A Better Way to Build A Team


This is my third and final post on the shape and content of our church’s staff meetings. In this post, I provide an outline for one of our Tuesday afternoon one-hour strategy sessions.

This particular session was with our 2 Children’s Directors, JoAnn and Ellie, and our Youth Director, Tammy. They had asked for a strategy session on fresh approaches to recruitment. The Pastor overseeing Youth and Children’s Ministries, Shane, collaborated with me to bring the following.


Fresh Ideas for Recruitment


1.      Introduction (Mark)

a.       The Sword in the Stone. The perennial difficulties with recruitment, especially in family ministries, are like Sword in the Stone problems:  the sword yields, not to the one with the greatest power, but to the one with the right touch.

2.      A Fresh Look at Recruitment (Mark)

a.       Question: “If you could recruit 6 volunteers or 42, with the only difference being that it took more time and effort to recruit the 6, which would you choose? This is not a trick question.”

b.      Read John 1:29-50. Watch in this passage the mounting curiosity about Jesus and the rising commitment to follow him. Among other things, this is a case study in grassroots recruitment: one person tells another, who checks it out and then tells another, and so on.

c.       Linear versus geometric recruitment. Linear recruitment is one person (the Director) talking to one person about joining the ministry. Geometric recruitment is one person talking to a few people about joining the ministry, who then talk to a few people, who then talk to a few more. It multiplies rapidly. Done well, soon the problem is having too many volunteers, not too few.

d.      Vision and Pragmatics. The Director needs a clear and compelling vision for the ministry and a clear picture of what kind of person is best suited for it. The Director must establish clear guidelines for screening and equipping those who step forward.

3.      A Fresh Look at Volunteers (Shane)

a.       A new name. We need to come up with a different title for people who help in ministry. “Volunteer” doesn’t capture how vital and needed such people are: the ministry literally depends on them. “Fellow Worker” or “Co-Laborer” is closer to the mark

b.      A new strategy. We need to empower people in ministry, not just give them jobs to do. They are not just filling holes: they are stewards and ambassadors of God’s mission.

4.      Exercise: A Fresh Plan (Team)

a.       The 3 Directors and 2 Pastors then spent the remaining 30 minutes coming up with a plan. This included the following:

                         –  Committing to working on clarifying the vision of each ministry.

                          –  Committing to working on a “profile” of the kind of person who thrives in this ministry.

                          –  Committing to coming up with a new title for those who join this ministry.

                          –  Committing to a strategy to empower each member of this ministry to recruit at least 2 more people.

                           –  Committing to heightened collaboration on all these things.

                        –  Inviting me to the next ministry team meetings to help cast the vision (that week, I spoke to the Children’s team).

5.      Prayer


I’m interested in what you’ve discovered about recruiting. I’d love to hear from you.

The Hardest Person to Lead

Last week, I outlined the new schedule for staff meetings at our church, and my rationale for introducing it. I promised that this week I’d post a sample of our 45-minute Step-Up Meeting. This happens every Tuesday, 9:15-10:00 AM, and all staff attend.

The Step-Up is designed to explore, in an intense, high-energy way, a single idea. It is “resource & insight rich, task light,” meaning that I don’t want the staff to walk out each week with one more thing on their “to do” list, but rather to walk out with one more tool in their tool chest. That might be a fresh insight, a new resource, a better framework, a deep confirmation.

I led the following Session, The Hardest Person to Lead, at our first Step-Up on September 4, 2012. Next week, I’ll post a sample of one of our Strategy Sessions.


New Life

Staff Step Up:

The Hardest Person to Lead


·         Exercise:

o   Think of the hardest person you’ve ever tried to lead or influence (options: child, spouse, parent, in-law, co-worker, boss, volunteer, etc.).

o   What made them so? List whatever constituted a barrier to leading or influencing them – they were defensive, overbearing, delusional, self-righteous, lazy, etc.?

o   Did you succeed in the end? If so, how? If not, why?

·         A Non-Exhaustive List of Hard-to-Lead People (in no particular order):

o   The Maverick

o   The Whiner

o   The Blamer

o   The Saboteur

o   The Contrarian

o   The Connoisseur

o   The Know-it-All

o   The Topper

o   The Exaggerator/Minimizer

o   The Passive Aggressive

o   The Entitled

o   The Spoil-Sport

o   The Sloth

o   The Stickler

o   The Deluded

·         The Greatest of These:

o   You. Me

o   Cf. Mark 10:42ff

o   The James, John & Peter Syndrome: the ones who want to lead – who, indeed, Jesus appoints to lead – struggle most with self-leadership: boastfulness, anger, jealousies, emotional immaturity, promises they don’t deliver on, using power to serve their own agenda, etc.

·         Exercise:

o   Take 5 minutes & write down every reason you can think of why you are the hardest person to lead; then take 5 minutes and discuss in groups of 3

·         A Non-Exhaustive List of Traits of those Hardest to Lead (in no particular order):

o   We judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions

o   We routinely overestimate our contribution and underestimate the contribution of others

o   We routinely feel under-appreciated

o   We routinely are tired, stressed, distracted and over-extended

o   We are experts at avoiding our deeper selves

o   We are experts at making excuses for ourselves

o   We routinely mistake rhetoric for action: froth instead of elbow grease

o   We routinely operate out of our insecurities

o   We routinely allow accomplishment to create complacency and failure to create fatalism

o   We routinely use busyness to camouflage our lack of effectiveness

o   Most of us build our house (rather than pitch a tent) on the OK Plateau

o   Most of us are thrust into leadership roles with insufficient preparation; we tend to cover the gap by faking it

o   Most of us have behaviors, often hidden from our own sight, that are counter-productive to our stated beliefs and principles

o   We typically measure ourselves by ourselves (cf. 2 Cor. 10:12): we lack an outside, objective gauge for our spiritual, emotional, vocational growth

o   Most of our defensive &/or evasive when called on any of this

·         A Few Biblical Examples:

o   Moses: lifelong impulse to knee-jerk, flinch, and quit

o   David: lifelong lack of self-awareness: wisdom for other people’s problems, blindness toward his own (i.e., 2 Samuel 11 & 14)

o   Peter: rhetoric trumps action

·         The Good News:

o   Christ sets us free: shame, fear, evasion (Christ answers resolutely, and helps us answer, “Where are you?” the first question God asks man (Gen 3). He sets us free to answer: “Here I am” (Is 6))

o   Spirit makes us the leaders who lead ourselves first: Spirit reminds us of Christ’s Truth, conforms us to Christ’s character, gifts us with Christ’s abilities, and grows in Christ-likeness. The greatest self-leadership move: be led by the Spirit (Gal. 5)



            King of Prussia meets an old man who is king over himself


Question: Do you agree or disagree that you are your hardest person to lead? What would you add to the list of reasons why?

Why I Love Meetings

That’s something you rarely hear: “I love meetings.” But I genuinely do. At least, I love the ones at the church where I’m a pastor. And especially, I love the ones we’re having lately. 

Let me explain.

At the beginning of September, I introduced and implemented a new plan for church staff meetings. The structure we had used for our staff meetings had served us well for a decade, but it was starting to show signs of strain. Our team had doubled over the past 10 years: the old structure was designed to equip and unify a small team. It was, simply, less effective with a larger team.

It’s not that our team is huge – we’re only 11 paid staff. But I wanted something that not only served well this size of team, but that could be scaled quickly if we doubled, or tripled, and so on.

So a few of us took a couple months to re-envision and redesign how we meet.

First, we clarified why we meet. This remained what it has always been: to strengthen and deepen our team unity and to extend and empower our impact, individually and together.

Then we overhauled. Some of this involved tweaks. Some of it involved complete paradigm shifts.

What follows is a description of the new system. I share it in the hope that it might benefit you, and that you might share with the readers of this blog ideas you’ve found helpful.

  •  Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, 8:30-9:00 AM, we have a staff prayer time that is open to anyone in our church. We pray for our congregation, our community, and our church’s ministries. All staff are strongly urged to attend.
  • Every Tuesday morning, 9:00-9:15 AM, we have a 10-15 minute Stand Up Meeting. This is an exchange of administrative information that everyone needs to know. All staff are required to attend.
  • Every Tuesday morning, 9:15-10:00 AM, we have a 45-50 minute Step Up Meeting. This is a high-energy, interactive session to engage us with one of the core values of our church. Step Ups are “insight-rich, task-light,” meaning that they are primarily designed to inspire, enrich and equip staff, not burden them with more things to do. All staff are required to attend.
  • Every Tuesday morning, 10:00-11:00 AM, we have a one hour Pastors Meeting. This is a free exchange of ideas and a discussion of issues. These are very frank, sometimes tense, usually energizing, always clarifying meetings. All pastors are required to attend, and sometimes other parties are invited in as well.
  • Every Tuesday afternoon, 1:00-2:00 AM, we have a one hour Strategy Session. This is an intensive interactive session designed to engage a staff person or a ministry team in identifying and solving one problem in their ministry – a communication gap, or a volunteer shortage, or a fuzzy vision, and the like. Strategy sessions are “insight-rich, task-heavy,” meaning that they are primarily designed, not just to inspire, enrich and equip staff, but to give them a plan to be implemented immediately. Each staff is required to attend as scheduled, which adds up to at least 4 sessions for each staff each year.
  •  Every Thursday, I leave two 1-hour blocks open in my schedule (with some exceptions) for One-on-One Sessions. These are for any staff to book (or drop in if no one else has booked the time) to talk about anything – they choose the agenda: hanging out, catching up, counselling, coaching, confession, whatever.

We’re only 3 weeks into this, but so far I like what I’m seeing: fresh energy, clarity and creativity. Even though it takes me a lot more time to prepare these sessions – especially the Step Up Meetings and Strategy Sessions – I find the challenge deeply invigorating.

In my next two posts, I’ll provide working samples of both a Step Up Meeting and Strategy Session.

I welcome your feedback. What have you found most effective in building unity and effectiveness in a team?

Are you Stoning Your Prophets? Part 3



I decided to write one more post on handling criticism and praise. My wife noted an omission in my last two posts: any discussion on how to guard our hearts when praised or criticised. So this is that.

Both praise and criticism can damage us. Praise can swell our head, criticism poison our heart. Praise can lull us into vanity and complacency. Criticism can waylay us with resentment and defeat. I’ve been on both sides of this. I’ve had seasons when so many people were applauding me, I became entitled and smug. And I’ve had seasons (why do they seem so much longer?) when so many people found fault with me, I became testy and sullen.

I call it the criminal/god syndrome: one minute, people treat you as sub-human, the next they hail you as super-human, with hardly a pause in between to see that you’re only human.

The Apostle Paul’s suffered the criminal/god syndrome, and gives us a model of how to deal with it. Two stories from Acts illustrate. One is in Acts 14:8-20. Paul, with Barnabas, is in Lystra and heals a man born lame. The crowd goes wild. They hail them as gods, and try to sacrifice burnt offerings to them. They protest vigorously but barely restrain the crowd from worshipping them. But that soon changes. Some of Paul’s enemies show up and persuade the crowd that he’s really a scoundrel. Next thing, the crowd stones Paul, drags him outside the city, and leaves him for dead.

He goes from god to criminal in a breath.

The other story is in Acts 28:1-6. Paul is shipwrecked on the island of Malta. A poisonous snake slithers from the brushwood and bites him: “When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, ‘This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.’ But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god” (Acts 28:4-6).

He goes from criminal to god in a blink.

No one is immune to this syndrome, especially leaders. The more you try to make a difference in the world, the more liable you are to be seen as one or the other, a criminal or a god: one minute a hero, the next a villain; one minute a sage, the next a fool; one minute worthy of swooning adulation, the next deserving brutal rejection.

How did Paul handle it?

Simply and profoundly, he knew his identity in Christ. He knew his role and value in the eyes of God. He took his deepest cues from his Father in heaven. Whether treated as a criminal or a god, Paul remained rooted in his true identity: a servant of the Most High God, and a servant of others.

He best sums it up in 1 Corinthians, to people who had swung from lionizing him to vilifying him. He writes to them:

This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God (1 Corinthians 4:1-5).

Herein lies a whole spirituality of dealing with the criminal/god syndrome, of handling praise and criticism. Here are the key points:

  •  Know your identity in Christ and your call in God. Paul knows he’s a servant of Christ – his identity- and that he’s entrusted with the mysteries of God – his call. He is bound to this, not to anyone else’s expectations or demands.
  • Be unswervingly faithful to that identity and call. Paul lives, neither to win man’s applause nor to avoid man’s criticism, but for one thing alone: to hear God’s “Well done, good and faithful servant.” He plays to an audience of One.
  • Care very little what others think of you. Paul simply refuses to give much weight to anyone who does not acknowledge his identity and purpose in Christ. The Greek for “I care very little” carries the sense, “your opinion is the least of my concerns.” Again, I emphasize that Paul is dealing here with those trying to pressure him to compromise his God-given identity and call. He is not deaf to honest critique: he’s just deaf to useless distraction.
  • Care very little what you think of you. Paul refuses even to judge himself. He knows how warped and skewed, how self-serving or self-defeating, our own self-assessments can be. So he avoids passing final verdict on himself.
  • Be able to look God in the eyes. Paul says his conscience is clear. How I apply this: Can I look God in the eyes? Am I confident that I can stand before God and, without shame, tell him what I’ve done and why?
  • Don’t assume you’re right. Even still, Paul does not pronounce himself innocent. It’s possible, he acknowledges, that he’s wrong. The jury’s still out, and so he denies himself any self-righteous posturing.
  • Trust God to judge finally and rightly. Paul knows that God in his time will render a perfect verdict – vindication, or condemnation. At that point, no earthly court’s verdict matters a whit. No human opinion, our own or another’s, means a thing. God deals with the real stuff – the motives of our heart – and gives a true, just and final judgement. It’s the only one that matters. Wait for it.
  • Live in such a way that you anticipate God’s praise. Paul anticipates that he will receive God’s praise. He lives for it. He endures brutal opposition in the hope of it. He never compromises his identity or his call, because he knows that man’s praise without God’s praise is nothing, but God’s praise, with or without man’s praise, is everything. The only prize he sets his sights on is God’s praise.


Who sees you as a criminal? A god? If that is messing with you, apply Paul’s remedy. I’d love to hear about it.