New Leaders Starting Strong.
By Brent Dearnell
You find yourself stepping into a new church, or nonprofit, and you have been hired to be the ministry leader that is an expert in the field and has a vision of how the ministry could transform lives all while meeting the church’s, or nonprofit’s, mission. So you do just that, you come in as the expert ready to lead and implement a vision that you just know can transforms lives. Then you crash right into the first issue and all of a sudden the questions come. You start questioning yourself and others start having questions as well. Research in the business world shows between 40% and 60% of management new-hires fail in the first 18 months. Through my own observations and discussions with church leader colleagues, I would venture to say the same is true in hiring ministry leaders. Since you are the leader, the expert, and the visionary you are the only one left to answer the questions. However, it doesn’t have to be this way!
What if you approached the ministry position a little differently. I would encourage you to think about stepping into this new ministry position much like stepping on to a bus in mid route. You step from the curb into the bus recognizing your own comfort with riding or even driving the bus. As the doors close behind you, you start to scan the bus to see who is and is not already on the bus. Then you check out the route, the stops, and figure out how to get to your destination.
I think the major issue with scenario described above is it is like you stepped on to the bus, headed straight to the driver’s seat, buckled up, put the pedal to the metal, and then jerked the steering wheel toward that vision or destination. This could be fine if you are the only person on the bus, but more often than not, if you are being hired to lead an existing ministry, there may already be people on the bus. People that understand the route, the reason for the current speed, even the bumps, and they are excited to let you drive the bus. However, with that first sharp jerk of the wheel they start getting jostled around or even knocked out of their seat and then they are on the watch for you to bump that curb, run the stop sign, or hit another driver because your driving put them into protective mode. Now you are driving the bus with limited information and a load full of people looking to protect themselves and the bus (ministry) from you.
Three Steps To Start Driving The Bus Well:
1. Prepare Yourself - Recognizing your ability to drive the bus.
Take some time to be self aware of your strengths, weaknesses, approaches, and perceptions before you act on them without even being aware.
- Reflect on what you would want to know about a new leader and create a quick short way to share this as you meet your ministry team members. The bus is a little more comfortable when you trust the driver.
- Pray for, or over, the vision that God is calling you and this ministry towards.
- Recognize and be aware of your leadership style (democratic, consensual, affiliative, pacesetter, authoritative, micromanager, coaching, etc.).
- Take time to privately note the concerns you have about the ministry and church/organization. Now that these are written down you can come back to them after you meet with the ministry team and see the ministry in action instead of bringing them into every conversation and observation. You will revisit these notes.
2. Acknowledge and Empower - SEE those who are already on the bus as valuable.
One of the best ways to really see and hear who is on the bus is identify the key leaders and have one-on-one meetings with them. Start from a place of developing relationships over accomplishing goals. Spend this time seeking the most candid and clear feedback, questions and ideas. Commit to seeing what is shared as a piece of the whole puzzle and try to give weight to the information you get from multiple people over the grandest stories. Start by finding one person you think is a key leader and in a conversational way try to have the following conversation:
- Share that quick short answer I arrived at when I asked myself what I would what to know about a new leader.
- Ask what is going well, not well, and what needs to change.
- End with asking who they think the 3 or 5 key leaders are in the ministry.
That last question is how to figure out who the official or unofficial key leaders are in the ministry and start meeting one-on-one with them. More than likely, that last question leads to a short list of repeated names.
3. Set the Route - Know where you are and where you are going.
Now that we know who is on the bus, start focusing on where you are heading. Reflect on the prayer filled vision you have been given, the leaders’ answers, and that list of concerns. These together help plot the course from HERE to THERE. They develop the route that many people on the bus understand and may even support past a few curb bumps and missed stop signs.
Now it is time to have a dream session with the team! In this session spend equal time focused on getting to know to each other personally as sharing the vision and route God is revealing. In that time together develop a process and rhythm that allows for you to keep seeing and hearing those on your team. Putting your head down and staying the course would be fine if ministry and people weren’t constantly messy and changing.
This “on the bus” approach doesn’t guarantee that you won’t crash, but it can help you avoid the known potholes and start to travel as a team verse a number of individuals stuck on the bus together.
To those starting in a new ministry leadership role, may God give you wisdom, courage, and patience. May you persevere past the newness into that sweet spot of growth and fruitfulness!
Rev. Brent Dearnell
Brent is married to Sara and is a father to four young children. He has served as a volunteer, interim, and full-time youth pastor, discipleship pastor, and executive pastor. Before going into ministry full-time he was a middle school teacher in an urban environment as well as a varsity soccer coach. He is passionate about helping young people live into their passion, faith, and call. This passion is why he is one of the cofounders of Colocate Ministry Consulting and serves as one of our coaches.