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

What I learned after talking to 1,000 church leaders last year

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 that feels stuck; everybody you’re leading feels stuck!

You’re not alone. As the Church Engagement Specialist at the Fuller Youth Institute, I’ve spoken with nearly one thousand church leaders across the country over the past year, and 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 become myopic or 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.

When I would facilitate group discussion during retreats as a local church pastor, I was taught to use these four helpful questions:

  • What’s going right? (What do we want to amplify?)
  • What’s going wrong? (What do we need to fix?)
  • What’s been missing? (What do we need to create?)
  • What’s been confusing? (What do we need to clarify?)

As you think about spending this intentional time to reflect, consider who you might process these questions with. Would it be other staff members, a key board member, an influential 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. When I was a local church leader, we used the simple acronym “ROMS”, where we would outline quarterly goals and annual goals.

  • Responsibility (What do I need to do?)
  • Objective (What will this accomplish?)
  • Measurable (How will I know I’ve accomplished the objective?)
  • Steps (What step[s] do I need to take to achieve the measurable?)

The quarterly goals were small enough that it gave us perspective on a week-to-week basis, while keeping our overarching goal at the forefront of our minds. This four-step process is helpful for any particular task we’re wrestling through in our ministry. It could be a plan 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 and clear. 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.

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? It could be another local church pastor, a ministry mentor, coach, or even a network of churches. Commit to hearing other people’s perspectives and surround yourself with diverse 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, Dr. Steven 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.

What’s Next?

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. The cohort is a yearlong training intended to keep you and your team from getting stuck by providing:

  • Two onsite summits in Pasadena, CA with up to four 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 a comprehensive diagnostic assessment for your entire church to guide your next steps
  • Monthly online training hosted by FYI and other leading ministry voices

Want to learn more about the Growing Young Cohort?
Watch the video below and download the fact sheet. 

* indicates required

Lencioni, P. (2004). Death by meeting: A leadership fable about solving the most painful problem in business. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, CA.