Getting Unstuck: 5 simple steps to make your leadership more effective

What I learned after talking to thousands of church leaders over the past two years

Photo by Shttefan

I’m stuck!”

Have you uttered those words before? Maybe you woke up yesterday ready to tackle important issues, but eight hours later you’re not sure if you accomplished anything. Despite all your meetings, emails and phone calls, you wonder if you’ve made any substantial progress on the things that actually matter.

Maybe you lead meetings with your staff week after week, but you haven’t gained momentum in months. Instead, you’re checking off a task list and your staff feels more uninterested than ever before. In fact, it’s not just you who feels stuck; everybody you’re leading feels stuck!

You’re not alone. As Church Engagement Specialist for the Fuller Youth Institute, I’ve spoken with thousands of church leaders across the country. In 2019 alone, the FYI team will be connecting with 126 churches (that’s almost a quarter of a million church members) who have joined one of five Growing Young Cohorts because they want to engage teenagers and young adults like never before. Throughout conversations with leaders across the board, I’m often asked this question: “How do I get myself and my team unstuck?”

In my work with leaders in a diverse set of roles, I’ve witnessed 5 simple steps that help them make tangible progress in their ministry.

1. Get out of your normal routine (with a team).

When is the last time you’ve gotten out of your office to reflect on where you’ve been and where you need to go? Leaders tend to get stuck because of staying in their normal routine for too long. This can cause us to lose sight of the larger vision ahead of us.

In Patrick Lencioni’s book Death By Meeting, he suggests getting offsite on a quarterly basis where you can wrestle with inevitable challenges, grow closer as a team, and process your vision and strategy (p. 245-248). Getting offsite with a small group of people on a consistent basis creates opportunities to address enduring problems, pray bold prayers, gain new perspective, and dream new dreams.

As you think about spending this intentional time to reflect, consider who you might process these questions with. Could it be other staff members, an influential board member, or maybe a committed parent? Invite individuals who have the ability to make change happen when you return to your routine and implement your plan. Speaking of a plan, this brings us to the next point …

2. Form a plan.

It’s critical to know what you and your team are going to do on a day-to-day basis. There’s nothing worse than sitting down at your desk with an ambitious goal without knowing what to do next. Creating a solid plan eliminates that problem.

The best plans include short-term wins and long-term goals. Short-term wins are small enough that they give us perspective on a week-to-week basis, while long-term goals keep the big-picture at the forefront of our minds. Your plan could be how to engage parents in more meaningful ways, a process to recruit volunteers, or how you’re going to engage younger people in your weekend services. 

Your plan should be simple, with clear measurables. If someone asks if you’ve hit your “Measurable”, but you can’t answer with a simple “yes” or “no” response, then it’s not clear enough.

Who can you invite to be part of creating a plan at your church? How can you make your plan crystal clear?

3. Stop guessing.

It’s easy to fight battles that don’t need to be fought, while the real issues we need to wrestle with remain hidden. Leaders need to chase the biggest issues at hand instead of pursuing small issues that don’t matter.

We understand our biggest needs through asking thoughtful questions and listening to people in our ministries. Leadership training is filled with advice on how to cast a compelling vision and speak with clarity on complex issues, but great leaders know when to stop talking and listen. If you’re able to gather a small group of people for feedback, you might ask the following questions:

  • If you could make one change in our church, what would it be and why?
  • What is one area in our church you believe needs our best attention right now?

Understanding your team’s and congregants’ perspectives is critical because informed leaders make informed decisions. You may be surprised to find that you’ve spent a tremendous amount of energy on things you thought were a big deal, but others don’t share your concerns at all. Listening gives you real information from real people in your context, which removes the guesswork from real changes that need to be made.

Tweet: Great leaders know when to stop talking and listen. 

4. Listen to other perspectives.

As a church leader for many years, one of the most helpful ways I got unstuck was by surrounding myself with people outside my context who could process my ministry challenges with me. Hearing other perspectives:

  • allows you to avoid the echo chamber of your team,
  • gives you a chance to hear direct feedback from an outsider looking in, and
  • creates an opportunity to compare your practices with other ministry settings.

Tim Galleher, a good friend and pastor, has been this kind of leader in my life. For years our church struggled with effectively transitioning 5th grade students into our 6th grade ministry. Eventually I asked Tim if he had any ideas that worked at his church. It took him less than five minutes to offer his thoughts, but that new perspective completely changed the way we transitioned those students moving forward.

Who can you surround yourself with this coming year? Our yearlong cohort is an excellent way to surround yourself with local church pastors, a ministry coach, and a diverse network of churches. This year, commit to hearing other people’s perspectives and surround yourself with a variety of leaders who will challenge and encourage you along the way.

5. Embrace the long haul.

Have you ever gone to a conference and heard an idea you’re excited to implement in your church, only to get home and never see it come to fruition? A moment of excitement doesn’t necessarily create the momentum we desire in our churches. On the one hand, leaders are tempted to implement a new idea without considering the implications of what it might mean in our context. On the other hand, our excitement to make change happen can quickly become overshadowed by resistance from those we lead.

Embracing the long haul reminds us that we don’t need to accomplish everything in a short period of time. My friend and colleague, Steve Argue, often says, “We overestimate what can be accomplished in one year and underestimate what can be accomplished in three years.”

When impatience walks alongside change, it creates frustration. We get frustrated because change isn’t happening fast enough, while those we’re leading get frustrated because change is often happening too fast.

Remember: you don’t need to accomplish everything today! Or tomorrow. Or in a month. Steady, incremental change is good. It’s good for us and it’s good for those we’re leading.

Tweet: We overestimate what can be accomplished in one year and underestimate what can be accomplished in three years. 

At the Fuller Youth Institute, we’re here to help

As we’ve listened to thousands of leaders over the years, we’ve remained committed to providing the kind of support and training you need to keep you from getting stuck. This is why we created the Growing Young Cohort. Our in-depth, yearlong training experience includes:

  • two onsite summits in Pasadena, CA with up to four of your team members,
  •  support with creating a personalized plan to develop a strategy for change in your context,
  • a one-on-one coach for support, accountability and reflection,
  • access to our exclusive comprehensive diagnostic assessment for your entire church to guide your next steps, and
  •  monthly online training hosted by FYI and other leading ministry voices.

Want to learn more about joining our 2019-20 Growing Young Cohort?

Hear from some of the most influential churches in the country as they talk about their cohort experience.

Take your next step to getting unstuck. Download a cohort fact sheet today.

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