Posted in Church Staff

Encourage Teams (without it being forced)

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Do those you lead have to scream, “Hey! Look at me!”? Do they have to vie for your attention?

Are you taking time to watch your staff? Your church’s volunteers? Are you visiting their spaces of influence to watch their work, teaching, and leadership?

For me, Summer time means trips to the neighborhood pool with my four kids. While I’m there, I hear this a lot: “Daddy! Watch me!” I could write about my failures as a parent and why my kids feel the need to shout my name for my attention, but in this particular blog I’m going to focus on team leadership and you.

If you’re doing the work required of a leader, you have a lot going on. You have your own work and are accountable to someone for that work. So how do you handle your own work and also create time to be around and watch the people you lead?

How can you intentionally create “Watch me!” moments for your team, without them having to shout at you?

If you want to be the kind of leader who gives attention to your staff without them having to scream and do cannon balls, consider these leadership truths:

Your team wants your attention.

You may feel like no one on your team cares if you show up and stand in the back of the room to watch them lead a meeting. Or you may feel like team members don’t care about whether or not you speak encouragement to them. But in most cases, that’s not true. In fact, you’re probably underselling what your presence and encouragement can do for them.

Spontaneity is your ally.

I’m not a spontaneous guy. I have to schedule space to be spontaneous. At times, without notice, I show up where my staff are leading, to watch them do their thing. When you do this, there’s a risk they may wonder if you’re there “checking something out”. But a follow-up email like, “It was fun to see you in action tonight. Well done.” will help them get over that.

If you’re naturally spontaneous, let that lead you to places you’ll see your team in action. But if you’re more like me, schedule your spontaneity.

One compliment doesn’t guarantee carte blanche (approval of all things).

I’ve often feared if I compliment an action or work team members have done, they may hear that as a compliment to all their work – and rarely is all of someone’s work “compliment worthy.” Do you struggle with this concept, too?

Despite feeling this tension, what I’ve learned from others leaders and books is to compliment anyway. If you’re concerned about your staff hearing more than you intend, be specific with your compliment. Instead of, “You’re an all-star!” try, “The hospitality team you led this week for VBS did a great job. Thanks for recruiting and training the greeters well.”

Specific compliments not only mitigate the possible tension you feel as a leader or supervisor, but may also be even better received than a general one. A specific encouragement tells them you’re paying attention and noticed the nuance of their work.

Eye contact, use of their name, and handwritten notes are critical.

After my daughter has accomplished the feat of holding her breath for three seconds under water, she raises her goggle-clad face out of the water to see if I’m watching. She wants eye contact. She wants me to look at her and say, “Blake, three seconds, that was awesome!”

Most everyone wants to be cared for – and use of eye contact and a person’s name are important ways to communicate you care. It’s hard to communicate care when your eyes are focused on a screen and you can’t remember their name.

Also – you likely write lots of emails in a given day. One or two of those may be encouragement emails to your team – but they’re typically only one of several emails your team might receive from you that day. However – if a handwritten note shows up on their desk, it feels different. Even if it says the same thing as an email, it communicates a different level of care.

Those you lead shouldn’t have to do cannon balls or hold their breath under water to get your attention. Great leaders seek out ways to be present, watchful, and encouraging to those they lead.


(Confession: As I write these truths from my own experience, I also realize how much work I have to do in these areas. I’m committed to becoming better. Will you join me?)


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Is Your Strategizing Akin to Penguin Mating?

©lanau/ Dollar Photo Club

Do your team’s strategy sessions mimic the mating rituals of the Emperor penguin?

In his book Elevate, Rich Horwath parallels strategy meetings and penguin mating rituals. Horwath describes how once annually the penguin will waddle up to 75 miles for a few minutes of mating. Then the female immediately leaves.

In the same vein, many teams don’t talk strategy all year, but once a year, they go offsite and spend two days talking about strategy. Then, like the penguin, we waddle back to the office and resume “normal” life with the “real work. “ Sound like your team?

Strategy discussions need to happen more than annually. In fact, they need to be a part of your leadership team’s meeting routine. As Horwath points out, “Strategy should not be an event. Strategy should be an ongoing conversation.” Some of your strategy discussions will be short. Others long. But in either case, you need to have a systematic way of getting out of the weeds and discussing content that can guide and propel your future, strategically.

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Past & Present: Disqualifiers From Being Hired


Man's Hand Resting on a Stack of Bibles, Isolated Background

©qingwa / Dollar Photo Club

At some point in a minister hiring process, the question needs to be asked: is there anything in your present or in your past that could disqualify you from this position? And that question needs to be answered, fully.

Many times, churches are afraid to ask that question. Their reasons might be:

  • I like this person. I don’t care about their past – I only care how they’re living now.
  • They’re not being considered for the Supreme Court. Does our due diligence need to be worthy of a Senate hearing?
  • Who are we to judge?
  • If they’ve asked for forgiveness from God, does it matter to us?
  • I really like the person, and if I learn something negative about them, I might have to go another direction (yes, this happens).

I think all those are fair sentiments. But ignoring this question about a candidate’s past can have consequences to your church, which makes it a question church leadership can’t ignore.

Learning about a suspect area of a candidate’s past or personal life doesn’t mean you have to respond by removing them from consideration. That is a discernment process for you and other decision makers to consider.

But as a church, you need to know. Once you know, you can then determine how to weight the issue exposed (if there is one).

As a candidate, you need to reveal your story. (I’ve written previously about the importance of total transparency in the interview and selection process.) You’re serving Christ. He knows what your past and your current private life is, and can handle how those areas are interpreted by the church you’re talking to. Show strong character, and trust God by freely sharing.

A church may find that your arrest for vandalism twenty years ago no longer matters to them. They may determine that your addiction to pornography or prescription drugs was prior to you knowing Christ, and no longer matters to them. But the point is, they know…

… They know this is your second marriage. They know you barely avoided divorce after you were unfaithful to your spouse. They know you’re currently being sued by a former church member. The point is that they know upfront.

Your transparency with the hiring leadership allows them to make the best decision for their church. And, should they move forward in the process, your transparency allows them to deal appropriately with future inquisitors. For example:

Church member: “Did you know ‘the candidate’ once… ?”

Hiring team: “Yes, we did know. ‘Candidate’ told us about the occurrence, explained it to us, and we considered it as a part of our selection process.”

Ministerial candidate: Be upfront about your past and current struggles. It may cost you a job opportunity, but you’ll have to trust God for that. Concealment is not a way to start a relationship.

Hiring teams: Don’t assume they’re going to spill the beans. Ask them point-blank about their past their current life. Here are some of the questions I ask prospective minister candidates:

  1. Do you have or have you had any addictions?
  2. Do you have any unhealthy or unbiblical preoccupations?
  3. Is there anything in your past that if it came to light, could cause the church or me concern?
  4. Is this your first marriage?

We all have to want what’s best for the Church. And depending on your role, that means admitting to some hard things or asking some hard questions.

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