Transforming Church Team Blog
resourcing leaders…reenvisioning the future


Kevin Ford

The Importance of Balance
We are nearly ready to dive into the inner workings of each of the modes of leadership. But before we can do that, it is important to pause, take a deep breath and focus on the importance of balance in employing the principles of the Leadership Triangle. This balance must be in three areas.

First, the senior leader must be able to navigate all three types of problems. Chances are, you are more skilled at one type of challenge than the other two. Your temptation will be to use your trusty hammer to fix every kind of problem. If you are a tactician, you will employ tactical solutions, and so on. In my experience this tendency is a major cause of leadership failure and organizational paralysis. You don’t have to be equally good at solving each kind of problem, but you must understand all three sides of the Triangle and be able to align the appropriate resources and people to solve each kind of challenge.

Second, the team which confronts the challenge must be balanced. You need a healthy mix of folks skilled at tactics, strategy, and transformational methods in order to insure that you see what you need to see and focus where you need to focus.

Finally, your process must be balanced. Process is the nuts and bolts of every organization – how its meetings are structured and who is invited, how decisions are made, and what sort of communications strategy it employs. Think of your staff meetings. If they are like most organizations, they tend to function in the tactical mode, allowing little time to deal with transformational or strategic issues. But you can’t try to deal with all three modes in the same meeting, so you will need to establish times and parameters that deal with each side separately, as much as you can. But remember that the three sides are also integrated, so there will always be some overlap.

Each aspect of your project process should reflect the Leadership Triangle. A very helpful question to ask as a team encounters a new problem is “Is this a tactical, strategic, or transformational issue?” Soon, operating by the principles of the Leadership Triangle will be second nature to the leaders and followers in your organization.

Now, on to the specifics of each side of the Triangle…


Dr. Jim Osterhaus

We talked about basic management issues.  Now we need to unpack the issue that is the absolute foundation of all relationships: trust. Everything about organizations, about communication, managing, teams, you name it, is built on trust.

Have you ever noticed that it takes time to build trust in the workplace? As a corollary to this, cynicism seems to multiply like a weeds.  Cynicism tends to permeate an organization where trust is in short supply.

The good news is that once trust is established, a church team can enter into appropriate, constructive conflict, without fear that it will turn destructive. We’ll talk more about conflict in the next blog.

Trust has to do with a willingness on people’s part to be vulnerable within the team. It’s an openness about mistakes and weaknesses. Organizations and teams that lack trust are unable to engage in unfiltered and passionate disagreement around the mission of the organization. Instead, they resort to veiled discussions and guarded comments.

Once you have a trusting team, you can have honest disagreements that lead to decisions and plans of action that people are actually committed to. So much of what I see in organizations is compliance (‘I’ll do what you ask, but my heart’s not in it’), but very little commitment. Commitment arises only after each member of a team has been able to wrestle with the initiatives that are presented, offer their disagreements, and grapple with all of the alternatives before arriving at a decision. Once that occurs, the team can hold one another accountable, because there is a shared sense of ownership in the decision.

Trust –> Disagree –> Commit to Decisions –> Hold Each Other Responsible –> Focus on the Achievements Everyone Created

How is Trust Established?

          Let’s look at the building blocks that are critical to the growth of trust:





Begin with predictability: You’re able to predict in advance what I will do. That’s because I’m consistent. I do the same thing, over and over again, free from variation or contradiction. But I could do the same wrong thing over and over. So that means I have to be dependable: I get the same positive result over and over again from the person or organization.

The last building block is congruence. What I say is backed up by what I do. I talked about this quite a bit in my blog postings last Fall. Our ability to think and act inconsistently, and then cover up the discrepancy, knows no limits.

Congruency may be the most important building block to trust – what I say to people matches the way I behave toward those people. Often it is hard to be consistent in an organization that is not predictable and consistent. Therefore, how I communicate to my direct reports becomes critical. As managers we usually can’t directly influence how the large organization is functioning. But I can influence those on my team, those that report directly to me. And the best way to do this is by being congruent. We’ll talk more about incongruence when we talk about change. We’ll look at how our internal competing values actually produce double messages which are the stuff of incongruence. But you’ll have to wait for that.

So what I am saying is I need to be trust-worthy in order to move forward. It starts with you. And being congruent in the messages you send to people is critical.

Building Trust on My Team “

A willingness to be vulnerable within the team – openness about mistakes and weaknesses.

 Lencioni says trust is a willingness to be vulnerable within your team – an openness about mistakes and weaknesses. And that openness and vulnerability starts with you. If you’re not willing to be open, how do you expect anyone else on your team to be open?

Now consider these points for identifying the presence or absence of trust.

Absence of Trust

  • Conceal weaknesses
  • Don’t ask for help or feedback
  • Hesitate to offer help outside your own areas
  • Jump to conclusions about intentions
  • Waste time and energy managing their behaviors for effect
  • Hold grudges
  • Avoid spending time together

When Trust is Present

  • Admit weaknesses or mistakes
  • Ask for help
  • Accept feedback and input
  • Give each other the benefit of the doubt
  • Take risks in offering feedback
  • Focus time and energy on issues, not politics
  • Offer and accept apologies without hesitation
  • Look forward to meetings

One of the quickest ways to identify the presence of trust is in the area of conflict. Does our church staff team (or ruling board of elders) have meaningful conflict? This will be reflected in meetings:

 Teams that Trust and Engage in Conflict:

  • Have interesting meetings
  • Extract the ideas of all team members
  • Solve real problems quickly
  • Minimize politics
  • Put critical topics on the table for discussion

 As church teams trust one another, and engage in healthy conflict, they can then commit to decisions and actions. We’ll be discussing all of this later when we talk about building effective teams.


Dr. Jim Osterhaus

Motivate the Players

Let me say it plain and simple:  You must focus on people’s strengths. In other words, you must let them become more of who they already are. That goes contrary to most management thinking that says, Identify the weaknesses, then coach them, threaten them, send them to workshops, whatever, to make sure they overcome their weaknesses. Well, I just say you must manage around each person’s weakness, and get to their strengths, where the true power lies.

            So let’s now focus on motivating your people.

  • Turn one person’s talent into performance. As a manager, you serve the organization by serving the employee first.
  • The starting point is each person’s talent. The challenge: figure out the best way to transform these talents into performance.
  • You are charged with other responsibilities, but your managing succeeds or fails based on your ability to make employees more productive working with you rather than with someone else.
  • To pull this off, employees must genuinely believe that their success is your primary goal.
  • The employee will give her all only when she feels supported, challenged, understood, and stretched to be as successful as her talents allow.
  • One of the talents most characteristic of great managers is an ability to derive satisfaction from seeing tiny increments of growth in someone else.

Let me add, spend most of your time with your best people. There’s no use in spending all of your energy on non-performers, or low performers. To the best of your ability, you need to get those folks into more productive jobs, if that’s possible. Pay attention to the behaviors of your superstars.

You obviously can’t ignore everyone except your stars. But several things to consider. First, is your poor performer motivated? If the answer is no, I’d try whatever means are in my power to get them out of the organization. If they are motivated, but not doing well, I’d think, Is this person on the ‘right seat on the bus?’

I think it’s important that you realize that, as a minister and as a manager, you’re always on stage. What you do, who you notice has tremendous repercussions. If you misplace your time and attention, it will never go unnoticed. So let’s write up a few important points: 

Recognize excellence immediately and praise it.

    1. The consequence that follows a certain behavior will significantly affect whether or not a person will repeat this behavior.
    2. Consequences can be positive/negative; future/immediate; certain/uncertain.
    3. If you want to see specific behaviors repeated, you must make sure these behaviors meet with consequences that are certain, immediate, and positive. Recognize excellent behavior and praise it!
    4. Show care for your people. 
  • Be deliberate and explicit about telling people you care about them, that you want them to succeed.
  • This doesn’t mean you’re soft on people.
    1. Discover what is unique about each person, and capitalize on it.
    2. Great Managers play chess (learning how each piece moves, then incorporating these unique moves into an overall plan of attack), not checkers (assuming all managers are motivated by the same things).
      • Employees differ in how they think, build relationships, learn, whether they’re altruistic, patient, how they’re challenged, etc.
      • Great management is not about transformation, it’s about release.

Develop the Players

Okay, let’s now look at this final aspect of great managing. You could say that the first quality of great managers is the instincts of a coach. The second quality is the ability to recognize individual differences in people. Remember what we said about knowing your people. This is where that comes in. You really need to know three things:

  1. Strengths and Weaknesses
  2. Triggers
  3. Styles of Learning

First, let’s look at strengths and weaknesses.

ü  Mediocre managers believe most things are learnable. Therefore the essence of management is identifying each person’s weaker areas and eradicating them.

ü  Great managers believe the opposite. S/he knows the most influential qualities are innate and the essence of management is to deploy these innate qualities as effectively as possible. Spend most of their time either challenging each employee to identify, practice, and refine her strengths, or rearrange the world so as to take full advantage of those strengths.

ü  If you want people to apply themselves, you’ve got to make them believe that the tasks they are engaged in are challenging. Imbue them with awe for the difficulty of their assignments.

ü  Overemphasize employee strengths (don’t continually give a realistic assessment of her limits). People often have difficulty understanding their strengths, while emphasizing their weaknesses.

When an employee fails:

ü  Assuming failure is not attributable to factors beyond his control:

  • Figure out whether the person’s struggles are being caused by lack of skills or knowledge, rather than lack of talent.
  • Find her a partner.
  • Rearrange employee’s working world so that her weaknesses are no longer in play.

For Strengths: 

ü  What was the best day at work you’ve had in the last three months?

ü  What were you doing?

ü  Why did you enjoy it so much?

For weaknesses:

ü  What was your worst day at work in the last three months?

ü  What were you doing?

ü  Why did it grate on you so much?

Next, let’s look at triggers. Strengths require precise triggering to keep them switched on. So what triggers each of your people? People answer this in many different ways. Some are triggered by confrontation, others by periodic check-ins, still others by independence – ‘Just leave me alone.’

Here are some questions to ask for triggers:

ü  What was the best relationship with a manager you’ve ever had?

ü  What made it work so well?

ü  What was the best praise or recognition you’ve ever received?

ü  What made it so good?

Finally, consider styles of learning. Each of us has a different style that best suits us when we learn. Here’s a list to keep in mind:

ü  Analyzing. These people crave information. Must be given ample time in the classroom.

ü  Doing. Throw them in the middle of a situation and tell them to ‘wing it.’

ü  Watching. Must see the total performance.

Here are some questions:

ü  When in your career do you think you were learning the most?

ü  Why did you learn so much?

ü  What’s the best way for you to learn?

Let’s do a little review.  First, the primary focus for you as a manager is people.

Your primary function is that of  a catalyst, turning individual talent into performance, and that performance toward the goals of the organization.

The three critical elements to job satisfaction are relevance, measurability, and the fact that I’m known.

            And what you need to do well as a great manager is:

You must Sing…

  • The mission
  • The values
  • The vision, and
  • The strategy

You must Coach…

  • Select Your Players
  • Set Expectations for Your Players
  • Motivate Your Players
  • Develop Your Players




Kevin Ford

The Leader And The Leadership Triangle
You have identified the nature of the leadership challenge. You know the right tool to use. Now, where do you start?

As you employ the principles of the Leadership Triangle, you’ll see that the same leader often behaves very differently depending on the nature of the problem he confronts. Glance at the chart below (which I’ve adapted from Governance as Leadership, by Richard Chait et al), which summarizes some of these differences based on whether the challenge at hand is tactical, strategic, or transformative.

When the problem is tactical, the leader’s role is that of an expert or an expert-finder. Her tone is confident – “we can apply our current base of knowledge to solve this”. The key question she raises is “What’s wrong here?” and the evident problems are to be solved. As she interacts with her people she functions as a trainer, bringing knowledge to bear. And she functions in the present tense – “how can we solve this problem right away so that our today can be better”.

When the problem is strategic, the leader’s role is that of a synthesizer, bringing together knowledge of the internal organization, the external constituency, and the broader climate. His tone is that of casting vision, introducing an inspiring picture of the future that takes advantage of and confronts the changing landscape. His key question is “what should be our focus?” and he realizes that the key way to tackle problems is through innovation and integration. His interaction with his followers is best described as inspirational and he focuses on the future tense – the imagined and aspired-to results of careful adherence to a clearly articulated strategy.

When the problem is transformational, the leader’s role is that of a facilitator, inviting dialogue and discovery, particularly in the areas of values and beliefs. The tone he strikes is one of creativity – whether in problem-solving or in conflict! He knows that the key question now is itself “What’s the question?” and that problems are not so much to be solved or planned for as much as re-framed – considered in an entirely new way. He knows that group interaction at this level of leadership needs to be free-flowing and robust – everything on the table – and that his focus is not only on the present but also on the past and the future. Transformational challenges are the very stuff of leadership and required a leader operating at full creative capacity.


Dr. Jim Osterhaus

The Focus of Great Managers

            Let’s switch over to some points that Marcus Buckingham makes (First, Break All the Rules). He used to work for the Gallup organization which has done some important research into good management practices.

            Remember, we’re trying to get the pieces that are critical to building a work environment where people thrive and the work is accomplished. So let’s turn to Buckingham’s  questions, ones that must be answered in the positive by your direct reports, as you build a vibrant work environment.

  • Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  • Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  • Do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  • In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?
  • Does my supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about me as a person?
  • Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

Note how these dovetail nicely with the points Lencioni made. Now I want to point out several points that are companions to these principles.

Things You Must Do Well…

            You Must be able to Sing. . . especially this refrain:

  • This is why we’re here (the mission)
  • This is what matters most to us in this church (the values)
  • This is where we’re going (the vision), and
  • This is how we’re going to get there (the strategy, and how your project that you’re doing now fits in to the mission, vision, and values).

I don’t really expect you to sing. It’s just a metaphor. But you do have to sing this refrain over and over: the mission of your church, the values or what matters most, where you’re going, and how you’re going to get there.”

      “Why that song?” you might asked. Because that song allows your people to position their work. Imagine showing up to a job day after day and never really having any sense of why your particular job is important, how it fits into the whole picture of your church. But that is exactly what happens over and over again with people. They trudge off to work, put in their 40 plus a week, gather their pay check, and have no idea how what they do fits into any larger scheme.”

      That is bad, especially if you’re trying to build a top flight work environment. So keep this song in mind at all times. It must be song over and over. Now look at this:

You’re a Coach. Direct the Action

  • First, Select Your Players
  • Set Expectations for Your Players
  • Motivate Your Players

Develop Your Players    

Hopefully this will build on all that we’ve already been saying. So let’s take each one in turn.

First, Select Your Players

            “Let’s think first about getting the right players for your team. Two points to consider when hiring:

Think about what the job requires

–        What is the mission of the organization?

–        How does my unit contribute to that mission?

–        How does this particular job contribute to the mission?

–        What are the particular elements of this job that are critical?

What talents are critical to the fulfillment of this job?

–        When interviewing, listen for specifics. The best predictor of future behavior is frequent past behavior. Ask open-ended, behavioral questions.”

Behavioral interviewing avoids the ‘yes/no’ answers that yields very little useful information. Behavioral questions puts people in situations, and requires them to explain fully a situation. Here’s some examples:

  • Relate an experience where you asked for help in your workplace.
  • What kinds of people give you the most difficulty. Why them?
  • Describe the kind of work that gives you the most satisfaction.
  • Describe the kind of work you like the least.
  • Describe the worst conflict you experienced in a work situation, and how you handled it.
  • Describe, as specifically as possible, the characteristics of an ideal supervisor that would optimally motivate you.
  • Describe the most important feature of a very satisfying work day for you.
  • What personality traits or behaviors in others do you find difficult to accept or like?

So you need to know what the demands of each job are. Then you’ve got to get the people with the right talents. Let’s talk about talent. Buckingham defines talent as an innate ability, which means it can’t be taught. All of us are born with brains that contain unique abilities to filter reality in certain ways. And, there is a limit to how much rewiring can be done to a brain. You can teach people new skills (the how-to’s of a role), point them to new knowledge. But talents are a different matter.

Buckingham has three categories of talents:

  • Striving talents: the why of a person – what motivates?

            Achiever: a drive that is internal, constant, self-               imposed

           Kinesthetic: a need to expend physical energy.

          Stamina: capacity for physical endurance.

          Competence: a need for expertise or master

  • Thinking talents: the how of a person – how does a person comes to decisions?

            Focus: an ability to set goals and use them to focus.

            Discipline: a need to impose structure onto life.

           Arranger: an ability to orchestrate

  • Relating talents: the who of a person – how does a person relate to others?

            Woo: a need to gain the approval of others.

            Empathy: ability to identify the feelings of others.

           Relator: a need to build bonds that last.

            This is by no means the complete list. Just a sampling.  Buckingham’s point is that managers often hire people because they have a great attitude, but don’t have the talent to pull off the job. They’re then sent to endless workshops to hopefully bring them up to speed, but this never works. ‘You can’t put in what God left out’ someone once said.

People Don’t Change That Much

            Emblazon that in your brain, it’ll spare you a lot of grief as you attempt to select and develop people. In fact, the very best way to know how a person will perform in the future is to know how they’ve performed in the past. That’s basically what your interviewing of people needs to be about.”

Set Expectations for Your Players

            Let’s move on now to expectations. As a coach, you’ve got to be able to be clear with your team about the expectations. So let’s see what’s here. Did you know that fewer than 50% of employees claim they know what is expected of them at work? That’s an amazing statistic! And I find that over and over in church situations where I work, there are no clear expectations laid out for the staff. So let’s plow into expectations. Several points that are critical here:

  • Define the Right Outcomes. Don’t dictate how work should be done! There is no such thing as a ‘best way’ to do anything. Your first instinct must be to trust the people you’ve selected, and let them, in their own uniqueness, get to the outcomes you have clearly delineated for them.
  • Define how each employee will contribute to those outcomes.
  • Communicate those expectations continually.

–        Meet with employees 4/5 times a year to check progress, offer advice, and agree on course corrections.

This brings us to performance evaluations. If they have them at all, most church performance evaluations are subjective to the point of being worthless. Performance evaluations should be comprised of specific criteria that is observable and hopefully measurable (remember what we said in the last blog about measurable). A list of about 15 competencies is a good number, with four behavioral anchors under each to be scored by the manager (you) and the direct report prior to the face-to-face conversation. Probably five or six of the competencies will be those that are expected of everyone on staff. And the rest will be targeted at each person. Here’s an example:

Is curious and seeks to learn (competency)

  1. Seeks a wide range of learning experiences.
  2. Continually seeks clarification by asking good questions.
  3. Demonstrates, over time, that changes have been incorporated into his/her behavior.
  4. Shows curiosity for a wide range of subjects.

In the next blog we’ll talk about how to motivate your people.


Dr. Jim Osterhaus

The Nitty-Gritty

Let’s begin with a quiz:

• An employee tends to stay with an organization because of that organization’s reputation and the generous benefits package she receives. True or False
• As a manager, you need to spend most of your time with your under-performing employees, to bring them up to speed. True or False
• The best managers are those women and men who, before they become managers, have performed their functions the best. True or false
• If an employee has a good attitude, but lacks the apparent talent to perform certain tasks, you need to send her to workshops to “bring her up to speed.” True or False
• To be a truly great leader, one must be able to supply most of the answers for the issues that perplex those who are led. True or False

What do you think? Well, they’re all false. But don’t be too discouraged if you had trouble with these. Most people do. In fact, most people, and especially those who have just become managers in one fashion or another, have a lot of trouble understanding the role.

I’m going to talk about management as though management was you’re only responsibility. I know, however, that as a minister, you have a myriad of responsibilities. But I want you to think during the next few visits we have together as if management were your only function.

The Three Signs of a Miserable Job

Let’s start with some thoughts published by Pat Lencioni:

• The only way to have a fully-functioning organization, any organization, is to build the kind of work environment that attracts, focuses, and keeps talented employees.
• Your job as a manager is to help build that environment.
• Managing people is your primary focus in your job as a manager, not an add-on.
• People liking their jobs is a critical aspect in building that environment. And it’s the responsibility of the manager to help them like their job.

Yes, you do have all the ministerial responsibilities. But you’re also a manager on the front lines, and arguably the most powerful in creating an environment for you people. Never forget that. In fact, arguably you’re most important function as a manager is to be a catalyst. In that capacity, you turn a person’s talent into performance, then steer that performance in the direction of the organization’s goals. The starting point is the talent each of your direct reports brings to the table. You as the catalyst transform these talents into useful performance.

You stand in the middle, between the organization and the employee. Your job is to achieve the goals of the organization. But your employees must feel that your primary focus is on them, and their success. So you must align the needs of the organization with the needs of the employee.

Sounds like a tall order? It is. If you have the luxury of hiring an executive pastor, or the equivalent, that person will function in this management role. But unfortunately, for the majority of you, you will have to function as the manager.

Achieving the goals of the organization and supporting employee success actually go hand in hand as primary components of a manager’s job description. I’m not talking about making sure my direct reports are happy. Your role as a manager is all about performance, not feelings. But as I said the first time we met, churches are interlocking organizational entities. And as you move to being an intentional manager, people will default over to the family organizational model and complain that ‘Dad is being too hard on us!

Now let’s look at the three things that Lencioni feels are critical to job satisfaction and success — that leads to people liking their jobs and ultimately caring about the organization.”

1. Relevance

• People need to be needed, and to be reminded of this every day.
• When people find they have no impact on other’s lives, they begin to die emotionally.
• Everyone needs to know their job matters…to someone, even if it’s just the boss.

Let me make it more personal. Think about these questions:

• Do you make a meaningful difference in anyone’s life at work?
• Do you as a manager make a significance difference in the lives of your direct reports?

Then let’s continue with two final questions I want to bury in your brain for future reference:

• Who am I helping?
• How am I helping?

The second principle:

2. Measurement

• Employees need to be able to measure their progress and level of contribution themselves. They won’t be satisfied if their success depends on the whims of another person.
• There is usually no lack of things that can be measured. But are there too many? And are they the correct measurements of each person? And is it immediate enough? (not some end of year bottom line that has no immediate impact).

Let’s talk about measurement. Employees need to first know what they do is relevant, and to do this, they need to be able to measure what they do. That’s not so easy for a church. Churches don’t do research projects with their built in measurements. You might just want to sit down with each of them and talk about short term goals and measurements.

• Need something regular and behavioral and something employees can measure themselves to let them know they’re doing a good job (e.g. for managers, tracking interactions with direct reports).
• Employees need to be involved in developing their own measurables.

Now notice that you should have them active in the measurement process. What does each employee need? And remember, these will vary from employee to employee, even those assigned to the same project. The church janitor may choose as a measureable goal certain cleaning or repair projects that can be measured. The youth director may want to measure how many meaningful one-on-one conversations he has with teens in a month.

3. Knowable (not anonymous)

• People cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known, and appreciated for their unique qualities by someone in authority.
• It’s much harder to leave a team when you know that people there understand you as an individual.
• The person who can have the most influence on this principle is the manager.
• To know your direct reports, requires you to know you make a difference in their lives.

This is where taking the time to walk around and drop into people’s offices or programs comes in. And, because you come from ministry environment, hopefully this will be intuitive for you. Remember what I began with. Your primary job as a manager is people. It’s your main job to help your people be successful. Most managers think this is technical – that the manager has to be the smartest guy on the block, and supply all the answers when direct reports run into roadblocks. But that’s not it at all. Sure, you can help with some program issues. But real managing has to do with the relational aspects of this. And sadly, that’s where so many managers fall short, because they just don’t get it. Your direct reports need to know you care about them.

• The best way to do this is simply to get to know them. Take time to sit down with each, and ask what’s going on with their lives. This requires empathy and curiosity. This is not a one time thing, but must be demonstrated over and over. If this seems irrelevant to you, then now is probably the time to bring in an executive pastor who can do the people managing piece.


Dr. Jim Osterhaus

For the past number of years I have been working with churches and coaching pastors, attempting to help them establish better management practices. What I found, over and over again, was the fact that ministers have been trained to be theologically competent, and be able to navigate the scriptures and craft understandable sermons. But when it comes to managing people (and many of the ministers with whom I am now working had multiple staffs, and are in fact managing mid-sized businesses), these otherwise very competent ministers did not have a clue as to what to do.  Seminary had not prepared them. Seminars and workshops had been spotty at best (if secular presentations, these workshops didn’t understand the complexities of the church organizational world).

So here these ministers were, lost and alone, attempting to navigate the very tricky church world waters without a compass or a chart.

The Church World: A very complicated organizational picture.

I have consulted with many types of organizations: government agencies, private non-profits, construction companies, high tech firms, large corporations. I am convinced that the church offers one of the most confusing, if not the most confusing, organizational structure.

The Family/Business/Faith Community Conundrum. What generally makes church life and functioning so very confusing is the fact that, like no other organization in society, church encompasses the people’s expectations of family, business, and community.  Each of these elements must be held in tension, and each must be understood clearly, or else confusion will ensue. Because churches are in fact families, and those who work on staff are often church members, the emotional impact of what occurs has profound effects throughout the church organization. As an example, our country is going through a distressing economic time that has greatly affected churches. Many church staffs have been downsized.  Unlike in the secular business world, a church staff member being downsized often experiences, “My family just threw me out.” The congregation chorusing, “You can’t let go of Suzie, she’s family!” The personal and organizational repercussions can be seismic.

As a family, the clergy are perceived as parents and congregants as siblings. Church members feel as though they are coming home, and therefore have particular idealistic expectations as to what they will find, and how they will be treated. When paid staff members are also church (i.e. “family”) members, the expectations rise beyond the average business employee.

As a business: Churches, especially those with multiple staffs, have organizational considerations that require the principles of business. People are hired to do particular types of work according to their individual skill sets, performance standards are established and maintained, salaries are set, and work is accomplished and evaluated. When work falls below par, accountability kicks in and people may be fired for poor performance. When there is a budget shortfall, considerations as to staffing needs are prime considerations.

As a faith community: Churches are also spiritual communities. Members manifest certain gifts, bear the burdens of one another, and generally become intentionally involved in one another’s lives to the betterment of the individual and the building up of the community (a.k.a. body life). Unlike the above two models, community members have no assumed hierarchy (“neither male nor female, slave nor free”). There is mutual accountability, with no one being “more privileged” than another.

As a volunteer organization. And wrapped around the above three organizational models is the world of the volunteer. Volunteers can be a wonderful addition to any organization. In fact, they are the life blood of the non-profit world. But they need specific considerations. How do you hold a volunteer accountable? How do you effectively motivate a volunteer? These are just two of the gnawing questions that managing in the church world involves.

Unfortunately, as often happens, these separate functions become confused. When business considerations are handled with family patterns, problems arise.  Likewise, if faith community and family aspects are treated as business it becomes institutionalized. Not that there are always clear demarcations between each of these areas. These three models must always be appreciated and negotiated.

The Struggle

So what’s the toughest part of managing in the church world? I guess each one reading this will have a different answer. Someone said that being a pastor is similar to being a stay-at-home mom. Both positions have a whole host of differing functions. None of these functions relate to any of the other functions (preaching, visiting, counseling, chairing meetings, managing staff). And there is usually no one there who tells the pastor what to do, in what order, and at what intensity.

The books all say that managing has to do with people. And yet most pastors that I coach feel so totally unprepared. “How to work managing all of these people into my schedule?” one pastor I coach questioned.  “I’m beginning to think that if I’m not careful, I’ll turn into a glorified paper-pusher. These people think I’m the smartest person in the room, so they come to me with all their questions. So I guess you could say I’m a bit confused as to what I really need to be doing here to be successful.” He was the senior pastor of a staff of a dozen people (not quite big enough to hire an executive pastor). All senior management responsibilities fell to him, and he was frankly overwhelmed.

I told him we’d  have to do two things:  lay a foundation as to what good management practices are supposed to look like. Then look at all of the realities you as pastor now face that are pulling you away from being the manager you hope to be.”

One complaint I constantly hear is about denominations (and it doesn’t matter which denomination we’re talking about). The complaint goes something like this, “I sure wish my denomination would give me some help when it comes to managing all that I face.” It’s not just the denominations. The organizational world in general has a great deal of difficulty knowing how to select and train managers. It’s as if the manager position is seen as just another cog in the organizational wheel. The irony is that managers are at the very center of organizational functioning. These folks are critical to making sure the mission of the organization gets accomplished. And then the expectations placed upon ministers get thrown into the mix. It’s a recipe for trouble.

What I’d like to do in the next several months is lay out some general principles of good management. The place to start is with self-understanding  I did that a few months back when we talked about our internal competing values, so I won’t repeat that aspect. Do review though). I’ll next look at the basics of management. We’ll look at how adaptive and technical issues tend to confuse people. We’ll talk about change and conflict and building trust.

Hopefully you will find this to be helpful.


Kevin Ford

A Transformational Scenario
One of my client churches was located in suburban St. Louis. The then relatively new pastor, who had succeeded a long-time pastor, brought me along side and hired me.

The former pastor was the classic chaplain. Warm, compassionate and people-oriented he was brilliant over coffee in the living room and at the hospital bedside. He was beloved by his people not so much for his preaching ability or leadership skills as for his ability to make each congregant feel loved, included, and cared for and to foster a sense of community and connection among his people.

The new pastor loved people too, but his strengths were quite different than his predecessor’s. This pastor’s skill set was in the areas of teaching and leadership. In particular, he was a gifted visionary able to see and articulate a future for the church that was both exciting and very different from its past and present. The church began to grow quite rapidly, fueled by an influx of young professional families.

Predictably, the church began to be polarized not long into the new pastorate. Folks who were wired to appreciate strong visionary leadership gravitated to the new pastor as a breath of fresh air. Those who had been drawn to the church under the predecessor pastor’s leadership missed his people skills and ability to generate congregational warmth and belonging.

When I sat down with a group of leaders, it became clear that the problem was not one of personalities but rather of values. One group – those drawn to the old pastor – spoke of missing the family feeling of past years. “The church is not a business, it is a family” they argued. “We can’t depart from that family feeling or we will become a sterile institution without a heart”. The other group – resonating with the new pastor – said that the church needed to be a better-run organization if it was going to have the opportunity to impact its surrounding community in a significant way. “We can’t be an inner-focused club”, they argued. “We have to have a bold vision and make decisions more like a well-run business. This is how we can best carry out our spiritual mandate”.

I let them argue and discuss for thirty minutes or so before I intervened gently. “What if the real issue is not ‘family’ versus ‘business’?” I suggested. “What if what is really going on here is a very healthy conflict over the value of what ‘church’ is to be? What if the real answer is not an either-or ‘family’ versus ‘business’ but something else entirely that we may not have thought of yet?”

So we spent the next several hours debating over the differences between “church vs. family” and “church vs. business”. A family takes care of its own, they said. A church exists for those who are not yet connected. A business produces a profit, while a church glorifies God. Sure, a church needs to take care of people and pay bills, but it is much more significant than a business and much more outwardly focused than a family. The participants were full of energy and excitement. They were finding their way towards a new reality and way of thinking which promised to move them forward in developing a vision for the future.

This “reframe” (more on that term later) accomplished two things. It exposed the competing values in the room. And it offered a way out where there did not have to be a set of winners and a set of losers. Best of all, it opened the way to transformational change.

The first job of a leader is to diagnose what sort of problem she is faced with. Is this an issue for an expert that involves a transparent fix (Tactical)? Is it an issue that involves factors outside of the organization and requires change leadership (Strategic)? Or is it a deeper, systemic challenge relating to competing values and beliefs (Transformational)?

In my experience all transformational problems have some tactical and strategic components. All strategic challenges have some tactical components. And tactical problems are simply tactical. This knowledge is a big help in diagnosing they type of challenge you are facing. And getting that diagnosis right is all-important. If you don’t, you may well find yourself hammering away when what you really need is a level or a saw.

Several years ago, a new Executive Pastor at a well-heeled Episcopalian church on the East Coast analyzed the cost of printing the Sunday morning bulletin: $20,000 a year. The well-intentioned Executive Pastor researched the cost of adding a multi-media system to replace the bulletin. The answer? $20,000. So he purchased the new system and closed down the printing presses. The result? Pandemonium and outrage. The congregation viewed the bulletin as their way of following the order of service and glorifying God. He thought he was solving a tactical problem. In reality, he had stepped into a transformational issue of competing values. Thus, the “solution” became the “problem”.

As you digest the principles in this book, you will become an expert diagnostician as you and your organization face an array of challenges. You’ll learn when to call for a hammer, when to call for a level, and when to call for a saw. As for the question of HOW to use the proper tool…..well, hang on for that.


Scott Kronlund

To ponder: “to consider something deeply and thoroughly; meditate; to weigh carefully in the mind; consider thoughtfully” according to    I remember when I first heard the word “ponder” as a child; it was part of the Christmas Story: “and it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”  (Luke 2: 15 – 19 KJV; italics added for emphasis).  From a more modern perspective, The Message puts it this way: “Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.”

 We all have much to ponder this time of year; especially when reflecting on all of the blessings that God has seen fit to share with us over the past year, with the Gift of His Son heading the top of that list.  However, as ministry leaders, I believe that we have much more to ponder as we carefully consider the effectiveness our own leadership.  In fact, many prominent teachers of leadership principles advocate strongly that we regularly spend a concerted amount of time quietly reflecting on the fruits of our leadership labors. Perhaps, the year’s end is an ideal time to do this.  For instance, where has God been most active in my leadership this past year?  What worked well?  What didn’t?  Which activity produced the best fruit?  Where did I make the most of my time?  Where did I waste my time?  What opportunities did I capitalize on?  Which ones did I squander?  Which relationships did I best cultivate?  In whom would I like to invest more of my mentorship time? Which activities would I like to keep doing this next year?  Which should I jettison?  You see, it’s only through the process of self-evaluation that we are able to grow in the ways that God intends.

 So, as we get nearer to Christmas Day, I would encourage all of us to take the time necessary to deeply ponder the mystery of the birth of Jesus in the light of our leadership responsibilities as ambassadors for His Kingdom.  Spend some time carefully examining your 2009 calendar, get some rest, and begin to energize yourself for a great new year of ministry in 2010!  On behalf of all of us here at TAG Consulting, have a very blessed Christmas!  Scott


Kevin Ford

A Strategic Scenario
A highly regarded not for profit focuses its mission on arts education in schools in lower income neighborhoods which must often forgo any sort of arts curriculum. The not for profit depends on the generosity of foundations and individuals in the community and an annual grant from the local arts and sciences council.

Then an economic downturn ravages the city in which the not for profit is based. Unemployment skyrockets as the major industries in the community merge or fold. A nation-wide recession leads to a declining pool of charitable resources.

At its semi-annual board meeting, the organization’s leaders hear the shell-shocked Executive Director describe a 20% decline in contributions to the organization over the past year and the bad news that the arts and science council grant will be trimmed in half in the coming year. The board is faced with a series of strategic questions:
-Since we can’t maintain our current level of service, what should we offer or not offer from our current menu?
-Is arts education a pressing issue in our hurting community and, if not, what other needs should we meet?
-What sorts of alternative programs could we offer that might cost less money?
-How do we maintain quality if we are forced to reduce personnel?
-We focus on five areas now; should we reduce that focus to one or two to ride out this downturn?
-What needs in our constituency are we best equipped to meet at the present time?

Strategic challenges require a different, and in some ways more sophisticated, set of skills than tactical problems. But strategic acumen does not cover every type of leadership challenge. Again and again I have discovered that when strategic direction is established, the result is that a whole different set of issues surface – issues related to values, behaviors, and attitudes. It is this most complex type of challenge that is illustrated by the third side of the Leadership Triangle.

Transformational Challenges
Transformational problems can also be called “adaptive”, “generative” and innovative” challenges. These are the truly vital challenges, which relate to values, behaviors, and attitudes. Transformational problems are often on the systemic level and are not usually visible to the naked eye. My research indicates that less that one percent of leaders naturally possess the skill set needed to wrestle with transformative issues. And this is why our organizations get stuck. Very simply, real and lasting change happens only on the transformational level.

The essence of a transformational problem is that values are in competition. In the East Lake scenario, Tom Cousins had to balance the competing values of corporations and financial institutions (making investments which would result in profit to their shareholders), political leaders (minimizing political risk to insure re-election) and the residents of East Lake themselves (maintaining a place to live and some measure of personal security). The real work of leadership is done on the transformational level as a skilled leader accepts and even provokes conflict over values so that clarity can be reached and real change can be created.

Thinkers such as Ron Heifetz, Marty Linsky, Margaret Wheatly, and Peter Senge have written wisely and well on the nature of transformative challenges.