Last year at the Exponential Conference I shared a few things I learned about leadership development while planting epikos church. I described five things I did well and five things I didn’t do so well. Here are some lessons about leadership development that I learned through mistakes.
1. Gave titles too quickly
In church planting, especially urban church planting, there is limited money. My solution to getting help was offering titles in lieu of paycheck. In the short term this was a great idea, but it backfired. Having a title without the proper training, gifts or time set that person up for expectations he or she couldn’t meet. This frustrated not only me, but also people within the church. Congregants would ask, “Why isn’t that pastor contacting me back or responding pastorally?” I’d have to explain to them that he’s actually a full-time teacher during the day and this is new territory for him. It wasn’t fair to the person or the congregation. Over time I learned that removing responsibilities is much easier than removing titles.
2. Stunted growth by trying to develop all leaders the same way
People learn in different ways. Some need to read books or watch videos, and others just need to try something and fail at it until they figure it out. There are those who desire one-on-one coaching when it comes to development, and others who learn in team settings. You’ll have people who want a lot of direction and feedback, while others thrive in the freedom of taking their own initiative. Pay attention to how your staff members learn--it will only benefit both parties.
3. Removed responsibilities and tasks too quickly
When you begin letting other people help with tasks, it’s hard not to get frustrated if they don’t do it exactly how you want it done, or you think you can do it faster. Often it’s easier and faster just to do it yourself. While this is true, it will eventually limit the church’s growth because there is only so much you can do. You will become the bottleneck if you can’t empower and trust others. Due to the fact that I was driven and fast paced, I grabbed the wheel too quickly. Taking tasks, projects and responsibilities back communicates to the person you don’t trust her and find her incapable. It also unintentionally creates a culture of expectation on their part that if things aren’t going perfectly, you’ll swoop in and save her. Taking things back too quickly creates a culture of dependence instead of empowerment.
4. I expected too much
I noticed this especially with my volunteers. We may think they have the same drive and passion as we do for the church, but that’s unlikely. As a church planter or lead pastor, God has given you the vision, and as the leader, you probably spend every waking moment thinking about the church. You’ve literally given your life to see this church established and to healthily grow. Volunteers have limited time. They work full days and have households to take care of. Also take into consideration that people have different capacities, drives and life circumstances. Are they married? Do they have kids? How old are they? What’s their day job? I remember getting upset when people would leave town during the holidays to spend time with family. Don’t they love Jesus enough to help with the Christmas Eve service? A red flag for me is when results become more important than the person. When the task becomes more important than the person, it leaves leaders and volunteers feeling devalued and used. Devalued volunteers leave quickly, and devalued staff stick around longer but will jump ship at the first opportunity.
5. I withheld grace, thanks and celebration
It wasn’t natural for me to thank or celebrate someone if they met the expectation--that was the expectation after all. This was just an odd discovery, and I’ve learned it’s actually common in certain leadership personality profiles. If people didn’t fully meet my expectation and I thanked them, I thought they might misunderstand this as an affirmation that what they did was how I wanted it done in the future. I was also (subconsciously) afraid that if they were celebrated, that somehow it would demotivate them to work harder. On the other hand, if people made mistakes I was very comfortable with letting them know, hoping it would motivate them to do better next time. As you can imagine, I burned through a lot of leaders and volunteers in the early years. There was this culture of fear, perfectionism and negativism. What I realized is that grace, thanks and celebration are almost always motivators to work harder, faster and better. It’s OK to speak the truth in love and strive for excellence, but doing so steeped in an environment of appreciation makes a world of difference.
Danny Parmelee is pastor/planter of epikos church, with three campuses in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He planted with Converge. He is now transitioning to Vice President of Church Planting for Converge MidAmerica.
If you want more to learn more, check out what we will be talking about at Exponential 2017.