Return on Investment

A couple of weeks ago I was in Georgia and saw flowering trees.  As I look out my window I see daffodils and tulips trying to emerge.  All this gives me hope that our harsh winter is about to end as spring erupts.  Just as these flowers are responding to their environment, I have found I must create an environment for my team that allows them to flourish.  I operate on the premise that a happy staff is a fruitful staff.  When I equip them to do the ministry God has called them to and provide the kind of support they need, good things are released.  From this perspective, I don’t need to push and prod, but create opportunities and an environment that releases ministry.

That was written by my dear friend and colleague, John Criswell, in his recent newsletter. John currently serves as a Regional Director at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship but, as I reflected on John’s words, I remembered that he had this same philosophy when we served together on the staff of a large church not so many years ago. What’s more, it worked! As my supervisor, John didn’t have to push or prod. Rather, he invested in me and good things were released in and through me.results

As a leader, what are you doing to create opportunities and an environment that releases ministry? Here are a few investments that will yield good results:

  • Help those you lead discover how God has uniquely designed them for ministry. I know I write this over and over, but this understanding is critical to fruitful ministry! Teach them to listen for and recognize God’s calling on their life.
  • Regularly re-visit that discovery process with those you lead through reflection exercises designed to reveal their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their current serving role. Don’t be afraid of losing your volunteer minister! Instead, set them free to pursue something more fulfilling, all the while trusting that God will bring someone who is better fitted to that role.
  • Provide opportunities for ongoing equipping. This can be in the form of conferences, workshops, seminars–if they can’t attend a live event, consider purchasing a video or audio recording for your volunteers. Instructional materials can also be found in books, magazines, ezines, blogs, YouTube, etc. Consider that volunteers have limited time, so be strategic when choosing these resources.
  • And speaking of resources, make sure your volunteers have what they need to do what is expected. Case in point: At the end of the Toddler Church lesson, our little ones look forward to their snack. Believe me, it’s not a pretty sight when the Goldfish snack container is empty! It makes for some pretty unhappy Toddler Church teachers.
  • Be accessible. John had a comfy blue chair in his office that held many of his supervisees when they came to share a frustration or recount a moment of fruitful ministry, and everything in between. John was always willing to listen, counsel, exhort, and celebrate. Yes, he was my supervisor…but he was also a trusted friend.
  • Dream with those you lead. Don’t just settle for the low-hanging fruit. Encourage them to dream bigger dreams for their ministry. Help them reach for more of the kingdom.

How are you investing in your people? What kind of return are you getting on that investment? If ministry isn’t being released–if you aren’t seeing good fruit as a result–perhaps it’s time to review your investment practices.

10 Keys to More Productive Ministry, continued

Michael Hyatt recently featured a guest blog post from J. D. Meier entitled 10 Proven Practices for More Productive Leadership. While Meier’s practices target a marketplace audience, I think they are applicable to the ministry leader as well. In yesterday’s post I offered the first five keys; today I will finish with the last five…

6. Focus on outcomes, not activities. Getting lost in the production is a sure path to missing the desired outcome. Take programs, for instance. Churches are full of them and some have become the equivalent of the sacred cow. If the desired outcome of a particular program is to encourage spiritual formation, but the people involved are stressed out, angry, and frustrated…well, it’s missed the mark. To refuse to let the program die is to allow activity to take precedence over outcome.

7. Pick a theme or focus for the year. Meier suggests doing this for the month, but in the life of church ministry, a year may be more practical. I once spent a year with my adult discipleship team simply focusing on spiritual formation. We worked on a common understanding of formation, what contributes to it and what does not, how we could develop programs that would encourage the congregation towards deeper formation.

8. Ask better questions. As we talk with others about their unique design for ministry, we want to cultivate the habit of asking open-ended, non-directive questions that will guide people to the answers they have within themselves. When dealing with ministry, we need to ask questions that will get at the real problem, need, or issue (see key #1). I love Meier’s suggestion of asking, “What does success look like?” It’s a great catalyst for visioning!

9. Get their fingerprints on it. My favorite art activity as a child was finger painting. I loved the experience of using my hands rather than a paintbrush to create a colorful masterpiece! For whatever reason, those paintings felt like a truer expression of me. Same holds true for ministry today. When I can get my hands on it and in it, I’m much more motivated. I take ownership and truly care about the outcome. I want to offer that same experience to those I lead, which creates significant buy-in.

10. Focus on “good enough for now”. Two key points to this one: “good enough” and “for now.” Perfectionism is a real joy-stealer. It’s often unobtainable, and so it flings wide the door to discouragement. The Amish are known for their exquisite quilts, yet it is said that even the finest of their quilts will have a mistake in it. How? The quilter will intentionally (if necessary) make a mistake because they profess that  nothing is perfect except God. That said, I’ve learned from my own quilting experiences that I can take what was “good enough for now” and learn how to improve it the next time.

As with the Meier’s original post, I encourage you to make a checklist of these 10 keys for yourself. We all know that checklists are useful only when they are consulted, so put it where you will see it regularly. Pick one thing at a time to work on…and, when you’ve noted some improvement, practice key #10 and move on to the next one!

10 Keys to More Productive Ministry

Michael Hyatt recently featured a guest blog post from J. D. Meier entitled 10 Proven Practices for More Productive Leadership. While Meier’s practices target a marketplace audience, I think they are applicable to the ministry leader as well.

1. Know what problem you are trying to solve.  While this sounds obvious and simplistic, it is a practice that often gets lost in knee-jerk reactions. Case in point: You’ve just completed your annual stewardship emphasis and there simply isn’t enough money pledged to meet the budget. The knee-jerk reaction is thinking that people aren’t giving enough, but the real problem may be that you simply need more people. Potential solutions for those two problems are quite different!

2. Get smart people on a cadence. Meier offers this model: Monday Vision, Daily Outcomes, Friday Reflection.

  • On Monday the team identifies three wins for the week.
  • Each day the team identifies three wins for the day.
  • On Friday they reflect on the results by asking two questions: What are three things going well? and What are three things to improve?

This creates a momentum for recognizing glitches before they become train wrecks. It also provides balance between celebration of what’s going well and realistic recognition of what needs to be improved.

3. Set boundaries and buffers. Early in my ministry leadership experience I had three volunteers come to me within a couple months and say, “I’m done. I quit. I’m totally exhausted.” Each one was recognized as a high-capacity leader and had served on one committee or team after another. Two of them left the church. I vowed that I would do all I could to see that no volunteer ever came to me again exhausted and burned out. Boundaries are essential.

In my current role in a much smaller congregation, it is often necessary for a volunteer to serve in more than one role, even on two different teams. The buffer I use when creating the master schedule is that no volunteer serves in more than one capacity on any given Sunday.

4. Lead with your why. Meier rightly states that the key to great results is passion plus purpose. A critical question to ask, then, is “Why do I do what I do?” Figure out the why and, if you realize that your ministry is all work and no joy, re-visit key #1 before going on to key #5!

5. Give your best where you have your best to give. It is absolutely essential to joyful ministry that you and your volunteers know how God has uniquely designed each person to serve. When our roles align with our design–in other words, when we serve out of our strengths–work becomes fulfilling and fruitful. For example, positioning the introvert at the church door to greet guests is not honoring their God-given design. Within five minutes, they are exhausted from the effort of making small talk and are no longer offering a smiling welcome as people arrive!

Keys 6 through 10 in tomorrow’s post…

A little gratitude…

It’s that time of year, isn’t it? You know… the avalanche of gratitude. This is the season where we make a point of expressing our thankfulness for all our blessings: family, friends, shelter, food, Jesus, salvation, the church, and so on. It’s not that I think this is inappropriate–my family traditionally shares something for which we are each especially grateful as we gather around the table at Thanksgiving. … But are we as focused on an “attitude of gratitude” from January through October?

Recently my husband was sharing some frustrations about his job, one of which is that he rarely gets any encouragement, much less an expression of gratitude. Case in point: a recent conversation in which his supervisor pointed out that my husband’s department only ranked third in the region, yet the department actually sold significantly more of a top-line product than during the previous year. What a difference it would have meant for my husband to hear, “Wow, Dave! You and your team did a great job increasing top-line product sales.” Knowing that you are never recognized for what you have accomplished makes it difficult some days to go to work.

As I listened, I couldn’t help contrast his situation with my own. In my church staff role, my pastor regularly expresses his gratitude for my ministry. Nothing fancy; no big hoopla. He simply interjects into a conversation that he appreciates my help… and that makes me smile.

I also work part-time at a local quilt shop. Not a week goes by that my manager fails to tell me that she is grateful for me. Most of the time, it’s specific–“thank you for all you do with our website, ” or “you put together beautiful fabrics for that customer’s quilt.” Often it’s said in front of a patron. No matter how hectic the day has been, I go home knowing that I am appreciated.

Getting up and going to work–whether it’s at church or at the quilt shop–is rarely a struggle for me. I feel valued in both roles. My husband, on the other hand, has to fight each day to maintain a positive attitude for himself and for his team.

Perhaps this is the season to take an objective look at the attitudes of your team members. Is anyone grumbling? Who “no-shows” on their day to serve? When is the last time you encouraged them with gratitude? Not the generic expressions of appreciation as one among many. No, something more specific and personal. Something that says, “I value you as an individual; your unique service is vital to our ministry as a whole.” No big hoopla, just a well-spoken word.

Reality check: You have good intentions, but you get busy and forget, right? Set a reminder on your calendar, post a sticky note, write it on your bathroom mirror, tie a string around your finger… whatever you need to do to remind yourself of this most important equipping value. Say “thank you” sincerely and often. A little gratitude offered regularly can yield joy-filled service and fruitful ministry!


P.S. One of the blessings that I’m most grateful for this year is you! Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I know it’s valuable time out of your day, and I pray that you find encouragement for your ministry in return for your investment of time. Have a joyful Thanksgiving!