Eric Geiger - a Husband, Father, Author, Vice-President of LifeWay Church Resources


Diagnosing Ministry Phase in Your Context

The Lord used Nehemiah to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and Nehemiah is often recognized for being a strong and focused leader. It is important to note that he did not merely show up in Jerusalem, after arriving from serving under the Persian king in captivity, and declare a direction. Before he articulated a vision to the people of Israel—“Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem”—he walked around at night and surveyed the situation (Nehemiah 2:11-16). He spent three days assessing his ministry context, understanding the challenges, and sensing the struggles and the opportunities.

Wise leaders understand they are leading people, and people are in a specific context. Thus, it is foolish for leaders to arrive in a ministry context with a pre-packaged plan of how everything will look and feel. Of course, there are foundational aspects of ministry that must not change from context to context, but the practical implications of ministry should be unique from context to context. And when leaders fail to first understand their ministry context, they are not really leading the ministry the Lord has given them but a ministry of their own imagination.

While assessing your ministry context is broad in scope (understanding the local community, sensing the needs and idols of the culture, knowing the history of the church you are serving, etc.), one aspect of assessing your context is to understand the phase the ministry is in.

There is not a lot written on this subject for ministry leaders, but I find the insights in the book The First 90 Days to be a helpful framework to start your thinking. It surely should not be the trump card or the final word, but it is helpful to spark some thinking and diagnosis. In the book, Michael Watkins articulates that all organizations are in one of four phases:

  1. Start-up: the early phases of an organization
  2. Sustaining-success: the phase when an organization experiences growth
  3. Realignment: the phase where drift occurs because of added complexity
  4. Turnaround: the phase where the organization needs new direction

Watkins then challenges leaders to match their leadership style to the situation, the season the organization is in. Someone who is leading an organization that is in a period of sustaining success should lead differently than someone who is leading an organization through a season of a necessary turnaround. Watkins states, “Start-ups and turnarounds call for hunters, people who can move fast and take chances. The skills that contribute to success in realignment and sustaining-success, by contrast, are more akin to farming than hunting…skilled farmers painstakingly cultivate awareness of the need for change.”

You have likely seen ministry leaders approach a healthy church (sustaining-success) or one that needs some re-focusing (realignment) with a hunter mentality. Instead of appreciating where the church is and has been, they approach the ministry with a turnaround approach and woefully mismatch their leadership to their actual context.

When you diagnose your ministry context, of course diagnose the community where the ministry is located. Learn the history, the narrative, the struggles, and the pain. But also diagnose the season the ministry is in, and adjust your leadership accordingly. Don’t go into a ministry context that needs turnaround leadership with the slow and methodical approach necessary for a different context. And don’t go into a healthy context with a turnaround mentality. Be sure the ministry context in your mind matches the actual ministry context you are in.

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Links for Leaders 7/18/14

Nehemiah, the great biblical leader, offers four key lessons in leadership for any believer looking for guidance.

Every leader needs wise advisors. Here are six nuggets of wisdom from Selma Wilson for leaders.

Everyone can benefit from developing skill as a coach. How learning to coach others speeds up your own success, from Entrepreneur.

In hindsight, many risks seem obvious.  And when we do take the time to evaluate potential risks, there is often not much that is profound about them. Here are three reasons you underestimate risk.

Here’s a crazy idea: leaders can learn from roller coasters. How? Here are the five realities of leadership.

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An Example of Leading from the Pulpit

I wrote a blog on “Leading from the Pulpit” because our executive vice president at LifeWay, Brad Waggoner, kept asking me to do so. I told him that he should, but he doesn’t really have an online presence. He has tweeted twice, once on accident and once about a restaurant in Missouri that throws rolls at you.

The reason Brad kept asking me is that he has sensed, and I agree with him, that some preachers, out of a pure desire to preach the Word, are failing to lead in their preaching. Their right commitment to handle the text faithfully has caused them to equate handling the text carefully with only handling the text. Thus, they act as if they are unaware of pain and needs in their congregations. They fail to give overarching direction as to where the Lord is leading the church.

Brad specifically expressed concern for those who are “reformed in their theology” and wondered if perhaps some of them equate a high view of theology with not leading practically week-to-week. After all, shepherding is not merely instructional in nature. Shepherding, by its very definition, includes leading.

So one day, as we were coming back from lunch, I insisted that while I agree with his concerns, many reformed pastors are teaching and leading simultaneously. To show him an example, I played the first ten minutes of one of Matt Chandler’s sermons. I had just listened to it the week before while driving, so it was fresh on my mind.

We sat in my Jeep and listened. At the end, Brad said, “That is one of the best examples I have heard of preaching and leading.”

The sermon I played for him is here.

In the first ten minutes, you hear Matt explain how their church is structured in leadership, share direction on a new elder joining their elder team, and lovingly shepherd and pray for a family that was hurting deeply. He then preaches a strong message from the Book of Galatians.

PS > If you listen and find yourself praying for the family, as I did, you may wonder what happened in the situation. The second child is doing well, and she is pregnant with another child.

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Links for Leaders 7/11/14

What do you do if God calls you to lead? Faith Whatley shares 15 tips for successful leadership. You must begin by going before the Lord in prayer, but what follows?

Leadership is one of the most over-used and overwrought topics in Christian ministry today. Is the leadership movement leaving your church leaderless? Mike Breen thinks it may be.

Truly classy leaders make honoring other leaders a top priority. Brian Dodd shares this, and nine other practices of truly classy leaders. Are you a classy leader?

Turbulence grabs attention, focuses energy, stretches relationships, tests resolve, and shows you who you are. If you’re a leader, you’re going to face turbulence. Deal with it. The question is: how are you going to react? Seven tips for facing turbulence.

Questioning is undoubtedly a valuable leadership tool. Asking the right questions can help business leaders to anticipate changes, seize opportunities, and move their organizations in new directions. Harvard Business Review shares five common questions leaders should NEVER ask.


Leading from the Pulpit

I remember the criticism well. The pastor of the church I was serving had just finished sharing his heart during the sermon about a direction he and a community of leaders sensed the Lord was leading the church. He wasn’t leading alone. Prayer and discussion had taken place in community with other leaders—some staff and some involved church members. He wasn’t leading haphazardly. The direction had been discussed, debated, and prayed over for several months.

Yet someone boldly accused the pastor of “using the pulpit to push an agenda.”

While I know there are plenty of times where the pulpit has been abused, an overreaction (or overcorrection) to this abuse can cause an unhealthy and unbiblical dichotomy between teaching and leading.

Some pastors have overreacted to the abuse of pulpits by neglecting to lead in their teaching. They ignore their unique context, skip over obvious pain and struggles that are prevalent in the congregation, and fail to give the people a sense of where God is leading the church. Some churches and church members have overreacted by insisting that the pastor only preach a message and not address any directional or cultural issues in the church.

But a pastor is both leader and teacher. A pastor teaches as he leads and leads as he teaches.

To be a pastor, one must be able to lead his own family (1 Timothy 3:4) and be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2). And “pastors who are good leaders should be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17). John MacArthur says of this text, “Paul is not setting up two categories of elders, those who rule and those who preach and teach.” In other words, pastors are both leaders and teachers.

Don’t ignore your calling

Because pastors are both leaders and teachers, a pastor will inevitably lead as he teaches. He will help create and steward the culture of the church through the preaching. To ask a pastor never to give direction from the pulpit, never to address where the church is headed, never to speak into the culture of the church is to ask the pastor to neglect part of his responsibility, part of his calling.

Don’t ignore your context

Pastors are leading a specific church in a unique context with a unique culture. For a pastor never to provide leadership from the pulpit is to ignore the context where he is. Each community where a church is located has idols prevalent in the culture, a unique set of needs, and a distinct history. Never to address the context is to fail to “do the work of an evangelist.” If the local community is going to benefit from the church’s existence, pastors must lead the people to love the local community.

Pastors, don’t ignore your calling and your context. Teach and lead.


Not Fair to Lead Everyone the Same

I remember hearing sports commentators debate the rightness and fairness of Phil Jackson’s admission that he led each of his players differently—that he treated Michael Jordan differently from another player on the team. Some cried foul, insisting that a coach is responsible to ensure equity, and in doing so, each player must be treated the same way. Others insisted that Phil Jackson was displaying wise leadership.

It is not fair for a leader to lead everyone the same way because every person on the team is different and needs different leadership. To lead every person the same way is to discount each person’s development, each person’s experience, and each person’s level of commitment. It would be unfair to lead someone who is highly capable and fully committed in the same manner as someone who is less developed or is negative.

Ken Blanchard is known for his model of “situational leadership.” He challenges leaders to adjust their leadership to the development of the people they lead. And the adjustment should be for different aspects of the person’s role—meaning, because I display different levels of competency for different aspects of my job, I need varying levels of leadership.

  • Someone who displays low competence and high commitment needs “directing” leadership.
  • Someone who displays low competence and low commitment needs “coaching” leadership.
  • Someone who displays high competence and varying commitment needs “supporting” leadership.
  • Someone who displays high competence and high commitment needs “delegating” leadership.

It is not fair to neglect someone who needs directing by delegating to them. And it is not fair to direct someone who is able to handle wise delegation. It is not fair to lead everyone the same.

I find Blanchard’s model counter-cultural to how many people view leadership. I imagine executives at companies reading his thoughts and thinking, “So leadership is not about me asking all the people I lead to adjust to me? I am to adjust to them? I am to adjust my leadership style to the people I lead?”

Wise leaders adjust their leadership to the people they lead. In other words, wise leaders are servants.

As Christians, we have been served by our Savior-King, who came not to be served but to serve, who took off His kingly garments and took on the nature of a servant so He could suffer and die to win our hearts to Himself. Serving others is not distinctly Christian, but Jesus serving us is. And because He has served us, we are now able to follow His example and serve those we lead by adjusting our leadership to them.

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Micromanagement or Leadership?

What some people call micromanagement is really leadership providing necessary accountability. And what some leaders call leadership is really micromanagement.

For example—when meeting with staff teams, I have often heard conflicting statements from both leaders and those they lead. A leader will say, “I wish I had people I could trust with greater leadership,” while a person he leads will say, “He micromanages me.”

How can these conflicting views be reconciled?

Ken Blanchard’s model of “situational leadership” challenges the leader to adapt to those he/she leads. I like Blanchard’s framework because it sets the leader as the servant, reminding us that Jesus led by serving. According to situational leadership thinking, if someone is highly competent and confident (Blanchard calls this D4), the leader should delegate authority and give lots of freedom. However, if someone is lower in competence (Blanchard calls this D1), the leader should provide ongoing direction and supervision with the intention of developing the person for the future.

Someone who is a D1 who thinks he is a D4 will think he is being micromanaged. So if you think your leader is micromanaging you, take an honest look at your competence. Have you delivered on what you said you would accomplish? Do you execute your job well? If your performance is less than stellar, the leader is wise to provide you more oversight and direction. To be honest, you need some D1 love. Your leader is being a wise steward in giving specific direction; a leader who treats a D1 like a D4 is guilty of leadership neglect.

On the other hand, someone who is a D4 thrives with more freedom and authority. If you are a leader with a high-capacity person who is fully committed to the organization/ministry and not his/her own agenda, it is horrific stewardship of time and gifting to treat the person as a D1. You may consider your specific and prescriptive directives as leadership when in reality you are micromanaging.

How can you reconcile these implications in your current context?

Ask your leader what areas of your role he/she views you as fully competent in, what aspects of your role need more coaching and supporting, and what aspects of your role needs specific and ongoing direction. If you lead others, match your leadership style to the development of those you lead.

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Theology of Staffing

Pastor David is perpetually frustrated, and he is self-aware enough to know it. As his church is growing, it seems he is always overwhelmed with details, dropped balls, and urgent discussions and decisions. In response, he is about to hire another part-time staff member. He thinks, If I can just get another body on my team, surely some of this chaos will dissipate.

He meets for lunch with one of his elders to “show him the plan.” The supportive elder responds with, “David, if this move will help the church and you, I am for it, but the level of frustration and chaos sounds greater than where we were six months ago when we brought Steve on part-time. How confident are you that this move will be different?”

Pastor David is stung by the question, and as he reflects over the next several days, he realizes his staffing philosophy has been more reactive than proactive.

Is your staffing philosophy reactive or proactive?

Reactive staffing responds to the urgent, the chaotic, and the squeaky. Reactive staffing certainly addresses the needs that the leader feels, but these “felt needs” are not necessarily the “real needs” of the church. Because reactive staffing responds to the most chaotic and squeaky areas or departments, these underperforming areas are prone to receive more resources and support than areas or departments that are more likely to advance the mission of the church. While relieving short-term stress, reactive staffing only treats the symptom of the problem—not the deeper issue. So within a few months, the chaos returns.

Instead of addressing chaos, reactive staffing may in fact elevate the chaos. To “fill a gap,” a pastor will sometimes hire a hardworking but unskilled leader. In these cases the individual, because he lacks wisdom and the ability to mobilize a team, actually adds more work to the team rather than effectively distributing the load throughout the body. A hardworking yet foolish staff member only creates more and more unproductive work for everyone else. Far from a stress reliever, this staff member is a chaos contributor. While a lazy staff member is a disgrace, at least he does not clutter everyone else’s calendar or inbox with meaningless discussions.

Proactive staffing considers the important and future needs of the church and plans to staff accordingly. This practice doesn’t necessarily mean that a leader hires before more growth occurs, as resources must be in place to finance the personnel costs. But it does mean the leaders hire strategically rather than reactively. The practice of proactive staffing requires deep discipline because it looks past the current and seemingly more urgent “fires” in favor of another entirely different direction or initiative. The thought of robbing the ministry areas poised for the greatest impact by rewarding the chaotic ones with more resources terrifies leaders who practice proactive staffing.

Ultimately a pastor’s approach to staffing, whether reactive or proactive, reveals his theology of staffing. Reactive staffing is built upon an unbiblical, or at least an incomplete, ecclesiology.

A Jethro Rebuke

When I was a 22-year-old student pastor, a godly mentor revealed my faulty theology of staffing by lovingly and graciously confronting me about my reactive approach. I was feverishly attempting to minister to every student, be at every game, know every issue in each student’s life, while simultaneously preparing messages, running details for programs, and planning events. As the ministry grew, things began to feel more and more chaotic. The logical solution, in my mind, was to hire part-time staff members and interns.

This godly mentor confronted me with Jethro-like precision, “What you are doing is not right. You will wear yourself out and the needs will never be met. Before you hire anyone, you need to understand why you would want more staff and the reason must be deeper than helping you with a task list.”

During the original Jethro conversation, found in Exodus 18, Moses was confronted because of his unhealthy approach to ministry. He was feeling the burden and weight of growing responsibilities. Not only was he overwhelmed, but the people were going home unsatisfied. Jethro told Moses to build a leadership system with godly men to distribute the care for all the people through other leaders. He asked Moses to stop doing ministry and prepare others to do ministry.

My God-ordained Jethro conversation resulted in the realization that, essentially, I left the ministry when I became a pastor. In my identity as a follower of Jesus, I must always be a servant—never being above setting up chairs. But in my role as pastor, I am called to prepare others for ministry. And preparing others for ministry means preparing believers in the body to minister to each other, not outsourcing the ministry to relieve pressure.

Often I hear bemoaning from staff teams about the lack of volunteer engagement in their churches. Just as often I have discovered that the problem isn’t with the people in the church but a faulty staffing theology. Hiring staff from a reactionary posture perpetuates an unhealthy dependence on clergy and fosters low levels of volunteerism.

Staffing Theology

The typical approach to ministry in many churches looks like this:

(Pastors) >> Minister >> (People).

Typically pastors or staff persons are hired to minister to people. The number of children increases, so the solution is another staff person. The number of sick people is on the rise; therefore, someone is hired to visit the hospitals. The number of counseling appointments increases; so another part-time staff member is added.

Sadly, the typical approach hampers spiritual growth. People who are gifted by God and called to serve Him are put on the bench as they watch the professional ministers or the newest staff member make the ministry happen. They miss the joy of experiencing Christ serving others through them. And instead of fostering a serving posture among believers, the typical approach to ministry helps develop consumers and moochers rather than participants and contributors. The typical approach hampers the movement of the church. The effectiveness of a local church is greatly slowed as people are taught that the majority of ministry occurs through the “professionals.” The scope of the ministry therefore is limited to the time and abilities of a few people. The typical view is illogical; worse, it is unbiblical.

The biblical approach is found in Ephesians 4:11-12: “And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ.” The biblical approach looks like this:

(Pastors) >> Prepare >> (People) >> Minister >> (Each Other)

Pastors with a biblical theology of staffing possess a deep-seeded biblical conviction that all believers are gifted for ministry, not just the “professionals.” Thus they invite all believers to engage in ministry and view themselves as equippers of the ministers within the church.

The implication for reactive versus proactive staffing is simple, yet profound. A church leader who views staff as an opportunity to equip believers in the church will proactively and strategically hire leaders who can build networks, equip others, and mobilize volunteers. A church leader who views staff as people who “do ministry” will reactively seek to hire leaders when needs urgently or chaotically bubble to the surface.

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Links for Leaders 6/27/14

Carey Nieuwhof lists his top 10 time wasters and top 10 time hacks for leaders. Can you guess what a few of the biggest time wasters are?

Many people want to lead, but few actually do. Many people think they’re leading, but few actually are. Insecurity by its very nature is deceptive. It hides behind many layers of built-up, propped-up self-esteem, working behind the scenes to take us down, to render us irrelevant. In our unguarded, private moments, we know it’s there. Pastor Johnny Hunt lists seven reasons a leader feels insecure. 

If you’re in a leadership role, chances are pretty good that you’ve been overwhelmed at some point. Ron Edmondson shares five steps for the overwhelmed leader. You ought to print these and tape them to your desk.

God cares about work. That job you do for forty to seventy hours a week, God actually cares about it. He made you to do that job. He has called you to your profession, field and industry. Tyler David, pastor at Austin Stone Community Church, writes about a theology of work.

Church leaders can learn from business leaders, says Brian Dodd. Whether you realize it or not, and whether you intend for it to be there or not, there’s probably a pretty sharp divide in your congregation. There are people who are engaged in “full-time ministry” (meaning they’re on your staff) and then there’s the rest of us, who wonder how our 8-to-5 jobs could possibly be contributing to the Kingdom.

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