My pastor is so hard to please!
I’ve had a lot of conversations with church staff members and volunteers. Their most commonly repeated frustration usually goes like this:
“Nothing makes my pastor happy! Last week we had the best youth night ever. The kids worshiped their hearts out. One of the youth leaders spoke for the first time and did an amazing job. Two kids made first-time commitments to Jesus. And we had our biggest signups ever for next Saturday’s trip to feed the homeless.
“But do you know what I heard the next morning when I walked into church? Before I had a chance to tell my pastor about our great youth night, I got yelled at because someone left the sound system on and one of the garbage cans wasn’t emptied.
What should I do?”
A Two-Sided Problem And Solution
My advice to them is always the same three points.
First, keep doing your ministry the way you’re doing it. It sounds great.
Second, turn off the lights and empty the garbage! Create a system to deal with those issues so they stop undermining great ministry.
Third, work with your pastor to create a time and place to give and receive necessary feedback in a way that’s constructive, not discouraging.
There’s just one problem with that advice. I’m only giving it to half of the people who need to hear it. This isn’t a one-sided issue. It’s a two-sided issue with a two-sided solution.
I’ve also had many conversations with small church pastors about how hard it is to get good staff and volunteers. Their complaints often go like this:
“No matter what I do, I can’t get these young leaders to turn off lights or take stinky garbage out to the dumpster! And when I tell them to do it, they get such an attitude about it! Like they’re too good for that. Don’t they understand that this is what a lot of ministry is about? Especially in a small church?”
One coin. Two sides.
Today I want to talk to my fellow pastors. Here are a few simple steps that help our church to deal with petty issues before they become big.
1. Lead with the good news
My staff doesn’t dread my arrival, because I always walk in with a “hello” and a chance to catch up on the good news of the last day or week. Yes, we deal with the problems. But, unless it’s an immediate emergency, it can wait a few minutes.
2. Never address a problem when you’re angry
Do I really need to explain this one? Nah, I didn’t think so.
3. Don’t treat mistakes like sins
I hear this a lot. Volunteers work hard, do a great job, but leave something petty undone. But they’re treated as though they’ve committed a sin that requires prayer, tears and repentance. A full garbage can is an oversight, not a sin. Treat it accordingly.
4. Recognize the difference between laziness and risk-taking innovation
No one should ever get in trouble for trying something new that didn’t work. That’s something to encourage.
Innovate. Take risks. Dream big. Fall down, then get back up. Mistakes caused by innovation should never be criticized, they should be praised.
But if you’re chronically late, unprepared, leaving early or any other signs that you’re lazy and not giving it your best, we’ll have a talk.
5. Designate a good time and place to deal with problems
At our weekly staff meeting we have a permanent agenda item I call “Oops! Notices”. If anyone noticed anything since the last meeting that was an Oops!, we bring it up then.
This is when we report issues like “I came in and one of the back doors was unlocked,” or “I had to vacuum the fellowship room after the Kids’ Night event.” Then we figure out ways to avoid such problems in the future, offer apologies if needed, and move on.
Using a word like Oops! may seem silly, even childish to you, but that’s the point. It allows us to recognize the issues, address them as what they are (mistakes, not sins) and deal with them without anger or shame attached.
After all, how mad or embarrassed can anyone get over an Oops?
6. Deal with bigger, more personal issues in private
If the issue is bigger than an Oops!, I deal with people one-on-one. It reduces potential embarrassment and allows for a deeper look at real problems.
7. Approach correction as a learning experience, not a punishment
Our church is always in process of training young, new ministers. So they make a lot of mistakes. But they come to our church because they know they can make mistakes, get them corrected and learn to do better next time without anyone getting mad at them.
Punishment is reserved for sins. And that is God’s job anyway. Mistakes are something we can always learn from.
8. Recognize and correct your own faults first
Many of the issues we think are staff/volunteer problems are actually pastoral leadership problems. We haven’t communicated well. We don’t have proper systems in place. Or, as we’ve just seen, we’re chronic complainers over petty issues.
Let’s take care of our own plank before we deal with other people’s specks.
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