Ministry Today | Serving and empowering church leaders

Decisions, Decisions

With so many decisions demanding his attention, a pastor must develop and empower trusted team leaders to help carry the load.
Years ago I attentively sat in a sales-orientation class, gathering information from great salesmen who were teaching techniques for closing a sale. Before enlightening us with these sacred sales tips, they told us that a successful close was predicated upon the pre-qualification of the proposed customer. This process of pre-qualification was a prerequisite that required some diplomacy, as it was a potentially perilous pursuit. But it was important to determine what level of investment should be given to the furtherance of the discussion with the potential buyer.

The instructors discussed how to qualify the customer to determine if the person had the wherewithal to purchase big-ticket items--in other words, find out if they made enough money or were shopping out of their league.

Next they discussed how to evaluate the customer's need and readiness to make a decision. This was done to separate the many "window-shoppers" and "rainy-day thinkers" from the "I want it now" persons who were more likely to leave smiling and leave us humming the contented hum of commissioned salesmen.

The third and perhaps most important aspect of preparing to bring the sale to a positive close was the determining who was in fact the decision-maker. In some cases the decision-maker was the wife, and in others it was the husband. We were taught to avoid focusing time on the person who had come along for the ride or who just had no power to make the decision.

The simple fact of the matter boiled down to this: Decisions were the road to success.

I have long since left that sales and business arena, except for a few personal business ventures I do to supplement my own income. Yet the tools I acquired have been a blessing both in witnessing and in administrating the needs and affairs of the church.

Decision-makers. Much like the salesmen had instructed us, a church staff must have a clear understanding of the chain of command and who is able to make what kind of decisions.

If you cannot identify the decision-maker in the church, auxiliary or department, the church will be stagnant and remain stymied, waiting for the senior pastor to make decisions that are not worthy of his time. It is important to develop an approach to decision-making that frees him to remain focused unless the decision warrants his attention. I learned the hard way that I cannot handle everything.

In some churches the pastor may not be the decision-maker, though he or she often bears the brunt of the criticism for the direction of the church. There are various levels of pastoral oversight, and each church varies in its range of authority and to whom it is given.

Some pastors are empowered like the Lone Ranger. They have no one to give account to but God. They are the final voices in the church.

To the other extreme is the pastor who is basically a hired gun. He is employed by the church to perform a service to the organization. He gives that service through preaching and is compensated for his contribution, but he actually has no input or empowerment for any other decisions. A few pastors in this category do not even have true control over sermon subjects.

Most pastors are somewhere in between these extremes and are able to contribute significantly to the direction of their churches, though they may be accountable to advisory boards or boards of directors. Regardless of which category you are in, if your ministry continues to grow, such growth will require a dispersion of authority.

Releasing authority. Determining who are the ones best qualified to make which decisions is critical. If you as a leader are such a control freak that every issue must be passed through you, it will asphyxiate the growth of the church both numerically and spiritually. No one will develop true leadership skills because they will never be weaned from the gifting of the leader.

Having founded every church I have pastored, I realize that when a church is in its infancy, it requires the nursing care of a pastor who often has to make many, if not all, of the decisions for the church to survive. However, there comes a point where power must be shared for the church to grow.

Paul told Timothy to commit the work of the gospel into the hands of faithful men, that they might teach others also (see 2 Tim. 2:2). This wise counsel is important, not only regarding the dispersion of work, but also the dispersion of authority. When all roads lead back to you as a leader for every decision, your heart and mind will eventually crash under the pressure.

If you are in the category of pastors who feel more hired by the church than responsible for the direction of the church physically, financially and spiritually, you might consider dialoguing with the board to get a clear indication of what is the extent of your authority.

I believe the Bible is clear about the authority of the pastor, as he has to give account for the souls he serves. The fivefold ministry detailed in Ephesians should be the model the church implements.

However, I know that many pastors have walked into environments that are not able or mature enough to accommodate the restructuring of their organizational flow chart--not even for the Scripture. If you are in such a situation but feel God has sent you there nonetheless to serve those people, I still think that some of the ideas outlined here are beneficial to you.

Give your staff a test. Ask them who has the authority to make this or that decision. Ask them to whom they are accountable. If their answers are always the pastor, you will eventually have a problem.

The fact is, there is only one of you to go around. So (to borrow a line from a commercial) if nothing says Hanes until you say it is Hanes, the production line will be short and the productivity will be brief! Making sure everyone has a clear understanding of the who, what, when and in which cases you expect what level of decisions will benefit all involved.

Empowering leaders. When you organize staff, volunteers and disciples, be sure to include a clear understanding of the scope of their authority to make decisions, along with your expectations. There is nothing worse than a title with no power. It eventually leads to massive frustration, as those who sit in the seat cannot control the steering wheel.

I found that as our church grew, it was increasingly impossible for me to have my hands on every detail. Accountability is important, but micromanaging people is impossible with the coming of growth.

Think of God, who could force His will on all of us if He chose to do so. But He allows us to have a developmental experience by teaching us to choose. The power of choice is important, and it gives an individual a sense of responsibility.

Early in His training of His leaders, Jesus laid hands on them and said, "Behold, I give unto you power" (Luke 10:19, KJV).

Have you given power to those who serve? Or does servitude and slavery become synonymous in your structure? Though they are similar in connotation, servitude and slavery are obviously not the same.

Allowing the disciples who serve to have and develop the power to lead is what has kept the church's womb fertile and its leadership process recycling. Equally important is the fact that having others empowered to decide will stop you from having to judge, as in the Old Testament account of Moses, every case that confronts your organization.

It will enhance your disciples and develop their abilities to reason like you. This is important, as we do not seek to be dictators but rabbis or teachers training and developing growth in all of its facets.

Empowering people will also enable you as a leader to answer the call of God without collapsing on the floor in burned-out exhaustion from having to think about everything, resolve every conflict, and eventually become distracted from some of the more important tasks deserving of your attention. If nothing else, breaking down expectations, boundaries and releasing some ability to make decisions will give you as a leader an important commodity seldom realized by clergy--it will give you a life!

As with sales people, there is a "commission" of sorts in ministry. But it's not the gathering of men and the bragging of numbers. It's the development of people, teaching them to observe all things and not just some things.

Admittedly, this may not be the commission that makes salesmen smile. But it will help you fulfill the far greater commission of making disciples out of men who would otherwise be reduced to underachievers because they have been denied the tools that make greatness possible.

Greatness is often the result of great decisions. So, how about that commission, pastor?

Enjoy your life, win souls and take a few vacations. Diversifying your responsibilities when feasible will help you get the greatest commission possible: saved souls, peaceful living, and a bonus when you get to heaven because you invested wisely and multiplied what He gave you well.

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