I was on a coaching call the other day talking with a pastor of a church of around 500 people in worship. This was the largest church he had ever led and he was frustrated with what he considered to be an ineffective staff. So I asked him to describe the problem. Here’s what he said:

“I don’t understand why they don’t do what I want them to do. I give them clear marching orders, but they don’t seem to be able to carry them out. They take two steps forward and one step backward. I’m very frustrated.”

I knew the church had just hired a youth director within the last four months so I asked the pastor to describe how he set out his expectations to the new youth director. His response: “I told her that I wanted her to grow the youth department. I also told her I wanted her to involve in the program as many of the parents as she could.”

“And what has happened?” I asked, already knowing full well why the pastor was frustrated.

“The youth department grew slightly and one or two parents are now involved. But that’s not good enough. I could have done it better with one hand tied behind my back. Besides that, she doesn’t seem to be a team player. She doesn’t seem to fit in with the other staff,” he responded.

Now let’s examine what just happened.

First, the pastor didn’t give the Youth Director clear expectations. “Grow the youth department” is not a clear expectation. Neither is “involve in the program as many parents as you can.” As far as the Youth Director knew she had met the pastor’s expectations. She grew the program and she involved one or two parents. A clear expectation would be “Grow the youth department by 25% over the next twelve months and involve at least 10% of the parents in your program.” Clear expectations need to be measurable as well as time sensitive. That is the only way a lead pastor can hold staff accountable.

It turned out the Youth Director felt as if she was accomplishing everything the pastor had asked her to do. She had no idea the pastor was feeling frustrated with her. If expectations aren’t crystal clear, and feedback isn’t given, accountability is impossible. Failure to set out clear expectations is one of the major mistakes lead pastors make when it comes to leading a staff.

Second, while talking with the youth director, I learned that she had no idea of how her ministry fit into the overall ministry of the church. She often felt as if she was out in left field playing by herself. She had no idea how what she accomplished, or didn’t accomplish, affected the pastor’s goals for the entire church. When I asked her if the pastor had ever shared with her where he wanted the church to go, she said no. When I approached the pastor about this, his response was, “I showed her our mission statement. Shouldn’t that be enough?”

As good as mission statements are, they don’t tell the whole story. What are the values by which the church does ministry? Where does the pastor see the church in five and ten years? How does the pastor see his role in all of this? And most of all, how important is the success of the youth ministry to the overall growth of the church?

Fourth, I asked the pastor if he had shared his frustrations with the staff person and if he had offered any help. His response was this: “When I hire someone I don’t expect to have to hold their hand. They are getting paid to do a job and they should do it.”

Many effective lead pastors don’t understand that most people aren’t like them. Many staff people aren’t as confident as a lead pastor and they need more encouragement and direction – especially if they are new to the church’s culture. Very few staff people in a church of 500 are experienced and skilled enough for the pastor to simply say, “Go do it.” Most need close supervision at first. Some will grow to the point that saying “go and do” is enough. But each staff person has to be treated differently. Some staff people need delegation and some are ready for empowerment.

Delegation is “Here is what I want you to do. Keep me posted at all times.” Empowerment is “Here are the expectations. No need to check in unless you have a problem.” Empowerment is based on one thing – over a period of time the staff person has always done what they said they would do. Empowerment means “I trust you to get the job done.” So with this new youth director, the pastor needed to delegate ministry and stay somewhat close to her until she proved herself. Instead, he abdicated his responsibility.

This pastor violated one of the cardinal rules of leadership – he handed off the youth ministry to the youth director and then abdicated the necessary oversight, encouragement, and help. Leading a staff is a two-way street. By that I mean that lead pastors expect staff to perform, but staff expects the lead pastor to lead them. That means asking the all-important question: “How can I help you succeed?”

So let me summarize the steps to developing an effective staff:

  • This is where we are going. “We are becoming a church of thousands in multiple locations throughout the city.”
  • This is your part in it. “Your effectiveness will not only grow strong youth, but it will also grow strong families.”
  • Here are the expectations I have of you. “You are to increase the youth ministry by 25% over the next twelve months and involve 10% of the parents in the ministry.”
  • Don’t worry about going it alone or being micromanaged. “I will stand behind you to help you meet these expectations.”
  • What do you need from me to make this happen? “I will get you whatever you need to make your ministry a success.”

See how simple it is!

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