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Category: Professional Church Worker Experiences

Christian Leadership Matters: When What We Do Doesn’t Work (Part 1)

Posted in Christian Leadership Matters, Growing Church, Professional Church Worker Experiences, and Purpose

(Part 1 of 2)

Being a Professional Church Worker in the 21st century can be stressful. There are more people than ever in North America that, when asked about their religious preference, respond with “none.” Many congregations are trying to “do more with less,” and consider themselves lean and mean (in a nice way, of course). Where ministry staff was once 15, five remain. Sunday School volunteer numbers have shrunk with the kids. And for many congregations that once depended on quality (or at least competent) pipe-organ-led worship now download hymns and liturgy from the cloud and lead worship by iPad.

But, before we get too mired in self-absorbed sorrow: even facing negative 21st century mega-trends, we most certainly have it a LOT better than most Christian that have ever lived. We haven’t (yet) been stoned for sharing the Gospel in public places; I know of no one in North America that has been arrested for being a Christian; I have no personal stories of persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, nor have I engaged in sword-fights on account of practicing my Christian faith.

In other countries, yes! Even as I write this there are Christians being put to the sword, lose everything for the sake of the Gospel, whose children are kidnapped, houses burned, Christians who’s very lives are taken in the most gruesome way imaginable. Sisters and brothers in Christ, a vast majority of us do not have it so bad.

But even if we did have it bad, consider God’s word through St. Paul in Romans 8:31ff “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? . . . .Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . .No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” [ESV]

I’m not trying to minimize the stress we do have; I feel it, everyone who is passionate about reaching people in the name of Jesus feels it. I’ve been at meetings where everyone’s hair is in fire because things aren’t going well for their particular ministry. Everyone who cares about people and the Great Commission can’t help but feel concern when reviewing reports of declining numbers in the ministries we serve. So, my next question is:

What is a 21st Century North American Christian To Do?

I write about Christian Leadership (hence the overall title: Christian Leadership Matters). There are steps leaders can take to address the needs and challenges our ministries face. Those steps will be divided into two articles. This week I will focus on two ideas: Remember and Re-evaluate. Next week’s article will focus on five specific ministry concepts growing congregations fully embrace. First: Remember and Re-evaluate:

Remember: The ministry is not yours but God’s. As smart and as charismatic as you may be, you have never converted anyone! Your winsome personality and hard work has never redeemed anyone; your ability to persuade and create inspiring worship has never turned a lost soul from the road to perdition. That’s all God’s job; something God has declared as His to accomplish; central to God’s creative, redeeming, ongoing miracle.

Remembering who owns The Ministry has been very helpful to me many times over the years. One wise Pastor informed my thinking by saying: “If you are going to take the blame for declining numbers of people in your ministry, you must, to be consistent, take the credit for those being saved as well.Jesus brings people to the cross, I’m called to point people to Jesus.

At the same time, we’re not irrelevant to God’s redemptive plan. God has always called men and women to share in His redemptive process and faithfully connect His Word to hurting hearts. Our weak, inwardly-bent self is redeemed and made strong. Our eyes are re-focused on other people for whom Christ died. And God invites and empowers us to share everything with His Son, to even share in His redemptive invitation. Our words and our actions and our attitudes can be so enamored with Christ that other people cannot help but be drawn to the Jesus they see in us.

Remember: You are also a child of God. Although we are just as flawed as anyone, we are also included in the lavish love of our God. When we share Christ with someone, it is not possible to NOT be filled with hope in Christ. Jesus came for “them,” but (thank God), “them” is also “me.”

Remember: Your limitations. God created His people with many limitations. One of those limitations is that we need rest, sleep, laughter, family time, encouragement, some time to do those things that give us joy. Even God took a day off after working six.  (The Sabbath is God’s gift, not an additional obligation.) Your ministry will not be “successful” by your own efforts anyway, but by the might strength of God and His Word-made-flesh.

Reevaluate Your Course. An important principle of life is this: if you fail to manage your own life well, you will be at the mercy of random events and aggressive or needy people will toss you about and chew you up. You will not like that life.

Life can be complicated. All the more for those called to leadership positions, unless we immerse ourselves in the person and purpose of our Lord Jesus. Although being a Christian will likely only complicate your life on the one hand, there is ultimately only good news: You also have the infinite resources of an eternal God. Infinite always wins over chaos.

As we re-evaluate our lives and and our Call, we must know our “WHY.” Why are you a Professional Church Worker? Why did you take on Christian leadership? What is the “why” that motivates you to dedicate your life to Jesus? If you know your “Why,” you can endure almost any “What” that comes your way. To make this article a little more succinct (and readable), to read more about the “Why,” I will refer you to an earlier article called: “No Matter What, Know Your Why.”

Reevaluate Your Priorities. Just as with individuals, organizations (non-profit, businesses, schools, congregations) need to ask WHY questions as well. So, on this point, I’m making a shift from the leader to the ministry you lead. (Next week’s article will focus on five practical principles that that will help your ministry grow.) Evaluate your existing priorities and re-evaluate where needed. Ask: Why does your school exist? What does your ministry bring to the world that a million other (better funded) ministries don’t already offer? To what has God called your ministry specifically?

I think I could accurately predict your personal values by an audit of how you spend your time and how you spend your money. (I could get an even better picture if I also reviewed the books you read and the TV/Movies you watch.) The same principle holds regarding your ministry or business: To determine what your ministry values, evaluate how you budget and how the people in the organization spend their time. What gets “rewarded” and what gets “punished?” (Or, what gets celebrated and what gets ignored.)

There are no hard and fast rules regarding how much you spend on what. For example,  buildings usually cost a LOT more than developing relationships with the people of your community yet relationships are much more important to God than buildings. But it’s not wrong to invest in buildings and as expensive as they are, buildings are quite valuable to the ministry. That’s where wisdom comes in. But ask: What does your school or church truly value? What ministry, program, building, or practice would cause division if someone tampered with it? If a first-time visitor listens to the announcements, would they be inspired and invited to get involved or would they feel unneeded and unwanted? Is your ministry inward-focused or outward focused?

Part 1 Summary

To Remember means to re-immerse yourself in God’s call to be His daughter or son, to be a child of God FIRST and experience the reality of that relationship before trying to be a leader. To Re-evaluate means to lead from a “fellow-redeemed” perspective, to prioritize everything in your life and in your ministry from Top Down (where God is the One on Top). Sounds easy (and it is on paper) but sin corrupts and kneeling at the cross revives. As always, if you would like to discuss this, email me and we can set up a time to talk.

Next week, part 2, Five Specific Ministry Concepts Growing Ministries Fully Embrace. Between part 1 and part 2 I will have outlined some very specific concepts on what to do When What We Do Doesn’t Work. Until next week. . . .


Dr. Phil Pledger is The Higher Calling Coach and writes a blog entitled Christian Leadership Matters each week. Through his blog and coaching practice, Dr. Pledger seeks to help Professional Church Workers discover and enhance the leadership skills needed to make positive changes in their lives and in the ministry they serve. The goal is to find new ways to meet challenges, overcome roadblocks, and to find joy in serving Christ and His Church.

Click to sign up for Christian Leadership Matters.  If you would like to set up a no-cost/no-obligation consultation or would like to ask a question, email Dr. Phil at:

Christian Leadership Matters: Commitment Trumps Consensus

Posted in Christian Leadership Matters, Commitment, Professional Church Worker Experiences, and Team

How many times have members of your Board or ministry team said something like: “Didn’t we already decide this issue earlier in the year?” Or, “I don’t think we have enough information to make a decision on that. . . oh, it’s too late? Oh, well, I guess it wasn’t meant to be!” Or, “Is everyone really sure we should have sold that property; let’s discuss it again.”

When those type of questions consistently arise, there are several likely problems: Hopefully it is something simple such as poor note-taking skills. If that’s the issue (to rip-off paraphrase Apple), there’s an App for that: The Minute-Taker’s Workshop.

More likely, however, those type of questions point to something more serious such as: lack of shared vision, lack of vision clarity, or lack of team commitment. Patrick Lencioni in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team states that teams become dysfunctional when they try to constantly formulate consensus rather than commitment. Lencioni warns that when we value consensus more than commitment, we’re setting our ministries (businesses) up for mediocrity or outright failure.

Why Consensus is Insufficient

Leading by consensus is not ultimately possible. People often “agree” for the wrong reasons. Some just want to get home before midnight. Others have a high need to agree with their social group (happens frequently in ministry groups); or people agree with their friend even when he/she might be wrong in order to maintain the friendship. More serious reasons why mere consensus is impossible include: the fear of looking foolish (wrong) in front of peers (silence is safe–sticking your neck out isn’t); not wanting to take the blame for a decision that resulted in failure; general lack of group confidence in decision-making.

When trying to lead by mere consensus, decisions (especially important and difficult ones) almost never happen. Or, when decisions are made, they are decisions filled with compromise and caveats; in fact, trying to lead by consensus can make a “non-decision” desirable when compared to what’s finally “decided.” Additionally, leading by consensus is a type of “group-think” that kills organizational innovation, discourages truth-telling, and prevents valuable dissenting opinions.

What is Leading by Commitment?

Leading by commitment (to use a Stephen Covey phrase) is to lead with the end in mind. Know your organization’s “WHY;” Why do you exist? What is your Mission? What are you trying to accomplish? To lead by commitment the leader must know the WHY and lead strategically according to that WHY.

Once you as a leader know your WHY, invite people to share your passion. If you have an existing Board, “infect” your leaders with your God-given vision that they, too, can share your ministry passion. Then move forward.

Leading by Commitment is to move your organization forward with maximum buy-in in a resolute manner. This means everyone knows and embraces your vision; no one has to guess what you are thinking or where you are going. When a team genuinely commits, they provide the leader with honest emotional support and they support both the leader and one another even when individuals don’t agree with the decision.

Leading by commitment is NOT autocratic or unilateral. Orchestrate good discussion, listen to everyone, think, pray, consider, discuss various options and possible outcomes; LISTEN to the people God has placed on your team, but ultimately, decide on a course of action and create maximum buy-in to your solutions. There are times when some decisions are decided by consensus; but leading ONLY by consensus will lead to unhealthy outcomes.

Principles that help orchestrate Commitment

Creating high-level commitment with those you lead is NOT done in a vacuum. It’s contingent on Lencioni’s first two steps: Build on TRUST [Part 2 of TRUST] — CREATE AN ATMOSPHERE OF CONSTRUCTIVE CONFLICT. If you were directed to this article and want to build an organization based on commitment, please read the first two articles by clicking the links. Everything starts with Trust and builds from there.

Other principles:

Building on Trust and Creative Conflict, leaders can begin to build high-level commitment among those he/she leads. Toward that end, Leaders must create:

. . . An alignment of Vision. In healthy organizations every leader embraces the same vision and mission. It is my opinion that under most circumstances the leader of the organization sets and directs that vision. Even in organizations with a long history (and even as a leader of a department), the leader sets the stage for team success. For example, each President of the United States is to work under the same constitution according to the same laws and each have, roughly, the same resources with which they can work, yet each administration sets their own national vision and agendas leading to significantly different results.

Therefore, as Principal of your school, you work with the existing constitution and bylaws, you work alongside a Pastor and with a School Board, yet, you set the tone for the School Ministry; it’s your vision for the future (working with the other ministry agencies) that will successfully realize the vision God has given you as leader.

. . . An alignment of Expectations, Roles, Responsibilities. Leaders of healthy organizations set realistic and challenging expectations. If, for example, you consistently allow meetings to start “whenever” everyone happens to arrive, your meetings will never start (or end) on time. After a while, some will question the level of commitment the group has toward the mission of the organization. (I fully recognize that this is often a cultural issue; my culture uses atomic clocks, but others use a sundial. This is only an example, your culture may vary.) None-the-less, people will tend to give a trusted leader what he/she expects from the team. (Note: my sentence says “a trusted” leader; unrealistic expectations will break trust given time.) Expect the best from your team, have lofty (but realistic) goals, encourage your team, give praise for jobs well done, and discourage bad behavior or attitudes.

. . . Overshare a Clear Vision. A friend of mine says: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.” That’s not true in every case, of course (I’m thinking beer, here – moderation!). But when it comes to sharing a clear vision, it’s difficult to imagine a situation where oversharing is possible. Complex (and wealthy) organizations spend millions of dollars each year to make sure everyone in the nation knows who they are and why they exist. Is anyone unclear what Amazon does? What about Standard Oil? Or Microsoft? We all know, in fact, we can’t escape knowing. A clear vision must be so well known by everyone in your organization that everyone can (and does) share that vision with your target community. For that to happen, your vision must be memorable and must be constantly re-enforced from the top leaders all the way through your organization and into your community. Even those who do not choose to participate in your organization should (ideally) at least know who you are and what you do.

Regarding the sharing of important information, Lencioni writes about “Cascading Communication” which is simply this:

1) The Leader and Team agree on the message (for example, the important items decided at the Board meeting). They decide on “messaging” that is simple to understand and true; the items that need to be shared.

2)  Within 24 to 48 hours, that message is personally delivered to direct reports (in ministry, that would mean, for example, each Board member takes this message to his/her own committee/team).

3)  Those “reports” would in turn communicate that same message to those in their ministry area. An example here might be: Board member to entire Youth Board to DCE who shares this with his/her parents and youth.

4)  This continues until the “messaging” is shared with everyone in the organization. In the case of ministry, the entire congregation.

The important principle: Information is communicated consistently, quickly, and personally. It strikes me that the more dysfunctional an organization might be, the more important and powerful Cascading Communication will be.

Being Wrong is Better than No Decision. This is a hard concept for many people. But there’s nothing that will kill an organization faster than the inability to make a decision. The world moves too fast for those who cannot decide. Lencioni’s advice: Set Deadlines for decision. He also suggests creating worst-case scenario contingencies in order to help your team make a timely decision. A lot of teams find commitment-decision-making difficult. Fortunately, leaders decide. What makes this particularly difficult? You will sometimes be wrong! Therefore, create an environment that rewards risk-taking (which is what a decision is), and that values forward movement. When wrong? . . . analyze what went wrong, learn something new, agree to decide on a new course, go.

Make Commitment Part of your Culture. For Christian ministries this ought to be an easy concept; we’re all about commitment. But here’s where a culture of commitment battles the majority culture: When an issue is properly discussed and everyone is genuinely heard and all the available data is scrutinized, a decision is made. Too often in today’s North American culture, people will criticize the decision (and/or outcomes of that decision) that “we” made. Healthy leaders and teams spend all the time necessary to get the facts on the table and they hammer out the best possible solution they can. Then, they decide and that decision is now THE DECISION OF THE GROUP. Healthy organizations work together and the decisions that are made are the decision of the entire group, even when an individual preferred the alternate choice. Your leadership team MUST speak with ONE voice; they must consistently demonstrate Commitment to God, the ministry group of which they are a member, and to the overall ministry in which they serve. If a person cannot or will not make these type of commitments, they should not serve in leadership. It’s that important.

By building deep trust among the people we are called to serve, by trusting God and His people and urging constructive conflict, we will set the stage for solid and mature commitment to Christ and His Church.

If you would like to discuss this or any other topic from these articles, or would like to book a workshop or coaching appointment, please contact me. I look forward to working with you and the ministry to which you have been called!


Dr. Phil Pledger is The Higher Calling Coach and writes a blog entitled Christian Leadership Matters each week. Through his blog and coaching practice, Dr. Pledger seeks to help Professional Church Workers discover and enhance the leadership skills needed to make positive changes in their lives and in the ministry they serve. The goal is to find new ways to meet challenges, overcome roadblocks, and to find joy in serving Christ and His Church.

Click to sign up for Christian Leadership Matters.  If you would like to set up a no-cost/no-obligation consultation or would like to ask a question, email Dr. Phil at:

Creating an Atmosphere of Constructive Conflict

Posted in Christian Leadership Matters, Constructive Conflict, Professional Church Worker Experiences, Team, Team Building, Trust, and Values

Concerned Member: “People are upset with some of the decisions you as a Board have made these past 6 months! A number of people have confided with me that if things don’t change, they’re going to leave the church!”

Faithful Board Member: “Who are those people? What, specifically, is their concern?”

Concerned Member: “Well, I can’t tell you because it was told to me in confidence, but they all want things to change!”

Most people are uncomfortable with conflict. I, too, am not a fan of high-level conflict and prefer to avoid it where possible. But conflict is all around us. Sometimes there’s conflict even when no one’s talking; and that can be the worst kind! In a culture that seems to relish “all-or-nothing” extremism; a culture that “knows” the position “I” represent is the right one (and “yours” is not just wrong, but EVIL), do we really want to invite conflict into our ministry teams and Boards?

And I say, “Yes, we DO want the right kind of conflict. It’s healthy, important, and will serve Christ and His Church in healthy ways.” HOWEVER, we need an atmosphere of Constructive Conflict.

What does this mean?

I believe, teach and confess that a leader of a ministry team or Board (or a business) must create an atmosphere of constructive conflict. The key word here is “constructive.” Conflict, by definition, is neither bad nor good. The “goodness” or “badness” of conflict depends on intent and outcome. The wise leader creates an atmosphere that encourages healthy conflict so that the mission of Christ can be more fully realized.

How would you characterize your ministry meetings? Are they: boring or exciting? . . . motivating or demotivating? . . . productive or a waste of time? . . . four hours long and nothing decided or 45 minutes and God says: “Well done thou good and faithful servants!”?

Four reasons Constructive Conflict is important:

  1. Constructive Conflict stimulates creativity by giving everyone a safe platform from which to speak. (People will be excited to serve.)
  2. Constructive Conflict creates Ministry momentum and group synergy. When done well, constructive conflict brings out the best in a group and creates intense camaraderie within the team.  (The ministry team accomplishes their goals.)
  3. Constructive Conflict allows important and stressful issues to be openly resolved. (Problems don’t fester.)
  4. Constructive Conflict establishes a more emotionally healthy and spiritually mature ministry. (Problems are dealt with immediately, honestly, and in Christ-honoring ways.)

Here is a quote from the Master Leadership Teacher, Patrick Lencioni about constructive conflict:

The Trouble With Teamwork (Lencioni) – “CEOs who go to great lengths to avoid conflict often do so believing that they are strengthening their teams by avoiding destructive disagreement. This is ironic, because what they are really doing is stifling productive conflict and pushing important issues that need to be resolved under the carpet where they will fester. Eventually, those unresolved issues transform into uglier and more personal discord when executives grow frustrated at what they perceive to be repeated problems. What CEOs and their teams must do is learn to identify artificial harmony when they see it, and incite productive conflict in its place.This is a messy process, one that takes time to master. But there is no avoiding it, because to do so makes it next to impossible for a team to make real commitment.”

Five Principles on creating an atmosphere of constructive conflict:

Principle 1: Create an atmosphere of TRUST!

There is nothing more important for a ministry team than trust. (This was a topic of a Two-Part Blog called Building Leadership Trust.) Unless the leader establishes genuine and deep organizational trust, constructive conflict cannot happen. You might have conflict without establishing trust, but not constructive conflict.

Principle 2: Understanding is more important than agreement.

Unhealthy conflict often begins because the real issue is not fully understood. The first objective in discussing issues is to understand the other side of the issue. Some people have difficulty outlining their ideas succinctly. Others have (what one professor of mine called) fuzzy thinking. Still others might have high emotional content but are low on factual data. To fully understand people we need to get to know them; we understand what they “mean” rather than what they “say.”

I had a Board member that would periodically summarize the issues being discussed. He did this for three reasons: First, to make sure he understood the real issue being discussed. Second, to help insure that everyone else understood the real issue the same way. Third, to help move the discussion toward healthy conclusion. I adopted that tactic when leading and have found it very helpful.

Principle 3: Be the “adult” in the room.

Have you ever had a conflict become an explosion? . . . or a team member have an emotional break-down? . . . have you experienced uncontrollable emotion (anger-to-rage, tearful frustration, expressed your seething resentment) as the leader? We are emotional creatures and for some, exercising emotional control is difficult.

Several thoughts:

1) It’s not helpful to view this as a moral problem. It could be and must be addressed if it is. But often there’s something else going on. I’m an huge advocate of Christian Counseling; a good counselor can help you understand what’s going on that makes emotional control difficult. It can REALLY HELP! Just as you are a professional in your occupation, so is a good therapist (call your District or denominational office for a referral).

2) We all “blow-it” sometimes. When you do, “own it,” apologize, take steps to rectify where possible, and move on. Do NOT allow mistakes to define your future; this is where confession/absolution is immediately practical. Model the behavior you as a Christian leader seek to cultivate in others.

3) Practice emotional distance regarding strongly felt issues. Keep your passion, but as much as possible separate how you feel from what is right and good. This takes practice. Sometimes how we feel is not the same thing as what is right. Be mindful of your feelings and lead according to rational plans and objectives (rather than leading with feelings). I am NOT saying feelings are bad (they are, in fact, a phenomenal blessing of God!). Feelings are like potential energy; our rational mind directs that energy toward healthy objectives. Without that mindful directive, our emotional energy can get out of control. (Believe me, I know this from experience!)

4) Work with a Coach. A Coach is NOT a psychologist or therapist, but with your Coach you can establish goals, discover new approaches for healthy leadership responses, and find an encouraging accountability partner for a time. I have several tools we can use to help you establish healthy leadership skills, and we can work together toward accomplishing your objectives.

Principle 4: Keep the “main thing” the main thing.

Your objective as leader is to create an atmosphere of constructive conflict. You WANT people to voice disagreement, share contrary ideas, ask for details and pick apart plans. BUT, you want the conflict to be CONSTRUCTIVE to your objectives. You want what is BEST for your Church or School or Business. Therefore you want every possible solution to be laid out on the table so you, as a group, can make informed and wise decisions about how to proceed. The “main thing” is NOT the conflict but the solution. The “main thing” is NOT “your way” or “my way,” but discerning what solution will allow us to achieve the goal for which we were called heavenward in Christ. As the leader (or in a vacuum of leadership, I urge you to take the lead in this), keep the discussion (and the conflict) constructive, always moving toward accomplishing the mission of your organization. Too many people have an emotional need to win even if it means the organization loses. Christian leaders create an atmosphere that to win means to move the cause of Christ forward. Keep your eyes on the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)!

Principle 5: Discern the real issue.

Good leaders create an atmosphere of constructive conflict. So, if you’re going to generate conflict of any kind, make sure the conflict is focused on the right thing. It’s your job as the leader to guide the team through constructive conflict. This is especially true in an organization that is new to constructive conflict or that show signs of organizational dysfunction. Start, of course, by building trust (see Principle 1 and Building Leadership Trust).

Principle 5 is about the importance of discerning the REAL issue(s). I suggest taking things slowly, especially at first. Before you encourage creative and constructive conflict, make sure you have the right issue on the table. WRITE IT DOWN. Make the topic visible to everyone (via powerpoint or white board). Modify what’s written as the discussion evolves. Always make sure people are on topic, everyone is heard, their opinions valued, and the conversation is directed toward resolution.

If “off-topic” issues are raised, establish the agreement with your team that a record is kept and those “off-topic” items will be a topic on a future agenda. It is of paramount importance that teams accomplish everything possible on the previously written/approved agenda. To do otherwise will be a recipe for chaos.

What is the “real issue”? In medicine, a patient’s symptoms could be a lot of things; there might be an 80% chance it’s the flu, but there’s a 5% chance the symptoms point to Malaria. So, the good doctor starts asking questions and running tests.

The issues being brought up at a meeting might be the “real” issue, but it’s also possible that the presenting issue might be a symptom. The wise leader asks questions and runs tests to discern the real issue. And this sometimes takes time, but it will be time very well spent!

As you can read above, I highly respect Patrick Lencioni and his leadership approaches. This blog article is the third of what will be 6 or so articles applying Patrick Lencioni’s principles from his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. If you haven’t read my first two blogs, please do so as they will be the foundation of all the other articles in this series. TRUST is the most fundamental principle for building strong teams. Trust is in our wheelhouse as members of The Church.

Everything is built on Trust (Week 1 and 2). This week, Constructive Conflict. Next week I’ll write on the importance of Commitment over Consensus . Next, the topic of Accountability (which is more important than Ambiguity). And finally (in this series of articles) creating a Results Oriented organization.  

If you have suggestions, stories, or would like to engage in constructive conflict, please do so!

Until next week. . .

Dr. Phil Pledger is The Higher Calling Coach and writes a blog entitled Christian Leadership Matters each week. Through his blog and coaching practice, Dr. Pledger seeks to help Professional Church Workers discover and enhance the leadership skills needed to make positive changes in their lives and in the ministry they serve. The goal is to find new ways to meet challenges, overcome roadblocks, and to find joy in serving Christ and His Church.

Click to sign up for Christian Leadership Matters.  If you would like to set up a no-cost/no-obligation consultation or would like to ask a question, email Dr. Phil at:

Christian Leadership Matters; Building Leadership Trust (Part 1 of 2)

Posted in Christian Leadership Matters, Consulting, Professional Church Worker Experiences, Purpose, Team, and Values

Do your ministry leaders TRUST you? How do you know if they do (or don’t)?

My first ministry experience as an Assistant Pastor included exceedingly awkward Board meetings where the Senior Pastor did his level best to be invisible. Once the Board meeting officially started, these otherwise Godly, loving, and beautifully friendly members of the congregation became an unloving, judgemental and disgruntled horde of dysfunction. The change was so immediate and complete that at first I thought they were all kidding around. I quickly found out I was wrong; it was genuine and severe ministry dysfunction.

The problems discussed by each Board member were assumed to be “someone else’s” stubbornness or inadequacies. No one offered to help solve issues outside their own narrow responsibility. They were very serious about minor issues but completely ignored the most important responsibilities (and opportunities) offered the Church by the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.  The only thing they all could agree on was that ultimately, it was the fault of the Senior Pastor. I felt sorry for him; he kept his head down throughout the meetings and seemed completely absorbed in whatever he was writing. (I always assumed it was his resignation! Amazingly, it never was and he endured these meetings for years.)

This unfortunate Senior Pastor was the victim of high-level distrust by almost everyone in leadership. A ministry team without trust is NOT a team, it’s a nightmare! I pray that no one reading this would ever endure such high-level dysfunction!

What is trust? What does it look like when an organization trusts its leader?

When I trust my surgeon, I allow her to use her scalpel to open me up. When I trust my accountant, I allow him to access to what I buy, spend, invest and waste. When I trust my spouse, I keep no secrets. Trust is the ability to rely on someone, to have confidence in their character, their strengths, abilities, and intentions. Trust requires vulnerability; allowing people to see the “real you.” Unless you create an atmosphere of trust as you lead your school, church or business, effective leadership is not possible.

Healthy leadership teams have common characteristics: a trustworthy leader, trust in one another, they look forward to working together, focus on important common goals (not politics). Healthy team members listen and encourage one another (not compete for dominance), individual members allow themselves to be vulnerable (they don’t blame others or circumstances). When a leadership team is healthy, when high-level trust is established, members are willing to risk, to try new things and be fully engaged in their ministry objectives. The freedom established in genuine trust creates the environment for effective God-pleasing ministry.

What are some steps toward building leadership trust? Here are three ideas [see part two of Building Leadership Trust for the remaining seven]:

  1.  Lead by example. A leader reaps what he sows. If you are seeking to build trust among those you lead, the leader must learn to model the behavior he/she is trying to cultivate. Trusting those you lead requires vulnerability. People will, ultimately, model what you do no matter what you might say. I don’t know if there’s science behind this thought or not, but it does seem to be true: a congregation, over time, takes on the personality of her Pastor. [I find that both humbling and frightening! — We better be sure our congregations know that Jesus is THE Pastor and then lead accordingly!]
  1.  Trust others. Learning to trust is difficult for many people. As leader, it’s your job to, well, lead. Jesus trusted His disciples and from that he got a Judas (the betrayer) and a John (who dearly loved Jesus) as well as a Peter (on who’s confession Jesus built His Church) and billions of people who have dedicated their lives to Him. Jesus invested Himself in His leadership team (and everyone else) and yes, He got burned (well, crucified), but He was also able to honestly say “It Is Finished!” (everything He came to do, He completed). Trusting others can be difficult, but that’s the nature of Christian Leadership.
  1.  Consistently Communicate. Consistent communication is built on knowing what you are trying to accomplish. “Tell me about your ministry.” Excellent leaders don’t “wing it” when answering that question. “Well, we’re like, a kinda church that, well, you know, loves God and we do great stuff in worship. . . .” Yuk! Not only must the leader know how to communicate well, the leader needs to communicate in such a way that EVERY man, woman, and child can (and will) share an intelligent answer to the question “Tell me about your ministry.” I know some don’t like the “slogan-sound-byte” approach, but the truth is this: people will more often support being made a “partner” rather than being part of an audience. Partners know the organization’s objectives and can share them with anyone they meet at a moment’s notice. Leaders lead in this area by communicating ministry objectives clearly and consistently.

The next issue will complete my top ten steps toward building leadership trust (I got too wordy to get all ten in one blog. . . sorry.) But the next seven will include: relationships outside the boardroom, leadership metrics, leadership consistency, coaching, and a couple of other important leadership principles.

Continue on to Part 2, Building Leadership Trust 

I would LOVE to hear from you! What leadership lessons have you learned? Share with me (and give me permission to share with others) your leadership successes, failures, joys and sorrows. . .

Until next time. . .


Dr. Phil Pledger is The Higher Calling Coach and writes a blog entitled Christian Leadership Matters each week. Through his blog and coaching practice, Dr. Pledger seeks to help Professional Church Workers discover and enhance the leadership skills needed to make positive changes in their lives and in the ministry they serve. The goal is to find new ways to meet challenges, overcome roadblocks, and to find joy in serving Christ and His Church.

Click to sign up for Christian Leadership Matters.  If you would like to set up a no-cost/no-obligation consultation or would like to ask a question, email Dr. Phil at:

No Matter WHAT, Know your Why!

Posted in Christian Leadership Matters, Coaching, Professional Church Worker Experiences, Purpose, and Values Clarification

Have you ever asked WHY?

We spend a LOT of time asking What and Where and How. Those questions deal with workload, deadlines, specific answers to functional tasks. Yes, they must be asked and answered or little would get done, but there’s an important question we often forget, Why.

The question Why is an inspirational question. It forces us to think about the motivation of our actions, about what drives us, what makes us want to get up in the morning and meet the challenges of the day.

I scheduled a meeting with an author of 32 Christian books a few months ago. My question was “how do I write my first book?” His first question was “Why do you want to write a book?” Leith Anderson in his book “Leadership that Works” says there are only six questions: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. The most important question, he writes, is WHY. “He who knows how will always have a job; he who knows why will always be the boss.” [Page 193, Leadership that Works]

Have you ever asked yourself Why? Why did you enter the ministry? Why are you: a Pastor? Parochial School Teacher? Director of Christian Education? Church Administrator? Deacon/Deaconess? College and Seminary are great at helping us with the What and the How and the Where. But from your prayer and devotion, from an intense commitment to our Lord, from an exhaustive search of The Word do we discover the Why of our Call.

One Pastor with whom I worked (many years ago) said that he would honestly prefer to be the custodian of the school than the Pastor of the congregation. Another Pastor confessed to my father (who was an Elder at the time) that he didn’t have any idea what Pastors should do all day. A young man and his wife came into my office saying that he would like to become a Pastor. I asked the obvious question, Why? His response, “Because I like to read.” He thought Pastors spent most days just reading (that was in the 1980’s, so today, some might think we spend our time on Facebook!).

Yogi Berra said: “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up somewhere else!” Being a custodian is an honorable and noble vocation. But for your own sake and the sake of your congregation don’t hold the office of Pastor when you have the heart of the custodian. If you don’t know how to spend your time as a Professional Church Worker, you must be exceedingly frustrated! Find a trusted mentor who can disciple you toward a more rewarding sense of ministry or vocational purpose. If you love to read, great, but find a God-given purpose for whatever you do (Professor, Librarian, Researcher), and with the blessing of God, pursue that vocation with all your might.

“Why” is where our heart is. Perhaps you have seen the Golden Circle popularized by Simon Sinek. At the center of everything valuable in our life is “Why.”  (Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk on the Golden Circle.)

Christian Leadership Matters; it matters SO MUCH that we MUST know our Why. If you know Why, you can endure any What. Are you stressed in your ministry? Too many irons in the fire? Being pulled in too many directions at once? Are you having difficulty dealing with frustration. . . lack of immediate results. . . dealing with difficult people. . . are your most valued relationships suffering?

If so, take some time, as much as you need, and renew your sense of the Why of your Call. Take time, pray, search the Scriptures, talk with trusted mentors, confide honestly with your spouse, reconnect with your God-given Why.

Then — and this is quite important — WRITE DOWN WHAT YOU DISCOVER. Map out your Why as completely and as detailed as possible. Over time, edit, revise, rewrite, rethink, continue in prayer, ask God for clarity, ask your trusted partners and mentors for honest feedback. Make your written Why a foundation for the renewal of your Call. Find a certified and professional Coach (your District or denominational leadership will have a list of qualified Coaches) and if you like, contact The Higher Calling Coach for a free consultation.

Then, no matter What, your Why will empower you to complete that for which you were called heavenward in Christ.

Until next week,

Blessings in Christ,



Dr. Phil Pledger is The Higher Calling Coach and writes a blog entitled Christian Leadership Matters each week. Through his blog and coaching practice, Dr. Pledger seeks to help Professional Church Workers discover and enhance the leadership skills needed to make positive changes in their lives and in the ministry they serve. The goal is to find new ways to meet challenges, overcome roadblocks, and to find joy in serving Christ and His Church.

Click to sign up for Christian Leadership Matters.  If you would like to set up a no-cost/no-obligation consultation or would like to ask a question, email Dr. Phil at:

Move over, Moses, Jeremiah Has Something to Say

Posted in Christian Leadership Matters, Coaching, and Professional Church Worker Experiences

Coaching Professional Church Workers is one of the most rewarding careers on the planet! I’m profoundly inspired by the deep dedication Christian leaders have for God and His people. I am also amazed at the selfless determination Christians have to fulfill their call to bless people for whom Christ died. Although Christian ministry is rewarding, it is also often stressful.

My question is this: Can we do ministry better? Is it possible to serve Christ and be filled with optimistic hope at the same time? Is it possible to work in such a way that our efforts produce a crop “yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” (Matthew 13:23)?

I say “Yes!”

Moses was one of the most important and impressive people who ever lived. He was the one through whom God communicated His Ten Commandments; Moses led Israel from the enslavement of the Egyptians to the Promised Land; Moses was the one that wrote down the words of the Torah; and Moses demonstrated greatness in other countless ways!

Yet Moses, at one time, tried to do everything himself. He was the one-man educational and judicial system for a community of millions. He would listen to every single issue, complaint, and problem a wandering nation of millions ever had. And Moses was at the edge of his ability to cope. If things didn’t change, Moses would soon become so emotionally and physically depleted he would be of no use to anyone.

Along comes Jethro, his father-in-law. “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone” (Exodus 18:17). Moses, one of the greatest figures of the Old Testament, was being taught by this Priest of Midian how to multiply his ministry. In business and in non-profit organizations, this is called delegating.

Jethro said: “select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied” (Exodus 18:21-23).

OK, so we’ve heard this before. Delegate, raise up additional leaders, recruit and train and deploy. Great. Frankly, it’s easier to do the work myself!

Jethro is NOT teaching Principles of Organizational Management

What’s really going on in Exodus 18 is the start of a reformation of the way God and His people interact. If we fast-forward to the time of Jeremiah, we read the prophecy that promises what God will yet do (31:33-34), ““I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord.

Delegating is GREAT!

When we delegate as we should, great things happen for leaders AND among those we lead. As with Moses, when we learn to effectively delegate, our capacity to fulfill our call becomes possible. And, the people to whom we delegate find joy and fulfillment. Afterall, people were created to contribute and make a difference. When we can’t for whatever reason, we are slightly diminished as a person. Additionally, by delegating, more gets done, more people are served and we realize greater advancement toward our goals. All good!

Delegating isn’t enough!

Delegating is exceedingly powerful, but there’s something even better. Partnership.

Which is better, being given responsibility or being asked to join a partnership? A partner has “ownership” in the organization. A partner transitions from someone to whom we delegate labor to a stakeholder, someone who has ownership. That’s a very powerful transition!

God calls His people into partnership, an infinitely powerful relationship. Christian ministry is best built in partnership with people in the Church. Effective delegating empowers people to greatly expand the ministry. But God calls us into partnership with His Son. He makes us heirs, co-workers with Jesus. God refers to us as His children; sons and daughters in the family business, co-heirs with Christ, partners in the Gospel, fellow laborers (along with Paul, Peter, James, John, and the other Apostles, Disciples, Evangelists, Teachers, every first-century Christian through whom God established His Church).

When Christian leaders lead by inviting people into partnership with themselves as leaders and co-leaders in Christ, they are leading as Moses learned to lead and they are fulfilling, in part, the prophecy of Jeremiah 31: “they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” Moses’ activity of delegating was the prelude to what God was fleshing out in Jeremiah (which reached its greatest expression at Pentecost). This is the foundation of God’s earnest desire for all His people, partnership with Christ.

By empowering others as God has empowered you as leader, you deeply impact those you lead. Your investment in their lives will create a ripple effect throughout their lives that will continue into the next seven generations (at least). This is the ministry to which the Christian leader has been called.


Dr. Phil Pledger is The Higher Calling Coach and writes Christian Leadership Matters blog each week. Christian Leadership Matters is a weekly blog that seeks to help Professional Church Workers discover and enhance the leadership skills needed to make positive changes in their lives and in the ministry with which they are connected. As “The Higher Calling Coach,” Dr. Pledger helps Professional Church Workers and the ministries they serve find new ways to meet challenges, overcome roadblocks, and to find joy in serving Christ and His Church.

If you don’t want to miss his blog posts, sign up for his newsletter at: Email Coach Phil at: if you would like to set up a no-cost/no-obligation consultation or would like to ask a question.