Pastoral transitions are frequent, and they can occur for good or bad reasons.
One key to pastoral transitions
Pastoral transitions can lead your church to lose one key thing: momentum.
I’m not talking about when a pastor is fired for a moral failure. I'm talking about normal pastoral transitions and the average amount of time it takes a church to call a new pastor, which can crush your church’s momentum.
Not only will a vacancy in leadership lead to these problems, so too will a mismanaged pastoral transition, which leads us to the next point.
6 ways to lead your church through a pastoral transition
Remember, pastoral transitions take on all sorts of shapes and sizes—both good and bad.
Here’s what you need to know:
If you don’t handle your pastoral transition well, you’ll create an entirely different set of problems.
To help lead your church well through this season, here are 6 steps you’ll need to take:
Continue your ministry
Make a plan
Follow Jesus’ lead
Let’s dig in!
#1 – Continue your ministry
There's one reality you must embrace during a pastoral transition:
The life of your church marches on.
For a variety of reasons, it’s difficult when a senior pastor transitions off staff. But the life of your church is not limited to this one man or woman. Your church is made up of every member who places their faith in Jesus Christ.
This is what the Apostle Paul emphasizes in his letter to the church in Corinth:
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ … For the body does not consist of one member but of many” (1 Cor. 12:12, 14).
As the body of Christ, your church—for better or worse—possesses achurch culture. In other words, your church has unique characteristics, behaviors, and ministries. So, when there’s a pastoral change, what makes up the culture of your church may change, which will cause anxiety among many of your members.
When there’s a pastoral transition, your church will be nervously questioning things like:
Will the style of worship change?
Will we continue this or that ministry?
Will other pastors, staff, or key volunteers leave?
What will become of my small group?
These thoughts and more will race through the minds of your church members.
If your church’s leadership does not address these anxieties, they will grow into more significant fears and may lead to gossip, slander, and division.
During a pastoral transition, it’s essential that the life of your church continues without interruption. There’s no need to make sweeping changes, and it’s best to let everyone know that life in your church will continue.
#2 – Make a plan
It’s easy to skip planning your church’s next steps during a pastoral transition.
Regardless of how well the transition takes place, this is still a difficult time for your church. You may be experiencing a sense of loss or feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work that needs to be done. Taking the time to plan for your future can feel daunting.
Hear me loud and clear:
Make a pastoral transition plan and work your plan.
Writing for theVanderbloemen Search Group, Tracey Smith said, “Many transitions go strangely wrong because the leader(s) does not have a plan.” As I pointed out above, this is something you don’t want to go strangely wrong.
In your plan, there are several short- and long-term tasks you’ll need to think through and outline, such as:
Creating a job description
Planning for pastoral care
Providing pulpit replacement
Forming a search committee
Promoting the open position
In your plan, there’s one additional item you’ll need to include: clarify roles.
Since this last step is nuanced, let’s tackle it individually next.
#3 – Clarify roles
In team sports, when a player is unable to play in a game, his or her position is filled by someone who can assume the responsibilities.
For example, in football, if your quarterback is injured, you need a replacement who can play quarterback—not a different position.
What do team sports have to do with pastoral transitions?
A senior pastor serves as the leader of the church. From providing spiritual leadership to strategic guidance, a senior pastor provides oversight for your church.
During a pastoral transition, your church will experience a gap in leadership. When this happens, your church will be concerned about how these responsibilities will be fulfilled moving forward. Also, your staff and volunteers will be curious to know how their responsibilities may change.
To help create a healthy pastoral transition, you’ll need to do the following:
Identify interim leaders
Empower your staff and volunteers
Interim leaders for your church can be an interim pastor, assistant pastor or staff member, or even shared responsibility among your board, session, or staff. Whether it’s an individual or group who’s assuming leadership responsibilities, make sure all roles are clearly communicated to your church and staff.
When there’s a pastoral transition, there’s also a need for someone else to pick up the work left behind. The size of your church will determine how much work you’ll need to delegate to your staff and volunteers.
To clarify roles, you must first identify what work will need to be accomplished in the absence of your pastor. Take the time to jot down everything your pastor did—from preaching, to pastoral care, to administrative work.
Now, with your list of tasks in hand, it’s time to delegate among your staff or volunteers. Don’t feel obligated to make sure everything is passed along. If your team doesn’t have the additional bandwidth, there’s a good chance you can postpone non-essential work.
Finally, empower your staff and volunteers in their roles and responsibilities. Encourage them to continue doing what they’re doing.
If you need to make any adjustments to someone’s responsibilities, meet with them individually to work this out. Laying this out up front will minimize stress with your team and reduce the risk of team members vying for a different position or higher authority.
#4 – Overcommunicate
There’s one thing you cannot do enough during a pastoral transition: communicate.
As I shared above, pastoral transitions will naturally lead your church to experience anxiety and stress. Often, these feelings are exasperated when there’s a lack of communication. It’s human nature to fill in the blanks when questions are left unanswered.
Communication with your church will need to be a two-way street.
On the one hand, you’ll need to continuously share with your church about what’s going on. On the other hand, you’ll need to be open to receiving feedback and listening to the concerns of your church.
Let’s explore both of these in detail.
Here’s the deal:
In pastoral transitions, your church members and staff will be anxious.
What you share with the members of your church and staff will differ.
For example, the members of your church will be curious about many things, and fearful about others.
What led to this transition?
How significantly will this affect my family and me?
Is there anything we need to be worried about?
As for your staff, they’ll likely have similar questions, but they’re also going to be concerned about their job security.
In the plan you were encouraged to make in step 2 above, think through the questions and concerns your members and staff will have. It’s also a good idea to develop a response to these questions to ensure consistent communication with everyone involved.
In a transitional period, your members and staff will experience a variety of feelings.
They’ll feel the loss of a pastor, friend, or boss.
They’ll feel stress at adjusting to the change.
They’ll be concerned about the future of the church and their job.
Whatever your church feels, it's okay. Transitions are hard for most people.
Give them room to breathe, and let them know who they can talk to if they have questions. Providing people with a clear line of communication will be a comfort for everyone—even if they don’t take advantage of the opportunity.
#5 – Be patient
Let’s face it: Transitions are messy.
In the midst of transitions, your entire church experiences change—and it’s hard.
How your church—both members and staff—navigates this change will be different.
Know ahead of time that you’ll run into a variety of opinions, and it’s essential to exercise patience. In other words, be ready to encounter different views—even from people who won’t accept the new reality.
To prepare yourself, know that your church will fall into one of three categories when it comes to working through the transition:
Knowing how your church will (or will not) accept change, will help you be better prepared to handle the different opinions. Let’s break this down a bit.
When it comes to change, early adopters are people in your church who are aware of the pastoral transition, and are comfortable with the changes taking place. This doesn’t mean this group of people has hard feelings toward the previous pastor or are not fighting loss. But it does mean they are the first group to embrace this transition.
In dealing with this group, you may not have to work hard to convince them to accept the transition. A strategy that works well with this group is sharing information and answering their questions.
What is more, consider leveraging the influence of early adopters by encouraging them to be champions of the church. It’s always helpful to have a group of non-staff people who act as a supportive voice.
As for the majority, this group represents the members of your church who are battling the loss of their pastor, but understand things change, and they will fight for the well-being of the entire church.
Expect this group to be slower in accepting the transition. In working with them, be informative and answer their questions. But be patient in forcing them to “fall into line.” Quick moves with this group can lead them to become combative, rather than supportive, which isn’t a good idea.
Finally, in any transition, you’ll have a group of laggards. This group of people is committed to the previous pastor, and they will fall into one of two categories.
First, there’s a portion of this group who will not accept the transition under any circumstances. Regardless of how you deal with this group of people, they will not be willing to stick around to see what happens, and that’s okay. Don’t force this group to be different than who they are. Be ready to part ways on good terms.
Second, there’s a portion of this group who will accept the transition and embrace a future pastor, but they’re skeptical and waiting to see how things work out. In working with this group, practice extreme patience. Don’t worry about when they choose to come on board.
Also, encourage early adopters to be aware of this group, build strong relationships, and be an encouragement for the church during this transition.
In leading your church through a pastoral transition, there’s one final point to make.
#6 – Follow Jesus’ lead
Jesus is the head of the Church, and he is the leader of your church (Col. 1:17–18; Eph. 5:22–25).
Over, and over again, remind your church of these truths:
Jesus is alive
Jesus is in control
Jesus loves your church
God is involved in your situation
God will work things out
God has good plans for you
By opening up the Bible and fearlessly sharing from its pages, God will change the hearts and minds of your church to see things from his point of view.
This is not only helpful during pastoral transitions, but there are many common themes—change, vision, faith—that will also help people grow in their faith in Christ.
Over to you
In the end, I want to leave you with this reminder:
You’re not alone.
What you're going through isn’t uncommon, and most importantly of all—God is involved in your situation.
If you still feel overwhelmed after reading through this process, consider reaching out to a third-party to help you work through the situation.
From your weekly worship service, small group ministry, and everything in between, there is a variety of activity taking place in your church.
To make sure everything (and everyone) works well together, here’s what you need to know:
Every ministry in your church will naturally drift toward misalignment. In other words, your staff and ministries will eventually pursue their own purposes—not the mission of the church.
Often, misalignment doesn’t happen on purpose. The vast majority of ministries or events are rooted in good intentions. However, over time, everything tends to drift away from its original purpose.
New ideas emerge.
People pursue different directions.
Then, perhaps without even knowing it, what started as one thing turns out to be something entirely different, and it becomes misaligned with the church.
When people or ministries become misaligned, you’ll run into many problems, including:
Lack of clarity
Fights over money
Lack of volunteers
Think about it this way.
Let’s say the wheels of your vehicle become misaligned. At first, your vehicle will slightly pull to the left or right. But if you let this problem persist, then you will damage the wheels of your car, and maybe even experience a tire blowout while you’re driving, which can quickly lead to an accident.
Thankfully, no one will get physically injured or potentially die when your church staff becomes misaligned. But the problems it causes are real and they can negatively impact your church and thwart your ministry efforts.
To help you assess your ministry, fight for alignment, and achieve greater ministry success, we’re going to cover the following topics:
What is alignment?
4 reasons why alignment is important
9 warning signs of misalignment
6 practical tips for aligning your church staff
Let’s get started!
What is alignment?
Alignment isn’t a complicated concept to grasp.
It simply means to agree with a person or idea. For example, when it comes to politics, to be in alignment is to be on the same side of a political party or to support a specific cause.
To practically apply this definition to your church, Carey Nieuwhof writes:
“Alignment happens when you have a team of people—from the top leadership right through to the newest volunteer—pulling in the same direction not only around the same goals, but using the same strategy.”
For your church to be in alignment, you and your staff need to be on the same side in three core areas:
Regarding your beliefs, I’m not suggesting that everyone on your staff needs to agree with you on every single point of doctrine. But I am suggesting that your team needs to agree with your church's essential beliefs.
For your church, there are many Christian creeds, confessions, and statements of faith you may or may not adhere to. That’s okay. Whatever creed or passages of the Bible inform your beliefs, it’s essential for your staff to be in agreement with them, too.
One last point about your beliefs:
Provide your staff with the opportunity to share their disagreements.
For example, many creeds contain a variety of essential, secondary, and even tertiary doctrinal issues. Whether it’s during the interview process or a pastoral transition, provide interviewees and members of your staff an opportunity to discuss where they diverge.
This simple act will not only help your entire church staff to become aligned. But it will also help to create an environment for your team to feel safe in sharing their opinions.
When it comes to creating alignment in your mission, your church staff should be moving toward accomplishing the same goal—to be on the same page. Think about it this way.
If you're on a road trip and there’s a disagreement about your final destination, you’ll end up nowhere fast. In the same way, if there’s disagreement over the direction of your church, then your staff will go in different directions, which will negatively influence the team’s productivity and your church’s fruitfulness.
If your mission is what you want to accomplish, then your philosophy of ministry is how you will achieve your mission.
How your church fulfills its mission is just as important to people as the mission itself. For example, you can agree on the same destination (mission), but you can have different opinions on how you should reach your destination (philosophy of ministry).
From your style of worship music to your dress code, your philosophy of ministry will have a variety of practical implications.
In sum, it’s important to remember there are a few things alignment doesn’t mean:
Everyone has to be in 100 percent agreement
Staff members have to forfeit their perspective
No one can voice an opinion
This isn’t the case at all.
In general, your staff needs to be on the same side as you in your beliefs, mission, and philosophy of ministry. But you can allow your staff to share concerns, voice opinions, and even adhere to secondary or tertiary differences of opinion.
4 Reasons Alignment is Essential
Misalignment among your staff will inevitably lead your church to veer off course or crash.
No one may get physically injured in the process, but the consequences are no less severe. Many churches have been negatively impacted by misalignment, and many others have even closed their doors.
But there’s more to alignment than avoiding pain and problems.
There are several benefits your church can experience when everyone is on the same page. Let’s take a look at four reasons why alignment is essential.
#1. Alignment minimizes conflict
When your staff is aligned in your beliefs, mission, and philosophy of ministry, you will significantly reduce the number of conflicts in your team. At times, you’ll still experience healthy disagreements, and that’s okay and to be expected. But when your staff is on the same page, you’ll see a reduction in any significant conflicts that may be detrimental to the team.
#2. Alignment means better focus
Alignment will also lead your team to better focus on what you’re striving to achieve together.
When this happens, your staff will:
Be less concerned about pet projects
Not make excuses
Disregard non-mission critical problems
Most important of all, your staff will work together as a team toward accomplishing a common goal.
#3. Alignment leads to accomplishing more
By minimizing conflict and improving focus, your staff will be able to accomplish more together.
As you focus on fulfilling the church’s mission, your staff will be in a better position to accomplish goals.
#4. Alignment leads to momentum
Being aligned will also help your staff to build and maintain momentum.
Think about it like this:
When you have everyone pulling together instead of going in different directions, you’ll create more traction and pick up speed since you won’t have competing forces moving in opposite directions.
[bctt tweet=”When you have everyone pulling together instead of going in different directions, you’ll create more traction and pick up speed since you won’t have competing forces moving in opposite directions.” username=”churchfuel”]
As you minimize conflict, focus on what’s ahead, and accomplish more together, you’ll build a wave of momentum you can ride together.
Let’s be honest:
No one wants their staff to become misaligned.
It’s not like church leaders are standing around dreaming up new ways they can discourage their team.
Misalignment among your staff is something that can happen because of a mistake (we’ll get into that below) or because your team has just drifted along for a period of time.
Here’s what you need to know about misalignment:
It’s not if your staff will become misaligned—it’s when it does.
For your staff to become misaligned, the problems usually begin small.
It can be a variety of things, such as:
Challenges at work
There are times when something significant will lead to big problems. But, for the most part, it’s the little things that can creep into the life of your team that will sow seeds of discord.
Like a small misalignment in your vehicle, in time, if the problem is not addressed, it will continue to get worse.
As a church leader, you need to be able to identify the common causes of misalignment. By keeping your fingers on the pulse of your team, you’ll be in a better position to lead them well.
This brings us to the next point.
9 Warning Signs of Misalignment
There are several ways your staff can become misaligned.
Knowing how your team can get out of alignment will help you to make a course correction.
Here are 9 common causes that lead to a misaligned team.
#1. Inherited staff
As the new pastor of a church, you’ll face many challenges. But one area you’ll need to be aware of is how to lead your existing staff well.
Many times, as a new pastor, you won’t need to make sweeping changes with the staff you inherited. In other words, there’s a good chance you won’t have to “clean house.” But you will have to work with the staff you inherited.
If you plan on making changes to the church’s mission or philosophy of ministry, then you should expect that it will take your staff time to adopt these changes. Below I’ll share several ways you can build trust with your team and encourage them to embrace the new work God is calling your church to pursue.
#2. Bad hiring
The second most significant contributor to a misaligned team is lousy hiring.
If you hire someone who does not align with your church’s beliefs, mission, or philosophy of ministry, then there’s no level of training or conflict resolution you can provide that will help. In time, a bad hire who’s not on the same page with your church will create tension or cause conflict.
In your church’s next hire, look for someone who not only possesses the skills and experience necessary for the job but who also is in alignment with your church.
Fear is another common cause of misalignment.
Let me ask you this about your staff:
Do they fear sharing their disagreements?
Do they not ask for help?
Do they hide their mistakes?
Do they fear significant blowback?
Did you answer yes to any of these questions?
If so, then there’s a good chance fear grips your staff and it’s only a matter of time until things go from bad to worse.
#4. No chemistry
There’s more to creating a high-powered team than hiring individual rockstars.
To be effective, your staff will need to be able to work well together—to have team chemistry.
To know whether or not the chemistry of your team is causing misalignment, you need to ask two simple questions:
Can my staff easily collaborate on projects?
Or is there constant conflict among my staff that hampers results?
Many factors influence team chemistry, but the answers to these two questions will at least get you moving in the right direction.
#5. Disengaged staff
Disengagement in the workforce is an epidemic in business and the Church.
According to a report by Harvard Business Review, 70 percent of workers in the U.S. are not engaged in their work. This study may not have been conducted on the Church. But it does paint a good picture of the overall level of workers’ engagement.
To know if your staff is disengaged, there are a variety of signs you can observe, including:
Lack of initiative
Poor work ethic
Lack of involvement
There are seasons when your staff will feel disengagement for a variety of reasons. However, if you observe these signs over the long-term, then there’s reason to believe your staff has become misaligned.
#6. Lack of vision
The ancient proverb, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov. 29:18), rings true today.
Do you regularly talk about the mission of your church?
Is your staff clear on the mission?
Does your work reflect the mission?
To align your staff, they need to see how their work contributes to the mission of the church, which leads us to the next point.
#7. Lack of goals
In your church, there is a tremendous amount of work that needs to be accomplished. However, if the work your staff is doing is not aligned with the church’s mission, then the work they complete will eventually veer off course or feel demotivating.
As you reflect on your staff, you need to look at two key areas:
Do the positions of your staff align with the church’s mission and philosophy of ministry? Are their individual goals connected with the church?
At its root, if the work of your staff is not in alignment with your church, then the work they do will lead them to become misaligned. It’s that simple.
#8. Lack of leadership
Poor leadership is one way many pastors create misalignment with their team.
Many church leaders lack the training necessary to create a healthy church staff. Regardless if you lead a small team of volunteers or several paid staff members, there’s a level of skill needed to lead a team well.
Without proper training, it can be easy to derail a team.
In time, without proper care, your staff will naturally drift for a variety of reasons.
Like many of the causes of misalignment, drifting is something that starts small. However, if it’s left unchecked, your team will end up way off course from your original destination.
To combat drifting and the other common causes of misalignment, you have to be purposeful.
As I mentioned above, no staff is created equal. There are unique challenges you face together, and there are different ways your team will respond to your leadership.
To help you deal with staff misalignment, here are six practical ways you can cultivate an aligned team.
6 Practical Tips for Aligning Your Church Staff
When your vehicle becomes misaligned, you have to get it repaired.
Similarly, when your staff becomes misaligned, you have to help them get back on track.
Unlike your vehicle, your church staff isn’t something you can drop off with your local mechanic for a mechanical repair. It takes time, effort, and a plan to help your team to get back on the same page.
Here are six of the best practices you can use to align your church staff.
#1. Selective hiring
Hiring the right people is the foundation of creating an aligned team.
As I pointed out earlier, if you hire the wrong people, you will not be able to create an aligned team—period.
In your hiring process, as you identify qualified candidates and move into the interview process, make sure you're clear about your beliefs, mission, and philosophy of ministry. At this time, you’ll also want to ask potential candidates if they have any disagreements with what you shared or if they need any clarification.
By clarifying these core areas of your church, interviewees will better understand if they are or are not a good fit for your church.
#2. Build trust
If hiring the right people is the foundation of creating an aligned staff, then building trust is the pillar everything else is built upon.
Building trust isn’t a one-time event. It takes more than a new employee orientation or lunch to establish rapport.
To build a healthy church staff, there are several things you’ll need to do on an ongoing basis, including:
Tell the truth
As you build trust with your staff, you’ll be in a better position to lead them well.
#3. Cast vision
The mission of your church is the driving force for everything you do. It’s the compass that directs your efforts.
For casting a vision, you’ll need to regularly talk about your church’s mission.
From sharing your mission during church announcements to talking about it during the week, reminding your team why they do what they do will help them to push through when things get tough. It will help them to see how their work and sacrifice contributes to the mission.
#4. Clarify goals
When you align the goals of your staff with the mission of your church, you will accomplish three important things:
For every position in your staff, you’ll need to ensure that the work and goals for that position are aligned with your church’s mission. This simple step is one surefire way to ensure your staff is rowing in the same direction.
What is more, based on the report by Harvard Business Review, when your staff can practically see how their work influences the mission of your church, it will increase results and boost morale.
By aligning staff goals with the mission of your church, you will also create clarity among your team.
As you know, there’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into helping your church move forward every week. For your staff, when their work and goals are aligned with the mission, they’ll be able to confidently prioritize their work, which will help them to focus better.
Finally, your staff will feel like they are participating in the mission of your church. When your staff can see how their work contributes to the bottom line, they’ll experience a sense of inclusion and motivation to know that their work matters.
#5. Align with strengths
As a pastor, if you can, place staff members in positions that are a good fit for their passion, skills, and strengths. Not only will this boost morale and productivity, but this will also help your staff succeed.
Think about it like this.
If you coach a football team, you need to place your players in the right position. For example, you don’t want your quarterback to play on the offensive line and vice versa. As a coach, when your players are in the wrong position, your entire team suffers the consequences.
In the same way, if each staff member is placed in a position that’s best suited for him or her, then your entire team will perform better overall.
#6. Clear (and constant) communication
A lack of communication can create significant challenges in your church.
It can cause uncertainty.
It can lead to gossip.
It can cultivate doubt.
In communicating with your staff, strive to provide consistent and clear messages. Don’t be afraid to share with them the state of the church or progress toward goals.
As mentioned above, keep an open door policy, and make sure your staff feels comfortable asking questions, sharing feedback, or input.
Remember, you are called to equip the church—not to be the entire church yourself (Eph. 4:11–13).
Is your team aligned or misaligned?
How’s your staff?
Is your team aligned?
Do you think your staff is misaligned?
If your staff is aligned, congratulations! That’s a great place to be.
If your staff is misaligned, don’t lose all hope. Make a decision today to take one step toward helping your team to get back on the same page.
20 years. That’s a long time when you think about it.
For 20 years I’ve been a pastor, as either a student pastor or as a senior pastor.
When I think back to my very first year of pastoring as student pastor, I honestly do not know that I can just list 10 things that I learned, because I learned everything. That’s because I knew nothing about being a student pastor except that I loved teenagers (because I was one!) and that I loved Jesus.
I could tell you about how I learned the joys of playing “Chubby Bunny” or how I learned how to file a missing persons report when I made it back to the church missing three teenage boys.
Oh, don’t worry—it was okay. They got arrested. So, all good. I didn’t lose them.
Being a senior pastor is one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. It ranks third behind being a husband and a father.
If you have pastored for any length of time, you know that to be true as well. In fact, I would say if it’s easy, you’re doing it wrong.
I became a senior pastor and a church planter all at the same time. So the learning curve was pretty steep for me. There was a LOT I did not know.
I have learned a lot over the years and I’m still learning. But these 5 things were foundational to me in my first year.
1 – A crowd is not a church.
Anyone can gather a crowd. A crowd is just a bunch of people getting together in one place. They might all come for various reasons. But a church is not a crowd. For a long time, I thought the crowd we had gathered was our church. It was not because I was not really pastoring them yet.
2 – People will leave you. Don’t take it personally.
I’ll never forget getting really close to a large family in our church. I loved this family. They were so fun and they cared about me, my family, and our young church.
But because we really had not figured out yet how to engage their growing teenagers, they felt they needed to move on to another church. I’ll never forget reading the email through tears. It hurt. People leave you, they leave the church, and unfortunately, sometimes they leave Jesus. It never stops hurting. But I learned in that first year that I had to stop taking it personally. People leave for various reasons. It’s not always your fault.
3 – Everything rises and falls on discipleship.
John Maxwell famously said that everything rises and falls on leadership. He’s not wrong. But in the church, that’s only half the story. The church rises and falls on discipleship.
Discipleship IS leadership. Jesus never did leadership talks or held a Leadership 101 course. Jesus lived out discipleship and in turn, made leaders. As a believer, I knew this. As a young church planter and new senior pastor, I had “mis-remembered” this.
In my desire to grow the church and get a bigger crowd, I had neglected the importance of discipleship. I just thought that since we were doing church, we were doing discipleship. I learned that to do discipleship well, I had to be more intentional about it.
4 – I had to find MY voice.
In my first year (and probably even a few after that), I didn’t have a voice. Not a literal voice, but I just didn’t sound like me. My sermons sounded like Mark Driscoll one week, Andy Stanley the next, and Matt Chandler the next.
My church didn’t need me to be Andy. They needed me to be Bobby. I needed to find MY voice. I needed to preach and lead the way God shaped me. It took me some time to figure that out.
5 – Grow tough skin.
Before we planted our church and before I became a senior pastor, I kept hearing others tell me, “grow some tough skin. You’re going to need it.” I thought I had it covered. I found out pretty quickly that I did not. I needed to have thick skin not only for myself, but also for my wife.
When you become the lead pastor, when the church gets talked about, you feel like they’re all talking about you (see #2). Sometimes, they just skip talking about the church and just talk about you. Or other times, people will unnecessarily criticize you, your leadership, speaking skills, or their perceived lack thereof. It takes some pretty tough skin to weather that. I certainly learned to grow it and grow it quickly.
Remember to not take take things personally when they’re not, and when they are, keep your eyes on the vision God has given you, even if it’s through tears.
I love pastors and I love being a pastor. It’s one of the greatest privileges and honors of my life. I honestly can’t think of anything I would rather do. I have learned much in these last years, but I also know that I have much more to learn. I’m not there yet.
If I ever think that I have it all figured out, I might as well be done.
It’s good to consider what we have learned in the past and what we still have to learn for our future.
If you’re a young pastor starting out in your first few years of being a senior pastor, hopefully these few things will not be the things you have to learn the hard way. I’m glad to have learned them for you.
You’ll notice the plan does begin with goals because those are still important.
When it comes to leadership development, how do you want to get better? What part of leadership do you want to improve? Do you want to be a better communicator, team builder, manager, or decision maker? All of those are specific goals, much better than “Be a better leader.”
Write your specific personal growth goals at the top of the page and then focus your plans on HOW you will accomplish them.
Here are a few things that should go on your personal growth plan.
#1 – What books are you going to read?
Great books are an incredible investment.
Think about it. For about $15 with free shipping, you can tap into someone’s life’s work. You get to read what they wrote, but you also get to learn from their research, interviews, experiences and more.
Choose a book that intentionally speaks to your goal. If you want to be a better communicator, there are excellent books on this topic. If you want to learn how to manage people, search for the best book you can find.
Don’t just read because something is popular…read because it will help you accomplish your specific goal.
Decide what you’re going to read in advance and go ahead and order all the books. Keep them in plain sight.
Many pastors go to conferences, workshops, and events.
But you shouldn't just put something on the calendar because it’s big or it’s good or other people are going. Choose events based on your specific leadership goals, recognizing that it might be out of your comfort zone or specific area of expertise.
Don’t sign up for events because you get an email about a price increase. Choose events strategically.
When you do make the decision, go ahead and register and book all your travel. It will not be convenient and something will come up, and that’s exactly why intentional plans are important.
#3 – What networks are you going to join?
As you think about how you are going to grow as a leader in the next year, you might want to be intentional about connecting with specific people. There are formal and informal networks who can help you. And as you tap into those groups, you’ll help others at the same time.
Here are two examples.
I’m a part of a closed Facebook group consisting of Christian Entrepreneurs. As the leader of Church Fuel, this group is a valuable source of information and insight. And I like to think I add something to the others.
Not long ago, a few of us decided to meet in person. We rented a house in San Diego and spent 3 days working on our business strategies and helping each other. We swapped ideas, talked about life and had a great time.
Deepening the relationships with that group was something I wrote on my own personal growth plan earlier in the year.
Secondly, there’s a pretty amazing community developing at Church Fuel. There are pastors and church leaders from every state in all kinds of situations. Not only do these leaders consume vetted content, but they also are a part of a community.
They ask and answer each other’s questions. They gather online. And there are even in-person meetups.
Church Fuel is more than a program; it’s a network.
You don’t have to limit yourself to these three categories. There are many other things you can write on your personal growth plan. In fact, feel free to change the template to suit your needs.
The point is to connect your leadership goals to your specific plans. The power comes from intentionality. You don’t need a bigger budget, a pipeline, process, or new technology to do this. It’s called a personal growth plan because it starts with you.
There's a second benefit to creating this.
Sharing your personal growth plan with your team will help create conversations about their personal growth as well.
Once you fill out your one-page plan, share it with your team. Not to coach them on how to do it, but to create accountability and ask for help. As you ask for suggestions about books and events, you’ll be able to give the same advice to others.
You’ll probably find others will want to follow and before you know it, you’ll have a few people focused on personal growth.
That’s when the magic happens.
Take the Next Step
You can create a personal growth plan without the help of any other person.
But there’s something extra-powerful about being a part of a community who is focused on getting better.
That’s the common denominator among all the members of the Church Fuel community. We live in different parts of the country and serve in all types of churches, but we share a desire to grow.
We want our churches to grow and we want to grow as leaders.
Yes, there are coaching videos and downloadable resources, but the community is the secret weapon.
Working at a church can feel like an around-the-clock gig.
Most of the events you put on happen nights and weekends.
You love doing it. It is rewarding and a privilege to be able to share the gospel, help develop people’s faith, and get paid to do it.
But sometimes you’re tired. You need a break. Because guess what… you’re human. And you weren’t built to go 100 mph.
And the best way to prevent this sort of burnout is by taking care of yourself.
We’re not talking joining a Cross Fit gym (to each his own). But church health first starts with the health of its leaders. So here are five simple ways you can begin to live a healthier lifestyle for yourself and the health of your church.
1. Schedule in time for things you enjoy.
Rick Warren has a saying that has really stuck with me and it’s “divert daily, withdraw weekly, and abandon annually.”
Everyone’s schedules look different. Some people enjoy the grind. Some people enjoy clocking out and being “off” at 5. You can pick whatever your style is.
But to avoid burnout, you need time away from “work” at some point.
Taking your dog on a long walk, run, or to the dog park.
Playing a game with your family after work.
Withdrawing weekly could look like:
Rounding up a group of friends to play a game of soccer at the park.
Going out for a beach or lake day.
Exploring a neighboring city.
And then, of course, abandoning annually could look like your typical “vacation.” Getting out of your city (on fun-related business) is a great way to recharge and remind yourself what you love about your city. I am almost always homesick at the end of my vacations!
If family trips are more of a pain than a pleasure right now, see if someone can watch the kids while you and your spouse go away for a few days so you can actually relax on your time off.
What are some daily, weekly, and annual things you can start putting on the calendar to help you prevent burnout and remain stress-free?
2. Stop eating junk.
Look, we love #tacotuesdays as much as the next person.
But you are what you eat. And that’s not just an expression.
That means what you eat doesn’t just affect how comfortable you are in a bathing suit during beach season, but it affects your short and long-term health as well. From joint pain to mental health to cancer, clean and unprocessed foods have incredible nutrients and minerals that were made to help us fight these ailments and live long and healthy lives.
Chris Wark beat his stage 3 colon cancer for good by changing his diet and lifestyle alone.
There is a reason Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine.”
Diet change can be somewhat overwhelming. Start with eating out less. Or stop buying one boxed/canned food item a week. Heck, just start reading your ingredient labels. You’ll be shocked to notice what’s lurking in seemingly “healthy” foods.
That’s why you’ll see a dog that has torn the house apart at home.
They aren’t getting adequate exercise, so they become anxious and take it out on your house. And we can become this way too.
We may not take it out on our houses, but we can get stressed out and burnt out easily. We take it out on our spouses, our kids, our friends. We get poorer sleep quality and become overwhelmed by the day-to-day.
Choosing the type of movement that is right for you is a great way to manage this.
You can walk, bike, swim, jog, play soccer, basketball, jump rope, do yoga, dance, play fetch with your dog, or play a game with your kids. There are SO many options. Choose the level that you’re at and start doing it until you find something you enjoy. It can be different or the same each day.
5. Get some sleep.
I’ve always hated the saying “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
I’ve pulled my share of all-nighters, but I’ve never been a night owl. And I think there is a reason for that.
So, I think it’s dumb when people boast about how little sleep they got. It’s the equivalent of saying, “Hey, look at me. I don’t take care of myself.”
I’d encourage you to make sleep a priority during your day-to-day. If you’re a night owl, set a goal of getting to bed before midnight. You’ll start to see a difference in your overall energy and functionality during the day. And it’ll have great benefits on your long-term health.
I understand not everyone has the luxury of falling and staying asleep easily. Here are some things you can do to work on your sleep quality:
Drink a cup of tea before bed. Some of my favorites are chamomile, lavender, or a bedtime tea mix. We used herbs before we have pharmaceutical medicine and they do a great job at creating a calm, stress-relieving feeling.
Evaluate your diet. Diet impacts everything. Look at your caffeine and alcohol consumption and how many carbs vs. fats you’re eating on a regular basis. If you’re waking up at 2 a.m., chances are you’re having a blood sugar crash from eating too little carbohydrates. Eating a well-balanced diet will get you falling and staying asleep.
Manage stress. Chronic stress contributes to sleep disturbances. Stress produces this hormone called cortisol, which disrupts your circadian rhythm. See points 1, 3, and 4 for managing stress. There’s also great benefit to therapy.
Get off your phone. Our circadian rhythm is influenced by alternating periods of light and darkness. With the rise of technology, we’re exposed to blue-spectrum light (the kind that keeps us feeling “awake”) while we are lying in bed. Switching your screens to warmer light is a great step, but eliminating light exposure in general as the evening approaches is going to set you up for better sleep.
Create a bedtime routine. This could be reading a book, journaling, having some tea, or playing some guitar before bed. Do something that helps you “wind” down, technology-free, and get in the habit of doing it. It’ll trigger your body to get into a “restful” state.
Which one of these changes can you begin taking away this week and beginning to live a healthier lifestyle? Let us know.
There are a lot of things in life you have to get used to saying no to.
“Do you want to try this vegan queso?”
“Dad, can we get a dog?”
“Pastor, can we do a Michael Jackson number for our Easter service?”
And then there is the inevitable moment when we all pretend we’re not home when a salesperson is cold calling in our neighborhood.
But those things are silly, somewhat easy scenarios to say no to.
What about when someone asks you to do something you know you could do, especially when it is someone you know or care about, but you feel overwhelmed at the thought of saying yes? Or you’re torn on what you should do?
Here are a couple of steps to walk through when you think the answer to someone’s request may be a no from you.
In the book, she describes a scenario where a young woman she was mentoring needed a place to stay while she gathered her bearings and was able to save some money for a time. She adored this girl and considered letting her stay with her and her family.
She asked herself…
Could this fit physically, financially, spiritually, and emotionally?
Being a mom to five kids, meeting a book deadline, growing a ministry, and a few other family responsibilities led her to realize that she didn’t have the emotional resources to be a kind, loving, and God-honoring host to an extended stay houseguest in that time of her life.
Even with the best intentions, we can say yes to people for the wrong reasons.
I know firsthand what it is like to have lived with a trusted mentor and her family who should not have said yes in the season they were in. It was a painful experience and now we don’t have the relationship we once did (or much of a relationship at all anymore).
I wish she would’ve said no.
Even if your situation isn’t as “life-altering” as this one, think about what you have going on in your life. Do you have the physical, spiritual, emotional, and financial resources to add a request to your list?
Remember, every new yes should be a ‘no' to something else. If you are called to say yes to something, what do you need to remove from your plate to compensate?
2. Realize that ‘no’ can be a blessing.
If you begin to reflect on your lifestyle and realize that it’s not the best time for you to accommodate someone’s request, you’ve got your answer.
It can be easy to think you’re being a “bad” Christian by saying no.
Christians are expected to be selfless and do nice things.
But the Bible is very clear that “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.” (Col 3:17)
Be honest with God in asking if this is something He wants You to do. He’ll let you know.
You saying no can open the door for God to work in that person’s life another way—whether the request is large or small.
Maybe saying no to that young woman gave her an opportunity to live with a wonderful, God-loving roommate who was able to meet her emotional needs and build her up in her faith.
Don’t just say yes because you feel bad. You running on a half-tank of gas isn’t going to do anyone any favors. Let someone who is capable get the job done right.
If it’s something you can’t or aren’t interested in ever doing, don’t lead people on. Let them know! Redirect them to someone you think may be a better fit.
Saying no doesn’t make you a bad guy. It makes you responsible.
Just like anything else, remember the balance. Don’t say no to everything, but learn what to say no to. This is also a great time to seek counsel. Get your spouse, a friend, or a co-worker you trust to provide some clarity on the situation. Counsel gives confidence.
Seek God’s direction, be honest, and you’re on your way to saying no without being a jerk!
Take a Next Step
The #1 barrier to church growth starts with you.
If the senior pastor, or church leaders, are not intentionally taking the time to get better, no one else will follow suit.
We know it can be difficult to know where to begin or even where to go to grow personally. That's why we developed a FREE resource for you. The personal growth plan. All of us on staff at Church Fuel use it because it's that useful.
Take some time this week to fill this out and make your personal growth plan.