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Pastoral Leadership and Church Administration

John Zehring

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Copyright 2017 John Zehring

Pastoral Leadership and Church Administration


Leadership: Wisdom from the ages

Encouraging leaders and staff

Managing time

Priority One: Worship

Making visits

The pastor’s role in fund-raising

Building attendance and participation



Clergy negotiating guide

About the author

Adapted from…


It is more important to do the right thing than to do things right.” Peter Drucker

Baseball player Lou Brock said "No one wants to hear about the labor pains, they just want to see the baby." So it is with pastoral leadership and church administration. People may speak of a caring pastor, an inspired preacher or a prophetic leader. But a great church administrator? Hardly a compliment. The art of administration is to not let it show too much. And yet, undergirding the heights of the caring pastor, inspired preacher or visionary prophetic leader lies the foundation of great administration. The art and skill of administration multiplies many times what a pastoral leader can accomplish.

To what end? Effective church administration and pastoral leadership is other-directed. It is not primarily so that you can get more done but so that you can meet more needs. Is that not your goal as a pastor, to meet the needs of your people? They look to you to guide their spiritual renewal and worship of God, to learn about their faith and how it applies to their daily living and to know what they are going through and to be there for them in time of hurting or need. Your people view you as the leader of their faith community. One woman said “Sometimes it feels like my church is more like my family than my real family.” You are looked up to as the one who shepherds the church family to healthy and vital relationships. You are needed to inspire, challenge, teach, counsel, uplift, strengthen and call to action. You are pastor, priest and prophet. Perhaps your daily mantra is to rise in the morning asking “Who are my people? What are their needs? What do they value? How can I be more effective in meeting their needs?” This, by the way, comes from a mantra taped to the desk of many great business leaders: "Who is my customer? What does my customer value? Am I delivering?" You observe right away that this is a customer-centered philosophy. Pastors benefit from adopting the same centeredness: how well am I meeting what my people value and need?

Their needs can be overwhelming, which is why good administration helps you to put first things first and to choose the right things to emphasize. When I served in higher education, I brought in a consultant to evaluate a department, its mission and its staffing. There was one administrator who was always busy. She worked hard and everyone knew it. Many would say “She is a hard worker.” “Hard worker,” by the way, is sometimes code for someone who works long and hard but not necessarily smart. She was efficient. The consultant’s evaluation of her work: “It is not so much a matter of doing things well but of doing the right things.” No question this administrator did things well. The problem was, she was not tuned in to accomplishing the most important goals of her department’s mission. Good administration helps you to choose to do the right things.

A pastor rose every morning, went to his office in the church building, spent time in devotions and prayer, read emails, sorted through catalogs and mail, talked at length with his staff, viewed his Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, worked on his sermon and was highly available and accessible to any who stopped by the office. Every time the door opened and a visitor entered, he hopped out of his chair to see who it was and tarried to chat with them for a while. Folks would pop into his office to ask if he had a minute to talk, often discussing with him personal challenges. At the end of the day, he felt satisfied that he had helped a number of people. When he got fired, he was dumbfounded. The problem was that his universe of those with whom he connected was the same small band of regulars who populated the church office on a steady basis – perhaps about ten percent of the congregation. He was seeing the same people over and over again. The other ninety percent never saw him. He did not visit. He did not call. He avoided nursing homes and retirement communities like the plague. By the time he got to the hospital, patients had already been released. The expectation of the congregation was that he would be among his people regularly and would visit and be there for them… for all of his people, not just those who popped in on a regular basis. Was he efficient in maintaining office hours? Absolutely, to the nth degree. Was he effective in meeting the needs of his people? No, except for a small contingent. It was not so much a matter of doing things well but of doing the right things. Good administrative skills, including self-evaluation devices, would have helped him choose to do the right things and to know what all of his people value.

In the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25, Jesus told a story about a man preparing to go away on a long journey. He called together three of his managers, explained that he would be away and entrusted to them the management of differing amounts of funds. The one to whom he entrusted five talents managed well and over time made five talents more. The one to whom he entrusted two talents managed well and over time made two talents more. The one to whom he entrusted only one talent did not manage well but dug in the ground and hid his master’s money so that it could sustain no loss. No risk, no gain but no loss. A long time passed and the man returned from his journey. His three managers came to him to report their results. The two and five talent managers were told “Well done, good and faithful managers. You have given me joy. As a result, I will entrust to you even more to manage.” The one talent manager made up excuses for the lack of performance. The man called him lazy. And worse. He got the axe. Good management ultimately leads to good results, joy and the opportunity to be entrusted with more responsibility.

This parable defines stewardship: being entrusted to manage a task which belongs, not to the manager but to the one who entrusts. In the case of pastors, good administration and leadership is for God and for the people to whom God entrusts to the pastor. They were not your people in the past and in the future they will be entrusted to another, but for right now God entrusts them to you and expects that you will manage your ability well to meet their needs.

Administrative skills undergird the ministry of pastors in our fast-changing times. The church of the 21st century is evolving as fast as climate change and perhaps going the same dangerous direction. In the 20th century, denominations lost their attraction and new attenders could care less about the church’s historic ties to a denomination. In the 21st century, droves of people stopped coming to church. Church membership declined and continues to deteriorate. Churches closed. “Spiritual-but-not-religious” became the defining phrase. When polls asked people for their religious preference, “none of the above” rose to first place for the first time in centuries, leading these folks to be known as the “nones.” The polls report that spiritual needs still exist. Those who no longer turn to churches to meet their needs say that many still believe in God, believe in the bible and believe in heaven although they tend not to believe in hell, they do not read the bible and God may be acknowledged but is rarely worshipped or praised. One denomination created a poster which read “It’s true, you really can worship God anywhere. Do you?” Todays “nones” tend not to. Pastors face increasing challenges as membership and resources decline. Doing-more-with-less has already surpassed its breaking point.

How do contemporary pastors learn to excel at pastoral leadership and administration, especially if that is not a skill they already brought with them to seminary? You have studied bible, theology, church history and applied theology. You have received seminary education in homiletics and pastoral care. What about visiting? You may spend a quarter of your time making pastoral visits. Did you take a course in it? Did any course provide even an hour’s guidance on visiting effectively? Did any seminary professor have sufficient hands-on experience to teach it? Much of your ministry will involve recruiting and working with volunteers and church leaders, dealing with conflict, providing vision and a sense of mission to your people, supervising and evaluating staff, and guiding or at least serving as an important resource for annual and capital fund raising. You will coordinate the look, feel and message of communication venues like the website, newsletter, social media and the weekly bulletin. You will set the spiritual tone for the congregation’s strategic planning, membership development and management of finances and assets, including endowment. Talk to many pastors and they will tell you that these are things they did not learn in seminary. Rather, they learned them on the job, from denominational and church workshops, from sharing experiences with their colleagues or from reading and studying books like this.

Or, maybe not at all. All too many church governing boards have met privately, usually away from the church, to discuss what to do about the pastor’s skill deficiency in meeting their expectations. Perhaps the pastor sits in the office too long instead of getting out among the people. Perhaps the pastor becomes absorbed in tending to all the little details about everything, including changing the lightbulbs in fellowship hall – at the expense of neglecting the big things. Perhaps the pastor has worn herself or himself out because of a skill deficiency in managing time, priorities or self-care. Perhaps the pastor works harder, not smarter. Perhaps the pastor simply does not know how to supervise, evaluate and motivate staff… or even to replace them if necessary. Perhaps the pastor is feeling that the decline in membership, participation or giving is her or his fault and that diminishes the joy of ministry. Many of these are my friends and my colleagues. I have heard their pain and felt their hurt and I write this book for you. It is not so much a matter of attitude, losing a sense of calling to ministry, weariness or laziness. Rather, it is a matter of sharpening skills or even gaining new skills where there is a current deficiency. No pastor can be good at everything or own every talent needed for the job but you can become more skilled at leadership and administration if you want to. Is that not the key? If you are motivated to become better at any skill or art, you are half the way to accomplishing your goal.

It is the goal of this volume to help you develop skills and strategies for highly effective ministry so that you may strengthen your ability to meet the needs of others. You will gain insights to improve your work with people, finance and infrastructures. Topics include coordination of worship planning, working with boards, recruiting and supervising volunteers, raising annual and capital funds, management of investments and endowment, crafting church policies, creating and implementing an effective visiting plan, supervising staff, implementing strategies for church growth, promoting the mission and ministry of the church, planning, evaluation and providing vision and hope, even in an era of declining membership and resources. The role of the minister and your personal enjoyment of your vocation includes areas such as dealing with conflict, time management, negotiating for yourself, and taking care of yourself. All of this is the iceberg that lies beneath the surface and which is largely unseen and unknown. And yet, when others speak of you as an effective pastor, these are the skills and the arts which undergird your ministry.

What’s in a word? Leader. Manager. Administrator. Minister. Servant. Volumes have been produced about each, sometimes promoting one at the diminishment of another. To some, leader = good, manager = low level. To some, administrator = paper shuffler. In this volume, let’s assume they are all good and all important. Let us also assume that clergy as leaders are different than other kinds of leaders, like a CEO, president or a boss. In some denominations, the congregation is in charge. In some, the pastor is the CEO. In others, someone outside the church like a bishop may be in charge. And yet, there are leadership arts needed to be practiced by clergy regardless of the church’s polity. Indeed, one of the most important leadership arts is to understand how leadership really happens in your congregation, which is sometimes not obvious at all. Perhaps the highest leadership art is captured by Lao Tzu: A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

As I considered how to put into this volume the principles about which I have taught, written and practiced, I landed upon a format which excites me. Instead of a textbook format covering everything there is to say about every topic, I have mimicked the creative genius of E. B. White in his classic work The Elements of Style (by William Strunk and E. B. White). E. B. White is one of my heroes.

The Elements of Style has been my other bible for decades and that is the book I now imitate as I attempt to share the basic elements of pastoral leadership and church administration. Its goal is not to cover every facet but to provide the basic and classic elements which, I pray, will be helpful to you as you continue to shape your ministry, lead your people and manage for a heightened joy and sense of fulfillment in service to God.


All scriptures in this work come from the New Revised Standard unless otherwise noted.

I have attempted to use inclusive language wherever possible in the words I have written, although I have not altered the author’s reference to God as “he.” I recognize that the Divine has no gender and for many it may be just as appropriate and accurate to acknowledge God as Mother or Father. Whichever pronoun is used, consider God as a loving parent.

Some of this work is adapted from other books or eBooks I have written. My website can be found by searching online for John Zehring books.

John Zehring

Leadership: Wisdom from the ages

Of all professions, clergy are unique when it comes to leadership. In some settings, the pastor guides and leads the congregation in collaboration with church leaders and is looked to for leadership experience, wisdom, direction and initiative in taking the lead. In some settings, particularly those which are congregational by nature, clergy are not so much the leader but function more as a resource to church leaders. In other settings, clergy function like a Chief Executive Officer where they are the topmost leader. The range extends from zero to one hundred.

Most church leaders are volunteer. Ask some pastors and you will hear them say their leaders do not want to do anything… which means it sometimes falls to the pastor to do it all (not healthy) or little gets accomplished. Consequences: high clergy burnout. No leadership development. No teaching lay leaders how to lead. Ulcers… and worry that things will get done correctly. Or, consider a church comprised of Alpha leaders. In their professions, they are in charge. They provide vision, cast the direction, set the mission and take the lead. They are natural leaders. When they come to church, they have little or no interest in being followers. Forget what the bible says about servanthood, their destiny is to take the helm, control the reins and to direct. Their natural leadership instinct continues, they volunteer or are tapped for top church leadership positions because they are seasoned leaders, and they know what they want to do: lead. Just like they do on the job. In an Alpha church, the pastor can be something of an appendage. The pastor is not expected to lead and the pastor’s counsel is rarely sought (not healthy). Church leadership can be functional or dysfunctional, healthy or unhealthy. The best is when pastors and leaders collaborate, with mutual respect for the other’s gifts and talents, to lead the congregation into being the most a church can be. Then, it is a joy for both volunteers and clergy to lead.

Is leadership an art? A science? Are you born a natural leader, with obvious gifts? Or, can you work at developing leadership skills? As you consider your own leadership role, style, gifts and desire to grow as a more effective leader, perhaps the best placed to turn is to the wisdom of the ages: to experienced leaders of many generations for their guidance and recommendations. Their quotes throughout this book guide us to think about excellence in leadership.

Encouraging vision

Shared vision is best. As a pastor, you have a vocabulary and theological framework to describe the vision. You have thought and read considerably about the mission and calling of the church. You have attended or participated in local, statewide and perhaps national forums with distinguished speakers. You talk with your colleagues in ministry about the future of the church, cultural trends and demographic shifts. Indeed, when it comes to thinking about a vision for your church, you inhale and exhale visionary thinking. It is natural, then, for you to take the lead when it comes to casting a vision for the church. Careful. Landmine ahead. Your people likely do not want a top-down casting of vision.

In best cases, the congregation participates in laboring over the thinking and framing of words to describe their church’s mission. They are aware that they or their descendants will be there long after you have passed through their lives, so they are stakeholders. If a congregation is blessed to have people like that who care and a pastor like you with the skills and wisdom to guide them, the church is poised to leap into visioning its future. The key word is collaboration. Even when you know better than they do about how to describe a vision for the church, you are wise to bite your tongue while they engage in lively dialog… guided along the path by your mentoring.

Some of them will not favor ecclesiastical language in the vision statement. Some will be gifted wordsmiths who can offer their talents to edit a polished draft. Others will be gadflies, challenging conventional wisdom and requiring people to defend their positions. Many minds always produce a better outcome. Be an advocate for collaboration. Do not allow a congregation to shift the major responsibility to you. That would forsake the excellent learning opportunity of grappling with process of understanding the vision. And so, you do not provide the vision. Rather, in best cases, you encourage vision. Ideally, your people will consider that the vision emerged by their own hand.

Of course, not all pastors have had the benefit of learning how to help a congregation discover and describe its vision. Some may simply not know what to do or how to proceed. If that is the case, consider the wisdom of the ages and the sages. So much wisdom is distilled into a brief quote. Also, if you sense that it has been a while since your congregation considered its calling, direction and mission, one thing that you can always do is to be a convener. You need not be an expert on helping congregations confront their vision. All you need to do is be the one who takes initiative to raise the question, assemble groups, bring in outside experts or resources (perhaps from your denomination’s staff) and describe that you sense a need. Trust that the ones you assembled will have collective wisdom, guided by you, to move forward productively.

Encouraging vision is more than producing a vision statement or a mission statement. It is an ongoing radiance that glows from you as the congregation’s spiritual leader and chief story-teller. You are the Reminder-in-Chief, reminding the congregation always about its vision, purpose, calling and hope. In bad times, you keep the hope alive. In good times, you radiate the hope for what could be. Key point: People do not want to be a part of a church that is needy. Rather, people want to participate in a church that meets needs. You are the evergreen reminder that your church meets needs. You know it does. Others have said so and you have recruited some to help you tell that story.

When drafting a mission or vision statement, collaborate. Your role is to encourage the vision. When speaking about your church, tell how your church meets needs. Your role is to tell the story and radiate the hope.

Consider the wisdom of the ages about vision:

Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Proverbs 29:18

“’Where shall I begin?’ He asked. ‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said, ‘and stop when you get to the end.’”

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

A prime function of the leader is to keep hope alive.”

John Gardner

A leader is a dealer in hope.”

Napoleon Bonaparte

Where there is no vision, there is no hope.”

George Washington Carver

People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.”

John Maxwell

"A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be."

Rosalynn Carter

The greatest leaders mobilize others by coalescing people around a shared vision.”

Ken Blanchard

The leader has to be practical and a realist yet must talk the language of the visionary and the idealist.”

Eric Hoffer

It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”

Nelson Mandela

You can't move so fast that you try to change the mores faster than people can accept it. That doesn't mean you do nothing, but it means that you do the things that need to be done according to priority.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”

Reverend Theodore Hesburgh

A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

"If you have an idea, you have to believe in yourself or no one else will."

Sarah Michelle Gellar

All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership.”

John Kenneth Galbraith

If the highest aim of a captain were to preserve his ship, he would keep it in port forever.” Thomas Aquinas

Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.”

Publilius Syrus

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

Peter Drucker

Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”

Stephen Covey

Encouraging service

Jesus said “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant... For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve...” (Mark 10:43b, 45a). Volunteers in your church want to serve. Service gives meaning to their lives. Helping others or serving God in even the smallest of ways is a part of their avocation, their calling. The busiest people will give time, wisdom, energy and resources to the church because it becomes their commitment. Tap into their authentic and sincere desire to serve. Encourage people to serve. Invite them. Ask them. People will often accept a volunteer assignment simply because they were asked. They feel needed. Well used. Their lives count for something. Never underestimate the altruistic motivation of your members to be of service. Throughout your preaching and teaching, frame service to others as the counterpoint to worship. Worship and service are woven into the fabric of one another so that what is wrought in the one is woven into the fabric of the other. Thank those who serve often and well. Recognize service. Consider once a year having part of a worship service dedicated to installing leaders and members of boards and committees and inviting the congregation to offer their prayerful blessing. Put names in church communication venues – who doesn’t enjoy seeing his or her name mentioned. One pastor throughout the year would invite each board to come forward so people could see the members, thank them and offer a prayer for their work. For some, church is their key outlet for their service and for them to give something back to the world. They come not only to receive but to give. Celebrate, encourage and recognize service.

When people are serving, life is no longer meaningless.”

John Gardner

Our greatness has always come from people who expect nothing and take nothing for granted - folks who work hard for what they have, then reach back and help others after them.”

Michelle Obama

There is a loftier ambition than merely to stand high in the world. It is to stoop down and lift humankind a little higher.”

Henry Van Dyke

The rare individual who unselfishly tries to serve others has an enormous advantage. He has little competition.”

Dale Carnegie

Recruit the busiest people to serve. The other kind have no time.”


I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know; the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”

Albert Schweitzer

Whatever you have received more than others – in health, in talents, in ability, in success, in a pleasant childhood, in harmonious conditions of home life – all this you must not take to yourself as a matter of course. In gratitude for your good fortune, you must render some sacrifice of your own life for another life.”

Albert Schweitzer

A human being is happiest and most successful when dedicated to a cause outside his own individual, selfish satisfaction.”

Benjamin Spock

To have builded oneself into the structure of undying institutions, to have aided in the development of these priceless instruments of civilization, is to have lived, not in vain, but to have lived in perpetuity.”

Elihu Root

The greatest thing this generation can do is to lay a few stepping stones for the next generation.”

Charles F. Kettering

Encouraging a Positive Attitude

The bible is a can-do book. The bible believes that attitude and belief generates power. Consider:

"With God all things are possible." Matthew 19 (26)

"...all things are possible to the one who believes." Mark 9 (23)

"With God nothing shall be impossible." Luke 1 (37)

"If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed you can say to this mountain move, and nothing shall be impossible to you." Matthew 17 (20)

If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31b)

"Yea, by thee I can crush a troop; and by my God I can leap over a wall." (Psalm 18:29)

"I can do all things in him who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13)

You will preach about this bible’s message but you will also need to internalize it as a cornerstone to your pastoral leadership. You need a can-do attitude in the face of no-can-do leaders. You know the type:

We tried that once and it didn’t work.”

Let me play Devil’s Advocate here…”

We don’t have the money…”

We keep tapping the same people for leadership over and over…”

Our church is not growing”

Giving has plateaued or decreased.”

Churches are in decline.”

If there is a key ingredient to success to any kind of leadership, it is attitude. As you reflect upon how you will radiate a can-do attitude, consider some wisdom of the ages:

God can do anything, you know – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!”

Ephesians 3:20, The Message

For they can conquer who believe they can.”


We believe that the power behind us is greater than the task ahead.”

Sign over a church door

A failure is not always a mistake. It may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying.”

B. F. Skinner

We learned about honesty and integrity - that the truth matters... that you don't take shortcuts or play by your own set of rules... and success doesn't count unless you earn it fair and square.”

Michelle Obama

We will either find a way, or make one.”


"Always aim high, work hard, and care deeply about what you believe in. And, when you stumble, keep faith. And, when you're knocked down, get right back up and never listen to anyone who says you can't or shouldn't go on."

Hillary Clinton

If you think you can or can’t, you are right.”

Henry Ford

Let no feeling of discouragement prey upon you, and in the end you are sure to succeed.”

Abraham Lincoln

Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

All things come to him who waits – provided he knows what he is waiting for.”

Woodrow Wilson

Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

Steve Jobs

Fear of making a mistake

Fear of making a mistake can spiral into a paralysis of inaction. Clergy are highly visible. Consequently, they receive a steady dose of positive and negative reactions. Many will tell you what they like about you and your work. Some, perhaps thinking they are helping you, tell you what they do not like. Or worse, they delight in reporting what others do not like about you: “People are saying…” You can receive ten positive comments with a smile but then one negative comment causes you to go home and worry about it all week. The positive reinforcement inspires us to do better, to do more and to rise to our highest potential. The negative can stop us in our tracks, eat away at our sense of well-being, cause us to worry and caution us to proceed with restraint for fear of making a mistake. A pastor was sharing with a friend, who was a business executive, about a mistake she made. The executive noted that in her business, leaders made piles of mistakes and their hope was to be right 51% of the time. If you discover that negative incentives are prompting you to restrain from taking risks for fear of making mistakes, consider some wisdom of the ages:

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'”

Eleanor Roosevelt

Success is not measured by the heights one attains, but by the obstacles one overcomes in its attainment.”

Booker T. Washington

Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must be first overcome.”

Samuel Johnson

He who deliberates fully before taking a step will spend his entire life on one leg.”

Chinese Proverb

A half way leap will prove as mortal as no leap at all.”

Lewis Mumford

The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity. The Optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.”


The nation will find it very hard to look up to the leaders who are keeping their ears to the ground.”

Sir Winston Churchill

Solving problems

If a member of your congregation came to you with a personal problem and asked for your advice, what is the worst thing you could do? If you studied Pastoral Care and Counseling in seminary, you know the answer: do not give advice. The best thing you could do is to help the person to help herself or himself. Same with organizational life. Members may turn to you as the answer person. It is flattering to be sought for your wisdom, guidance and counsel. Being asked tempts us to tell what we think, how we recommend proceeding, what we have learned from our experiences, share what we have seen that works for others and to attempt an answer to the question being asked about solving a problem. A more helpful response is to educate the one raising the problem to learn about identifying options, considering consequences, weighing alternatives and to gain skill in problem solving and decision-making strategies. Help them contemplate the process involved in solving problems more than just giving an answer. In a group setting, you have learned to appreciate that the group mind is often superior to any single mind, so you coordinate conversation for the group sharing of ideas, suggestions, possibilities, costs and benefits. This is part of the equipping ministry: you are equipping others to become more effective problem solvers. That takes longer than giving advice but has far reaching results and better equips them to face future problem solving issues. As you equip and educate your people for effective problem-solving, consider some wisdom of the ages:

In every enterprise consider where you would come out.”

Publius Syrus

Leaders think and talk about the solutions. Followers think and talk about the problems.”

Brian Tracy

Thoughts are but dreams till their effects be tried.”


You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world's problems at once but don't ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.”

Michelle Obama

A problem well stated is a problem half solved.”

Charles Kettering

When one door closes, another opens.”

Alexander Graham Bell

Average managers are concerned with methods, opinions, precedents. Good managers are concerned with solving problems.”

  1. Marshall Jones

Saying “thank you”

Who does appreciate being thanked? Err in favor of over-thanking. Say it, text it, email it and write it in thank you notes. Churches do not always thank well. Perhaps they take for granted that people serve, volunteer and give generously of their time, talent and treasure. You as pastor are the thanker-in-chief. Begin every meeting thanking participants. Thank your staff for one thing every day. Model the saying of “thank you” to your congregation.

Psychologist William James said "The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated."

Mark Twain wrote “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”

Proverbs (15:23) reminds “To make an apt answer is a joy to anyone, and a word in season, how good it is!” and "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver." (Proverbs 25:11)

As you aspire to appreciate others and to raise another up, consider a few tips:

Focus upon the other more than upon yourself. Make that your gift. Give of your own need to be listened to, so that you might listen to another. Give of your own need to talk. Focus upon them.

Keep on the lookout for ways to pay a good word. Years ago there was an advice columnist… “Dear Abby” … who advised parents to say something nice to their teenagers every day, even if the best thing they can say is “I like the way your arms are attached to your shoulders.” Keep watch for behavior to use as the basis of a good word.

A good word in season is well-placed. The more specific, the better. Generalize compliments are not taken as seriously as one which references a specific act or accomplishment. Turkish proverb reminds that “One specific is worth a hundred generalities.”

Pass on a good word you heard spoken by another, which is a double compliment.

Begin with those nearest and dearest… those you care about most. They care more than anyone what you think.

Send a handwritten note. How many note cards do you get? Notes are remembered. A high school teacher scanned the local newspaper and especially the school paper with an eye towards accomplishments of her students. Then, off goes a brief note, sometimes only a sentence or two, with a compliment. She noticed. Isn't that what often makes our accomplishments worthwhile -- to be noticed by someone special?

Cultivate a storehouse of quick complimentary phrases, like:

Take a bow…

Nice going…

Well done…

Way to go…

You were impressive by how you…

or… congratulations.

A high school teacher conducted an experiment: He sent each member of his class a personal note that said, simply, "Congratulations!" 4 out of 5 of the students responded by saying, "Thank you... how did you know?"

Use the delayed reaction approach. It's rarely too late to offer a good word. In fact, sometimes it feels better if you can point to an accomplishment a few weeks or months ago and say, “I remember how you…” The fact that you offer a good word AND that you remembered adds to the impact.

Become a good thanker and be reminded of the wisdom of the ages:

There is as much greatness of mind in acknowledging a good turn, as in doing it.”


When you drink the water, remember the spring.”

Chinese Proverb

Who does not thank for little will not thank for much.”

Estonian Proverb

I have yet to find the person, however exalted his or her station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.”

Charles Schwab

Trying to please everyone

In most churches, three to five percent of people will not like the pastor… even before he or she opens his or her mouth. In scrappy or squabbling congregations, it could be eight percent. In highly dysfunctional churches, it could reach ten percent. Do the math: in a congregation of 200 members, five percent is ten people who do not like you.

Do the math again: in the worst case, nine out of ten people like you, value your ministry, appreciate your leadership of worship and even cherish you as their pastor. In any other endeavor in life, 9 out of 10 is a great batting average. All-star baseball players are thrilled to hit 1 out of 3. And yet, there may be an expectation among clergy… a hope… that in an organization that rests upon the foundation of love and forgiveness, people will be basically nice, kind, good, graceful and that most if not all will like you. Wrong. For a myriad of reasons and most of them not personal to you, there are a handful of people who simply will not like you.

In 1997 G. Lloyd Rediger named a phenomenon that occurs in churches with his book Clergy Killers: Guidance for Pastors and Congregations under Attack. He noted that some types of conflict exist in all congregations and are normal but there are some types of conflict which are abnormal and abusive. Within some congregations there are personalities who seek to unsettle the relationship between minister and congregation. It only takes two or three clergy killers, especially when they have a lot of time on their hands, to undermine the authority, ministry and effectiveness of the pastor. They are so disruptive that no pastor is able to maintain spiritual leadership for long. And yet ministers often endure the stresses of these dysfunctional relationships for months, or even years, before eventually being forced out or giving up. The process is often shrouded in secrecy because no one, pastor or members, wants to acknowledge the failure of a relationship designed to be a sign to the world of mutual love and support. Recent research indicates that more than a quarter of ministers said they had at one time been forced to leave their jobs due to personal attacks and criticism from a small faction of their congregations. It happens, it hurts and it only takes a couple to ruin the pastor’s day… month… year. And so…

Recognize that there will always be a handful of people, even in loving and caring congregations, who will not like you. If you are batting better than nine out of ten, focus on the 90%. Instead of allowing the others to inflict pain, take joy from the people who love you. It doesn’t come naturally. If nine out of ten worshippers leave the service and rave to you about your sermon and then one comes along and says she does not agree with a word you said, what are you going to be thinking about all day long? It takes a re-framing of the mind to recognize that you are engaged in an environment that contains conflict, whether or not they admit it, and that you will tower above the petty. Play to your strengths and realize that you can’t fix every bad attitude about you. Let your professional and personal growth include growing a thick skin.

Get yourself into a support group of colleagues who meet regularly to share strategies for dealing with best practices as well as with resolving conflict and dealing with difficult people. Do something for yourself outside of work – a hobby or passion – to allow time for refreshment and renewal. Take courses and workshops on conflict resolution to learn, because there are strategies for you to help yourself and guide you to live with the few whom you cannot please no matter what you do. Engage regularly with a Pastor-Parish Relations Committee where you can share with trusted elders the negative comments or behavior from clergy killers and seek their advice and support.

As you deal with the reality that the church is a living and breathing organism made up of fallible humans who will possess a wide range of opinions about everything – including you – stand back and remind yourself that you are a professional and that all professionals must deal with dissatisfied clients from time to time.

I may not know the secret to success but I know the secret to certain failure and that is trying to please everybody.”

Academy Award winner

When they go low, we go high.”

Michelle Obama

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

Encouraging leaders and staff

Tend to your leaders. Build a team with your staff.


Pastors are not the same as the head of a business, agency, law firm, hospital, museum or any other organization. They are, at best, servant-leaders. They are servants, called and paid to minister to the congregation. And they are leaders, but of a different sort – often leading from behind, encouraging and equipping others to lead and serving as an enthusiastic advocate for collaboration. The best leadership is collaborative. However, never underestimate the constant need to tend to your leaders. This may be the number one mistake clergy can make: to assume that once a nominating process has recruited leaders and they have been voted into office, you are merely along for the ride in some sort of parallel function. You are well-served to awaken each day and repeat to yourself “I am responsible for tending to my leaders.” That is a reminder that it falls upon you to initiate rather than to react.

BUILD RELATIONSHIPS WITH YOUR LEADERS. Meet with them regularly. Meet privately with your top three or four leaders once a month. Take them to lunch (make sure you get a decent entertainment budget line for just this purpose). Invite them to meet with you in your home, over light refreshments. Meet with them in their place of employment or at their home. Take a walk with them or go to a coffee shop. It is the out-of-office times that build relationships, establish rapport, create espirit-de corps, help you to know one another outside of professional contact, deepen a trust in each other, allow you to find common interests and provide a time to dream together about what could be. Feel no need to get down to business. That will come naturally through conversation. They key is for you to maintain ongoing relationships with your leaders. Imagine, for example, that you are dealing with a staff concern but do not want to make a formal issue out of it. Over lunch with a top leader it is not so difficult to say “Linda, I would like to ask your advice about a situation…” Or, suppose you have an idea for a new program or service but need to gather some support: “Dave, I’d like to get your opinion about an idea to see what you think…” Even if no conversation about the church arises in your contact with top leaders, you have made a deposit in the relationship’s account simply by reaching out to meet with them, build the relationship further and to extend your availability to them. On a less frequent basis, meet with the next level of leaders – chairs of boards and committees. Visit or meet with them once a year or more frequently if advantageous. If possible, take them to lunch. For many, it is an honor to be invited by the pastor to lunch and most will cherish and remember the opportunity. Invite every leader to lunch at least once a year.

COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR LEADERS. Keep each other in the loop. In most cases, the more personal your communication, the more effective it will be. A phone call is better than an email or text. An email or text is better than a written memo. Keep it as personal as it needs to be. Keep it as brief as it needs to be. Insofar as possible, keep it as simple as it needs to be. How would you like to receive a call saying the caller has five issues to discuss with you? Better to have more frequent and briefer contact about fewer items to discuss. Try to think of a brief but somewhat important reason to call leaders once a week just to stay in touch: “Good morning, Sue. I wanted to check-in with you about an item in this week’s worship service…” It need not be a long conversation, but provides an excuse for a voice-to-voice contact which may or may not build upon the opportunity: “While I have you on the phone, Pastor, I want to let you know about…” After a while, leaders become accustomed to the Pastor keeping them informed and they may return the compliment by checking in with you and keeping you updated. Think up ways to email your key leaders about upcoming information about which they might appreciate knowing. It is true that often the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. For example, an email to the Stewardship Committee with a copy to the Religious Education Committee informing them that a unit of religious education will be devoted to the theme of stewardship might bring both leaders together to collaborate. In all your ongoing contact with leaders, try to practice the three-to-one rule: three positives to every negative. This can be challenging for pastors because often they deal with problems, issues, challenges, difficult people or needs. But all negatives from the pastor becomes weary for volunteer leaders. If all they get from you is negative, it will not be long before they see your name on their caller ID and think to themselves “Oh no, here we go again.” Strive for the opposite. Attempt to make at least 75% of your contacts about opportunities, ideas, dreams, possibilities, resources, positive information and prospects of the church meeting the needs of more people. Remind yourself to take initiative to communicate with your leaders.

COLLABORATE WITH YOUR LEADERS. There is a saying in business that the person who controls the agenda controls the meeting. It is every leader’s right and responsibility to craft an agenda for the meeting and it will backfire if a pastor attempts to wrestle that responsibility away from them. There is nothing wrong, however, with a call to the leader a week or two before the meeting to ask if you could review the agenda together. Most leaders will appreciate your initiative, welcome your input and will come to expect that each time. They should view it as a collaboration… a team effort with you and the leader on the same team to fulfil the mission of the board or committee. Your initiative can also insure that you have an opportunity as an agenda item to make a Pastor’s Report. Does that sound odd? Yet some boards or committees neglect it unless it is requested by the pastor. Newer leaders do not have experience enough to know to include it. Perhaps you would like to introduce an idea, dream or service. To insure fuller discussion, propose it as an agenda item rather than as part of your Pastor’s Report. Label everything “DRAFT” so it does not appear like you have your mind made up and are seeking rubber stamp approval. Begin conversations with “I’d like to think out loud with you to see what you would think about starting a…” As you collaborate with leaders, invite them to help you to avoid land mines. It can save some grief to ask a leader “George, I’m not sure whether to bring this up at the meeting or not. What is your advice?” Err in favor of asking rather than telling. When you talk with your leaders, reaffirm your desire for a shared, collaborative leadership. Make that your mantra so that leaders come to say of you “Our pastor participates and shares in leadership with us.”

EDUCATE YOUR LEADERS. President John F. Kennedy said “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” Take initiative to help your people develop leadership skills. Paul wrote “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-12). This is the equipping ministry… to equip, educate and empower your leaders to carry out their work, which is the building up of the body of Christ. You are well-positioned to remind your leaders of their very purpose… the big goal, the unifying work of building up the body of Christ. It can be so easy for Deacons to get caught up on the proper protocol for Holy Communion, for the Trustees to get caught up in whether or not to cut down a tree, for the Christian Education Committee to get caught up in refreshments for an event, for the Board of Missions to get caught up in funding the same organizations year after year that all can lose sight of the key objective for their congregation. Equip them to understand and carry out their highest calling. Consider holding a Leader’s Retreat – perhaps at your house – at the beginning of the program year to talk, dream and hope about the most your church can be and to bond with one another. Refer leaders to programs offered by your denomination for moderators, trustees, deacons, confirmation leaders, youth advisors, treasures or educators. Lobby for your congregation to pay the way for your leaders to attend. One church held an “All Boards Meeting” twice a year where every board member met together for a program on leadership and then they broke up into their individual board meetings to conduct the business of the church. The program on leadership sometimes invited an outside speaker to lead and other times recruited a panel of seasoned church leaders to share tips and inspiration on leadership. In all cases, the Pastor served as the MC, leading off with a prayer and introductory remarks on the theme of working together, shared leadership, good communication with one another, and then gave a charge to the boards to remember the church’s key purpose and their role in meeting that purpose.

SHARE YOUR MINISTRY WITH LEADERS. Allow your leaders and members to participate in worship and educational programs. A Green Team which focused upon environmental stewardship was given an entire service to their leadership on earth day, with the pastor doing only the welcome, announcements and benediction. They prepared for months while also gaining an appreciation for what goes into creating an entire worship service. The Open and Affirming Committee which focused upon a warm hospitality and an extravagant welcome to GLBTQ people led another worship service. Out of their effort grew additional attention to the quality of their congregation’s welcome to visitors. On Thanksgiving Sunday, instead of the pastor preaching a traditional sermon on gratitude, the pastor invited three individuals to speak for about five minutes each on their gratitude. Instead of the usual voices which people were familiar with, the pastor selected people that others seldom heard from or knew about to tell their own story. The worship service was one of the high points of the year. Look for ways to share your ministry with others and your gracious inclusion will be noticed and appreciated.


Build a team with your staff. Consider a basketball team. Five superstar players who are out for themselves, hog the ball and do not play as a team can lose to a less able team. Five average players who pass the ball, communicate with one another, assist one another and play as a united team can beat much more capable players who do not play as a team. You are the coach who builds the teamwork. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Earn your staff’s respect so they will want to be a part of your team and will trust that you desire that which is in their best interest.

BUILD A STAFF WHICH IS OPPORTUNITY-CENTERED RATHER THAN PROBLEM-CENTERED. Worst case is a staff which belabors procedures, details, techniques and what people think. Good case is a staff which solves problems. Best case is a staff which dreams dreams and pursues opportunities. If, for example, your staff is united in their desire to provide opportunities for worshippers to encounter the divine, staff conversations revolve around enhancing that goal. If, for example, your staff cherishes an educational program which is centered upon role modeling the church’s values and beliefs, staff conversations shift from curriculum issues to how to be a resources to church educators as you also provide them with training and guidance. If, for example, your staff hears the congregations’ longing for a variety of music and musical instruments and presentations to meet a wide range of tastes, the music, education, support staff and pastoral staff collaborate to gather information about members’ interests and to plan for opportunities to meet those needs. If, for example, the staff and leaders feel that the church meets people’s spiritual needs and your church would like to meet the needs of more people, planning focuses upon how to reach out to new and more people in the community. Although you as pastor are the coach, do not feel alone in crafting an opportunity-centered staff. Rather, engage all the staff in conversations. Ask them “What are the opportunities we would like to address next in our time ahead?” If a staff member continues to drag the conversation back to problems, obstacles or procedures, gently remind the staff of the mutually agreed upon goal of emphasizing opportunities.

PLAN TOGETHER. Failing to plan is planning to fail. The pastor’s role is not to be the planner but to coordinate the group’s planning. Many minds are better than one when it comes to planning. Group planning is often preceded by the pastor meeting individually with staff members to bat ideas around, dream out loud, think about possibilities, anticipate challenges and consider how to foster collaboration. If you do this with each staff member on a regular basis, they will all know how you operate and come to anticipate that they too will have their individual time with you to discuss their area of interest. Then, when the staff meets, they will recognize that some advance thinking and conversation has already transpired to lay a foundation. Plant seeds of ideas and allow the staff to help them to bloom. Oliver Wendell Holmes said “Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.” Be careful of the bobby trap where a pastor invites the staff to help plan but then takes over so that the staff feels like the pastor has already made up his or her mind. If you invite group planning, welcome it and assimilate it into the whole. Ben Franklin wrote “When rejecting the ideas of another, make sure you reject only the idea and not the person.” As leader of the staff, hold high the rights of all to disagree with an idea without it impeding any relationship. Freedom to differ pays big dividends.

MENTOR YOUR STAFF. BE STAFF-CENTERED RATHER THAN PASTOR-CENTERED. Michelle Obama said “All of us are mentors. You're mentors right here and now. And one of the things I've always done throughout my life, I have always found that person, that group of people that I was going to reach my hand out and help bring them along with me.” Envision yourself as a mentor to the women and men on your staff, even more so than as a supervisor or boss. Encourage each to grow to his or her fullest potential. Earn their respect. Educate them but not by lecture or didactic teaching. A root of the word “to educate” means “to lead.” Lead staff to learn more about their professional areas of interest and to grow in their professions. Applaud their successes. Positive reinforcement is ten times more effective than negative. Find something about which to compliment them on a regular basis. Let them know you appreciate them as professionals and as people. Sydney J. Harris said “People want to be appreciated, not impressed. They want to be regarded as human beings, not as mere sounding boards for other people’s egos. They want to be treated as an end in themselves, not as a means toward the gratification of another’s vanity.” You are growing and developing in your own profession. As Michelle Obama advised, reach out your hand and help bring your staff along with you.

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