Creative LeadershipStrategy & Marketing

Leaders: One Big Decision You Need to Get Right

When it comes to pastors, as well as ministry and nonprofit leaders, there are hundreds of choices on your radar. In fact, leadership in many ways is about making the right decisions at the right time: short range, long range, strategy, vision – the list goes on. However, there’s one decision that is far more important than most ministry leaders realize:

Hiring the right department managers.

Hear me out here:  The truth is, few pastors or ministry leaders are trained in hiring, and as a result, they either pass it off to someone else, or just hire on an emotional or gut level. But when it comes to those leading your departments, the wrong hire can literally destroy everything you’ve worked for all these years – because they have influence over entire teams.

For instance, in my consulting work over the years, I’ve encountered church or ministry department heads who were:

– Embezzling from the ministry.
– Making deals with outside firms so that when the church rented equipment, they would get a personal cut under the table.
– Subjecting their employees to humiliation and ridicule.
– Prioritizing vendor payments based on which would give them kickbacks.
– Behind the scenes, doing the opposite of direct instructions from the pastor.
– Driving donors away because of their behavior.
– Rarely showing up, and blaming others when deadlines were missed.

And that doesn’t count the many who simply fought against my advice as well as other consultants and vendors simply because they didn’t agree, were insecure about their job, or were over their heads. Disagreement is one thing, but refusing to change – even while the ministry is crashing and burning – is something else entirely.

And here’s the scary part:  Many of these department heads are masters at “leading up,” so the pastor or ministry leader doesn’t see it. But other employees do, and it’s creating tension, bitterness, and anger throughout the organization – not to mention the fact that it’s blocking your vision from happening.

Leaders – your department managers can make you or break you, so make sure you have the right people in place. If you’ve noticed that things aren’t happening on schedule, your vision isn’t becoming reality, employees are losing their enthusiasm, or momentum has hit a wall, it might be time to look closer at your department managers.

There are many great ones out there, and when the good ones are unleashed, they can completely elevate your message and ministry to another level.

That’s one decision you need to get right.

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  1. Reminds me of a former department head who was ultra paranoid. He constantly felt threatened by his own team and did everything he could to discredit our ideas. This went on for years of suffering and high turnover. He was stunned when the elders wanted to ordain me, and went running to head leadership to denounce the decision. On the day of my ordination, he lost his job. I didn’t know the details of his dismissal, of course, but the timing gave me hope that good senior leadership can identify the source of departmental problems, even if it may take them a while to realize just who and then actually act for the betterment of the organization.

    1. Perfect example Nathan. The tragedy is that before leadership realized the problem, how many really good employees were run off because of his paranoia? I know of a similar situation where many excellent employees fired over the years by a terrible manager are now leading other successful organizations. I wonder how great that original ministry could have been had they discovered the damage he was doing, and kept all those people.

  2. Good for you, Phil, for having the courage to point out the elephant in the room. One of the most misunderstood ministries is television/media. Unique in it’s blend of creative, artistic, managerial & technical. So very few dept heads understand creative people. And too many pastors leave the running of media to a son-in-law or buddy out of loyalty, rather than competency. I once worked @ a ministry that promoted the youth leader to media director because he knew how to run the sound system for live events. But he had no experience in a weekly tv program broadcast to 100+ countries, nor creating video announcements or covering the Sunday service with 5 cameras. Within 2 years all our staff were gone. Fired, laid off or walked away; A solid team ready to create great content. Wrong leader. Absent pastor. With fingers pointed @ us, rather than leadership.

    It didn’t have to be that way.

    1. So true. One ministry I worked with promoted a low level employee to “marketing director” because he had worked at Abercrombie & Fitch. He turned out to be a disaster.

  3. It is so hard to watch bad leaders chase away good team member, whether paid or volunteer. It is even more difficult when it happens in the church. But it’s also hard to combat when you are in the midst of it and seniors leaders don’t see it because, as you say, these people are often good at “leading up” or what I simply think of as “playing the game.” It’s amazing what one bad apple can do…and unfortunate.

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