Friday, July 1, 2016

A Response to the Lifeway Article: "Early Warning Signs Of An Unhealthy Staff Member"

This article is based largely on secular business practices and secular psychology. From the introduction, the phrase "No one intentionally picks a loser," sets a negative tone that carries throughout the article. I feel that it leans toward a self-centered, self-serving, secular leadership dynamic. While it claims to identify 4 types of problem staff members, it fails to offer solutions or advice. I fear this article could cause Senior leaders to neglect and even turn against the very staff members they have been entrusted to minister to. 

Claim #1: They Find Problems Faster Than Solutions

Secular leaders often treat the person who identifies a problem, AS the problem. Contrastingly, one of the primary functions of an overseer of the church is to be a skeptic. In chapter 1 of Paul's letter to Titus, he exhorts him to appoint faithful preachers and teachers as elders to be overseers of the church. The word overseer is episkopos in Greek. It comes from the words epi, which means over and skopos which means skeptic, one who scopes something out. Lifeway is a Baptist organization and in Baptist, congregationalist churches, healthy Skepticism, based on Biblical principles, is an important function of anyone bearing the title of Pastor. The overseer must watch out for problems on the horizon in the same the way that a lookout on a ship watches for icebergs, rocks, pirates or any other approaching danger that could harm, hijack or wreck the ship. This is the person who is looking forward to the destination and guarding against destructive heresies and false teaching while providing careful instruction and doctrinal fidelity. 

You can't find solutions until you identify problems. When a staff member submits a problem to other church leaders, that is a good and faithful staff member and servant of Christ. As an experienced teacher, I always try to bring solutions when I present problems to my administrators, but as an executive pastor or someone designated as higher up in the leadership of a church, anytime a staff member submits a problem to your oversight, that is an opportunity to work creatively together to find solutions. We've all heard the old saying "Don't Kill the Messenger." Secular administrators tend to treat the person who identifies the problem AS the problem. On the contrary, Christian leadership who are watchful problem finders are a blessing from God and an important resource. Remember, we have a wonderful book full of solutions for you to search through together. When a staff member brings a problem before you, consider that an honor that they trusted you and be mindful of your responsibility to shepherd and guide them. 

Claim #2: They Complain More Than They Contribute

As a church leader, you are there to serve your staff. If they are complaining, you should be listening. If their complaint is valid, then YOU need to address it as a faithful servant leader and work to create a more positive work environment. That being said, a negative, bitter attitude is a problem. Before dismissing the person, find the root of the problem and try to help the person work through it. Follow your own advice and look for solutions, rather than making a person your problem. The trend in business is to just get rid of people. In the church, we don't throw them away so quickly. Most Baptist churches are small and you cannot and should not run them like a large corporation. You can't just fire staff and more than likely, your leadership is going to be made up almost entirely of volunteers. Build your people. Develop leaders. If you want your people to serve with a good attitude, model it. Teach them the way and show them how by living out Colossians 3:23 "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men." 

Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant (Matthew 20:25-26)

Claim #3: They Become Disconnected Or Withdrawn

The most normal reaction in the world is for a person to withdraw from pain. This is not passive aggressive behavior. This is the sign of a hurt staff member. Sit down and pray. Talk it over. Take them to lunch. Make them feel like a valuable part of the team. In 1Thessalonians 2:6-9, Paul tells them that though he had authority to make demands as an apostle, instead he chose to be gentle, like a mother to her nursing child, that he chose, not only to share the good news of Jesus with them, but was delighted to share life together with them. A withdrawn co-worker is an opportunity for ministry. What better way is there for them to learn how to minister to others, than by experiencing ministry from you?

Claim #4: Once They've Had A Disagreement And Discussed It In A Healthy Way, They Can't Let It Go

This is the big one. The cheap and easy way out for leaders is to listen to someone's opinion, discuss it in a "Healthy" way and then make like Elsa and "Let It Go." This is good advice for relational conflicts, it's called forgiveness. But this is a terrible way to deal with real problems that have to do with Biblical issues, church operations and doctrine. The person who can't "Let It Go," when it comes to a serious Biblical issue may have God's hand on them and you need to listen. My family once left a church because of an issue where a "healthy discussion," wasn't enough, action was required. Large, corporate mega-churches might get away with this because one person leaving doesn't make a noticeable impact. Small churches can't and shouldn't. When discussion is not enough, corrective action, usually in the form of re-teaching and correcting is required. Again, we are back to the primary functions of a pastor or overseer. All responsible teachers correct mistakes and re-teach important material when their students fail to grasp it. How much more important is it for church leaders to do the same? It might be uncomfortable to admit a mistake, or to to get up and correct the teachings of a fellow staff member or guest speaker or to make changes in some program or function of the church. But you can't always "Let It Go." 

Final Thoughts

This article fails to offer a single word of advice on how to help staff members or how to develop them. By his own standard, the author would be guilty of presenting only problems with no solutions. I feel like this teaching could cause church leaders to target vulnerable staff members going through a difficult time or feeling disenfranchised--it even points to not fitting in with chemistry and culture as a problem. Your church brand might have a certain "culture," you want staff to conform to, but the Kingdom of God is all about the disenfranchised and the misfits. We all fit in here and everyone has an important role in the Body of Christ. You could likely be attacking someone sent to you from God for a very special and important purpose. We don't need "chemistry," we have the Holy Spirit, he is what joins us together. We should not substitute a manufactured "culture," for an enviroment of Christian service and ministry. We shouldn't use terms like "chemistry" to replace the bonding work of the Holy Spirit. We shouldn't view people as problems, but rather should honor the incredible trust God has placed in us to shepherd, develop and minister to them. Focus on ministering to your staff (and staff, minister to your leaders) and there will be fewer problems. 

"I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle. Be patient, bearing with one another in love. Be deligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." -Ephesians 4:3

1 comment:

  1. Here is a link to the Lifeway article: