Searching for a new pastor is nothing new.
But if you're feeling overwhelmed by the thought of finding a new pastor, you’re not alone.
For good, bad, and ugly reasons, pastors often transition.
But look on the bright side.
Since this is the case, there’s a ton of helpful advice out there on how to find your next pastor.
In this post, I created a short guide based on the best available advice to help you put together a pastoral search. Before getting into the nitty-gritty, let me save you some heartache and lay out the four common mistakes to avoid when searching for a new pastor.
4 common pastoral search mistakes
You’re going to make plenty of small mistakes along the way, and that’s okay. But you want to avoid stepping on one of these landmines during your pastoral search. One of them could blow up your entire process. So, tread lightly. 🙂
#1 – Avoid advice
Let me state the obvious:
Finding a new pastor is challenging.
Know what else?
This task isn’t something your church does every day.
In this post, I’m going to share practical advice handed down over years of pastoral search committee experiences. Following these tips will place you on the right track. But there’s one colossal limit this blog post possesses:
It will not turn you into an expert.
Becoming an expert in anything takes time, dedicated practice, and experience.
Does this mean you shouldn’t move forward in your pastoral search?
Far from it.
Here’s what this means:
In your search for a new pastor, don’t overlook your potential lack of experience with hiring people. Instead, be humble. Acknowledge the possibility that you, your church staff, or your church members may not have the skills you need to promptly find the right pastor for your church.
This process isn’t a simple task you can mark off of a church project-management to-do list. The life of your church marches on without a senior pastor, and in his or her absence, you may lose church members, experience a decline in giving, or lose forward momentum. When (not if) this happens, your search for a new pastor will feel more urgent, which can lead your search committee to make a rash decision.
As you prepare to search for a new pastor, consider soliciting advice from outside sources, such as your:
#2 – Searching too fast—or too slow
Timeliness is of the essence.
When it comes to pastoral searches, many churches have erred in two ways:
1. Moving too fast
2. Moving too slow
First of all, there’s no need to move too fast.
Don’t offer the position to the first person you interview. Give yourself and your search committee time to interview several candidates. There’s no need to rush the process.
The other error you want to avoid is moving too slow.
It’s easy to make the position public, receive interest, and then never return an email or phone call. Moving too slow will cost your church the interest of great candidates, and an unnecessarily lengthy search process will negatively influence your church members.
#3 – Lack of communication
Searching for a new pastor is a public (church) thing—not a private matter.
Even though your church may have a board, bishop, or search committee who’ll make the final decision in hiring a senior pastor, you shouldn’t leave your church members in the dark.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to forget to keep your church up-to-date.
How’s the process going?
Has your search committee narrowed down their list?
Will you invite a candidate to interview soon?
These are just some of the questions your church members are thinking. Instead of tempting them to gossip, it’s best to continually share updates while being open and honest..
Know who else needs to know what’s going on?
People who’ve applied for the position.
As you work through the pool of applicants, be quick to let those who didn’t make your short list know, and provide them with encouraging words to keep pursuing their vocational call to ministry.
Have you identified candidates you’d like to learn more about?
It’s best to let them know as well.
As I shared above, you don’t want to keep your candidates sitting in the dark for too long.
#4 – Unrealistic expectations
Executive skill set.
These are just some of the characteristics you may be looking for in your next pastor, and it makes sense. It’s nice to have someone who can “do it all.”
But here’s the deal:
From vocational ministry to the business world, you’ll never find someone who is or can do everything. So, be careful that you don’t place unrealistic expectations on the pastor you’re searching for that Jesus himself can't fulfill.
In your pastoral search, your search committee will have to define exactly what you’re looking for in a candidate. During this process, be sure to clarify your church’s priorities versus qualities that are nice to have.
A 7-step playbook for finding your next pastor
Now it’s time to get work.
After pouring over a ton of different resources from denominations, networks, and independent churches, I put together this 7-step playbook for finding your next pastor.
Here is the table of contents:
1. Pray, pray, and pray
2. Build a search committee
3. Find an interim pastor
4. Know the vision of your church
5. Know who you’re looking for
6. Review your applications
7. Interview your candidates (thoroughly)
It's time to get started.
#1 – Pray, pray, and pray
At ChurchFuel, we’re practical people—it’s what we do.
We have a biasness for action, and a tendency to act first.
We’re not alone.
As a church leader, you’re beyond busy.
Your schedule (LINK) can be unruly.
You have more work to do than hours to do it.
Now, in the search for a new pastor, you have a huge task to accomplish. At this point, it’s easy just to put your head down, make a plan, and start knocking out the work you need to do like whack-a-mole.
Take a breath and prepare to pray—a lot.
Calling a new pastor to serve your church isn’t a simple task. Sure, you can hire anyone you like. But you want to do more than find a hired hand. You want to discover the next pastor God is calling to lead your church, and this is a spiritual matter that can only be accomplished through prayer.
As you prepare to search for a new pastor, here are three things you’ll need to pray for:
2. Search committee
3. Future candidates
As for wisdom, you need to submit your work to the Lord. Place yourself and your church in his hands, and ask for him to lead the way. A prayer for wisdom isn’t a one-time event. Seeking God’s input through prayer is something you’ll need to do on an ongoing basis.
In your prayers, you’ll also need to pray for your search committee. At this point in the process, you haven’t put together a search committee. But you’ll want to start praying for God to put together the right team.
Don’t stop praying for your search committee after they're formed. You’ll want to lead your church to pray for them throughout this process. So, however you share prayer requests with your church members, be sure to include a call to pray for your search committee.
Finally, you’ll want to pray for your future candidates. Ask the Lord to lead the right person to serve your church, and pray for that person’s well-being and family throughout this process.
#2 – Build a search committee
Remember, searching for a new pastor is a public (church) task.
This is a principle that undergirds finding a new pastor—especially when it comes to forming a search committee. If prayer is the fuel that drives your church, the search committee is the engine behind finding your church’s next pastor.
Since forming a search committee is vital to this process, let’s take a moment to talk about the following:
- What is a search committee?
- How many people should be on your committee?
- Who should be on your search committee?
- What roles should form your committee?
Let’s dig in!
What is a search committee?
A search committee is a group of people in your church who are temporarily organized to find your church’s next pastor. From developing a job description, screening candidates, and setting up interviews, the search committee leads the process of finding your church’s next pastor.
How many people should be on your search committee?
For your search committee, it’s best to have an odd number of people, in the range of 7–11.
An odd number of members will help your team to avoid a stalemate.
Shouldn’t the search committee unanimously agree on the decisions they make?
This would be nice.
But a unanimous decision isn’t necessary.
Here’s the deal:
Your search committee should be made up of people with different perspectives. When this is the case, there’s a good chance that not everyone will agree on whomever your church decides to call as their next pastor.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a bad thing.
When disagreements are present, then your search committee will be able to talk through differences, make a compromise, and move toward the middle in whatever decisions they make.
For your church committee, you don’t want fewer than 7 members, and you want to avoid having more than 11. If you have less than 7 people on your search committee, then there’s a good chance your committee will get overwhelmed by the work and move too slow during the process. On the other hand, if you have more than 11 people, you run the risk of taking too much time to make decisions.
Who should be on your search committee?
Your search committee should reflect your church.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Involvement in the church
Regardless of the polity your church does or doesn’t have for selecting a search committee, make sure your committee reflects the life of your church as best as possible. This way you can ensure that this process is a public (church) task.
What roles should form your committee?
Here are the three essential roles you need to fill in your search committee:
The chairperson is the man or woman responsible for leading the search committee. The chairperson’s primary role is to schedule meetings and oversee the work that needs to be done.
The secretary will take notes and help everyone stay on track.
Finally, the communications director is the person responsible for communicating with the church and with the candidates.
Don’t overlook this last position. Without having a dedicated communications director, you run the risk of keeping your church and candidates in the dark or slowing down communication to a standstill.
#3 – Find an interim pastor
In between senior pastors, your church will have a considerable gap to fill—especially in the pulpit.
One idea to consider during this pastoral transition is to identify an interim pastor.
An interim pastor is someone you can hire, an assistant pastor, staff member, or even shared responsibility among your church's leadership. Whatever your church decides, be sure to clarify the most critical work that needs to be done in the absence of your previous pastor, and ensure that someone or a group fulfills these responsibilities.
Here’s what else you need to know:
Having an interim pastor will help you fight the urge to hire someone too fast.
An interim pastor can preach and take on other responsibilities while your church works toward calling its next pastor.
#4 – Know the vision of the church
There’s one vital step your search committee needs to take before moving forward:
Your search committee needs to agree (not by a vote) on the vision of your church.
Thankfully, this isn’t something your search committee will need to define. This is something your church has probably already nailed down in a vision or mission statement. So, your committee won’t have to recreate the wheel at this point.
Here’s why this important:
The mission and vision of your church will influence the type of pastor you call.
In one way, the location of your church (urban, suburban, or rural) will naturally influence the type of pastors who will submit an application or be open to considering serving your church. Differently, your church’s mission, worship style, and philosophy of ministry will also influence what type of pastor you hire.
Here’s what else to keep in mind:
What is your church’s vision for the future?
For the answer to this question, your search committee needs to take stock of where you’re at and what type of pastor you need to help you get to where you want to go. When your team is armed with this information, then they’ll be in a better position to define what type of pastor can help your church fulfill its mission, which leads me to the next point.
#5 – Know who you’re looking for
Creating a job description is one of the first big tasks your search committee will need to complete.
Don’t treat this as a simple task to complete.
This job description is so much more than a random posting on a church staffing website. This description stakes a claim about your church and the type of pastor your church is seeking. What is more, the description you create will also influence the kind of candidates who apply.
When creating the job description or ministry profile, here are specific things you want to include:
- Personal, familial, and spiritual characteristics
- Job (pastoral) expectations
- Personal testimony and call to ministry
Don’t rush this process—your search committee won’t be able to complete this in one evening. For a lot of this information, if your church is affiliated with a denomination or network, then you can lean on your network for input.
Keep in mind the future of your church. For example, if your church needs help breaking the 200 barrier, then it’s ideal to find a pastor who has experience doing this.
Know what else?
Depending on the size of your church, you’ll need to be careful of what type of pastor you call. For example, it’ll be difficult for a pastor of a 200-member church to lead a church of 2,000. Can he or she learn how to do this? Sure. Unless you have the time or a transitional plan in place where your current pastor will mentor the next pastor, then prayerfully move forward if your committee “believes” a candidate may fit the bill.
Here’s a different side of this coin to consider:
A pastor transitioning from a solo situation to a team or a team to a solo situation may struggle.
The skills anyone needs—including pastors—to work with or without a team are different. If someone is skilled at being a solo pastor, then he or she will need time, resources, and support to learn how to work well with a team.
If a pastor akin to working with a team is considering a solo pastoral opportunity, then be sure to ask him or her if they’re ready to work without a team. This might seem inconsequential. But the type of work required in a solo setting versus a team setting differs, and the pastor considering a call in this scenario needs to consider this.
#6 – Review your applications
Let’s say you’ve already completed the steps listed above.
What is more, let’s also imagine that a couple of months have already passed, and you’ve received multiple applications.
What do you do next?
Are you supposed to interview every candidate?
After you receive applications, the first step your search committee should take is to create a short list. Based on the criteria you established in the previous step, examine applications and decide whether each candidate fits the qualifications.
At this point, there are three things you can do:
At the first step, you can simply pass on candidates who do not meet the requirements for the position. As a search committee, you need to be prepared to receive applications from candidates who do not meet the qualifications—especially in the area of skills and experience.
In pastoral searches, many people will wrestle with a perceived internal call from God to serve as your next pastor. Some candidates may be called to serve in vocational ministry. But based on their pastoral experience, they are not the right person for your church. In these cases, it’s okay to say no and to let them know as quickly as possible.
During your search, there will be other candidates who you’re on the fence about. In these moments, it’s okay to pause and further explore this candidate. When you run across candidates who you’re not sure about passing on or moving forward with, you can follow up with them to ask a few questions. This can be done via email or someone from your search committee can speak with the candidate directly and report back to the team.
Finally, if an applicant meets the qualifications for the position, you can go—move forward—with interviewing them as a potential candidate, which leads me to the next point.
#7 – Interview your candidates (thoroughly)
Have your short list handy?
Great, now it’s time to move on to the interviews.
How many candidates should you invite to interview?
Well, it depends.
At a minimum, we suggest interviewing at least 3–5 candidates.
Now, when I say interviews, I’m not only talking about a friendly fireside chat over the phone. What I have in mind is inviting the candidate and his or her spouse to visit your church for a few days.
For this process to be effective, you’ll want to schedule 3–4 days and make sure they connect with multiple people and groups, including:
- Church leaders and spouses
- Small groups or Bible studies
Basically, you want candidates to meet as many people as possible.
By making multiple connections through your church, you’ll be better able to gauge how well your church members respond to candidates.
What is more, during your interview process, there are three areas you want to look into:
2. Personal life
3. Family life
Let’s take a look at these in detail!
#1 – Experience
When it comes to a candidate’s experience, look closely.
Here are some things to be on the lookout for:
When your committee is reviewing a candidate, it’s essential to connect with his or her referrals or recommendations. This is a time-consuming yet vital step you don’t want to skip. There have been plenty of cases of churches who did not connect with a candidate’s referrals, and then discovered months or years later of significant issues that disqualify him or her from the ministry.
Here’s what else you’ll need to do:
Invite your candidates to preach and teach.
At a minimum, you want every candidate you’re seriously considering to preach. It’s one thing to listen to a candidate’s sermons. It's another thing to hear him or her preaching from the Bible for your church.
Also, depending on your church and the candidate’s time, it’s also a good idea to have him or her teach a Sunday school class, lead a small group, or whatever is essential for your church.
Requiring this step will give you and your church first-hand experience of each candidate’s ability to preach and teach.
#2 – Personal life
The pastor you call is your next shepherd.
He or she should be able to set a grace-filled example of what it means to live and love like Jesus.
There’s only one way you can find this out:
By asking each candidate questions, listening, and chatting with referrals.
Here are just some of the questions you’ll want to ask:
- What are your views about [fill in the blank]?
- What do you think about the use of alcohol? Smoking?
- Can you describe your devotional life?
- What place does family have in your life?
- How do you approach sermon preparation?
- Are you involved in your community?
- What hobbies do you have?
There are many more questions you can ask. But this list will get you started.
#3 – Family life
Finally, the last big area you want to explore is a candidate’s family life.
Assuming your candidate is married and has kids, you might ask these questions:.
- How often do you go out with your spouse?
- In what ways are you discipling your children?
- How would you describe your relationship with your spouse?
You don’t want to leave these questions to your candidate. During the interview process, you can also ask his or her spouse similar questions to gauge their relationship.
Before moving on, there’s one last thing I’d like to emphasize:
Require your search committee to maintain strict confidentiality.
It’s okay for your team to speak in general terms. But it’s best for everyone to hold back their thoughts on individual candidates until a final decision is made.
Calling your next pastor
In the end, it’s time for your church to make a decision.
How this decision is made will be influenced by your denomination or network. For example, do you allow your church committee to make a decision or recommendation, does your church’s leadership (elders, deacons, board) make the decision, or does the entire church cast a vote?
To make your decision, we don’t suggest requiring a unanimous vote. Instead, we suggest requiring two-thirds (2/3) of your committee or church to vote in favor of your next pastor.
Regardless of whom you call, your work isn’t done.
It’s now time to partner together with your future pastor to share the gospel, make disciples, and be a light in your community.
Teams come in all sizes and styles. Some teams wear uniforms, practice daily, and compete in tournaments and championships. Some work together on a building project, a life-saving endeavor, or in pursuit of a prosecution. No matter what the team looks like, a common goal is always the pursuit.
Churches have teams, too.
These may consist of staff members, lay leaders, volunteers, elders, deacons, teachers, youth leaders, and the list goes on, but the common goal that unites them is to serve the church and to do it well.
Just as a sports team trains, practices skills, and receives instruction and encouragement from a coach to improve, a church’s leadership team must do the same. But what does that really look like? Where do you even begin, and what skills are important?
While there are many ways to train your team, we believe there are twelve core team training skills that can’t be missed, and we want to share a few of them with you.
#1 – Integrity
Integrity is consistently choosing to do the right thing.
Often the right thing is obvious and everyone can agree on what that looks like, but not always. Developing a team of people with integrity is the first area to tackle and the one that will make the greatest impact to your church and its ministries.
For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
#2 – Work Ethic
Work ethic is bringing your best to whatever you do.
We all work at something, but are we doing it in the best way possible? Understanding what a work ethic actually is and how to improve on it is vital to your and your team’s effectiveness. Kingdom work cannot be done well or result in changed lives with a team that does not value a Christ-centered work ethic.
Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17).
#3 – Unity
Unity is a shared effort toward a common goal.
Families, communities and churches alike all strive for unity. However, FINDING unity is often a lot harder than seeking it. Learning how to create an atmosphere of unity, by honoring our similarities and differences, complements effective teams. Being united is often discussed as a lofty, yet somewhat unattainable goal, but there are ways that teams can achieve unity.
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! (Psalm 133:1)
#4 – Communication
Communication is saying what needs to be said so people can do what needs to be done.
We are constantly communicating: speaking, writing, texting, emailing, posting…and chances are, we all believe we’re very good at it. But how do we really know that what we’re trying to communicate has been understood and can be acted upon? Effective communication is possible. It gets everyone on the same page and working toward a common goal, while minimizing frustrations and missed opportunities.
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver (Proverbs 25:11).
#5 – Delegating
Delegating is trusting and empowering someone to act.
We all know that we can’t do everything, but how do we know what to give up and what to keep? Just assembling a team isn’t enough; if you’re trying to do everything yourself, you’re not leading. Churches are composed of members with a range of skills, strengths, and talents. Leveraging these by delegating tasks to the right people fortifies the team and the church as a whole.
The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone (Exodus 18:18).
#6 – Planning
Planning is deciding and documenting what needs to be done.
There are literally hundreds of planning methods, tools, and apps. Which is right for you, your team, and your church? You can figure out what needs to be done and the best way to do it. This will allow for successful implementation of projects, programs, and ministries.
Commit your work to the Lord and your plans will be established (Proverbs 16:3).
That’s just a peek at six of the 12 skills we feel are most important for you and your team.
We also know that churches and pastors often struggle with team training, and the reasons are valid. Some of the concerns we hear from pastors are:
“I don’t know where to begin.”
“I don’t have the time.”
“We don’t have any resources.”
“There are too many resources.”
Take Your Next Step
Finding the right team training resources can be overwhelming when you have a million things to do. To be a great leader, you need to be intentional. So, we decided to offer a simple-to-use, everything-you-need solution. In 12 lessons, you will find action steps, Scripture references, input from pastors and other professionals, reading recommendations, and worksheets to use with your team.
You can “tack-on” these lessons to a monthly staff meeting or as a part of a leadership retreat. You can even teach the curriculum from your iPhone and send the video and materials to your leaders.
We guarantee that time spent training your team will be time well spent. The end result is you having more time to focus on your ministry, knowing your team is running smoothly and has the mission of the church in mind at every turn. We've included Team Training at no extra cost for all Church Fuel members.
Are you ready to do something about the increasing need for authentic leaders in your church? Church Fuel is a paid membership community of pastors and church leaders. You can join them on the journey towards having effective church systems, structures and leadership simply by clicking the link below.
We're here to help.
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.