by Steve Bezner
“With young ministry staff, raised expectations without increased involvement is unrealistic.”—Vance Pitman, Lead Pastor, Hope Church
I am blessed to pastor a thriving, increasingly racially diverse congregation in the midst of a rapidly growing city. As our church grows, however, I find myself leaning more and more on our pastoral staff—many of whom are relatively young in the ministry. If we are going to succeed in our mission to build disciples in our city, I anticipate I will depend even more upon them in the future. Consequently, our church needs these individuals to perform at a level beyond their experience.
Over the last two years, we have worked to create a culture designed to help our staff members grow. Here are a few of the insights we have gleaned along the way:
1. Recognize Your Responsibility
I once heard Jon Tyson say, “The mark of a church is the effectiveness of the disciples it makes.” We talk of making disciples all the time at our church, and I’ve charged our staff to make disciples in each of their ministries. But if I expect our staff to make disciples, I must recognize my responsibility to disciple my staff. They will only be effective disciple makers if I am modeling the sort of discipleship I expect them to do.
I sometimes visit with Senior Pastors who lament the loss of a staff member who they had “finally trained.” I understand their frustrations, but I believe they have the wrong perspective. Negative pastors seek to manipulate, control, or stifle the growth of their staff. Senior Pastors are in a unique position to multiply effective leaders for the church universal. Most of my staff will either a) retire with me, or b) eventually serve in another ministry. If I believe in the concept of multiplying disciples for the ministry OF our church, I must also remember and believe that our church is not the epicenter of the Kingdom. Instead, I must also be raising up and multiplying leaders to be used by the universal church for Kingdom purposes all over the world. In other words, I need to create a staff experience where I am consciously mentoring and discipling leaders who can eventually lead ministries much larger than the ones they currently steward. By doing so, I give the greatest gift to our church of capable leaders, and I give the greatest gift to the Kingdom by raising up leaders who can eventually be used by God to do great things elsewhere.
As I once heard it put: Work to develop your staff members so that others will provide them ample opportunity to leave, but treat them in such a way that they will want to stay. If they choose to leave a place where they are loved and nurtured, it’s likely the Lord is calling them to do something great for Him. You are a shepherd, not simply of your congregation, but also (perhaps even more so) of your staff. Love them well.
2. Create One-on-One Encounters
My staff desires individual time with their pastor to discuss personal, professional, and spiritual matters. I don’t think that’s particularly unique; I believe most pastoral team members want to have a close relationship with their pastor. One of the best things we’ve done to create a healthy culture of mentorship is to appoint times monthly where I have extended conversations with our staff members.
Our typical meetings are casual. We usually grab a cup of coffee or a soda, and I ask some pointed questions:
- How is your walk with the Lord?
- How is your marriage?
- How are your kids?
- How are things in your ministry?
- What do you need from me to perform better?
- How can I pray for you?
If they answer the questions honestly, and if I am faithful to chase down any red flags I sense in that time, then the staff members are almost guaranteed to increase in effectiveness, and our relationship grows closer. In my experience, a close relational tie to the staff member gives me the ability to lead them more effectively. I cannot overstate the importance of these monthly, individual meetings.
3. Set Individual Goals Together
One tweak we are in the process of making is intentional goal-setting as a staff. We recently made our annual ministry goals together and shared them with one another in staff meeting. We each made personal, professional, and ministry goals that were specific and measurable and then asked for feedback from the entire staff.
I shared this with a church member who has thirty years of corporate leadership experience. He encouraged me to make it a bit more personal and collaborative by using one of my individual meetings with each staff member to set their ministry goals together. In other words, my Children’s Pastor and I would sit down and talk through what the upcoming ministry year ought to look like and create ministry and professional goals that highlight our vision for the year. At the conclusion of that meeting, I would write those goals out and ask him to sign them.
This accomplishes at least two improvements. First, it sets expectations. After such a goal-setting session, my staff members know exactly what they need to accomplish in the coming year. Second, it creates an opportunity for accountability. After six months when we have our individual time, I can look back at the goals and see how the staff member is doing. If objectives have shifted, we can adjust accordingly. If progress is being made, I can praise. If things aren’t working smoothly, we can address it easily because we agreed upon expectations together.
4. Foster Team Growth
In addition to these individual meetings, we have a time after our weekly staff meetings where we build team by reading a book together. Currently we are reading two or three chapters each week from Gospel-Centered Discipleship’s resource entitled Make, Mature, Multiply. A different staff member is responsible for discussion that week, and he or she will take the lead on explaining takeaways from the chapter. It’s been a great way for us to share ideas and to stay sharp. Additionally, we look at books, articles, or chapters that are from the culture at large and share a staff devotional and prayer time in our weekly staff meeting. Each of those creates a culture of transparency and teamwork where each member encourages the others to grow.
We will also spend a few days each year at a conference as a team. The conference itself is useful for sharing ideas and professional growth, but, honestly, the most useful time are the evening meals, card games, stories, laughter, and adventure that inevitably comes from traveling together. At the conclusion of our evenings, we will worship and pray together as a staff. Pastors rarely have the opportunity to be spiritually vulnerable and transparent. This time is, simply put, invaluable. If you can confess and pray over one another, you will be amazed at the bond it will create among your staff. If you have the resources to do it, I strongly recommend your staff retreating together for a few days each year.
5. Personal Accountability
Finally, if you want to encourage your staff to grow spiritually and in their leadership capacity, you must commit to your own spiritual and leadership growth. By allowing close relational proximity, your staff will see your flaws clearly—and they will see more than your leadership flaws. They will see your spiritual failings.
Such closeness is necessary and beautiful, but it demands that the Senior Pastor seeks the Lord in prayer and Word more faithfully than perhaps ever before. If your staff members sense that you are simply leading from the hip, or if they sense that you are not authentically living the truths you wax poetically about in meeting rooms, they will lose trust in you. And without trust, there can be no effective ministry.
Press into the Lord, and the overflow of your heart will be the life of discipleship you hope to cultivate in those the Lord has placed into your care.
Steve Bezner is Senior Pastor of Houston Northwest Church. He holds degrees from Hardin-Simmons University (B.A., Bible; M.A., Religion) and Baylor University (Ph.D., Religion). He is married to Joy and has two sons: Ben and Andrew. Follow him on Twitter: @bezner.