Have you ever watched the TV show Undercover Boss? A CEO or president of a prominent company puts on a disguise and spends a week working within his or her company. Workers are told that the new addition to their team is part of a reality TV show. What they don't know is that the newbie is actually the leader of the entire corporation.
At the end of the show, the employees are invited to corporate headquarters. There, they meet their new coworker again, and discover his or her real identity.
Typically, the bosses come to realize how committed their employees are. They learn about each person's family, hardships, and challenges. Most episodes end with both the boss and employee reduced to tears as they gain a new understanding and appreciation of what they share. Sadly, some of the employees on the show report that they've previously never been thanked for their hard work.
The show got me thinking about my role as a pastor. I wish I could go undercover at my church. I'd love to be able to give my hard-working teammates a substantial gift that tells them how much I love and appreciate them. I don't do that nearly enough.
But the truth is, I see them doing great things all the time! And I don't need to go undercover to tell them how much I value them. I just need to do it more.
Why do we sometimes fail to tell our teams how important they are? Why don't we thank them more often? Is it possible that some of the people we supervise feel the same way as those employees on TV feel, that no one ever appreciates or notices their contributions?
One possible reason: we may think our employees don't need to be thanked. They're getting paid. They're serving the Lord. They should just look to God for their appreciation, right?
Of course, this kind of thinking is wrongheaded. It ignores our role in the process. Paul showered accolades on many of those he served with. Those compliments are now part of Scripture. We all need to have God speak to us in the flesh through a "Paul" from time to time.
Second, we get too busy with the urgent. There's always another weekend to plan for, another meeting to attend, another person to counsel. We're exhausted and want to rest. Telling someone "thank you" doesn't seem as urgent as helping that person in the hospital or the one with the drinking problem or preparing our next message. But when we get too busy to say thanks we're too busy, aren't we? We need to arrange our schedules in ways that allow time to pour appreciation into the lives of those we labor with.
Third, we've forgotten the impact of words of life. Most of us have had someone at some point speak truth and encouragement into our lives. At the time, we were impacted, buoyed up, and encouraged to keep going. We felt strength flow into our hearts. But maybe we've forgotten. Remember, our tongues have the power of life! We must not forget the impact even a few words can have.
So what can we do to show our appreciation?
First, regularly build words of life into your interactions with staff and volunteers. Don't be hokey. Don't just flatter. Start with the simple things like … "Thank you, you're really doing a great job; this team would be missing something big if you weren't on it."
Second, surprise your people with something out of the ordinary—a note, a gift card, a special present, something from their favorite coffee shop. Tell them you're giving it to them because you notice what they do every day, and you value it.
Third, listen to their ideas on how to improve your department, team, or ministry. Solicit their thoughts; don't wait for them to come to you out of frustration. Let your workers know that their input matters, that they're heard, and that you'll take action when appropriate.
Fourth, brag on them in the right settings. Identify their contributions and talk about it in front of others. Obviously, you'll need to be careful that others don't feel out, but don't be afraid to notice and broadcast praise for excellent work.
Finally, get to know their personal lives. Make sure you know your team well enough that you can repeat the names of their spouse and kids. Ask regularly about their families, find out what you can pray for, and show interest in their hobbies.
Leaders, let's never miss the longings, needs, and passions of our fellow servants in ministry because we're too focused on the ministry. That would be leaving part of our leadership undercover. I hope you find someone right now to encourage!
Gary Sinclair is director of pastoral care at Austin Christian Fellowship. He is also a teaching pastor, writer, hiker, blogger, father, husband, and grandfather.
Copyright © 2012 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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