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Managing Ministry Staff

In team ministry contexts, more and more staff are finding themselves line-managing other ministry staff.  These may be ministry apprentices, or junior staff, or other senior team members.

Managing staff isn’t something we’re typically trained for in our ministry training! And while some gospel workers will have experience from previous employment, it’s a challenge for many to work out what this kind of management looks like in a gospel ministry context.

While the discipleship and mentoring of ministry staff are important issues, the purpose of this document is to outline some helpful aspects of the management relationship; how gospel workers lead other staff in order to work together towards agreed gospel outcomes.  Of course, because we are members together of the body of Christ (Ephesians 3:6), the discipleship and service aspects are never absent from the way we seek to manage others in ministry!

Some gospel workers will be leading staff within our own ministry area, others will be managing staff in a different area within the church or organisation.  Matters like the degree of direct instruction that is appropriate, and the extent of accountability to the manager will be affected by this, as well as by each church’s or organisation’s requirements.

So here are some things to bear in mind as you’re seeking to manage ministry staff. Some is big picture thinking trying to create a helpful context, other aspects of this are more detailed at the practical level. I hope it gives some guidance. No doubt there is room for much improvement!

1 – Pray with and for your staff

It perhaps should go without saying, but I’ll say it to make sure we all remember it! Pray with your staff. Pray for them. Ask them how you can be praying specifically, and follow-up so you can both be encouraged at how God has answered your prayers.

2 – Make time for the relationship

Ministry leadership is intensely personal. It can’t be done effectively by remote control! Decide in advance what the planned 1:1 time will be. eg Will you meet for an hour or 90 minutes? Will it be weekly, fortnightly, or monthly?  This will depend on staff hours, other responsibilities, and level of experience.

Also ensure you make time for the member of staff outside of the regular 1:1 times.  Much of ministry is “caught, not taught.” Think of Paul’s description of his evangelism and discipleship ministry among the Thessalonians, sharing “not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).

Come to the meeting prepared, having looked at any notes you took last time, etc.

It may be appropriate for you to invite them to observe or join in on particular ministry tasks that you have.  Carl George’s approach to multiplying leaders is often quoted from his book, Nine Keys to Effective Small Group Leadership (1997):
I do. You watch. We talk.
I do. You help. We talk.
You do. I help. We talk.
You do. I watch. We talk.
You do. Someone else watches

This will be less applicable for line managing roles where gospel workers are line-managing staff in a different ministry area to their own.

3 – Invite their priorities into your agenda

You’re the manager and so are responsible for allocating time, deciding what needs attention, what areas of ministry to focus on, etc, but ensure you also invite your staff member to come to meetings with matters to discuss, questions they’re seeking to answer, issues of theology they’re wrestling with, etc. Not all of these will necessarily be dealt with in a 1:1 meeting, but you may be able to direct them to other people to speak with and resources to draw on.

4 – Get out of the way, but be there for them!

Encourage your staff to dream big, read widely, and think expansively for the sake of the gospel! As the leader managing them, you’re able to provide a dose of reality and wisdom to stop them getting too carried away, or trying things that in your greater experience and wisdom you know won’t work.

Encourage “blue sky thinking” – help them brainstorm and make lists of audacious gospel goals, and then help them distil them down to something that is achievable, sustainable, and measurable.

You’re also the “safety net” though! Don’t be so dis-connected from the ministry of your staff that you can’t tell when they’re getting into difficulty, and need your wisdom, ideas or experience.

5 – Think personal, theological, and practical

We often rush to problem solving and pragmatic solutions! Create space for helping your staff reflect on their personal growth (what they’re learning, reading in the Bible, being taught by God, what they’re finding difficult, etc) and to reflect theologically on issues, not just find quick solutions. That difficult person can be placated by taking a particular course of action, but a deliberate, loving approach might win them as an ally in ministry.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t offer practical help! Offer advice, give suggestions, and let your experience benefit your staff also.

Some good questions to ask in 1:1 meetings:
1) How are you doing (including family/household as appropriate)?
2) What’s going well?
3) What are your challenges?
4) What are you going to do about it?
5) What else can I be doing that will be helpful?
6) What can I be praying for?

6 – Model how to think big picture and long term

It was apparently Bill Gates who said, “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” Develop a pattern of helping your staff look beyond what’s in their diary for the coming week or month to what they can be planning for the next year and beyond.  Ask them to show you how their Ministry Action Plan is unfolding, and to put in place what’s required for future terms/years.

7 – Help them to grow to be a better leader than you are

Wouldn’t it be wonderful, if in God’s kindness, those we lead and manage grow to become more effective ministers of the gospel than we are?!  Help your staff to grow by asking them to reflect on areas for growth and development, and then work on those areas together.  If there are particular ministry skills that you or they think they should be working on, suggest opportunities for these to be developed. Do they have a desire to serve in a particular ministry context in the future? If that seems to you to be wise and good for the gospel, suggest opportunities for them to be prepared for that kind of ministry, or ask other staff for ideas.

8 – Reinforce church vision, culture, and DNA

When you’re providing advice or answering questions, take the opportunity to reinforce the church’s vision and mission. Ask how particular ministries or tasks fit with the church’s stated mission

It’s as important to help those you’re managing work out what not to do, as much as it is what to do, or how to do it.

Ask questions to help your staff see if/where ministries and tasks fit with the stated mission and priorities of the church. It may be better for someone else to do them, or for no one to do them.

9 – Establish Accountability

Set high expectations for accountability – in both directions. If you say you’ll provide some information, get it to them. If they tell you they’ll finish something by a particular time, expect it then, and follow up if it’s not presented.  We actually hinder our staff member’s growth if we allow them to think their words don’t matter.

To help with this, be clear in setting dates when you ask for things!

10 – Don’t only tell them what to do

Leading others in ministry includes helping them learn and synthesize knowledge and experiences into their understanding. It will be appropriate at times to give direction, or to ask them to do a specific task or to approach something in a particular way in order to achieve a desired outcome. But their learning and growing will benefit most if you can help them apply their theology, knowledge, wisdom, and understanding to the situation at hand, rather than simply telling them the answer.

 You don’t want to make them dependant on you, such that they need to come and ask for instructions every time they need to make a decision!

11 – Ask lots of questions

Help your staff to reflect and plan by asking lots of questions. Clarify, ask about alternative perspectives or options they may not have considered, even ask what feels like a stupid question! Sometimes we are so engrossed in our ministry that we miss things that are very obvious to those one step removed! Feel free to state the obvious!

12 – Read a book together

It may be worthwhile choosing a book to read with your staff. Plan to read a chapter or two before you meet up each time, or once a month, etc. Either discuss it when you meet, or ask your staff to write a half-page summary of key points, and then use that to guide your reflections and application into their ministry.

13 – Incorporate training into existing meetings

For those leading staff in your immediate ministry area, use some of the time in your regular meetings for training and leadership development. It might be a discussion of a paper, a short video clip, you reflecting on a recent experience in ministry that surprised you, etc.  This also has the added benefit of creating an environment in which people look forward to meetings because they know they will be personally stimulating.