Effective leaders always seek wise advice and counsel.
If you, like me, are a small church pastor, you know there’s a huge expectation for us to treat everyone’s advice as though they all have equal value.
We’re often told that getting everyone’s input is the only fair way to do things. Some churches even require congregational votes on almost every decision.
There are very few policies that will stifle a church’s health and effectiveness more permanently than the pursuit of false fairness. It must be resisted if our leadership is to be effective.
Yes, everyone has equal value in God’s eyes and they should in our eyes, too. But when it comes to who should have input into major decisions, not everyone’s opinion has equal value.
Whose Opinion Carries Greater Weight?
In my 30-plus years of ministry, I’ve recognized three types of people whose opinions merit a greater say. I feel so strongly about these, that I teach them in every new members class. It cuts down on the complaints later.
These may not be the best criteria for you, your leadership style and your church, but even if you don’t use this list I encourage you to make one of your own.
Decide in advance whose opinions should carry the greatest weight. Otherwise the loudest voices will win out and your ministry will be all reactive instead of proactive.
1. Mature Believers
Riding a pew for twenty or thirty years does not automatically make someone a mature believer.
We should respect people who’ve been around a while. But someone who’s been actively growing in their faith for three years carries greater credibility than someone who has done nothing but show up Sunday after Sunday for 30 years.
Thankfully, those aren’t our only options. There are also some great saints who have been serving Jesus and his church, while growing daily in their faith for decades. Their advice carries the greatest weight. But the priority is given to their spiritual growth first, their years in the church second.
2. Those Involved In a Ministry
At our church, we have a simple rule for new church members. Do you want to be a leader? Start by being a follower. A worker. A volunteer. A servant.
Get involved in something. If you need help getting started, we have a list.
People on the worship team should have a greater say in the purchase of new worship software than those volunteering in the nursery.
Likewise, those volunteering in the nursery are taken more seriously about the color of the walls than someone who can’t find the nursery on a site map of the church building.
3. Those Affected By a Ministry
We didn’t take a poll of our church members about the design of our church website and logo, or about what our door-greeter policies should be. But we did take the pulse of first-time guests and even some people who hadn’t been to the church at all. Why? Because the website, logo and greeters have a huge effect on people’s first impression of the church.
Or take the church building, for example. In our facility upgrade a few years ago, we added more handicap ramps than are required. Why? Because people in our church who use wheelchairs and walkers pointed out the need to us. They’re the ones affected, so they have a greater say.
It only makes sense to take the pulse of people who are affected by a ministry. It’s the only way to know if you’re really having the impact you’re hoping for.
Who’s Not On the Priority List?
You may have noticed some of the usual suspects are not on my list. Here are a couple, and why they didn’t make the cut.
1. The Chronic Complainers
People with real needs matter a great deal to us. But being a complainer and being needy are not the same thing.
When I started in ministry I spent too much time reacting to every demand, whether it came from a genuine need or not, and I allowed chronic complainers to suck me dry.
In order to meet real needs, we have to prioritize our time and energy in the wisest way possible.
2. People with Titles or Positions
We shouldn’t give someone’s opinion greater weight because they have a title. They should earn the title because their opinion has greater weight. Their reputation should precede their role.
In a healthy church, people don’t earn positions by seniority or politics. They earn positions of authority because they’re mature, involved leaders.
If you’re dealing with people who believe their opinion matters because of their title, you may have to adapt to and work around some difficult situations. Pastors who have recently inherited dysfunctional churches often have a huge battle to fight in this arena.
Hold the meetings you’re required to hold. Listen to the people you’re required to listen to. Then find truly wise counsel to help you start changing the atmosphere of the church and its leadership culture.
Titles and wisdom don’t always go hand-in-hand.
Wisdom + Endurance = Effectiveness
Seeking wise counsel is a biblical mandate. But the key word in that is “wise”.
Effective leaders will learn (sometimes the hard way, like I did) who to learn from, who to invest in and who to ignore. Yes, ignore. Not ignore their personhood, but their whining.
Shortly after I arrived at my church 25 years ago, one of the truly mature believers in the church pulled me aside and implored me, “Pastor, I know this is not an easy church to pastor. But please stay long enough so that the people who have come to this church after you outnumber the ones who were here before you. Build your own team. It may take a while, but if you outlast them, you can pastor this church well for a long time.”
Now that’s some counsel worth listening to.
He was right.
It took a long time. It wasn’t always easy. But the changes did come.
And it has been worth it.
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