From time to time, fellow ministers or church staff teams will ask to spend a day at our church, visiting with our staff. Most often these people want to get another perspective of church and leadership. Occasionally, our staff will go to their churches and do the same. In most cases, both groups benefit. But in order to benefit, you have to be willing to ask questions.

Just this week, we had a visiting minister who joined us in our senior leadership team meeting and then met one-on-one with several individuals on our staff. I was one of those individuals.  Although he had a set of questions he wanted to hear responses on, I also asked questions of my own. He had experiences and information I could learn from, and by the end of the meeting, we were exchanging ideas, information, and resources that will make us and our churches better.

Do you frequently engage others for this purpose?

If not, you’re missing out.

It takes some humility. It also requires a filter (not every idea you hear is worthy of instituting in your life or your church’s methodology). But systematically seeking out people from whom you can learn is a must-do task of a leader. And in a church setting where you have a common purpose, there’s built-in context which makes many best practices transferable.

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While conferences can accomplish many of the same things as these one-on-one conversations, I think personal visits are a better time to ask questions – for a few reasons:

  • You can ask context-specific questions.
  • You can ask follow-up questions.
  • You’ll usually hear not only the good, but also the bad and the ugly.

Also, although many conference leaders are transparent in their presentations, they know people don’t pay to hear what they’re not good at. By contrast, in a one-on-one situation, you can be much more forthright. In last week’s meeting with the visiting minister, I remember saying to him, “This is an area we didn’t do well in. Here’s where we messed up…”

In my reading this year, I’ve read two books about seeking out and asking questions in these one-on-one times. In John Maxwell’s book Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, and in Brian Grazer’s book A Curious Mind, both authors tout the idea of systematically asking questions of people who can teach you.

This is the quote that I want to emphasize.

Most of us might agree that this is a worthy endeavor, but it remains theoretical and absent from our practices. It requires a first step. Take a first step today, and write an email asking for an opportunity. It could sound like this:

“Dear John, We talked about your success at IBM, and I remember you went through several leadership transitions there. I’m going through one of those now. May I have an hour of your time to talk about best practices for dealing with leadership transition?”

“Dear Mary, I serve in a nearby church and I’ve heard great things in the community about the way your church plans events. Would there be an opportunity for me to observe a future event-planning meeting and observe your policies in action?”

“Mike, I’ve seen you preach and I think it’s cool how you’re able to not use notes when you speak. Any chance I could take thirty minutes to find out how you developed that skill-set?”

You get the idea… But you still have to take the initiative. Do this once a week, once a month, or even quarterly. Learning from others in informal settings will significantly increase your leadership and ministry capacity.

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