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My first experience with staff ministry was at a church in Ontario. I was the sole pastor of a church that grew to over 900 members! We had a part-time secretary (actually, “bulletin typist”) and a part-time custodian. I was going crazy trying to keep my head above water! We decided to hire seminary interns for several consecutive years and beefed up the secretarial position. The basic objective clearly was “get Baker some help before he drowns!”

From my perspective, I was happy to have some help. This modest team, particularly the interns, enabled me to hand off at least some tasks in order for me to focus on my ministry priorities. At that point, I did not think in terms of my role or responsibility to help them except to clarify expectations. I loved these people and we enjoyed working together, but beyond that (and my supervisory responsibilities with the interns), I did not invest much in their well-being and growth.

It was not until I was in my early 40s that I pastored a church that was serious about staff ministry and hired accordingly. That launched a 25+ year adventure leading and developing a staff that was deeply enriching. By that point, I had learned and observed enough to convict me of a fundamental principle that undergirds effective and flourishing teams: the one who leads the team must invest in the members of the team to ensure that they are able to operate at their best. If they flourish, the team flourishes, and the ministry flourishes. Put differently, I came to understand that the dedicated people I worked with were not just there to help me to be my best. In my role as team leader, I was there to help them to be their best.

The Gallup organization has devoted significant resources to the study of workplace engagement. They wanted to learn what it takes to cultivate workplace environments in which workers feel motivated, energized, and loyal. They discovered that in workplaces where the team leaders (managers) focus on the strengths of their employees, those team members are 61% more likely to be actively engaged with their jobs than to be disengaged. Wouldn’t we all love to lead teams where our team members are excited and motivated by the opportunity to work together?!

Pressing that further, Gallup describes the investment required by the team leader:

Great managers feel they can never learn enough about each team member. They can describe, in detail, the unique talents of each person—what drives each one; how each one naturally thinks, feels, and behaves; and how each one builds relationships.

When I coach ministry leaders, usually pastors leading a church staff, I give them a tool to use to have conversations with their team members. It is a Gallup-designed discussion guide from that discussion guide, which you can feel free to adapt for your purposes:

  • Of all the things you do well, what two do you do best? I find this to be a great question because it enables me to compare what I observe of a person’s gifts and what she or he perceives.
  • What activities bring you the greatest fulfillment? Knowing the answer to this question enables me, as the team leader, to do what I can to help this person do what she or he does best most of the time.
  • If they have taken an assessment like Clifton Strengths or Birkman*, ask “What are your dominant talents/strengths/gifts?" The objective here is to keep staff members focused on their strengths because this is where they tap into their greatest potential and derive the most energy and motivation. 
  • How can I help you use your talents/gifts more in your role? Are there activities or other parts of your ministry that you want to do more frequently? The answer to this question will help you make whatever adjustments you can to this person’s role to make the best use of her or his gifts.
  • When you achieve success in your work, how do you like to be recognized? C’mon now, we all like affirmation and expressions of appreciation when we have performed well! For one person a simple “Thank You” or “Well done” is enough. For another a “shout out” at the next staff meeting or a Thank You card left on the desk. I have learned along the way that what satisfies me in this regard does not satisfy the next person. If I had learned to ask this question, I would have avoided leaving someone feeling under-appreciated.
  • When do you feel the most pride about the work you are doing for our church? This will provide insight into what motivates the people on your team.
  • How do you like to be supported in your work? Your team members already know what you expect of them. Their answer to this question will reveal what they expect of you. It is a fabulous way to demonstrate that you are in this together and are there for each other.

Spend an hour with each member of your team to discuss such questions and you will walk away with enormous insight into how each one is wired, what you can expect of them, and how you can help them flourish in their ministry. Keep your notes from the conversations in your staff file and refer to them often as a guide to your leadership and coaching with your staff. This investment of your time and energy will pay huge dividends in creating a positive, energizing, and flourishing staff culture.

*As a Gallup Strengths Coach I am more familiar with the Clifton Assessment, but I have also taken the Birkman Assessment and received coaching on it. Both are excellent tools for helping you and the people on your team better understand their areas of natural strength, giftedness, and passion.

Rev. Ken Baker

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