Tag Archive: hard conversations

Doing the Scary Things of Leadership

Growing up in Tucson, we had an alley behind our house. On one side of the alley there was a cement wash for flood waters. On the other side, wooden fences to houses. During the day, this was a great area to play in. We’d ride bikes in the cement wash (even though we were told not to because of flooding [our parents forgot we lived in the desert]).

But in the alley was also our trash can. It was located about 100 feet down as we shared a big trash can with several neighbors. One of my chores was taking out the trash. I’d have to pack it up, drag it through our gravel back yard, and dispense in the alley’s trash can. This task was fine during the day, but at night, it was a long and scary 100 foot walk. And since I procrastinated, this was often a chore done in the dark.

I’d walk as calmly as possible lugging the trash bag over my shoulder while telling myself no one was out there to get me. But as soon as I heaved the trash bag in the can, fearing there might be someone out to get me, I’d sprint back to the house, sliding through the gate, and tossing gravel in multiple directions. Inside our fence, I’d always feel safe (except the times my Dad thought it was funny to hide just inside the fence to scare me).

So with that history, when my wife told me this week someone was outside our door, on the side of our house, in our trash can area I was a little alarmed. My first response was to be the “man of the house” and check it out. But then I thought, why would someone be in our trash? Why would they be that close to my house, my doors? It was unsettling to think about the person, who under dark’s cover, would be so close to my house.

Although reticent, acting brave, I said to my wife “I’ll check it out” (just like the walk down the alley in my childhood, I feigned bravery).

So in my pajama pants, out into the rain drizzle I went as my wife peered through the window blinds. Speaking loudly the universal accepted warning to intruders, I proclaimed, “I’ve called the Police and I’m armed with a baseball bat!”

I’ll leave what happened next for another blog, but I write all this to say: leaders don’t shy away from bad, hard, or scary work.

It’s our job to go out first. If something needs to be discovered, we need to discover it. If you’ve been given the role of a leader, go outside your office, and investigate the hard things. In a church setting, there’s so much at stake. And ignoring the possibility of dangerous things can literally have eternal consequences.

So whether you feign bravery, or even sprint back to safety after your discovery in the dark, check it out. Don’t send others to do your role as a leader (in my case, my wife is faster than me, so I did consider sending her to check out the trash can area).

Leaders lead.

Leaders check out the trash can in the darkness.

What’s the scary trash can for you? The hard conversation with someone on your team who’s not treating people kindly? The larger donor to the church who dictates how the church is run? The friend who is flirting with dangerous sins? Facing the reality that your church’s strategies aren’t working? A staff member who’s theology is wavering?

Even if you have to feign bravery, take the walk to your “trash can.”

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My Top Five Blog Posts for Readers

I’ve now been blogging a year. Below are the posts that received the most views, or based on feedback from readers, were the most helpful in providing practical takeaways for everyday church leadership.

Thanks for being a reader.

The hardest thing a leader has to say—the last 2%

Succession planning for pastors (an interview with the Village Church)

Coping with church leader jealously syndrome

How to present a compelling budget

Hiring ministers and avoiding nepotism

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Hard Conversation Pointers for Members and Staff

face to face

The Latin term for confrontation means – “to turn your face toward; to look at fully.”

For many people, confrontation is something they do passively while walking away from another person, or a reply they make to a tweet or email. But as leaders in the church, we can’t afford to confront cowardly (or sinfully).

In their book Boundaries, Face to Face, @DrHenryCloud and @DrJohnTownsend suggest that “boundary conversations” are “motivated and driven by love, and also are focused and have an agenda.” These are two important components of a confrontation conversation that has boundaries.

It’s critical for church leaders to have hard conversations well. If not done well, such conversations may contribute to festering sin, and might also create a chasm between you and the person being confronted. If that happens, it will make it difficult for you to worship together and do church life together.

Before you decide to initiate a hard conversation like this with someone, determine two things:

  1. Is this something you can overlook? (Proverbs 19:11) Many would-be confrontations can be stopped at this point. Ask yourself – is this person doing something that is wrong, or is it simply something I don’t prefer? If it’s the latter, choose to overlook.
  2. Are my reasons for the conversation motivated and driven by love? In other words, is it driven and motivated by a greater good?

If you’ve determined the offense should not be overlooked, and the confrontation is motivated by love and the greater good, then make the choice to confront the person within these boundaries:

  • Determine your agenda. Be specific. Deal with the most pressing issue, and then stay on agenda. Non-focused confrontations deal with too many issues and instances, and rarely get to resolution.
  • Call the meeting at a time that gives you the best chance for success. Try to be flexible, and adjust to their timing if possible. If they’re not a morning person, than avoid breakfast meetings.
  • Pray… for the other person, their receiving of the message, your attitude, and for God-honoring resolution.
  • Prepare your delivery. Most experts agree you have somewhere between 30 seconds and three minutes to set the tone of a conflict conversation, and that tone is determinative of the outcome. Prepare well for that thirty seconds.
  • Know your desired outcome. Know what equates to success in this confrontation. Allow room for the other person to speak into this, but know what you hope to achieve.
  • Make sure you get to the last 2%. This is the hardest part of the conversation. This is the part that may take people aback. But the last 2% is the reason for the conversation. Say what you need to say. Make sure it’s delivered clearly. Without it, you’ve just engaged in a hard conversation that was all preface.

When you’re done, ask yourself these questions:

  • Did I say anything un-becoming as a Christian?
  • Did I stay on agenda?
  • Did I say the last 2%?
  • Did I listen well to their response?
  • Did we mutually determine a next step to deal with the issue?

Happy hard-conversating.


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