How Many People Can One Pastor Supervise?

Friday, July 14th, 2017

Only the largest congregations have the resources to hire full-time supervisors. The average congregation employs a “head of staff” who also preaches, teaches, provides pastoral care, leads mission and ministry, and guides the work of the board. Given this breadth of responsibility, how many employees can a pastor effectively supervise? What happens when a supervisor has too many direct reports?

Supervision is performance management. The effective supervisor manages a simple, but challenging communication loop between the employee and the organization. She sets clear expectations for each employee and provides ongoing feedback about whether those expectations have been satisfied.

Let’s examine the components of effective performance management and determine the time it takes to supervise well. Only then can we speculate about the number of employees that a pastor can manage.

Setting Expectations: The primary tool used to set employee expectations is the job description. The job description outlines the core duties and tasks associated with the role. These are called the essential functions. The job description also outlines the skills, abilities and attributes that we expect an employee to demonstrate as they engage their duties. These are referred to as the core competencies.

In addition to defining essential functions and core competencies, a supervisor helps to create two or three performance goals for each employee. The goals shape the employee’s focus in the current performance cycle. The performance goals link the employee’s efforts with the immediate priorities of the congregation. For example, congregation A is focused this year on getting 50% of its active members engaged in small groups. Every member of the staff team has a performance goal aligning their energy with this congregational goal.

Setting expectations requires time beyond creating a job description and performance goals. The congregation operates in a dynamic environment. Employees need regular check-ins around shifting expectations. Should this still be my priority? Given limited time, should I focus primarily on this or that?

The ongoing clarification of expectations happens best in one-on-one meetings with our employees. We bring emerging priorities to their attention. They check assumptions about priorities with us and they bring concerns about things that stand in the way of their performance. We help shape their decision making so they can satisfy our shared objectives.

Providing Feedback: Accountability in employment relationships happens through conversation. We hold employees accountable by reminding them of expectations and discussing how their performance measures up. Did the employee meet, exceed, or fail to satisfy our expectations this past week, month and year? We affirm their good work or we ask them to step up their performance and close the gap.

Fairness and justice require that we provide feedback frequently, not storing up resentments and disappointments for the annual performance review. We give employees opportunities to correct their performance and satisfy our expectations on an ongoing basis.

Evaluating the Whole: Effective supervision also requires a periodic evaluation of the whole person in the whole role. Typically, a full performance evaluation takes place once a year.

Throughout the year we focus on individual components of the job as they arise. Annually, we pause to consider how the role is evolving, how the employee is shaping the role, whether the employee has been neglecting aspects of the job, whether a salary adjustment is appropriate because the role has significantly expanded.

The supervisor must take primary responsibility for leading the annual employment appraisal. Others, including the employee, may provide input. A personnel committee or human resource function may assist with the synthesis of feedback, but the supervisor must shape and deliver the message.

The Role of the Staff Meeting

Regular staff meetings are an important component of performance management. Staff meetings serve several important supervisory functions.

Staff meetings help with mission alignment. The clergy leader can regularly ground the team in the larger vision and mission of the congregation and emphasize the core values of the congregation.

Staff meetings help to develop community and resolve conflicts. They provide a venue for sharing information, so that team members share a common base of knowledge about what is happening in the life of the congregation.

During staff meetings, we work on the oversight of joint work. The supervisor helps the team negotiate shared boundaries of work, identify overlapping responsibilities, and coordinate efforts that involve multiple team members.

Staff meetings are also effective for developing the culture of the team. We establish acceptable group norms and challenge unhelpful group behaviors. We proactively shape attitudes.

The staff meeting is NOT an appropriate venue for individual performance management. We should not use team meetings to set individual expectations, establish individual priorities or offer corrective feedback. These things are best accomplished in individual conversations.

Intentional One-on-Ones

Ineffective supervisors rely only on group meetings and an “open door” policy for supervisory work. They trust employees to ask for help when needed. This shifts the burden for expectation setting and feedback to the employee.

Unless we are intentional about one-on-one supervisory sessions, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Our best supervisory energy goes into our most problematic employees. Effective employees rarely interrupt our work to seek guidance. They get the least amount of our attention when, in fact, they should get our best energy.

In a strong performance-management culture, every member of the team has a regularly scheduled and honored appointment with their supervisor. For most employees, this one-on-one conversation happens weekly or biweekly. Employees may require more or less frequent meetings depending on the nature of the role, the length of time the employee has been in the position, and the extent to which the employee and supervisor share a common mindset. Effective employees value the time and energy invested in oversight of their work.

Protecting these appointed one-on-one meetings shows respect for the employee and their contributions.

Managing Your Limits

How many supervisory relationships can you maintain and still tend the rest of your responsibilities? It depends. You need to have enough time with each employee to guide the full communication cycle described above. If you can’t sustain the necessary schedule of individual and group meetings—and get the rest of your job done—you have too many direct reports.

In general, pastors cannot effectively supervise more than five employees. Some pastors should have fewer direct reports because of the needs of those employees and the other demands of the pastor’s role. A pastor with five direct reports will generally have to spend 25 to 30 percent of their time on supervisory related activities. Senior pastors of large congregations must limit their direct supervisory relationships to a smaller number.

Supervision doesn’t just happen while you are busy doing other things. Effective performance management requires intentionality and time. Only you can determine whether there is enough time in your day for effective supervision. If not, it’s time to develop other supervisors on the team.


This post originally appeared at on 07/03/2017

Photo Credit: “Organization Chart”, © 2011 Luc GaloppinFlickr | CC-BY | via Wylio


Pay and Performance: What’s the Connection?

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

money-peoplePayroll expense is the largest line item in the budget of most congregations. When the budget is tight we often turn to payroll expense to balance the budget because we simply don’t have many viable options.

However, we have to ask ourselves if this annual payroll dance around budget time harms our employees. How does the recurring budget dialogue about pay increases (or lack thereof) impact our employment relationships? Does the debate hurt employee motivation or the ability to hold employees accountable for good performance?

Money matters in the relationship that we have with our employees, but perhaps not in the ways you assume.

Does Money Motivate?

Research shows that money does not motivate in employment situations, except when the tasks of the job are purely mechanical.  Contrary to longstanding organizational belief, linking pay increases to performance has negligible impact on motivation, and in some instances actually reduces motivation. (TED Talk: Dan Pink on The Puzzle of Motivation

The absence of adequate salary may keep a person from accepting a job and it may cause enough dissatisfaction for an employee to leave a job, particularly when the employee feels that he is being unfairly treated. However, if an employee finds their level of pay basically satisfactory, money does not lead to higher levels of motivation.

Rather, motivation is produced by managing the more intrinsic side of the employment situation: greater autonomy, the mastery of an important skill, the ability to work in service to a larger good, etc.

Does Money Help to Create Performance Accountability?

Accountability is the obligation that an employee has to account for his or her performance, or lack thereof.  Does pay help to strengthen accountability in our relationships with employees? It does to the extent that pay maintains utility in the employment relationship.  

Employment relationships are basically utilitarian in nature; the exchange between employer and employee must prove useful to both parties. The employee offers something that the congregation values; a set of skills, and the time and energy to apply those skills to tasks and processes that the congregation deems to be important. In return, the congregation offers the employee something that she values: pay, benefits, opportunities for growth and advancement, the opportunity to work for a greater good. This is utility.

As long as both partners in the employment relationship find utility in the relationship, accountability around performance remains strong. An employee is responsive to an accountable conversation in a relationship with utility. If the employer doesn’t provide what the employee needs, or vice versa, the relationship loses its utility. When this happens, accountability is diminished.

When an employee values money in the employment relationship, then decisions about pay impact accountability. If money is not particularly important in the employee’s relationship with the congregation, pay does not foster accountability.

What Matters Most about Money?

So, money doesn’t really enhance motivation, and it may or may not impact performance accountability. In what ways does money really matter in shaping our employment relationships?

Fairness Matters: Pay matters as an indicator of fairness in the employment relationship. Creating pay structures so that co-workers perceive fairness in the workplace is important. When employees feel unfairly treated in matters of pay they will take action to restore fairness. The actions they take may not be helpful to the congregation.

According to behavioral psychologist, J. Stacy Adams, employees seek to maintain equity between the inputs that they bring to a job (time, effort, skill, loyalty, commitment) and the outcomes that they receive from it (recognition, responsibility, sense of achievement, praise, pay).

Employees continually evaluate their perceived inputs and outcomes against the inputs and outcomes of other employees. When an employee feels that the outcomes they receive from the job don’t match their inputs, or when they perceive that others have a better balance of inputs/outcomes, the employee will seek to restore equity.

To restore equity, the employee may seek to renegotiate the terms of employment. If this fails, they may reduce their energy or loyalty. They may also seek to negatively influence the inputs and outcomes of their fellow employees.

Justice Matters: As religious organizations we frequently advocate for those who are marginalized or taken advantage of by society. To maintain integrity, we must be certain that our employment practices are “just” as well.

We are not being just when we fail to pay a livable wage. It is not just to pay employees below what the market says they are worth. We promote injustice when, in an effort to avoid rising health care costs, we break full time positions into part time positions that don’t carry benefits. In these situations, our walk does not match our talk and our behavior demoralizes our employees.

Appreciation Matters: Most employees equate pay increases with appreciation. “If you are providing me with a pay increase, you must value the work that I do. When you fail to give me a pay increase you are devaluing me.”

We must handle our annual conversation about payroll increases in such a way that our employees feel appreciated. When we can’t rely on money to communicate our appreciation, we need to be authentic and creative with other appreciative techniques.

Employees are not likely to feel appreciated if they learn about their pending pay raise in a group setting, or from someone other than their supervisor. They don’t feel valued when everyone receives the same increase regardless of effort. They don’t feel appreciated when the payroll increase is the first thing slashed during the budget dialogues.

The relationship between pay and performance is complicated. This year, as you make decisions about staff payroll increases, don’t forget the conditions that actually impact ongoing performance: accountability, fairness, justice and appreciation.

She Looked So Good…On Paper

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

Nancy is failing in her new role as the Director of Education.  The hiring committee carefully chose Nancy from a pool of six candidates.  Everyone on the team was delighted with Nancy as their candidate of choice. She was articulate, well-educated and had experience as the principal of a private school. On paper and in person she looked like a great fit for the job.

Now, only twelve weeks into her employment relationship it is apparent that Nancy isn’t going to succeed. She has wonderful rapport with students and their families, but she struggles with the coordination of volunteers, the management of projects, and overseeing a budget.  She makes administrative tasks much more difficult than they need to be, adding layers of complexity to tasks that are simple and straight forward.

In retrospect the team realizes they were taken in by Nancy’s charisma and credentials.  They made numerous assumptions about her previous organizational experience. They assumed that someone who had served as a principal would have outstanding administrative skill.  They assumed that she must know her way around church volunteerism because she grew up as a pastor’s kid.

How did the team miss Nancy’s shortcomings?  They suffered from the halo effect. The halo effect is our tendency to think someone is good in many areas because they have impressed us in one area.

In church environments we often hire based on gut reaction. We make employment decisions based on how the candidate makes us feel during the interview, instead of designing a careful process to ensure that the candidate can do what needs to be done. We pay attention to pseudo cues like appearance, confidence, and charisma, instead of attending to the actual competencies required in the role.

Here are four important practices that you can employ to avoid this troublesome interview trap:


  • Get clear about the requirements of the role: Before you begin the interview process develop a set of essential functions and core competencies that describe the role. Essential functions are the duties and tasks required. They address the “what” component of the job.  What am I be expected to do in order to satisfy your basic expectations?  For example, one essential function of the Education Director might be: Responsible for the recruitment, training and coordination of volunteer teaching teams.



Additionally, create a list of core competencies that describe the person needed. Core competencies address the “who” and “how” components of the role. For example: Attention to Detail, Time Management, Volunteer Management, Team Orientation, Delegation, etc. It isn’t enough to simply create a list of competency labels. Each competency must be defined by the specific behaviors that comprise that label.  For example:

Delegation: Clearly and comfortably delegates both routine and important tasks and decisions; appropriately shares authority and responsibility; creates accountability; sets clear objectives and measures; monitors process, progress and results; builds feedback loops into the work; trusts people to perform their own work.

  1. Focus on behavior, not personality traits: Candidates applying for a job are likely to use all kinds of labels to describe themselves: outgoing, proficient, effective, team-player, creative etc. Your job as an interviewer is to get beyond the usage of labels to determine if the candidate has actually mastered the skills and abilities.

Behavioral based interviewing is an effective technique for evaluating competencies. In a behavioral-based interview you ask the candidate to describe how he actually did behave in a particular past situation, rather than how he might behave in the future. Behavioral based interviewing rests on the premise that past performance is the best predictor of future success.


In this form of interview, you ask an initial question and then follow up with several probing questions. The probing questions ask the candidate for details so that the candidate cannot theorize, fabricate, or generalize responses.


For example, if you are trying to assess a candidate’s delegation skills you might say, “Tell me about a time when you assigned a piece of work to someone and they failed to complete the assigned task.” Additional Prompts: When and how did you follow up? What kind of consequences did the person experience when they failed to complete the task? Did the task eventually get done; how? In what ways did you stay involved? What would you have done differently in retrospect?


  1. Watch them do part of the work: As part of the interview process you can create scenarios of real work for the candidate to perform. For example, a potential choir director can be asked to lead a choir rehearsal. A youth leader can be asked to facilitate a weekly youth gathering. A maintenance worker can be asked to evaluate a particular space to point out what needs attention. An administrator can be asked to observe and evaluate a staff meeting.



  • Check employment reference earlier in the process: Too often, we wait to do reference checks until we have selected our final candidate. At that point we have already made our decision and we don’t want to be dissuaded from making the hire. We are seeking confirmation that the wonderful person we have settled upon is real, and we do not want to be disappointed. So, we end up asking questions that seek to confirm the halo. Instead, consider doing reference checks when there are still multiple candidates being considered. This way you will ask tougher questions and be open to more critical feedback.



It is easy to be trapped by the halo effect when hiring people for your team. We are all easily drawn in by appearance, charisma and good interviewing skills. Getting clear about expectations, focusing on behaviors, watching the candidate perform the work, and checking references earlier, are just a few of the ways that you can become more intentional in your hiring practices.


Working Around Incompetence on the Team

Monday, May 11th, 2015

We aspire to build staff teams of competent, motivated individuals who work in dogged pursuit of a clearly articulated vision. What most of us have are teams with some outstanding staff and some not so outstanding staff, working side by side towards a vision that seems clear, on some days.

Most of you are grappling with some incompetence on the team you inherited, or incompetence you managed to hire yourself.  You spend your time accordingly.  Sometimes, it is abundantly clear that a member of the team just isn’t able or willing to adequately fill the needs of the role, but the political dynamics of the situation don’t allow for making a transition now.  How do you manage in this environment?

Maintain Clarity of Expectations: Effective performance management of the team requires clarity in three areas, for each staff role: the essential functions (duties & tasks of the job), the core competencies (behavioral attributes, skills & abilities required), and the performance goals (area of focus for the current year).

Oftentimes, as a supervisor comes to terms with the incompetence of a team member, the supervisor abandons performance expectations, settling for whatever the employee delivers.  The supervisor grows weary of communicating failed expectations over and over. So, he scales back the expectations. Each time that expectations are lowered, the underperforming staff member reduces effort and performance degenerates even further.

Working with incompetence on the staff requires vigilance around role expectations. If we cut the underperformer slack, we teach the larger staff system that excellence is not important. We set up an unhealthy dynamic where high-functioning staff burn out as they over-compensate for the underperformer. We lose sight of effective staffing structures because we keep re-assigning responsibilities to newer hires that are brought in to pick up the slack.

Maintaining clarity of expectations requires a commitment to ongoing communication about what the role requires, and communication about the gap we observe between actual performance and the ideal. Maintaining clarity of expectations means that the under-performing team member bears the discomfort of their own under-performance. We don’t create a comfortable environment for them to settle into by displacing responsibility elsewhere.

Be Honest with Yourself: It is easy to tell yourself that it isn’t in the best interest of the congregation to move the incompetent member off of the team right now.  You imagine the level of conflict that such a move might produce. You exaggerate the level of social support that the person has in your congregation.  You empathize with the drama the employee is experiencing in his personal life. You nurture all of your worst fears about how badly this could unfold. You tell yourself that people of faith are invested in redemption and that you are giving this person one more chance.

If you are honest about the situation, you may have to acknowledge your own conflict avoidance.  You may have to admit that you haven’t moved on the situation because you simply haven’t engaged the hard work of expectation setting, and you haven’t invested the necessary time in performance feedback. You may have to admit that this season isn’t any better or worse than a future time for addressing the problem; in fact, to allow the situation to continue will only make things worse over the long term.

Have a Long-Term Plan: Now may not be the right time to move the under-performer off of the team. What conditions would be evident if it was the right time?  How can you create those conditions?

Recently I spoke with a pastor who vowed to me that she would not pass her incompetent employee onto the next senior pastor. So I asked the pastor, “If you are ultimately going to deal with this, why not now, so that you can enjoy the benefit of the improved environment, along with the next senior pastor?”  She didn’t have a response.

If we decide to live with continued incompetence, we should have a clear picture of the conditions we are trying to produce that will ultimately birth a healthier team. For example, a pastor decides that she needs eighteen months to bring a new staff member fully onboard, so that the new leader can step into the gap as we let the problem staff member go.  Or, a pastor targets a six-month period of time to help lay leadership become more aware of the performance gap, and to build a cadre of lay leadership supporters before moving the incompetent team member out. The pastor should have a specific action plan in mind to justify inaction now.

Having a long-term plan also means creating a five year staffing plan, so that each time you make a staffing change you work towards a long-term solution that resembles your dream team.  Don’t structure around incompetence.  In other words, don’t create new positions to shore up an under-performer. When you eventually move an under-performer off of your team, you don’t want to be saddled with a patchwork of positions that no longer make sense.  Design roles and hire new people only because they move you towards your long term vision of team health.

You may not have the staff team of your dreams, but there are concrete steps that you can take to eventually live into that dream.  It requires persistence and hard work. You can move in the right direction by maintaining clear expectations, being honest with yourself, and having a long term plan.

Bridging the Staff Team Divide

Saturday, February 14th, 2015

4929686241_05a2e2dc5cWe are one team! Except that the administrative team often feels like a lesser partner in ministry. We do our best to honor and incorporate all voices in communication and decision-making, but somehow the administrative members of the team feel undervalued and marginalized.  Are we doing something wrong? Or, is this just the nature of staff team life in congregations?

Ministry is our reason for being. The ministry of the congregation is orchestrated by our program staff.  The administrative staff is an invaluable partner in the work, but not central to the work in the same way as the program staff. The program staff would be crippled without the admin team, but the admin team without a program team is meaningless.

Tension between the two parts of the staff team will always exist on some level. However, there are several factors that aggravate the marginalization of the admin team. These factors can be managed and mitigated to create a more unified team experience.

Missional Ownership

Clergy leaders have the strongest tie to the missional identity of the congregation.  The tie is so strong that we often speak of ordained employees as being “called” to the ministry of the church.  We expect our clergy leaders to model ownership of the mission for the rest of the congregation. Non-ordained program employees are also expected to demonstrate deep resonance with the mission of the congregation. The programs they lead are meant to embody and strengthen missional identity.

Administrative employees have different levels of buy-in to our mission. Some are members of the congregation and may demonstrate strong missional ownership.  Sometimes we intentionally hire non-members for key administrative positions, because we believe that non-members are able to keep better boundaries around money and membership issues.  They may think of themselves only as employees who exist to get a job done. They may feel no personal ownership of the mission of the congregation.

I believe that every member of the staff team, regardless of church membership status, needs to demonstrate a base level of missional buy-in if they want to be on the team.  They do not have to agree with our theology, but they do have to understand and honor our polity and our basic reason for existence. No staff member can be allowed to exempt him or herself from the vision casting or mission clarification work of the team.

Is it fair and appropriate to expect that non-member employees participate in the worship or devotional life of the staff team? Prayer is a foundational part of who we are. To remove one’s self from the spiritual life of the team creates division within the team. It is incumbent upon leaders to design devotional experiences that appropriately reflect the full spirituality of the team.  Many teams accomplish this by rotating responsibility for devotional leadership, so that every spiritual perspective on the team finds voice.

Sunday Morning Participation

The Sunday morning experience is the bread and butter of a Christian congregation.  Those who participate in leadership on Sunday morning build their work week around that day.  They have a lived experience of the whole church each and every week, an experience that is both energizing and exhausting.  The work week that culminates in Sunday morning is fundamentally different from a work week that is lived from Monday through Friday.

Those in the office during the week encounter key players in the church, but don’t share in the whole experience of the congregation.  The rhythm of the week is different, often culminating in deadlines that peak mid-to late week.  They don’t share in the energy buzz or the exhaustion of the Sunday morning experience. They rarely see the congregation fully gathered.

We can minimize this difference by being more respectful about how we impose our work on team members functioning with a different work cycle. We can also create meaningful opportunities to invite administrative employees into the Sunday morning experience, so that they can experience our work cycle and the energy of the church fully gathered. To do this we need to respect admin time off, paying employees or offering compensatory time off when they are asked to be present on a weekend.

Accountability for Hours Worked

The administrative team, by design, is composed of people who are good at organizational detail. Tracking and balancing are a natural part of who they are and what they are expected to do.  Additionally, many of our admin workers are non-exempt employees.  This means that they must be paid overtime if they work in excess of a forty hour work week.  Consequently, they are required to prepare time cards, track the hours that they work, and get approval to work over-time.

Most program team members are exempt employees.  This means that they do not get paid overtime for working more than a standard work week. Accordingly, exempt employees do not need to track hours worked and are not required to keep time cards. Many full time program staff work consistently in excess of forty hours per week, and so we grant them latitude to schedule their work as it makes sense. They may take off in the afternoon or come in late in the morning to compensate for evenings spent in church meetings.

This difference in accountability for time and attendance creates tension. We can manage the tension by being respectful of the differing practices around work hours.  I believe that it helps the tension in the office when every member of the team is expected to report time worked, regardless of exempt or non-exempt status. It doesn’t restrict the flexibility of program staff to ask for a weekly accounting of hours worked. It does create a culture of accountability and actually encourages program staff to be more thoughtful about self-care and about building intentional periods of non-work into their week.

We can also be more careful about honoring the tracking systems that help us know who is in and out of the building. An administrative employee is frustrated by the need to track down a program staff employee, who is nowhere to be found and non-responsive to email or voicemail messages.

The division that many congregations experience between program and administrative employees does not need to exist. In many congregations the divide is exaggerated by unexplored assumptions about mission ownership, accountability for time, and a lack of regard for differences in work cycles. Simple respectful practices can help us to bridge the great divide.

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

Friday, December 5th, 2014

On airplanes, adults are told to put their mask on before helping others so they will be fully conscious. In churches, adults need to attend to their own spiritual consciousness before they can ably assist children and youth with fmary kay oxygen maskaith formation.

Unfortunately, the way in which we structure our staff teams reinforces semi-conscious adult faith formation. We follow the time honored traditions of staffing faith formation in children and youth first.  Then we staff the needs of the organization.  We give left-over oxygen to our adults. Can we really “train up a child in the way he should go”, when the quality of adult faith formation is so far behind the quality of our children and youth programs?

What follows is a description of the traditional order in which staff teams are assembled. As money becomes available in the church budget, staff positions are added in response to felt need. As we make these additions we often misdiagnose the real need.  Can you spot the misguided assumptions in the following progression?

After we fund the position of senior minister and musical director, we turn our attention to the youth ministry of the church.  We take whatever funding we can muster and we hire the brightest, shiniest, most fun-loving youthful leader that we can get out hands on.  Why? Well of course, our teenagers are our future.  If we don’t handle them correctly in their teen years, we will lose them forever. They don’t want to spend time with their parents as teachers. We need an outside professional.

After the youth have been attended to, we focus on raising a budget that will support the hire of a children’s director. Why? Well, if we don’t attract families with young children, we won’t have anyone to feed into our spectacular youth program.  And besides, our parents are exhausted and can’t be expected to invest in the coordination of a children’s program.  A staff member who will devote themselves to the spiritual nurture of our children seems like a no-brainer.

Now we become painfully aware of the unmet needs among the most senior members of our community. They are wondering why no one cares enough to invest in them. Our pastor is overwhelmed by the health care crisis of congregants and all of the unplanned funerals. So, we find a retired pastor who can visit the aged and infirm, help with funerals and tend grief.  After all, pastoral care is the primary spiritual formation need of the senior adult community, right?

Next, somebody notices that we are becoming too internally focused.  There is a excessive navel gazing and we determine that it is time to get outwardly focused, develop more of a social justice platform, and organize our disjointed missional efforts.  A director of outreach and mission satisfies the itch.

This is followed by the realization that adult congregants are misinformed and disengaged.  We hire a communications director and then a membership director, and so on and so on, until finally the senior minister throws up his hands.  “I can’t manage all of these people!” We really need someone on the program team who can supervise others. And by the way, we really should have someone on staff that takes responsibility for adult spiritual formation.

So, we hire a senior associate minister, put them in charge of supervising children and youth programming, ask them to help with preaching and pastoral care, and use their remaining available time to design a program of adult faith formation.

What message do we send when every felt need of the church is staffed before we tend to the faith formation of adults? We are reinforcing a number of mistaken assumptions that work against the health of our congregations.

Our Mistaken Assumptions:

Faith formation is about knowledge: Once you have the knowledge, you are done cookin’. We talk about the spiritual life as a journey, but we act as if it were a destination.  For all practical purposes, faith formation ends with confirmation in most of our congregations.  We assume that adults have learned what they need to know, and that daily faith walking is about re-applying the basic principles learned in childhood.

In fact, we know that many of our adults have not had basic faith training. They don’t know the Scriptures, they aren’t comfortable with prayer, and they don’t understand discernment or the basic spiritual disciplines.  And yet we choose to staff every other need of the church before we staff adult faith formation.

Faith is taught, not caught. When our congregations emphasize children and youth over adult ministry, we end up encouraging parents to drop their kids off and take some time off. We teach them, by our own example, that faith formation is handled by the professionals and that their job is to get the kids to the professionals for instruction.

In fact, research shows that authentic faith is caught, not taught. What we teach at church is only secondary to the lived experience at home.  Why don’t we choose to shore up the adults in the lives of our children, with their own vital faith experience?

We don’t need to hire staff for adult faith formation, because this is what the senior minister does. Most senior pastors would love to facilitate faith formation among adults.  If they are honest, they simply don’t have the time.  About a third of the senior pastor’s time goes into orchestrating worship and preaching.  About a third goes into the oversight of staff and general administration with boards and committees. The remaining third has to cover pastoral care, social justice, community involvement, and everything else.  That doesn’t leave much time for adult faith formation.

Why staff it, when they won’t come? Adult Sunday school has all but disappeared from many congregations. We have tried all kinds of replacement gimmicks and approaches.  And we are met with continued apathy. Why invest in a losing battle until someone figures out what the new education medium is for adults?

In fact, the “spiritual by not religious movement” is finding expression everywhere but in the church.  People make a regular commitment to tune into the OWN network on Sunday mornings to watch Oprah Winfrey interview great spiritual thinkers and writers. They find yoga studios that offer meditation experience. They join book clubs to read the spiritual classics. Others are finding a way, why aren’t we?

What if we reversed our typical staffing patterns and invested first in the spiritual formation of adults in our community? Might that make a difference in the overall health of the congregation, and in the spiritual well-being of our children and youth?

How to Develop Wise Leaders

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

Consider the last slate of candidates nominated for leadership in your congregation. What attributes were sought when recruiting this group? Perhaps you looked for potential leaders who were: invested, good decision-makers, strategic, prayerful, respected, effective communicators, with strong personal boundaries.

How did the actual list of nominees compare to your desired list of attributes? Did you find the attributes you were seeking, or did you default to: loyal, breathing, and willing?2 beautiful owls

Congregations struggle with a perpetual gap between the leaders they need and the pool of talent that they actually have. There are a host of circumstances to blame. However, if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we haven’t developed our leadership base. We rely on other institutions to cultivate leadership talent in our members, which we try to harvest. And, we haven’t clearly identified or developed the most important attribute for congregational leadership: Wisdom.

Wisdom, in the biblical tradition, stands for many things ranging from the technical skill of artisans, to the art of governance. It incorporates simple cleverness, with the practical skill of coping with life, and the pursuit of ethical conduct. Wisdom is seen as derived from God, as belonging to God, as associated with creation, and as identified with the Torah or law.

Congregations are not meant to operate like other for-profit, or not-for –profit entities. We value the effectiveness and efficiency associated with institutional life, but we need to be led in ways that reflect our faith based origins and in ways that foster covenantal community. We seek leaders that can nurture institutional health, while tending to the soul of the institution and its constituents, and while listening for the guidance of Spirit. We seek wisdom.

Can wisdom be taught? Or, is wisdom something that certain people are born to, or gifted with, independent of learned skills and experience?

Two Schools of Thought

Let’s examine two viewpoints on the development of wisdom in leaders; one secular and one spiritual.

Yale psychology professor, Robert Sternberg, promotes the Balanced Theory of Wisdom to explain how wisdom can be intentionally developed.

Sternberg explains that wisdom seeks the common good. Wisdom realizes that the common good may be better for some than for others. A wise leader can negotiate the differences among individuals and groups, much like Solomon negotiated between two mothers who each claimed the same baby. Sternberg claims that we can nurture wisdom by developing the following capacities in our leaders.

• Basic intelligence (practical problem solving and verbal abilities)

• Factual & procedural knowledge

• Intrapersonal awareness (biases, skills, orientations, values)

• Extrapersonal awareness (goals, political agendas and interests of others)

• Balance and integration of competing interests

• Clarity about goals, along with the ability to recognize competing goals and to negotiate unifying goals

• Balancing short and long-term interests and needs

• Naming and clarifying core values, and using values to negotiate competing interests

• Shaping and adapting the congregation to changes in the environment

A more spiritual approach to developing wisdom is described by Cynthia Bourgeault, in “The Wisdom Way of Knowing”.

Bourgeault asserts that wisdom is a way of knowing that goes beyond one’s mind, one’s rational understanding and embraces the whole of a person: mind (intellectual center), heart (emotional center) and body (moving center).

This viewpoint sees wisdom as a gift of God, a gift that can be invited through prayerfulness. When a person is poised, balanced and alert in all three centers, a shift in consciousness happens. We become present, fully occupying the now in which we find ourselves. A state of presence is required to move into wisdom. The wisdom way of knowing stresses the fluidity of movement between God consciousness and present-centeredness. The Wisdom way of knowing requires:

• Surrender (which opens the heart directly to the more subtle realms of spiritual wisdom and energy)

• Seeing with the eye of the heart, and

• Connecting to the Divine Source

Tips for Cultivating Wisdom

We do not need to choose between secular and spiritual approaches to developing wisdom. We must nurture both. Our churches and synagogues need wise leaders with practical organizational wisdom and deep soulfulness.
Here are several practices to consider adding to your leadership development toolbox:

• Create the expectation that every member of your leadership team will have a personal prayer discipline. Create a culture in which leaders hold one another accountable for that discipline, by encouraging spiritual direction, check-ins and testimony.

• Introduce prayer practices into your meeting format, practices that extend beyond opening and closing prayers. Teach your leaders how to engage in guided meditation, lectio-divina, appreciative inquiry, theological biblical reflection, and consolation vs. desolation. Help your leaders become more comfortable spending time in silence.

• Instruct your leaders in the basics of governance and polity that will guide their work. But also ground them in the core values, strategic priorities and goals of the congregation.

• Help new leaders articulate their own personal core values and priorities and examine the overlap or conflict between their personal goals and the goals of the congregation.

• Define an intentional decision making/discernment process that includes these elements:

o Framing the issue,
o Naming guiding principles and core values that apply to the decision,
o Weighing the competing interests at work in the decision; clarifying who stands to gain or lose what,
o Distinguishing between the long and short term implications of a decision,
o Naming the adaptive work at the core of the issue, and
o Inviting silence and prayerful reflection in the midst of group decision making.

In this era of congregational life, where change is constant and adaptive leadership is needed, we must cultivate different leadership skills. We can’t simply assume that the leadership skills that our congregants have learned in other settings will translate well into the church. We need to be about the work of cultivating wisdom and developing more soulful leadership.

If-Then Plans

Friday, April 25th, 2014

The problem with most planning is that people simply don’t do what they have declared they want to do. There is a goal setting technique that claims a 300% increase in the likelihood of goal attainment. It is called the if-then plan.


Heidi Grant Halvorson, the associate director of Columbia Business School’s Motivation Science Center, wrote a featured article on the topic in the current Harvard Business Review, and in a recent issue of Fast Company.

Let’s look at how it works, and explore how we might work with it in congregational contexts.

If-then planning works by building contingencies into our neurological wiring. If ‘x’ (a condition) occurs, then I will engage in ‘y’ (a specific action). This very specific form of planning improves individual and group performance by sharpening focus and by prompting members to carry out agreed upon activities in a timely manner. It’s about creating instant new habits.

The problem with most goal setting is that the goals are stated very broadly. Many goal statements are not much more than a statement of intention.

    We will improve communication within our staff team.

The difficulty with a broad statement of intent is that people rarely know what they are actually supposed to do to impact the condition, and even if they do know, they often don’t deliver.

If-then planning creates an explicit link between our intention and a desired behavior that is likely to produce the intended state. It creates a clear trigger for action.

If we have reached the end of a program staff meeting, then we will stop to consider what information from our meeting needs to be communicated to the admin staff, and how that information will be delivered.

• If it is Tuesday afternoon at 4 pm, then we will have an all staff gathering around the water cooler, where our head of staff will provide a 5 minute update on the decisions made in the Executive Team Meeting that impact the rest of us.

The language may feel artificial and forced, but the tasks and the time frames are clear, which makes it more likely that people will engage the behaviors.

Halvorson recommends a four step process to create your if-then trigger statements.

1. Establish the broad goal.

    The work schedule of all staff will be transparent, so that those with a legitimate need to find staff are able to reach them.

2. Break the goal down into specific, concrete subgoals.

    a. Each staff member communicates their expected calendar of meetings/events for the upcoming week.

    b. Staff members communicate when they are on campus and off campus.

    c. Staff members working off campus communicate their availability for contact when off campus, and their expected time of return.

3. Identify detailed actions-and who, what, when and where-for reaching each subgoal.

    a. Each staff member updates a shared online calendar on Tuesday morning, indicating their expected schedule of meeting & activities, both on and off campus, for the next seven days.

    b. The receptionist oversees a color coded magnetic board that hangs next to the church office door. Each staff member moves their magnet to indicate their presence or absence from the building.

    c. Each staff member completes a pink slip when they go off campus during the work day. The slip is handed to the receptionist. The slip indicates whether the staff member will be reachable during their absence from the building, how they may be contacted if needed, and when they are expected to return.

4. Create if-then plans that trigger the actions.

    a. If it is Tuesday morning at 9:00 A.M., then staff will update their online calendar for the upcoming week.

    b. If a staff member is leaving the building, then they will come to the office on their way out of the building, to move their magnet to “out” on the board, and to turn a pink slip into the receptionist.

    c. If a staff member is entering the building, then they will first stop by the office to move their magnet to “in” on the board.

That’s the essence of an if-then plan. Give it a try on one of your tough behavioral challenges and let me know how it works for you!

Myth Busters-Supervision

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Our unstated and unexamined assumptions about supervision prevent us from being more effective in the role of supervisor.

Myth #1: If I could just get the right people on my team, I wouldn’t have to spend so much time supervising them.

The Truth: If you lead a congregation with more than 400 people in average weekend attendance, then you will be spending at least one third of your time on the task of supervision. You have a choice. You can either spend that time squelching the chaos caused by your under-performer, or you can spend your time actively setting up a performance management system to align the collective energies of the entire staff team. Either way, you WILL spend about a third of your time on supervision.

Supervision is performance management, not people management. Supervision is NOT about making people do the work that you want them to do. Supervision IS about aligning the resources and energy of each staff member in pursuit of a common goal or mission. This means that you should be spending your time setting expectations, providing ongoing feedback, and aligning the energies of all your workers, not simply cajoling your under-performers to step it up. Our best workers should receive at least as much attention, if not more attention, than our problem employees.

Good performance management takes time. It’s not something that you “get out of the way” so that you can get back to the real work of ministry. Supervision is ministry.

mythbusters-final2Myth #2: It is too late to introduce accountability! If I have an employee on my staff that has been under-performing for a long period of time, without correction, then there isn’t anything that I can do to fix the problem. I just have to wait this one out, especially if I inherited the problem from someone else.

The Truth: It is never too late to invite accountability into an employment relationship. Righting an employment relationship begins with clarifying expectations and then providing ongoing feedback. Every member of your staff team should have three clearly defined sets of expectations for their role.

1. 8-10 essential functions of the job (these describe the basic duties and tasks of the position.)
2. 8-10 core competencies of the job (these describe the behavioral attributes, characteristics and skills that you expect the employee to demonstrate as they engage the essential functions.)
3. 2-3 performance goals (these describe the growing edge, or focus of the role for the current performance cycle; these align the energies of the staff member with the overall goals of the congregation.)

Ongoing feedback should include a regular (weekly, or bi-weekly) one on one conversation between the employee and their supervisor to establish priorities, clarify expectations and provide feedback on the basic expectations. This should be augmented with a quarterly goals update and an annual performance review.

Problem employees will often step it up once the expectations become clearer; or they will choose to leave because they are uncomfortable with the increased accountability. Either way, it’s never too late.

Myth #3: Every employee is redeemable and deserves another chance.

The Truth: All of the people on our staff team are the beloved in the eyes of God, but not all of our employment relationships are redeemable.

Once we have appropriately defined the expectations of the employment relationship, and provided ongoing feedback, with invitations to step up to our expectations, then we have done our part. If the employee demonstrates an inability or unwillingness to satisfy the basic expectations of the employment relationship over time, then the employment relationship should be brought to an end.

Myth #4: A good supervisor should be able to create a good ending for both the employee and the congregation.

The Truth: You cannot control how a terminated employee leaves your system. You cannot control how congregants will respond to the departure. You can create an open and transparent process, and you can invite healthy behaviors from the departing employee and from your congregants, but you cannot control what any of them actually do!

You best defense in a difficult employee termination process is a good offense. Gather a group of healthy leaders about you. Equip each leader with a transparent and consistent message that is appropriate, given the situation. And then, stand firm and non-anxious and let the disequilibrium work its way out of your system. You cannot control what happens, you can only respond to what happens with equanimity of mindfulness and heart.

You can learn more about replacing myth with good sound principles of supervision in, “When Moses Meets Aaron: Staffing and Supervision in Congregations”

What Can We Expect? (Accountability)

Friday, February 14th, 2014

“We are an organization based on volunteerism, what can you expect? We don’t have money to pay or reward our employees fairly, what can you expect? We are covenantal communities, and as such we are meant to extend grace and mercy to our members and staff, so what can you really expect?”

accountability1In the world of congregations we offer an infinite number of reasons as to why we can’t foster accountability among our employees and volunteers. Most of those reasons don’t stand up under scrutiny, particularly once you understand what accountability really involves.

What is accountability?
Accountability is part of a three-legged stool that must stand in balance to achieve effective organizational performance. The three legged stool includes authority, responsibility and accountability. You can’t achieve one without the equal support of the other two.

Authority is the legitimate right to act in a given situation. We say that someone has authority when they have been vested with the right to make a decision, allocate resources, or assign responsibilities on behalf of the whole.

A staff member or volunteer acting on behalf of the congregation gains authority in a variety of ways. Perhaps they have a job or ministry description that defines the boundaries of their role, and their right to act in a variety of circumstances. Perhaps the head of staff or governing board have publicly stated that the individual has been asked to decide or act on behalf of the whole. Or, a written policy statement might describe who is authorized to act or to decide in a variety of different circumstances. Unless clear authority has been assigned we ultimately cannot create accountability. You cannot hold someone accountable for something over which they have no authority to act.

Responsibility is the duty to perform the task. Some “one” must complete the tasks or action steps associated with the activity undertaken. That someone is the person with responsibility. Responsibility can be assigned or delegated from one person to another, but not without first establishing the authority to act, and not without also setting up the feedback loop of accountability.

Accountability is answerability, blameworthiness, liability, and the expectation of account-giving. Accountability only works if we have first appropriately assigned both authority and responsibility. We create accountability when an appropriately authorized individual is charged with the responsibility to perform a given act, and then is also affirmed for successfully performing that action, or held liable for their failure to effectively perform the action.

Intentional conversation is the best way to invite accountability.
At its core, accountability is reinforced through intentional conversation. Conversation is the most powerful tool available to us for creating an account-giving culture. Authority is assigned through conversation. The responsibility to act is also established through conversation. The conversation may be verbal or written, but in either case, someone speaks a word and the authority is assigned, a word is spoken and the expectation is established.

Similarly, accountability is nothing more mysterious that an intentional conversation. We set the table for a feedback conversation. We reiterate what the expectations were, along with our feedback on whether the person has met our expectations, failed to meet our expectations, or exceeded our expectations. We offer the appropriate praise, or extend an invitation to close the gap between what we observed and what we expected. That’s it-accountability in a nutshell!

Accountability doesn’t require the presence of external rewards or monetary systems in order to work. Most healthy individuals have a desire to meet expectations around performance. They need to have a clear understanding of what is actually expected. They need clear authority to act. They require feedback that validates their efforts and helps them to see where they may have fallen short, or feedback that affirms that they have met or exceeded expectations.

What about grace?
Congregations are covenant communities. We often mistakenly believe that this means that people should be let off the hook for errors and omissions of performance. I believe that this reflects a weak understanding of both covenant and grace.

We cannot be authentic covenant communities unless we are also accountable communities. All of the biblical examples of covenant that we draw from involve elements of accountability. When covenant is broken or violated, God delivers or asks for an accounting. The original expectation is reiterated. The standard is reasserted. Grace (undeserved mercy) is extended after the accounting. Grace doesn’t negate the need for accountability. It provides the clean slate from which new action can be taken to begin again.