youth ministry

Over-communicate with your leaders

Want to avoid confusion with your team? Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

I define a leader as someone who takes people somewhere they would otherwise not go on their own.

All-too-often, as I look back on my life in leadership, my tendency is always to get a mile ahead of my team because I have under-communicated the basics with them.

Why are we doing this? What’s our intent? What do we want to get out of this experience? Who are we targeting with our ministry? Why are you serving? How can we accomplish our goals? When is the best time to do this? On and on.

Every once in a while I’d get this feedback: “I know you have a reason for everything we do, and you’ve given us all the information about what we are doing, but I am not understanding why/how this is going to happen.” When I was young in leadership I somehow too this as a compliment. But now I see it for what it is… a weakness I need to address.

When my team lacks focus and drive to execute the vision– That’s my fault not theirs. I tend to communicate the vision too little and the share details too much. In the moment, the logistical details seem more important than the over-arching vision. But in the end, you need both.

You will have leaders who are OK knowing stuff as they go. But to really take a ministry somewhere you need to execute along the way to accomplish the vision.

3 Ways I combat my tendency to under-communicate

  1. Give people the big picture often. Before each ministry cycles starts, (school year, calendar year, however your church does it) schedule a meeting with key leaders to go over the plan. When I do this I present a white paper for the year as well as the teaching calendar, event calendar, and a description of a discipled person. In other words, I start with the end in mind and show my team how we’re going to get there together. In youth ministry, at about the same time, I host a parents meeting and go over the same information… plus some other stuff like cost of events, permission slips, etc.
  2. Put your pedagogical statement out there. It feels cheesy to think about, and I totally stole it from Doug Field’s youth ministry classic, “Purpose-driven Youth Ministry,” but I think it’s useful to put the purpose for a ministry, in writing, on everything you do. Even better, when I am teaching a lesson and there is a handout for leaders, I also like to give them a quick sentence about what we are teaching. “The main idea of tonight’s lesson is that students will learn ______.” This puts your leaders on the inside, thinking of your teaching strategy right alongside of you, and values their intelligence/abilities.
  3. Get stuff to people early. This is the one I wrestle with the most because you’ll always have some people who feel like they need every detail when you can only provide the big picture. Such as, I have volunteers who want small group questions 1-2 weeks in advance so they can think about it in advance. The problem is that I can’t give that because I rarely actually work on the talk until 24-48 hours before I teach it. But I can tell them the passage and the main idea of the lesson. And usually, that’s enough. The same is true for events and trips. I need to give them the information early enough where they can rearrange their schedule and jump on board to help. If I forget, or am lacking, in that then I should expect them to bail on me.
Church Leadership

Putting your worst foot forward

Photo by Kevin Trotman via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Which of these introductions garners the most trust to you?

  • Hello, my name is Adam McLane. Thank you for inviting me here today. As an expert in my field, I look forward to sharing with you this morning 7 insights which will revolutionize ________.
  • Hi. I’m Adam. I guess you’ve invited me here this morning because you’ve tried everything and looked around and found the one guy in the world who has tried more ways to _________ than you have. Well, I guess a broken clock is right twice a day. Let’s get started.

Chances are you like the first one a little better. The first introduction would cause you to reach into your bag and fish out a pen and some paper. But the question isn’t who would you like better or who would give you the most stuff to write down, it’s which introduction garners the most trust?

An experts role is to teach 5 things in an outline, collect his check, and move on to the next place. But a teacher creates questions inside which spurs on your own thoughts and solutions to the problems you are facing.

I have a tendency to trust the second introduction a lot more. I might not write down as much stuff… but that second introduction will cause me to lean in. Something about that humility tells me he has something to say.

It tells me that this person isn’t just rolling out their presentation… but they are probably going to take me somewhere I need to go. They are going to help me recognize that while I’ve failed in the past I can keep trying and searching for the answers I need.

And they aren’t going to lie to me and tell me that success is just 5 bullet points away. I already have mountains of notebooks filled with outlines on things that didn’t work. The second person is going to share the truth that the journey to success is paved with many pitfalls and traps along the way.

I can trust that person.

I think this is one subtle way the world has changed.

  • Expert = distrust
  • Humble guru = trust

We laugh at the irrelevance of the person who stands on the street corner proclaiming into a bullhorn that he has all the answers to life. Turn or burn, that’s all you need to do. Stop fornicating and you’ll be fine.

Let’s face it… it’s a stupid way to communicate. But it’s not unlike what we do in our churches. We hide behind our degrees, we point to our bookshelf, we hide from tough questions and real ministry by filling our schedule with meetings, and we gather as a staff to celebrate how awesome we are. But in the quiet moments, sharing coffee with a friend, we are no more faithful or have the answers than the person sitting in the pew behind us.

Trust me, but how?

I think most of us were raised in a time when we were told to always put our best foot forward. So we do that.

But times have changed. We can no go faster and further with people in building trust when we start by putting our worst foot forward.

“My name is ___________. I’m no better than you. I don’t have all the answers.”

Go ahead, repeat it out loud until it feels natural. It just might lead to something unbelievable.

Church Leadership

Multi-Generational Communication

multi-generationWhen I was in New Jersey, I had an intriguing conversation about communicating to multiple generations during the Sunday morning sermon. Kristen’s uncle, Fred Provencher, is a senior leader and one smart cookie. I loved this conversation on a lot of fronts. Fred is a great communicator, he is a great pastor, and yet he is doing bucketloads of research to try to figure out… “How do I become a better communicator and pass on some best practices to others?” How many senior leaders are really wrestling with this? I think most feel that their messages aren’t that effective, but very few will actually take the time to learn why and how to fix it.

The task is nearly impossible!

When I was on staff at a church we always had this feeling that Sunday was-a-coming. Like clockwork. It was always in front of you like a ticking time bomb. The local preacher has to prepare 50 messages a year, keep the attention of loads of different communication preferences, evaluate the effectiveness of last weeks message, prepare this weeks message, begin planning for stuff 6 weeks out so the worship team is can prepare, on and on. On top of all of that the preacher must try to factor in a way to communicate to builders, boomers, and all the rest of the generations… all of whom have strong preferences for how the sermon should be delivered. You can see why some teaching pastors just give up and do what their talents and preferences dictate. Which is why I’m so excited for Fred’s research.

The task is wholly necessary!

For 2000 years the Sunday morning sermon has been the primary communication tool of the church to the church body. Going forward I think it’d be hard to argue that the sermon will be less important in the future. The real question is, will it be as effective in leading the church going forward as it has been to date? Or will it fade into a tradition we do but see little fruit from?

It’s about technology!

The sermon is not about video, audio, big screens, dramas, special music, or even a talented speaker. But it is about finding the right technology for each audience. A communication style is a technology. Adapting to your context is a technology. The words you use to convey biblical truth are technology. The Bible is the content and the technology is how the communicator delivers that content.

Context, context, context

As I think about this I think about it as 3 contexts.

Context of where you are: If your church is in suburbia and your audience is hooked on Facebook, YouTube, and are business people I’d think that you’d want to communicate differently than the church I go to which is mostly working class poor. I’m always shocked to see people emulating the communication styles and technologies of churches that just don’t fit the local context in which the church operates. That’s why Erwin McManus’s stuff is so powerful in his context but falls flat in other places. In the context and shadow of Hollywood, storytelling and visual arts are powerful technologies. I don’t think that would fly in rural Kansas.

Context of the passage: I’ve been shocked to see misuse of technology in relation to the passage of Scripture the preacher is teaching. How can you teach the beatitudes… blessed are the poor, blessed are the meak… while using a $100,000 A/V system and by hiring professional actors to do a skit? Sometimes we get so worried about being hip and relevant that we actually offend the context of what we’re trying to teach. Imagine you are a working-class poor person attending a service that is supposedly teaching me that its OK to be poor. How can I undertand that message in a $20 million building from a pastor who makes $100,000 more than me! Sometimes we forget to look at the context of the passage through the lens of the the technology we use to deliver it.

Context of who you are: Another shocker is seeing a communicator try to go outside of themselves. I’ve seen communicators put on a public persona or try to communicate in a fashion that just isn’t them. We visited a church in which a very type A, direct and to the point preacher tried to close his message with an artsy prayer experience. He fumbled through the instructions. He felt awkward telling people to get up. And he never stopped talking while people were supposed to be praying. The biggest thing a preacher should do is to be who they are. If you are hip, be hip. If you are a nerd, be a nerd. If you are artsy, show us. But if you can’t send an email don’t try to tell us you found this video on YouTube. When you do things that are out of context for you, it doesn’t matter if it was done to appease a generational expectation.. it just makes you look stupid.

It matters who you are the other 6 days.

The Sunday morning sermon is important. But it is validated by who you are when you aren’t preaching. Otherwise, they are just words. We live in a high expectation, low trust world. The true measure of your Sunday morning words must be lived out through your actions. That communicates to every generation that your message is worth listening to.