I clearly remember my first day of full time paid employment as a pastor. I sat at the desk, turned on the computer and thought, ‘What now?’ It was a bit like the first day my wife and I brought our baby daughter home from hospital. We unpacked all the new baby gear, placed Elizabeth in her crib and thought, ‘What do we now do?’ Both situations threw me into a position in which I had no experience and which brought new challenges.
Specifically, both roles came with new leadership challenges. For my family, I was now the Father of a family. For my local church, I was now the leader of a congregation.
Though I had done what I could to prepare myself, nothing completely equipped me for either experience. Before becoming a father I had read books about parenthood, baby sat other children, been to prenatal classes and asked others about what it was like. Yet I gleaned little that helped me in those first few days of hectic change.
Likewise, before I was a full time paid pastor of a congregation, I had read books on being a leader, studied subjects at bible college on leadership and even undergone two years as a pastoral intern. But when I actually sat at that desk and faced the challenge of moving from leadership theory to practical application, I was almost paralysing. I knew lots of things I should have done. But doing them just wasn’t me.
There are some strong links between being a father and being the pastor of a church. Both are responsible for the protection and well being of a group of people. Traditionally, and even now in some churches, the pastor is called, ‘Father’, reflecting these common roles.
There was another similarity I experienced, which I had been told about, that I now think shouldn’t be there. In both roles I was for the most part isolated by my leading. It was partly a product of my personality. I’m an introvert, a quiet person who mostly lives in my head. But it wasn’t just about my personality. I was taught that there is one leader and the leader leads alone.
I no longer think that the isolation was good. I now see that in both roles there is a place for team leadership. A child needs a mother and a father. And although every culture has its own rules, the father leads in some areas and the mother leads in other things. Where a child lacks a father it will suffer in some ways. Where a child lacks a mother it will suffer in different ways.
This is similar for a local church. A local church needs a leadership team. Leading a local church requires more than one person can be or do. Just as a child suffers if it doesn’t have a mother or father, a church will suffer if it doesn’t have a leadership team.
What changed my thinking?
I trained through an approved Gallup agent as a strengths coach.
The Gallup Organization is one of the world’s largest research companies. It claims to know more about the attitudes and behaviors of the world’s constituents, employees, and customers than any other organization. The basis of this claim is that it is constantly polling people from 120 countries around the world.
One area they have researched is successful people. They have spent forty years researching what makes people successful. In the end their conclusion was that successful people focused on what they are good at doing.
However, the research didn’t stop there. Gallup wanted to help people identify what they are good at doing. So Gallup created an assessment that helps people identify the areas in which they excel.
The way Gallup does this is by identifying general recurring patterns of thought, behavior or feeling. These recurring patterns are known as talents.
The genius of Gallup’s system is its ability to help people understand their specific and unique person through general talent descriptions. One of the functions of a strengths coach is to facilitate this process.
A strengths coach starts with a person’s general talent descriptions and through dialogue helps the person understand exactly when and how each talent operates. The coach then helps the person to focus on those talents and develop them into strengths. Gallup defines a strength as a specific activity that is done consistently well and brings mental energy.
After my training I started to view my understanding of leadership through talents filter. It helped me understand why much of the leadership training I had received, just wasn’t me.
I understood that many of those who had taught me leadership skills had different talents to me. Many of the pastors I studied in the mega churches appeared to have one set of talents and I had another. Their teaching on leadership assumed I had the same talents as they did. This was the reason I struggled to do the things I knew I should be doing, but either put it off, didn’t want to do it, or simple wasn’t good at it.
As I did what I do best and thought about things, I understood a new way of dealing with my problem. I understood that in order to succeed in leadership I would need to create leadership strengths from my talents and focus on those.
I didn’t have to be THE leader. I needed a team. There was some parts of leadership that were natural to me. There were others that weren’t. I needed to get others in a team who had different talents to me and would develop those talents into leadership strengths.
I realised that the idea of having a leadership team with complimentary giftings isn’t new. However Gallup’s assessment helped me understand exactly what were my potential leadership strengths and what specific leadership strengths I lacked and therefore should include in my leadership team.
There was something else that struck me in my deliberations. In my leadership training, management was not highly rated. It was portrayed as a lesser way of leading.
However in my studies of Gallup’s research I learnt that a person’s direct manager is the number one factor in determining that person’s long term satisfaction in their role. It made me think, ‘Does that relate to church?’ and, ‘If it does, how?’
Now church is not a business. Yet the things I learnt about good management didn’t sound like ‘business’. They sounded like ‘church’. For example, Who is responsible for my (spiritual) development? Have I received encouragement in the last week? Am I doing what I was created to do?
I wondered how people in churches would answer these questions. I wondered what difference it would make. If knowing the answers to these questions makes for a more happy and stable working environment, how would it affect church?
I believe in having a strength based church. A strength based church is one which has each area of the church life run by a strength based team. It starts with a strength based leadership team and works down from there.
When people are working out of their strengths they are energised. When do you feel your best? When are you most excited about doing things? It is when you are working with your natural talents and strengths.
What would it be like if our churches and our ministries were filled with people who were motivated and energised by what they were doing? What if the people working churches were not being drained by trying to do something that they aren’t good at doing? What would it be like if our churches were well managed and well lead?
God wants to see churches and ministries where the people are energized by what they are doing. Then they will truly reach their potentials in God. The only way people can do this is if the those who lead churches understand who they are, develop strengths based on who they are and focus their ministry on those strengths.