leader, your work doesn’t end with accomplishing personal goals.
Your calling isn’t only to be the best you you can be.
Your calling also involves serving Jesus and his church.
So, when it comes to accomplishing goals, a ministry coach can also help you to lead your church from where it’s at (point A) to where God is calling you to go (point B).
With this being said, there’s one BIG point I want to make:
Not every church leader or coach is right for you.
Let me explain what I mean.
Today, it’s easy to get enamored by church leaders.
There are many (good) church leadership books you can read, podcasts you can listen to, and events you can attend. Oftentimes, what happens after reading these books, listening to these podcasts, or attending a conference, you come away feeling like only “that” person understands you and can help you.
In reality, this is typically not the case at all.
God can—and will—work through people who are equipped to support you in your season of ministry. For example, a pastor who leads a church of 10,000 may not be the best person to help you break through the 200 barrier.
The challenges you’re facing personally and as a church are probably miles apart from the person you think can help you.
When looking for a coach, you don’t need a celebrity. What you need is someone who’s a step or two ahead of you and can speak into the situation you’re facing.
#3 – Help you overcome obstacles
At some point, you’re going to run into a challenge you can’t resolve.
This isn’t a dig against you.
This is just the reality of being a human dependent upon God and other people.
Besides, church leaders have been running into problems since the inception of the church (Acts 6:1–7).
Whether it's managing internal conflict or breaking through growth barriers in your church, you’ll run into the limits of your experience. But that’s okay. When you run into these situations, you have an opportunity to seek God in prayer and to seek the help of others.
This is where having a ministry coach is super helpful.
Think about it.
When you’re facing a problem you don’t know how to resolve, wouldn’t it be beneficial to talk to someone who’s come up against the same thing you’re up against? Someone who can ask the right questions and clear the air?
Know what else?
There will be times when you’re stuck, and you don’t even know it—not in the sense that you’re dealing with an unresolved issue. But rather, there may come a time when you're not growing as a leader or your church isn’t progressing in making new disciples for Christ.
Again, when you have a ministry coach, he or she can wave smelling salts beneath your nose to wake you up to the plight of your situation.
#4 – Create a life-giving, work-life balance
Burning out will be one of the biggest challenges you face.
Like most pastors, you work well over 50 hours per week, and “balancing” your life isn’t going to work. Sure, you have family, friends, and church leaders to help hold you accountable. But it’s ideal to have someone from outside of your circle of influence to hold you accountable.
Enter a ministry coach.
Since a ministry coach is on the outside of your life looking in, he or she will have a clearer view of you and your workload. What is more, since he or she has ministry experience, a ministry coach understands what you’re going through, and he or she will be able to read the signs of your life to really know how well you’re doing.
For this to work well, you have to be willing to talk truthfully about your weekly schedule and how you’re feeling. Armed with this information, a ministry coach can help you to set healthy boundaries or encourage you to take a break to get refreshed.
#5 – Help you navigate the five core ministry relationships
If church leadership is anything, it’s relationally-based.
Everything you do revolves around working with or serving people.
What’s my point?
You’re going to run into a relational problem at some point.
When you work with a ministry coach, he or she will be able to help you navigate the five core ministry relationships of every church leader:
- Church leadership
- Church members
Let’s take a look at these in turn.
For starters, as a church leader, the most important relationship you have is with God.
As we’ve shared before, you don’t get a pass on devoting your life to God.
Every day, you need to carve out time to talk to (pray) and hear from God (read the Bible).
Neglecting the Lord would be like not spending any time with your spouse. It won’t be too long until you feel cold, distant, and indifferent.
#2 – Church leadership
Working with your church’s leadership can be … tricky.
Depending upon your ecclesiastical structure (Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Non-Denominational, etc.), navigating the nuances can be challenging.
As a church leader, learning how to work with and through your church leadership is vital to the forward movement of the church you serve.
On the one hand, if your church’s leadership is divided, you won’t be going anywhere since everyone is going in different directions. On the other hand, if your church’s leadership works well together, then plan on experiencing forward momentum.
Regardless of the makeup of your church’s leadership, a ministry coach will be able to guide you in having critical conversations.
#3 – Church members
Not every church member is alike.
From saints to sinners, you’ll have to learn to work with a variety of church members.
Let’s be honest:
Figuring out how to relate to your church members as a pastor isn’t easy.
Depending upon your personality, you'll wrestle with either being too close or too distant.
There’s no right or wrong way you can build relationships with your church members. But having help in figuring it all out can reduce your learning curve and save you a tremendous amount of heartache along the way.
#4 – Family
Are you married?
Do you have children?
In either case, you have to get these relationships right. Why gain the whole world if you lose your family in the process? Not a good move.
If you’ve been in church leadership for more than a minute, you know this is easier said than done. The consistent requests can easily pull you away from family obligations. Next thing you know, you’re five years down the road and your family relationships are strained at best.
Before this is your story, a ministry coach can hold you accountable and make sure you’re prioritizing your family in the business of ministry.
#5 – Friends
Friendships are probably not what you’re thinking about.
If anything, you push friendships to the back burner for the sake of everything else.
Here’s the deal:
Friendships are crucial to your well-being.
Like everyone else, you were created by God for community (Gen 1:28). What is more, the Book of Proverbs has really strong words against isolating yourself (Prov 18:1).
Don’t believe you can be a Lone Ranger.
Remember, according to an African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
If you’ve sold yourself short in the area of friendships, let your ministry coach help you make them a priority once again.
Need a ministry coach?
At Church Fuel, we want to help you lead your church like never before.
To provide you with the training and support you need, we relaunched Church Fuel. That's right. Our site. Our membership offerings. Our products and resources.
For less than the cost of attending a conference, as a member, you’ll get access to five powerful tools:
- Monthly video coaching
- One-on-one sessions with a ministry coach
- Full access to our resource library
- Team training
- Member forum
With Church Fuel, you get more than content—you get a community.
You’ll learn from a group of peers and a personal coach who are facing the same challenges as you.
When you join Church Fuel, you become part of a community to grow together, challenge each other, and celebrate your wins as a team.
Click here to join.
Trying to balance life and ministry can sound like a cruel joke.
Sermon preparation takes hours.
Pastoral care is never-ending.
There is a slew of church meetings to attend.
Family responsibilities don’t take a vacation.
And unless you have a staff or team, you’re on call 24/7/365.
What’s the moral of the story?
As a church leader, it’s really challenging trying to balance everything.
You work a ton of hours, every week looks different, and it can feel like an impossible task to serve your church well without burning yourself out in the process.
How do you balance it all?
Well, for starters, you don’t.
What you do is identify your guiding principles to help you create a rhythm for your week. There will be times when things are really busy, like Christmas and Easter, and then there are your “normal” workweeks.
To help you serve your church, love your family, and not lose your mind or soul in the process, here are 10 tips to help you find a good rhythm in your life and ministry.
#1 – Don’t neglect your first love
As a church leader, you don’t get a pass on devoting your life to God.
I know this sounds obvious, but hear me out.
When serving the Lord vocationally (as a pastor or church staff member), it’s easy to believe that the work you’re doing is a replacement for spending personal time with God in prayer or reading the Bible.
This isn’t something that church leaders do on purpose. In most cases, church leaders slowly drift away from their first love—God (Rev 2:4), which makes practical sense.
You spend your time serving, preaching, and taking care of others, and it’s easy to forget about your own relationship with God in the busyness of your life.
Don’t let this be you.
Before you dive into time-management hacks, take a moment to reflect on your devotion to Jesus.
How are you doing?
Do you feel like you’re walking closely with the Lord?
Or do you feel indifferent?
Before implementing any of the tips below, commit yourself to daily carving out time to talk to God (prayer) and hear what he has to say (read the Bible).
Don’t be afraid to block out a portion of time every day to spend with the Lord. If not, you may not get around to praying or reading the Bible.
“I schedule everything,” shared a member of Church Fuel. He went on to add, “When something needs to be done, I immediately put it on my calendar. If it’s not scheduled, usually it doesn’t get done.”
When you add daily devotions to your calendar, you’ll be able to create a habit, guard this time, and get ready the day before (e.g., go to bed on time if you want to get up early).
#2 – Create margin
To balance your life and ministry, you have to embrace this reality first:
Every week is different.
There are normal rhythms in your schedule, such as mid-week or weekend worship services. But outside of your normal programs and events, mentally prepare for every week to look a little bit different than the week before.
With this being said, here’s a big idea:
Create margin in your week by not filling your schedule to the brim. If possible, leave 60 unscheduled minutes in your daily calendar. If it’s mid-afternoon and you’re on track with everything you had planned, then feel free to use the time. But it’s best to have some wiggle room in your day-to-day so that you don’t get behind on anything.
Possessing this mindset will help you to better balance your life and ministry, which brings us to the next point.
#3 – Nail down your church rhythms
The first place you need to start in creating a healthy rhythm is to work with your church rhythms.
As you identify the big rocks in the life of your church, you’ll be better able to prioritize your schedule.
When doing this, there are two things you need to nail down:
- Weekly rhythms
- Annual rhythms
For weekly rhythms, identify the weekly activities that take place in your church. As you write these down in your calendar, it’s also important to include the time you need to prepare. For example, if you preach, then you’ll need to guard a decent amount of time to prepare. What is more, if you have a weekly event, you’ll need to make sure everything is taken care of (more on this in a bit).
As for annual rhythms, mark down the following in your church calendar:
- Sermon series preparation
When you have these big rocks in place, you’ll be able to plan ahead and prepare yourself for really busy seasons of ministry, like Christmas and Easter.
#4 – Take one day off per week
A lack of rest is bad.
Like, really bad.
If you don’t plan to take at least one full day off per week (a Sabbath), then you can plan on having health problems, depression, and poor judgment, among other things.
God modeled taking a break during creation (Gen 2:2) and Jesus wasn’t afraid to get some shut-eye too (Mark 4:35–40). If God finds rest important, then you would do well to follow his example and take a break yourself.
By not taking a weekly day of rest—at a minimum—you run the risk of burning yourself out.
Do yourself, your family, and your church a favor and arrange for at least one day off per week.
#5 – Arrange for an extended trip
There’s one thing you need to fight for in your ministry:
This is why I’m trying to get your attention about taking a break by emphasizing a weekly rest and now an extended break.
Now, what I’m arguing for here isn’t necessarily an extended Disney cruise (sorry). If possible, plan on taking an extended break (1–2 weeks) every year to pray through and plan your church’s annual calendar.
During this time, you want to unplug, spend plenty of time in prayer, and think ahead.
What is more, this isn’t something you have to do alone. At Church Fuel, we encourage church leaders to plan an annual retreat for their staff. You can click here to check out the details.
#6 – Love your spouse
Are you married?
Then don't leave your spouse on the altar of ministry. Working long hours isn’t necessarily a godly thing. If you have a spouse, and you work too much, then you run the risk of neglecting him or her, which is a big no-no.
Instead, fight for your marriage by planning weekly or bi-weekly dates.
These dates don’t have to be fancy. From getting out for a walk or enjoying a cup of coffee together, schedule time for the two of you to get out of your office and away from your home for a few hours.
#7 – Make time for your family
Do you have children?
Well, you can’t leave them hanging either.
There are a variety of ways you can create a weekly rhythm for your family:
Depending on the age of your children, include them in different errands throughout the week. Think about it. You can turn a bland trip to the grocery store into an opportunity to spend time with your children.
Whatever you do, be sure to put something on the calendar every week.
Here’s the deal:
Spending time with your family will not happen by accident.
To make sure his schedule reflects his priorities, one Church Fuel member shared, “Set your priorities and make your calendar reflect them. Set a number of evenings you will be home for dinner with your family and don’t allow anything to compromise that.”
By scheduling these non-negotiable times in your calendar, you can create a rhythm around time well-spent with your family.
#8 – Take care of your body
The Apostle Paul shared this with his mentee Timothy:
“For the training of the body has limited benefit …” (1 Tim 4:8).
But let’s be honest:
As a church leader, you need to take care of yourself physically—from eating healthy to regularly exercising
By taking care of yourself, you’ll increase your energy levels, feel happier, and reduce your risk of chronic disease.
When you add these physical benefits together, you’ll place yourself in a better position to provide pastoral care for a very long time.
Can’t remember the last time you exercised or ate a salad?
That’s water under the bridge.
Connect with a personal trainer and/or doctor to get a physical and put together a plan to get started.
#9 – Get a mentor
Having a mentor is probably not what you had in mind to create balance. But like everyone else in the world, you—church leader—need a mentor.
Here’s the deal:
A mentor is someone who can give you an unbiased opinion and help you get your life in alignment.
In life and ministry, you’re going to get off course. With the number of hours you have to work and the pastoral care you need to provide, you’re going to get stuck or drift off course. This is why you need a mentor who can help you to maintain balance.
Michael Lukaszewski, the Founder and CEO of Church Fuel, added, “Get help from others. Family and friends need to know and support you during busy seasons.”
Regardless if you talk to a mentor, your spouse, or friend, be open about what you’re feeling and your workload. This will give people who care about you the opportunity to love and support.
#10 – Delegate work
What’s the one thing God didn’t call you to do?
Know the answer?
If you’re the senior pastor, you may be responsible for everything. But this is different than doing everything.
Regardless of your position, as a church leader, you need to identify your primary responsibilities, know your strengths, and delegate any tasks that someone else can do or work that falls outside of your comfort zone.
Depending upon your situation, you may be able to hire someone. If not, you’ll have to bank on finding a volunteer to help. If it’s the latter, it will take time to turn a volunteer into a leader. But your investment into his or her life will help you—and most importantly, help them fulfill their call.
Balancing it all
Don’t fight for balance.
That’ll place you in a position of trying to figure out how to do everything.
Instead, strive to create a healthy rhythm in your life with these 10 tips:
- Don’t neglect your first love.
- Create margin.
- Nail-down your church rhythms.
- Take one day off per week.
- Arrange for an extended trip.
- Love your spouse.
- Make time for your family.
- Take care of your body.
- Get a mentor.
- Delegate work.
It will take time and energy to make a change, and you’ll have to learn how to say “no” or “later” to different requests. But working toward creating a healthy rhythm in your life will help you have a long and fruitful ministry.
One of your most important jobs as a church leader isn't casting vision—it’s creating clarity.
People (even good people) naturally drift away from what’s most important and to whatever feels urgent. That’s why your job as a leader is to constantly bring people back to the main thing.
You can’t accomplish this with sermons, chitchats in passing, or random updates alone.
Great leadership takes consistent conversations.
Let me clarify what I mean.
When I say “conversations,” I’m not only referring to …
- Email chains
What I’m arguing for are actual, face-to-face conversations. The type of talks you have with your staff and volunteer leaders to get everyone on the same page, help your team improve, and broaden own perspective by getting feedback.
Having these types of conversations with your team is critical. But I understand the thought about having them can make you feel uncomfortable or unprepared.
In this post, I want to help you to prepare to have seven critical conversations with your team.
I’m going to cover:
- How to prepare for important conversations
- 7 types of critical conversations
Let’s get started!
How to prepare for important conversations
There’s more to having critical conversations with your team than just sitting down for a fireside chat.
Your church culture will influence how these conversations are handled and received. For example, if your church culture possesses a negative, accusatory, or performance-oriented vibe, when you have a critical conversation—even if your goal is positive—then the way it’s received by your staff member or volunteer may be negative.
Think about it.
When your church culture is tumultuous like a stormy sea, then you’re already swimming in choppy waters. Practically speaking, if your church has an unhealthy culture, then you’ll have to remove the toxins in order to optimize the important conversations you need to have.
This doesn’t mean you can’t have critical conversations. It can take weeks, months, or years to restore or build a healthy church culture, and a part of moving in a new direction is preparing to have these conversations well.
Let’s take a look at how you can prepare for critical conversations in your church.
#1 – Clarify your goal
Below we’re going to walk through seven types of important conversations you must have.
The first step you need to take is to clarify your goals.
- Do you need to have a conversation about a staff member’s performance?
- Are you seeking to develop a team member’s skills?
- Do you need to clarify your vision or expectations?
- Are you interested in getting feedback on a new initiative?
Regardless of the type of conversation you need to have; you need to clarify what you want to accomplish. Now, for some of these conversations, such as addressing a staff member’s poor performance, what you want to achieve will take more than one meeting and can be a long-term process (e.g., 1–3 months).
To clarify your goals, you’ll need to ask three questions:
- Does anything (i.e., roles, responsibilities, expectations) need clarification?
- What are the next steps?
- When will you meet again?
Does anything need clarification?
Before ending any important conversation, you need to make sure you and whomever you’re meeting with is on the same page. In the end, make sure everything is clarified by asking:
- Do they understand your concerns?
- Do they have any questions?
- Do they have any additional feedback?
This isn’t necessary for every conversation you have. So don’t worry about forcing goals or next steps after every meeting if you don’t need to.
What are the next steps?
At the end of your critical conversation, you’ll need to determine the next steps.
After you’ve identified a problem or clarified a goal your staff member needs to accomplish, it’s essential to provide the next steps, which will include specific tasks that are measurable and actionable.
Providing a clear plan will help you and your team know what’s expected.
When will you meet again?
Finally, the next step you’ll need to take before concluding a meeting is to provide a timeline.
When does the work need to be accomplished? When will you meet again?
Go ahead and schedule your next meeting, put it on the calendar, and also plan on following up in the meantime.
#2 – Get your mind right
What comes to mind when you think about having an important conversation?
Do you think about a challenging staff member?
Do you regret the missed opportunities to build morale or create church staff alignment?
What about the times you could have challenged someone to accomplish a big goal?
Do you feel stressed? Remorse? Anxiety?
If you’ve avoided or haven’t planned on having critical conversations, you’ll need to figure out why this is the case. Said another way: What has kept you from having important conversations?
To have important conversations, you need to be prepared to handle them emotionally well. If you know these types of conversations cause you an emotional burden or inhibit you from keeping control, acknowledge this ahead of time, and figure out how you can best prepare yourself emotionally.
Don’t be scared to seek out help during these times. Seek out the advice from a mentor, friend, or Christian counselor to help you work through challenges.
On a different note, there’s a good chance you’ve probably never thought about having one of these conversations, and that’s okay. Everyone—including every church leader—is a work in progress, and there’s always more to learn.
But have you chosen to avoid important conversations?
If so, why?
Answer this question and identify a solution to whatever is stopping you from having important conversations with key members of your team—both among staff and volunteers.
After working with many church leaders, we often find the reason why they haven’t had these conversations is because of concerns about the conversations themselves. Leaders may worry about what someone will think about them personally or may never make a move because they don’t have the right words to say or the timing feels bad; but generally their concern revolves around themselves and what they think.
If this is you, here’s what you need to do:
Focus on the goal of your conversation, don’t worry about what you’ll say, and be prepared to listen, which leads us to the next point.
#3 – Use both ears to listen
In every conversation, you need to be able to talk and listen.
When it comes to important conversations, your ability to listen is even more critical than your normal, everyday chitchats. Think about it.
Are you challenging certain staff members to accomplish a goal or learn a new skill? During your conversation, do they express a willingness to embrace your vision? Do they give you the impression that they’re willing to grow or is this something that’s your idea?
Do you need to talk with a poor performing staff member? After you bring up your concerns, be prepared to allow them to share feedback. Listen to what they have to say. Reflect upon their point of view.
Focusing on listening will accomplish two big goals. First, it’ll help you to take the pressure off of yourself by focusing less on what you say, and more on how the person you’re talking to responds. Second, it allows whomever you’re talking to to express his or her thoughts in a meaningful way.
Is there a project behind schedule?
Let them know you’re aware, ask them what challenges they’re facing, and sit back and listen to what they have to say. Let them know you’re there to remove roadblocks—not create hindrances or unnecessary anxiety.
Can the quality of their work improve?
Ask them if they would like to improve their skills. See how they respond, and let them know you want to empower them to do the work they’ve been called by God to do at your church.
Remember, God gave you one mouth and two ears, so plan on spending twice as much time listening than talking during an important conversation.
#4 – Act now
Benjamin Franklin was full of practical advice, including this gem:
“Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”
Dr. Franklin may not have been talking about critical conversations. But his advice is spot on.
Many church leaders dread having important conversations or they’re too busy to think about putting them on their schedule. In either case, if you’re reading this post, then hear me loud and clear:
Today, schedule the most pressing, important conversation that comes to mind.
Don’t think long and hard about this.
If something comes to mind, great. Take a moment—right now—to schedule this conversation for this week or next. You can work out the details later.
Nothing or no one comes to mind?
That’s okay too.
Just move on.
7 types of critical conversations
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about having an important conversation?
Confronting a staff member or volunteer?
If so, you’re not alone.
As I shared above, many church leaders avoid potentially challenging conversations for different reasons, so it’s natural if this is the first thought you have.
But here’s the deal:
There are seven important conversations you need to have with your team.
Will you need to confront someone on your team?
Yes, at some point. That’s just to be expected when you add one sinner together with another sinner on the same team and in the same space.
But the important conversations you need to have are so much more than this.
Here they are:
- Personal life
- Get better
Let’s take a look at these in detail.
#1 – The “evaluation” conversation
Alright, let’s go ahead and get this out of the way:
You need to evaluate your staff members and key volunteers.
Before your mind goes negative, hang tight.
These types of conversations are not meant to be like this: “You’re doing wrong; here’s how to do things right.” The evaluation conversation is a regular check-in with your staff or volunteers to see how they’re doing.
By spending time with your team one-on-one, you’ll be better able to gauge how they’re doing personally, professionally, and spiritually. You’ll also be able to discover concerns, fears, and struggles they’re having with their work.
When you spend one-on-one time with your team and ask purposeful questions, you’ll be able to head off any significant problems or avoid potential landmines.
Here’s the deal.
As a church leader, one of your responsibilities is to shepherd your staff and volunteers. To do this well, you’ll need to plan on spending time with them one-on-one in a weekly or monthly meeting and once every three months for an evaluation.
As for the one-on-one meetings, these provide more than a to-do to mark complete or a meeting to reschedule every week. Spending time one-on-one with your team places you in an ideal position to shepherd them, helping them to reach their potential.
Don’t take these regular check-ups for granted. Make them a priority, and the time you spend in these meetings will save you a tremendous amount of time later if someone chooses to quit or something blows up because you were able to spot it weeks or months ahead of time.
When it comes to your 90-day evaluations, treat these conversations as an opportunity to see how well your individual team members are performing in relation to the church’s mission. Are they progressing? Are they falling behind? What roadblocks are inhibiting their performance?
During these conversations, help your team to identify goals to accomplish during the next quarter (90-days).
#2 – The “personal life” conversation
Being created in the image of God, the people in your church are social beings.
They desire a relationship with God, and to varying degrees, they’re interested in having friendships and encouraging interactions. It’s not like people walk around looking for a beat down.
What’s the point?
If your staff and volunteers have relationships at church, there’s a really good chance they’ll stick around. As for you, this doesn’t mean you can or should be BFF’s with everyone on your team. If you’re in a position of authority (i.e., you have you the power to fire someone), you have to balance things a bit.
However, you want to build trust with your team members, and to do this well, you’ll have to have personal life conversations. Said another way, you’ll need to share some personal things from your life, and ask them about what’s going on in their lives.
I’ll admit this can be challenging for conversations with the opposite sex. But this shouldn’t stop you from developing a trusting relationship with your staff or volunteers.
How you handle meeting with someone of the opposite sex in your church should be discussed with your leadership. If you haven’t already, consider putting in place some boundaries, such as meeting with the door open or in public areas, driving in separate cars, and maintaining openness with your leadership team and significant others.
Not sure how to build a trusting relationship?
Here are some ideas to help you get started:
- Be open
- Earn trust
- Have an open-door policy
- Offer to help
- Ask about his or her life
- Talk with him or her about Jesus
- Listen attentively
It takes time to build a trusting relationship with people. Don’t rush this process. Spend time with your team, ask questions, and listen well. In time, you’ll build a solid relationship of mutual respect with your team.
#3 – The “goals” conversation
As a church leader, you want to set up your team for success.
One step you’ll need to take is to help your staff and volunteers set goals.
Not just any goal.
But goals that will develop them individually and support the mission of your church.
Think about it.
You don’t want every member of your team going in different directions. This causes confusion, leads to poor performance, and will stunt the forward momentum of your church.
Does this mean that no one will ever be able to explore different interests? Not at all. They may just have to moonlight or do work on the side to develop skills that are not related to their work.
How do you help your team to set goals?
There are five things you should focus on:
- Connect their goals to the church’s mission
- Lead them to set job-related goals
- Break down their goals by quarter
- Monitor their progress
- Reward them when they accomplish their goals
There are many different tactics you can explore. But if you nail down this 5-part strategy, you’ll be well on your way to setting up your team for success.
#4 – The “clarity” conversation
Have you received a clear vision for your church?
Have you shared this vision with your team?
Great, but your work hasn’t stopped after making one announcement—it has just begun.
Here’s what you need to know:
Your staff, volunteers, and the church will naturally drift away from the church’s vision. They don’t do this on purpose or because they’re bad people. Rather, this is simply natural and to be expected.
To keep your church aligned, you’ll have to champion your vision and work with your team one-on-one to fight for clarity.
With your team, there are five things you’ll need to clarify:
- The purpose of your church
- The mission of your church
- The most important thing they do
- Goals and expectations
For more details on what this looks like, read 5 Things to Clarify to Your Team.
#5 – The “opinions” conversation
As a church leader, you need to plan on listening to your team.
Like everyone in your church, you have blind spots, you don’t have the complete picture, and God gave you your team to fulfill the mission of your church.
In fact, according to research, one of the key skills you need to master as a leader/manager is valuing the opinions of your team. As you lead, you want to maintain a two-way dialogue.
Whether you meet weekly or monthly, or plan on just asking your team questions, strive to learn how your team feels about their work, how things are going, and if they need clarification or support.
This can feel uncomfortable at first, but, in time, you will reap tremendous rewards in building relationships of mutual trust and respect.
#6 – The “team” conversation
Your church is a church.
In other words, your church is a team. It’s not a loose collection of individuals doing their own thing—which is especially true for your staff and volunteers.
For your church to fulfill its mission, you’ll need to lead your team toward a common goal. The idea is to have everyone working together, serving one another, and moving toward fulfilling the same mission—not pulling for their own agenda.
For this critical conversation, you’ll want to have one-on-one chats, but you’ll also need to have team chats where everyone can share from his or her heart.
To help your staff work together as a team, it’s vital that everyone is working from the same playbook (mission and goals), collaborating on projects and tasks, while helping each other to love one another well.
#7 – The “get better” conversation
This is similar to the goals conversation, but with a twist.
Instead of focusing on what your team members can accomplish, the goal of this conversation is to help people develop skills.
For this conversation, there are three big ideas:
- Clarify their role
- Identify related skills
- Keep an eye on the future
The first thing you need to do is to clarify their responsibilities. Do you all have a clear idea of what’s expected of this position? After you nail this down, then you can move on to the next question.
For your staff or volunteers, what skills or strengths can they further develop to perform their work better? There will be a time when you’ll need to train someone to learn something new. But it’s best to focus on improving their skills and strengths that will provide the greatest return on investment for the work they’ve been called to do.
Finally, keep an eye on the future by identifying people on your team you can prepare to serve in a different position or to take on more leadership. In short, identify any gaps they need to fill from who they are now to where God is leading them to be tomorrow.
Over to you
As intimidating as having important conversations is, you know the value of them. That's why Church Fuel has created the 7 Conversations Guide. With this helpful resource, you and your team will be able to have meaningful conversations that are also effective. This free resource is available for download now. Get your hands on it to start bridging those conversation gaps today.
Your church culture is like a force.
Not like the (pantheistic) force you find in Star Wars.
But a force like a momentum that leads your church to do what you do and don’t do.
In a spin on Samuel Chand’s popular definition, think of church culture as the why and the what of what you do. It's your values, beliefs, attitude, purpose, habits, behavior, norms, tone, and more.
It’s what you do.
It’s why you do what you do.
It’s what you feel and experience in your church.
A healthy culture will create a torrent of positive momentum in your church whereas an unhealthy church culture will eat away at your church body like cancer.
Whether you’ve just planted a church or you need to restore a toxic culture, there’s some good news:
Culture is always evolving—it’s not static or fixed.
Said another way, you can influence your church’s culture for better or worse.
But here’s what you need to know:
The culture in your church will evolve into something regardless of whether you want it to or not.
Do you want to create a healthy church culture?
Need help fixing an unhealthy culture in your church?
In this post, I’m going to share six ways you can build a healthy church culture, and one thing you must do if you need to fix an unhealthy culture.
Let’s get to it!
#1 – Personal
Building a healthy church culture is challenging.
Multiple things are fighting against your efforts:
- Personal struggles
- Sinfulness of people
- Constant move toward negativity
- Preexisting unhealthiness in your church
Not only is this the case, but one big mistake many church leaders make about church culture is thinking just their church needs to change—not themselves or their church leaders.
In an organization like a church, which is a social institution, it’s challenging—if not impossible—to create a healthy culture apart from good leadership. As a church leader, your beliefs, values, and actions will influence your staff, church leadership, and your entire church. In other words, your presence will set the course for your church’s culture.
Are you a healthy, life-giving leader?
Then expect your church leadership and church to move toward a healthy church culture.
Do you have a personal struggle and a heavy-handed leadership style?
Don’t be surprised when the seeds of your sinful tendencies or poor leadership blossom in the life of your church.
Does this mean individuals or groups of people within your church can’t be healthy?
No—far from it.
Again, when it comes to church culture, I’m talking about the environment of your church. Within this environment, individuals and groups of people can be healthy. But it will be difficult for these folks to live their lives in light of the church culture, which will influence them to value and pursue an action for better or worse.
What’s the moral of the story?
Healthy leaders will build healthy churches.
You can't have one without the other.
Before striving to build a healthy church culture, the first step you must take is to look in the mirror. You have to honestly ask yourself whether you’re a healthy church leader.
Here are three things you need to do:
- Take a break
- Find a mentor
- Consider counseling
It’s hard to do an honest self-evaluation in the normal ebbs and flows of life. Often, you’ll need to take a break. From taking off for a long weekend to planning an extended sabbatical, schedule time off for personal reflection.
After you schedule time off, it’s best to plan what you’ll do during that time. Going into a break with the goal of personal reflection won’t happen by accident. Prepare a list of questions you want to reflect upon prayerfully. Write down your thoughts in a journal. Read some books.
Where should you start?
Without knowing you personally, it’s hard to say. I encourage you to invite your spouse, church leaders, and close friends to provide ideas. Be prepared to listen to their advice, and follow through with their suggestions.
Know what else?
Plan on unplugging from everything during this time.
Leave your phone, tablet, and laptop at home. Purchase a disposable phone for emergencies, and only give the number to your family and a few key leaders in your church.
Another key to becoming a healthy church leader is finding a mentor.
We spoke at length about the importance of having a mentor and how to find one, and you can read that article here.
Finally, another idea to consider is counseling.
There’s nothing wrong with having a counselor. This isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s just a good idea to have a trained counselor not affiliated with your church who you can confide in and receive unbiased feedback from.
Taking these three steps won’t make you perfect. But they’re like sitting on a three-legged stool. They’ll provide support for you to be the healthiest church leader you can be.
#2 – Clarify
To create a healthy church culture, the first step you must take is to clarify your values.
This step isn’t only about writing down some pithy statements. This step requires you and your church’s leadership to invest time into prayerfully considering your church values. From how you teach the Bible to sharing the gospel with your community, your values are really your church’s DNA—they inform everything your church believes and does.
Without taking this step, the rest of what I have to offer below won’t matter.
Be prepared to park on this step before you move forward with the other suggestions. Creating a healthy church culture without clarifying your values first would be like trying to build a house without laying a proper foundation.
There are three big benefits to taking this step:
The first benefit of clarifying your values informs the rest of the benefits, which will make sense in a moment. As you clarify your values, you’ll better understand the identity of your church.
At this point, your goal isn’t to clarify your beliefs.
You should already have these ironed out, and the only time you really need to spend extra time on clarifying your beliefs is when your church is wrestling through a significant issue.
As for your identity, clarifying your values will help your church better understand who you are and why you do what you do. In other words, you won’t be concerned with keeping up with the “Joneses.” Instead, your focus will be on living out who you are in light of who God says you are.
When you have a better understanding of your identity, then your church will be able to make better decisions. Think about it.
Do you need to start a [fill-in-the-blank-with-the-latest-trend]?
How will you handle first-time guests?
Do you need to launch or grow your small groups?
Should you cancel your Sunday school?
Regardless of what decision you need to make, after you’ve clarified your values, then you’ll possess a compass for the direction you should take. Not only will this be helpful for big decisions. But maintaining a clear picture of who your church is will guide the decisions you make every day.
The third significant benefit to clarifying your values is your ability to reproduce your values in your church staff and church. Clarifying your values makes effectively reproducing your values within your team and throughout your church (especially for new staff and church members) a whole lot easier.
#3 – Analyze
The second step you need to take toward building a healthy church culture is to analyze your church.
On the surface, this step is easy in theory.
All you “need to do” is to compare your church’s values with your church’s behavior and see how well they align with each other. Like I said, easy, right?
Not so fast.
This process takes time.
Not only will you need to assess your church. But you’ll need to empower a decent portion of your church (say 10%) to provide feedback.
For this step to be effective, you’ll need to make sure a wide variety of people respond—not just your closest friends or the most vocal people within your congregation.
Don’t rush this process.
Take the time you need to hear from the people in your church.
Don’t feel like you need to create this process from scratch. There are plenty of resources available you can use to assess your church culture. Shaped by God’s Heart by Milfred Minatrea is one such resource.
#4 – Communicate
To build a healthy church culture, you’ll need to consistently communicate your values.
This is why:
Church culture isn’t static.
There will never be a time when your church culture “arrives.”
From the presence of sin, people leaving your church, and adding new church members, you’ll need to lead your church to embrace your values consistently.
In large part, what you do throughout the week will reinforce your church values and many people will follow what you’re doing. In other words, church culture is most often caught—not taught.
But here’s the deal:
What you do will only go so far.
Many people are motivated by the why behind what you do—not what you do per se.
What is more, your church culture will naturally drift away toward unraveling. By consistently communicating your values and by casting a vision before your church, you’ll help your church course-correct along the way.
Here are some practical ways you can communicate your church’s values:
- Social media
- Sermons or sermon series
- Church announcements
- Church membership classes
- Small groups and Sunday school
- Celebrate people living out your values
This list will get you started.
#5 – Model
Are you the senior pastor of your church?
Do you serve in a key leadership or staff position?
As a leader with a public position in your church, everyone’s eyes are on you, and how you live and lead is a significant influence on your church’s culture.
Talking about your church’s values isn’t enough.
You cannot expect your church to embrace a value if it’s not a part of your life.
Think about it like this.
If you are a platoon commander, then you must lead your platoon in battle from the front. Leading anyone or especially a group from the back is difficult.
Do you want your church members to evangelize, be generous, and be servant leaders? Then you must take the lead in modeling these behaviors.
Remember, values are often caught—not taught.
The actions you take as a leader will influence your staff, volunteers, and ultimately everyone in your church. If your actions do not reflect your church’s values, then what you do will be a more significant influence than what you say.
#6 – Remove toxins
Creating a healthy culture is challenging.
Attempting to repair a broken culture is another story, and it’s extremely difficult.
It takes (a lot of) time, prayer, and participation from many people in your church to move in a new direction. During this process, like a skillful surgeon, you’ll need to understand the harmful toxins in your church’s body, and work through or possibly remove them.
There are three common toxins you need to be aware of:
- Sinful patterns of behavior
- Toxic people
- Unnecessary ministries
The first toxin you need to look for is sinful patterns of behavior. In your church, can you observe consistent and ongoing sinful behavior, such as sexual immorality, jealousy, and fits of rage? Be mindful of sinful patterns in your church, and address them as necessary (see Galatians 5:19–21).
There’s no way you can completely avoid toxic people in your church, and how you respond depends upon the context. In general, if you don’t feed into the negativity of a toxic person, then he or she will move on.
However, there may be a time when you’ll need to directly address someone (church member or staff), bring them under church discipline, and move toward reconciliation. Before you go this route, be sure you and your church leaders follow whatever process you have in place.
In the life of your church, there will likely come a time when you’ll need to end an unnecessary ministry. Oftentimes, these ministries aren’t toxic per se, unless they are a petri dish of sinful behavior. But the ongoing existence of a ministry that no longer reflects the values of your church nevertheless will inhibit you from moving forward.
In creating a healthy church culture, this step isn’t easy.
And be humble.
#7 – Celebrate
What you celebrate, you create.
When it comes to building a healthy church culture, the values you celebrate are the values you’ll reinforce throughout your church.
When it comes to highlighting people in your church, there are two groups you want to encourage:
- Your staff
- Your church members
As a church leader, it’s easy to forget to celebrate your staff.
I get it.
Life in your church is busy, and there’s hardly enough time to keep things afloat.
But here’s the deal:
To build a healthy church culture, you have to reinforce within your staff the values your church adheres to. Neglecting this important step is one surefire way to maintain the status quo in your church.
Acknowledge your staff (and volunteers).
Regularly sing their praises.
By celebrating the acts you want to encourage, you’ll reinforce the healthy aspects of the culture you want to create.
You also want to highlight your church members.
Observe the behaviors you want to reinforce in the life of your church members, and celebrate them. From mentioning them during your church announcements or sermons to sharing their image on social media with a note about why they’re important, there are many little things you can do to make a big difference in the life of your church.
Building a healthy church culture
The culture of your church isn’t something you can ignore.
Remember, the culture in your church isn’t set.
For better or worse, it’s always evolving.
In order to create a healthy church culture, you have to be purposeful. Start with clarifying your values, taking a long look in the mirror, and actively modeling and communicating what you believe, and, in time, you’ll mold your church’s culture.
I pray you can have the same confidence that the Apostle Paul had when he said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1).
Fights will occur in your church.
Not fistfights in your parking lot (even though that’s been known to happen).
I’m talking about conflicts.
The type of conflict with a church member that strains relationships, disrupts peace, and causes division.
These types of fights are bound to happen.
Anytime you put one sinner with another sinner; you’re going to have tension.
Let me ask you this:
If you could minimize conflict in your church, would you?
If there were one thing you could do that would help your church to live in peace, would you do it?
Are you game?
Let’s talk about one way you can infuse peace into your church.
Clarify expectations in your church
In the life of your church, there are expectations and reality.
The difference between the two of these is what tends to cause disappointment.
Let me explain.
As a church leader, let’s say you expect your church members to support the life of your church by volunteering their time. However, let’s pretend a fictitious church member expects you and your staff to do the work of the ministry.
In this scenario, work will not get done, and the church leader and church member will be disappointed.
Neither one’s expectations are being met.
When this type of poor communication occurs, it can lead to disappointment, resentment, and outright conflict. The existence of unclear or unmet expectations is nothing to bat an eye at either.
Unrealistic expectations can be a significant reason why church leaders leave the ministry. And unmet expectations can be reasons why church members will leave your church.
How do you keep things from blowing up?
In this post, I’d like to share why your church should clarify expectations for everyone involved.
We’re going to cover:
- 4 expectations of a church
- 2 expectations of church members
- 4 ways you can clarify expectations
4 expectations of a church
In general, there’s one big thing people expect from your church:
Be a church.
From long-time church members to first-time guests, people expect your church to be a church.
What this means from one person to the next can vary widely.
But there are four core ideas this boils down to. People expect your church to:
- Be biblically based
- Be rooted in tradition
- Help them live the Christian life
- Provide a Christian community
Most people want to be involved with a biblically based church—one that preaches the Bible and helps its members to know God better. Parents and guardians want their children provided with biblical instruction.
Many people also want to know that their church is rooted in tradition.
I’m not talking about bad traditions, like holding onto something your church has been doing just because you’ve always done it that way.
What I’m talking about are good traditions.
The traditions that are rooted in the Bible and have been passed down throughout church history—in particular, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Don’t believe me?
According to research from Barna Group, 67 percent of Millennials prefer “classic” churches. I know church traditions include more than administering the sacraments. But help your church feel connected to the Church by explaining the “why” behind your “what.” In other words, let them know that the good traditions of your church are being practiced around the world and have been a part of the Church for thousands of years.
Finally, people expect a church to help them live the Christian life—to live and love like Jesus.
Based on a survey conducted by Pew Forum, one of the top reasons adults in the United States chose to attend religious services was for help in becoming a better person. What is more, according to this survey, parents and guardians also want help in laying a moral foundation for their children.
In this post, I don’t want to get into the details of what it does or doesn’t mean to be a better person or provide a moral foundation.
But here’s what I want you to know:
Adults and parents want help in trying to live and love like Jesus.
A big part of the way you do this as a church is by being biblically based. But there’s another equally important thing you need to do—provide a Christian community.
The majority of your church members and visitors are interested in having a Christian community. They want to know people and be known by others. Make it easy for your church to meet people and make new friends by building a healthy small group ministry.
Does this cover every expectation people may have?
But these are the four big things people expect from your church.
But what about you, church leader?
Can you expect anything from your church members?
There are some healthy things you should expect from your church, which we’ll get into next.
2 expectations of church members
Your church isn’t a country club.
Your members don’t pay dues to participate.
Know what else?
Your church isn’t a movie theater, amusement park, or mall—it’s a church.
Your members shouldn’t expect to be passive consumers.
As a church leader, your primary goal is to make disciples. One way you can do this is by creating high expectations among your members—expectations that let them know you’re a church.
To create high expectations among your members, there are two things churches have found helpful:
The foundation of your ministry is what you believe.
To make sure your church members are on the same page, it’s essential to emphasize your essential and non-essential beliefs.
When it comes to your essential beliefs, these are non-negotiable. These are the beliefs your church does not question or dispute. You hold them with a clenched fist. For many churches, this includes what you believe about Jesus, the Bible, and Salvation.
Your non-essential beliefs are the things you hold with an open hand. In other words, these are beliefs that are open for discussion and are not essential to the livelihood of your church. Common non-essential beliefs among churches include your position on the end times, your view on spiritual gifts, and your style of worship.
To create high expectations for your members, encourage them to belong.
When it comes to belonging, several things come to mind. Members who belong will:
- Attend worship services
- Financially support the church
- Support your pastor and staff
- Encourage one another
- Seek unity
As you know, this is easier said than done.
Asking someone to commit doesn’t mean he or she will make that decision.
To influence your church culture, you have to talk about expectations more than once and continually reinforce your message. Here are four ways you can do just that.
4 ways you can clarify expectations
Ready to get everyone in your church on the same page?
Here are four things you can do:
- Provide membership classes
- Preach on church membership
- Share stories
- Equip through classes and small groups
Many churches provide membership classes to let new members know more about their church and to share expectations. During this time, it’s best to let people know what they’re getting into. This way new members will become more comfortable with committing to your church.
Another helpful tactic to pursue is to preach on church membership. Whether you share one sermon or preach through an entire sermon series, inform your church about church membership from the Bible. After you’re done, don’t keep this message on the shelf. Make sure your church and visitors can easily access this material.
Reinforce your church’s culture and expectations by sharing stories. Identify people in your church who model your church’s values, and share their example. Letting your church “see” what you’re talking about is a great way to provide a positive example. You can share stories on social media, during your church announcements, or during a special event.
Finally, you can also reinforce expectations through Sunday school classes and small groups. From creating your own curriculum to using resources like I Am a Church Member by Thom S. Rainer, Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman, or Committing to One Another by Bobby Jamieson.
Raising the bar
Don’t let unnecessary fights rule the day.
Strive to minimize conflict, create unity, and ensure peace rules the heart of your church by clarifying expectations with everyone.