The Irrational Decision In (my) Ministry Leadership

For those of us who have committed our lives to serve Christ, we are susceptible to the irrational decision. But, in a good way, right?

We know Christ’s calling and direction for us (or our churches) may not line up with what culture says is rational. And those decisions even among other Christians may be considered atypical. What may completely align with God’s direction for you personally or even the direction of your church may seem irrational to others.

We have a limited view, God does not. God can use all means of people or circumstances to bring about His purposes.

But even knowing that sometimes what we sense as God’s leading still feels irrational. We hope God does His “crazy work” in others people’s lives and not ours. But what happens when after prayer, counsel and scripture reading what you’re discerning still seems disconnected from typical behavior, a little bit crazy?

Resignation and Rationality

Recently, after a decision my wife and I made, even my six-year-old daughter was questioning my rationality. And she went further to let me know if I acted on my decision, I was on my own.

To set the stage and update some of my readers who do not know…I’ve resigned my Executive Pastor position at Brentwood Baptist Church. Just more than six years ago God gave us Brentwood Baptist to call home. A place to serve, and a place to be served. This is a fantastic church to serve and I’ve had an incredible position in which to serve. Thus, the (seemingly) irrational decision. And to make it feel more irrational, well, I resigned without my next place of service determined.

So, back to my youngest daughter. We had told our older kids about the decision a couple weeks earlier, and now we were telling my seven-year-old son and his six-year-old sister Blake. After telling them about the decision to resign, Blake quipped, “Well, you have another job, right?”

After I tried to manage a response to her questioning of why I’d leave a good job without another one to go to, I could still tell maybe they weren’t getting the gravity of the decision. So, I tried to explain that this decision could mean a move away “from here.” She looked at me in the eyes, and said, “Welp, we’ll miss you, Dad.”

So what happens when you or your church feel God’s leading toward a decision that for all rational and practical reasons, just doesn’t seem right?

Safety in the Status Quo?

I’m a status quo guy. I like to have a plan. In fact, I like to have contingency plans for my plans. I’m not afraid of the unknown, per se. But I am afraid of entering an unknown when I don’t have plans to deal with the unknowns (okay, I’ll admit, I’m leery of unknowns).

So, our decision to step away, well, I’m now in an uncomfortable place. A place that will require me to exercise some faith muscles I haven’t had to use in some time.

But I’ve been here before. Both in my own personal pursuit of God and even in my position of serving a church. Things that seemed scary, and too big, and were fraught with “what ifs” ended up being a clearly designed path by a God who sees it all from an eternal perspective.

So, this blog post doesn’t have any “practical takeaways for everyday church leadership.” I’m not far enough into this faith step to try to articulate what I’m learning (but, perhaps in a future blog). Yet, I do know that God’s ways are not our ways and in some cases, God will ask us to trust Him more than our human rationality He created in us.

I encourage all of us who have stewardship of people and churches to lead reasonably, to lead rationally. But in a way that leaves room for God’s prompting toward irrational steps of faith.

A p.s. for inquiring minds: in early July I made a decision to resign. There was nothing dramatic to it. But simply a decision that reflected months of discernment. Since then, I’ve had the privilege to serve in my role as we worked out a transition plan for my work. This plan is now close to me handing off my “executive pastor duties” to other capable people. After that I will continue to serve the church in other ways for a period of time. Some of you may care to know what’s next. The answer, we don’t know. We’re asking God to provide clarity, and in the meantime, courageous faith. I love serving God in ministry and I’m hopeful for what’s ahead.

 

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The Mistakes of Coaxing Volunteers (and Fixes)

When’s the last time you volunteered your (unpaid) time to something or someone? Did you do it reluctantly? Or excitedly?

I speculate if you volunteered your time with any level of excitement it was because the person asking compelled you to serve. They presented it as a calling and did it in a compelling nature.

Recruiting volunteers is difficult work (that’s probably true of all volunteer recruiting efforts, but particularly in a church). But I think recruitment can be eased with a little work on the front end by the recruiters.

Cajoling vs Compelling (the already called)

Often we resort to cajoling or arm twisting. And from time to time, for one-time or short-term volunteer needs, the coaxing methodology suffices. But the volunteering doesn’t typically last.

Others of us tend to fill our volunteer slots through convicting messages. We play the prophet role and convict them into volunteering. We proof text scripture to help our convicting message or we just plain convict them with guilt. This method often leads to ministry volunteers who serve reluctantly, guilt-ridden and without joy.

But what if we could match their calling with a compelling need?

How can we be a part of them discovering their calling from God? A volunteer opportunity matches their hard wiring, their calling from Jesus, and a compelling need.

A compelling opportunity doesn’t have to be sexy or a fun assignment, per se. But it should show how their service can make a difference. People want to know their role will play a part in a bigger Kingdom initiative.

If you can compel them, how do you keep them?

Once you compel them, then you need to consider how to keep them. How do we ensure they stay connected? Retention takes ongoing work.

If you’ve already compelled them with a clear and compelling vision, then it’ll take coaching and celebration (I really only had to work to get the last “c” word).

We have a bad habit of getting volunteers in place, and basically leaving them there. We background check them, give them a name badge and implicitly, if not explicitly, say “good luck.”

Coaching and Celebrating

People are willing to take on challenges, even in volunteer roles if they believe the persons who lead them will coach and resource them. Volunteering time is a sacrifice, but volunteering when you feel unequipped and left on an island is punishment and people won’t take it for long.

Coaching is not a onetime thing. It can’t be limited to our cleverly themed annual volunteer meetings. It will require ongoing training and development (a pipeline of leadership training).

And as they serve with you, celebrate. Celebrate them and their work. But also celebrate the fruit of their work. Pause and make sure they know how God is using them and your church.

Retention of volunteers means we continue to compel them to service. It means ongoing coaching and it means celebrating what God’s doing. And that leads straight back to them seeing themselves as a part of that compelling vision you gave them.

So, next time you make the “volunteer ask” of someone, in advance ask yourself, “Will I be compelling them or cajoling them? Will I try to match their calling with a role, or force them to fill my biggest volunteer need?”

Calling and competencies left in our churches parking lots

I’m pretty convinced every Sunday people drive into our church parking lots who have been called by Jesus, been made capable by Jesus, but not yet been compelled to being on mission with Jesus. Other days of the week, they function as high caliber, caring, and committed people. But at church, they pull into their parking spot and basically leave all they have to offer in their car as they walk into our churches.

Part of that is on them and between God and them. Yet, part of that is on us. My guess is that if we were helping them to discover their calling and compelling them toward a vision that includes their service, well, they’d bring all of who God called them to be bear on our churches.

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Shadow Working: Who’s Getting the Credit?

Some of our successes will be in the shadows of others. And figuring out how to respond well to “shadow working” is key to effective leadership.

Just this past Sunday, a professional golfer named Brooks Koepka won one of the four biggest golf tournaments of the year, the PGA Championship.  It’s his second Major win this year and it earned him $2 million in prize money. Yet, most of the attention after the golf tournament was given to another. Koepka’s win was in the shadow of another golfer he just beat at golf, yep, Tiger Woods.

Yes, Koepka did get to hold up the trophy and he got to bank some $2 million dollars. But what must it have felt like to be the best golfer on the course, and every time you hit a ball, spectators were leaving the hole you were playing to try to make their way to get a glimpse of another?

On our best days, we’ll embrace Jesus’ teaching of “the last shall be first,” and maybe believe what my friend Todd Adkins says, that “A big part of leadership is recognizing that your fruit often grows on other people’s trees.” Those are both true. But some days shadow working is going to sting. Those days when like Koepka, you were the best performer, problems-solver, minister, or contributor, and yet, someone else gets the fanfare?

Shadow working is going to happen. It’s going to happen despite your contribution being the best contribution given. Or despite your efforts being the reason the project happened. Or despite the idea being yours. Or despite the music in the worship gathering being impactful because of the work and prayers you put into it; there will be others who, at times, will get the appreciation, limelight and accolades.

God created you to be exactly who He wanted you to be. And when we’re working in God’s given design, the work and opportunity He’s given should be all you need. But there are days when the person with the bigger personality, the bigger platform (literally or figuratively), or has regaled history will cast a shadow on your work and it won’t feel great.

So, here are some ways to manage the feelings of shadow working—

  • Assume the best…that the person who has the spotlight isn’t trying to take it away from you, it’s just some people naturally attract attention.
  • Manage your expectations…some work is meant to be shadow work. And that kind of work will create limited appreciation. So, don’t expect a parade when your role, at best, will get you a pat on the back.
  • Understand who God called you to be…and if God’s design means you’re in the shadows of others, well, relish that you are getting to do exactly what God has given you to do.
  • Cast light on others…don’t be a bitter shadow worker. Celebrate the work, and even celebrate whatever contribution the other worker is getting. The golfer Koepka understood this. In his post-round interviews Koepka celebrated Tiger Woods and acknowledged why the fans would leave him to flock to Tiger and what he was doing on the course. It’s easier to allow others to have the limelight when your value is determined by a God that loves you with our without your contributions.

I’ve received public credit for work that was done by others. And I’ve also watched others get credit for work I had done. And there’s been times I believe my contribution was the most valuable contribution, but because another person had performance history, an established platform, or just a winsome personality, they got the attention. And on my best days, I’m over it quickly. On others, well, I’ve needed to manage around it. So, if you’re a shadow worker, manage around any entitlement feelings; and most of all, my hope is your value is determined by our loving God.

 

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