Sunday, January 26, 2014

Pastors, Meet with Your Key Lay Leaders

A few years ago one of the lay leaders in our church suggested that it would be a good idea for me to call together all of our key church leaders for an annual direction-setting gathering. Frankly, I did not like the idea very much. I was raised in a blue collar, working class family that prided itself on the notion of treating others equally. The idea of calling together a select group of people just did not set well with me. I was wrong.

Although I was hesitant at first, I am fully convinced of the value of these gatherings now. There are good reasons and significant benefits to calling key leaders together to set (or reset) direction. In fact, January of 2014 marked our fourth key leaders gathering. During that time, we have learned some things along the way that might be useful to other pastors or church leaders considering creating such a gathering. Below are three benefits of calling an annual leader gathering and one cautionary word about your process of so doing.

The first reason to call leaders away from the larger group is that Jesus modeled this practice in his ministry. In Jesus’ ministry there were at least four levels of involvement. If you think of four concentric circles, the largest group (the outer ring) was the crowd. That included followers, inquirers, doubters and skeptics. The next circle toward the center was those who were following Jesus. The Twelve represent the next circle. They were select from the larger crowd of disciples. The innermost circle – indeed, the inner circle of Peter, James and John – operated at another level of intimacy with Jesus. Apparently, Jesus had no issue with recognizing deeper levels of commitment and investing in those who were closest to him and his ministry.

A second reason to call leaders together is they need to hear the heart of their leader. John Maxwell has made famous the phrase that “everything rises and falls on leadership.” In a perfect world, your key leaders would have deep commitments to Christ and the work fo the local church and would pursue those commitments with reckless abandon. The reality is that the key leaders in a church are, well, human. That means that, regardless of their commitment to Christ and the church, they need someone with skin on. They need to be invested in their leader. By calling key lay leaders together, they gain the benefit of hearing the direction the leader believes God is guiding the church to go. They also have the opportunity – that safe environment – to offer feedback, encouragement, and push back (if necessary).

A third reason to call leaders together is to communicate to them the message you intend to communicate to the body during the year. As the Senior Pastor in a local church you are responsible to have your ear bent toward the Heavenly Father, listening for how He wants you to lead His church. As you hear from God, it is vital that you share that message to the lay leaders in your congregation. In all likelihood they will be the ones sharing, explaining, and possibly defending the direction you sense God is leading the body. You owe it to your leaders for them to hear from you before they have to answer questions from the rest of the congregation.

If you decide to begin hosting an annual key leaders gathering, you will inevitably deal it the question of “why wasn’t I invited?” At our first gathering, we did not have intentional, objective criteria for who was invited to the gathering. A couple of us poured over a list of members and just picked some folks. That was a bad idea and we realized it quickly. We realized we had to create criteria that made sense and was defensible. In our context, we settled on inviting the Overseers (i.e. Elders), Deacons, Personnel Team, Stewardship Team, Ministry Staff, and Generosity (i.e. Giving) leaders – as well as their spouses – to the gathering.

By creating an objective set of criteria, the Senior Pastor and the lay leaders remain above reproach in the process. That is, the criteria are not subjective. An invitation is not based on friendship. Rather, it is based on one’s level of service in the life of the local church. That, in and of itself, sends a subtle message about the importance of and the benefits of committed service in the church.

One final thing to note: if you are going to call for an annual gathering, be very intentional with how you spend your time together. Nothing will frustrate leaders more than to think they are coming to a gathering designed for leaders that turns into something far less. In our gathering we ask each family to bring either a food or dessert item to share. That allows us to begin the night with light fellowship. In some churches – ours included – this gathering has proven to be the place where leaders meet other leaders for the first time. The fellowship time allows the beginning of a relationship to form.

Once we move beyond the fellowship, we call all of the leaders to gather in a central room. At that point, the Senior Pastor (in our case, me) makes a presentation that emphasizes God’s faithfulness in the past and anticipation of the future. Whatever you do, make sure to leave the leaders with a challenge. Leaders thrive when challenged, so do not hesitate to set the bar high.

While I was originally hesitant to call for a key leaders meeting, I am glad I did. Our church has benefited and our leaders have benefited from this annual gathering. And, I would like to think that it has helped shape me into a better leader, as well.

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