There is one month in the year that is harder on executive leaders than any other month, and it’s August.
Being an executive leader in the Church has not been easy over the past few years. We’ve all had to experience what was supposed to be twenty or so years of change compressed down into just two to three years. We’ve dealt with organizational change, dwindling physical attendance, confusion over the role of digital in our ministries, staff turnover, executive/pastoral transition, and more.
However, there is one month in the year that is harder on executive leaders than any other month, and it’s August. Most senior pastors have taken some time off over the summer to get away and get clarity in the direction of where God is calling them to lead the church. It’s a quiet(er) time. People are away for the summer. You’ve likely had a short vacation yourself with the family; yet long enough to desperately need a vacation without the family. But while July appears calm and uneventful on the outside, there is an inner tension or anticipation around a question: “what is my senior leader going to come back with?”.
One of the things we love the most about our senior leaders, which simultaneously can be the most difficult thing to handle, is that they have a vision that is typically larger than the organization can handle. That’s a great thing, right? We follow them because we trust the Lord’s calling on their life and their ability to see past current realities towards a preferred future. We’re also keenly aware that the majority of the pressure to carry out that vision with the staff and volunteers falls on the shoulders of the executive leader.
One of my favorite books, and one I have always felt is incredibly relevant to the Church, is Predictable Success by Les McKowen. If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend it. One of the main concepts is that predictable success happens when there is harmony and balance between the visionary leader (the person responsible for growing the organization) and the operational leader, (the person responsible for executing the vision of the organization). If you are too vision heavy, there is chaos and unsustainable growth. If you are too systems-heavy, there is a bureaucracy that will eventually lead to irrelevance.
So why is this August especially difficult? With all of the changes of the past few years, the executive’s role in creating harmony and balance with systems to accomplish the leader’s vision was already hard enough. The lead pastor’s vision to reach the lost and grow the church hasn’t changed, but the organizational strategies required to effectively achieve that vision couldn’t be more different, all while we’re continuing to deal with all the internal issues of losing staff and re-organizing towards an uncertain future. In short, the executive’s role is more difficult than it has ever been, and this month will likely highlight that fact.
That being said, we see you. Below are a few suggestions we think can help you in this season.
Be Direct and Ask A Lot of Questions
Some of the best advice on leading up I have been given is that our answer to senior leaders is never “no”, but always “how”. That doesn’t mean we create unrealistic expectations for our leaders; it means that we provide options with realistic possibilities. As an example, in my role as a consultant over the years, I have told church leaders many times that I have two jobs: 1) to get you exactly what you are asking for, and 2) to set the realistic parameters of what is required to make that happen.
With that being said, one of the best things to do in these situations is to ask questions. One of the best questions to ask is “what are we prepared to say no to in order to say yes to this?”
Don’t Do Ministry Alone
Executive leaders can easily get on an island, and we don’t feel that leaders should shoulder all of this change and uncertainty alone. We are seeing executive leaders all over the country getting together in Virtual Roundtables every month to discuss their successes, challenges, and ideas with mentors and peers.
Consider an Experienced, Objective Opinion from Someone Outside the Organization
The joke is that you are an expert until you join the staff. In a season where we are battling the impact of the current realities, it can make the preferred future, or at the least the path towards the preferred future, unclear. Sometimes we simply need an experienced and objective guide to help us walk down that path towards clarity.
If any of this applies to you, we would love to help. This fall, we are rolling out Coaching On-Demand, which will allow you to access experienced leaders when you need them most, and without any long-term commitments.
We are also continuing to work with churches on our Clear Path Forward, which helps executive teams create clarity in the path between their current reality and their preferred future as an organization.
And as always, we are continuing to grow our Virtual Roundtables, which is an opportunity for you to connect with a mentor and peers over a six-month period.