Elders & Deacons: Partners in the Gospel

Elders and Deacons

Jesus is the King and Head of the Church. He is the church’s leader and its Chief Shepherd. The church belongs to Jesus, exists for Jesus and is under the authority of Jesus. In God’s sovereign plan and under his authority, he chooses men to serve as elders and deacons to lead, guide, serve and protect his church.

So the question becomes, what’s the difference? The office of elder is an office of teaching and rule. The office of deacon is an office of service. In practice though, it’s less about different roles and more about starting point, as the above illustration demonstrates. The elder typically starts by assessing spiritual needs in people’s lives and moving toward meeting physical needs. The deacon, on the other hand, starts by serving people, moving to a place of teaching people how to grow in maturity as a means of helping them grasp the spiritual implication of the practical assistance provided.

Example: Say a couple’s marriage is struggling and they are falling behind on their bills. Let’s see how the elder and the deacon are likely to respond, starting from the distinct perspective of their respective office.

The elder may begin counseling the couple, assessing their selfish motivations, areas where they are pursuing their own desires rather than seeking to pour the gospel onto the spouse. Out of that counseling and assessing the spiritual needs of the couple, the elder may learn that the couple is having financial problems that are contributing to the marital discord. At that point, the elder may move to provide assistance in meeting the financial problems of the couple.

The deacon, conversely, may start by helping meet the physical needs of the couple: helping with the rent or paying the couple’s electric bill. The deacon, then, started by serving the practical needs of the couple… but not ending there. The deacon then asks diagnostic questions such as:

  • How did you get into these financial difficulties?
  • Is this a one-time challenge or likely recurring? If recurring, what lifestyle changes must the couple make?
  • How is your marriage doing? Are these money problems getting between the two of you?

The elder may start with counseling or teaching a class and move to helping with practical needs. The deacon may start with the practical needs and move to counseling or teaching the couple about Godly approaches to money.

While the starting point may be different, good eldering and good deaconing both require engaging the spiritual and the physical needs of the congregation. And, when done well, they will join hands as partners in the process…


7 Rules for Effective Strategic Planning

roundtablemeetingEveryone loves being part of a creative process where ideas are flying and your team hits upon “the” idea. And most of us have also been in a room where one comment shut down conversation completely and deflated the whole creative process. Good planning environments reinforce creative brainstorming, while reducing the number of comments that slow the team down. Here are the 7 rules (in no particular order) I use when leading strategic planning to ensure that the creative juices flow and that conversation doesn’t get stunted.

Rule #1: Yes, and
The first rule of improv comedy is “yes, and.” The idea is simple: instead of rejecting the suggestion of a teammate, you accept the comment and build off it. No using “no” or “but.” Example: If someone says the ball is blue, no responding with “No it’s not, it’s green.” Instead, you add on and say, “yes, and it bounces very high.” It works in improv comedy… and it works in strategy planning.

Rule #2: 4 score and 7 years ago
This is the no speeches rule. Ever been in a meeting and someone goes off for 10 minutes about, well, you don’t even remember because you stopped listening a minute and a half in? In a brainstorming environment, you may need to clarify your suggestion, but a “no speeches” rule should control for the person who wants to prove his point and why he’s right… and it will probably eliminate some rabbit trails as well.

Rule #3: More, more, more
In brainstorming, quantity of ideas matters more than quality. Get the ideas on the table. There will always be opportunity later to go back and eliminate or refine ideas. But make sure you get them on the table first. The more the better. My dumb idea might be the spark for your brilliant idea… but we’ll never know if my dumb idea gets shot down too soon.

Rule #4: No killer phrases
Few things will shut down the creative process faster than a killer phrase. “We’ve never done it that way before.” “It’s too expensive.” “We tried that before and it failed.” Those are all the same thing: killer phrases. Actionability is important… but not until later in the process.

Rule #5: 100/80 rule
Rarely is 100% unanimity possible. And rarely is it even worth pursuing. To be honest, unanimity in a vote probably means someone compromised or gave in, not that everyone is content with the decision. Make consensus, not compromise, the goal. Make the goal that 100% of the people are 80% satisfied. That means that everyone got something they wanted or think is the right course of action, but no one got it “their way.”

Rule #6: You can’t handle the truth
Creative processes need absolute, brutal honesty. They also need kindness. Encourage people to be forthright and not hold anything back, but to do so in a way that is addressing the issue, not attacking the person. So facilitate honest communication, but make it about the topic at hand. Don’t ever let people attack one another. Truth with kindness. No attacking.

Rule #7: All involved
Make sure that everyone is involved in the process, specifically inviting those who are more naturally quiet or reserved to participate. In most environments, there are a couple of people who talk even when they have nothing to say, and others who hesitate to talk even when they have something profound to say. If you notice someone who is not speaking up, turn to the person and say, “Jen, what’s your thought on that?” Some people are verbal processors and need to speak to bring clarity even to their own thoughts and others who are internal processors whose insight might be lost without specifically asking for it.

Well, there you go. When I lead a strategic planning process, I always start by going over these rules. Trust me, it’s worth the 5-10 minutes to establish these helpful ground rules. And hey, if you want to have some fun with it, give everyone in the room a soft, squishy ball. If someone breaks a rule, everyone else gets to peg that person with their ball. Not only is it a playful way to reinforce the rules for effective strategic planning, it also creates a natural way to acknowledge and move past sometimes awkward or off-putting comments from a member of the team. Then everyone can get back to work… together.


Questions to ask when considering a small group strategy: Part 2

Yesterday, I outlined 5 of 10 initial questions I have for any church that is evaluating their small group strategy. Those questions included the place in the church’s discipleship strategy, goals on involvement, what to do with kids, the definition of a small group and the objectives of a small group. Let’s pick up right there with another 5 critical questions any church must answer in moving forward with a small group strategy.

  • Relation to congregational care: What is the connection between small groups and congregational care? Done well, I believe it can be the primary congregational care structure. When someone is in a small group, it is that group that takes initiative for visiting in the hospital, that facilitates meals when a baby is born, etc. Bill Hybels tells the story of going to visit someone in the hospital only to find the entire small group gathered around the person. He was basically told, “You’re not needed here. We’ve got this.” That is the opportunity of small groups for pastoral care.
  • Connection to preaching: Again, this is a big philosophical question. How is the weekly preaching of God’s Word and the teaching of small groups related. For some, there is no connection. People hear a sermon on one topic and their group studies something else. There are others where every group has to use the sermon as the basis for discussion, with the church providing resources for group leaders toward this end. Then there are some in the middle that take some period of time each year (say, 2 months) where all groups study the same thing built off  and connected to the preaching.
  • Past experience: Is there a past of small groups, or is the church starting from scratch? Either answer affects thoughts on developing a model, timeline and communication with the congregation as to what is happening, why it is important and how to get involved. A church that has never had small groups before has the unenviable task of convincing people it is important to their spiritual growth. On the other side, in churches that has a small group past, there is probably baggage that comes along with it, good or bad. Again, this is not about a right answer, but about honestly articulating what will be involved in making the new small group initiative a success.
  • Transience of population: Is the population pretty stable there or is there a fair amount of population turnover? Mark Dever has articulated that they know that the population of Capital Hill Baptist Church turns over every 3 years. So, at Capital Hill, they need a discipleship strategy that seeks to make the most of that. Instead of bemoaning all the lost people, they intentionally developed a strategy to prepare those people in the time they do have them. This can be a very important question in determining the type of model that might be effective for any local congregation.
  • Leadership development: How is the model that the church embraces raising up leaders? This is a huge one. I just recently spoke with a woman  who, along with her husband, has been leading a small group for a long time. I may be wrong about this, but I heard that Noah originally started this group with his kids when they got off the ark and it has been meeting ever since. Her comment to me: There are people in our group that should be leading groups. One significant hurdle is any system where people get into a group and are stuck there for life. People get comfortable in their group and are content to stay there. That leaves the challenging proposition of always needing to develop new leaders for new groups and having to rely on finding those people amongst those who are not already in a group. And yet, doesn’t it seem that those who are in a group already embrace the philosophy of ministry that says that groups are important?

Well, there are my recommendations on the 10 initial conversations that any church should have if considering a small group strategy for the first time or evaluating the effectiveness of their current system. As I said in the first post, small groups are a means, not an end. The end: To see disciples raised up in the likeness of Christ who are giving their lives away for the gospel. To the extent that small groups are effective toward that end, go for it.


Questions to ask when considering a small group strategy: Part 1

At Covenant Life Church, where I have the privilege of serving, the church leadership has continually affirmed that true discipleship and life change normally takes place in the context of relationships. That conviction has evidenced itself in many ongoing conversations about the role of small groups in our discipleship strategy and has made it front-burner topic for me. And then, just last week, I spoke with an old friend who just recently accepted a role as Pastor of Small Groups and is tasked with building a small group infrastructure in his church. At his request, I offered to assist him in any way I can thinking through small groups in his context.

What resulted are 10 initial topics and questions that I believe must be asked for a church as it reflects on small group strategy. The first five are here, the second five will be discussed in tomorrow’s post. As an aside, these are in no way ordered by priority, but rather by the way they came out as I was writing them.

  • Place in discipleship strategy: What is the discipleship strategy of the church? And where do small groups fit? For some churches, it is the discipleship strategy. They are looking to get everyone in a group as the primary way that they will be discipled. For others, Sunday School or “Life on Life” type environments are the primary discipleship tool and small groups are supplements. A clear answer on this is, I believe, one of the more critical questions a church must clarify in the processing of planning a small group strategy. At the end of the day, small groups are a means, not an end. The end is raising up radical disciples of Christ. Small groups are a great strategy for that. But knowing where small groups fits in the equation of raising up disciples will help you discern where to push and where to back off.
  • Church goal on involvement: Has the church leadership articulated a specific goal regarding involvement in small groups? It’s easy to say “we want everyone in a group,” but that type of statement often requires a radical reorientation of ministry philosophy and programming that many churches (and the individuals who attend) are not ready for.
  • Kids: Will the church provide childcare for groups? This is a very pragmatic question that comes up in every small group conversation I have. What do we do with the kids? Personally, I love having my kids at the small group I lead. I think they get to see men and women that I want them to look up to, and they get cared on in awesome ways. But, honestly, I think I am in the minority there. Many people look forward to their small group as their “adult time” and don’t want kids around. Thus, childcare becomes a consideration. A clear answer up front regarding childcare is essential.
  • Definition of small groups: What counts as a small group? Is it necessarily a co-ed group meeting weekly in someone’s home for coffee, dessert and a Bible study from now until Jesus comes back? Or does a group of guys that meet weekly and study James for 30 minutes before playing basketball for the next 2 hours count as a small group? Could groups meet on the church campus or not?
  • Objectives of small groups: What is the purpose of a small group? What exactly do you expect to happen there? Is it primarily fellowship? Bible study? Community outreach? Is it some combination or something else entirely? Articulating what you want to happen will shape what actually does happen in those small groups.

So there are 5 of the 10 initial considerations that I would want to explore in any conversation regarding small groups. Check back tomorrow for the other 5, including the relation of small groups to the preaching and leadership development.

For further reading, I highly recommend Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groupsby Nelson Search and Kerrick Thomas.

Need 10 Job – Hire 5 – Pay like 7

In previous posts, I have outlined some thoughts on staffing in the church:

These two consistently rate among the highest read articles on my site. The reason strikes me as quite simple: In all the training pastors go through, they never learn how to lead and mange a staff. I wanted to pick up on those previous posts and ask the next question that church leaders must face: How much do we pay? If you spend all that time identifying the right people to have on the bus who match the mission of your church and demonstrate the character, competency and chemistry you are looking for, don’t you want to keep them for a while?

There are many resources on church salary such as the MinistryPay.com salary survey or the Compensation Handbook for Church Staff by expert Richard Hammer. The limitation of those books is that they tell you what other churches are paying their people, not what you should pay your people. For most churches, the real struggle is that the list of positions they want to hire is a mile long and yet, the dollars are limited. It is at this tension point that between a lot of jobs, the desire to keep your best people and the limited dollars available that I put forward this concept: If you have 10 positions open, hire 5 and pay like their 7. Let me explain…

  • 10 Positions Open: What are the open positions that you have at your church? Identify that list of positions you would like to hire. For the sake of this discussion, let’s suppose you identify 10 positions.
  • Hire 5: If you have 10 positions, you 1) are unlikely to have the money to hire all of them and 2) even if you did, it’s probably not a good idea. Churches must consistently remember that the job of the paid staff is to train and deploy God’s people to serve, not to do all the work ourselves. If you hire every job you come up with, you will burn through dollars and you will limit the ability of your people to fulfill their God-given call to serve. So if you have those 10 positions, look to hire 5 of them.
  • Pay like 7: Here’s the catch. When you hire those 5, pay them like they are 7 people. You still come out three positions ahead (paying “7” salaries instead of the original 10) and you are setting yourself up to retain those people that you worked so hard to find.

We all know verses like 1 Timothy 5:18 (“The laborer deserves his wages”) and Matthew 10:10 (“The laborer deserves his food”). And in my denomination, when a pastor is installed at a church, the congregation is asked, “Do you engage to continue to him while he is your pastor that competent worldly maintenance which you have promised, and to furnish him with whatever you may see needful for the honor of religion and for his comfort among you?” That is, will the church agree to pay the pastor appropriately and fairly so he’s not worried about money and is free to serve?

The concept is great. But, practically, how does a church do that with so many potential positions and limited dollars? My suggestion: Have 10 jobs? Hire 5 and pay like their 7.

8 Core Competencies for Church Staffing

I have adapted three criteria – character, competence and chemistry – from Bill Hybels to determine who the “right” person is when looking to hire a new staff member at the church. While character and chemistry are relatively simple concepts, competence is much more challenging to put into practice. What competencies (skills, abilities and gifts) are the right ones?

Using The Talent Management Handbook by Berger and Berger as a reference, I developed a competency-based model of employee evaluations for Covenant Life Church, the church where I serve as Executive Pastor. We identified 8 competencies that we thought were absolutely crucial to us as a church. Let me step through those briefly, along with the definition we articulated for each…

  • Action Orientation: Targets and achieves results, overcomes obstacles, accepts responsibility, establishes standards and responsibilities, creates a results-oriented environment, and follows through on actions. Marked by a “do what it takes” attitude.
  • Communication: Communicates well both verbally and in writing. Effectively conveys and shares information and ideas with others. Listens carefully and understands various viewpoints. Presents ideas clearly and concisely and understands relevant detail in presented information.
  • Creativity/Innovation: Generates novel ideas and develops or improves existing and new systems that challenge the status quo, takes risks, and encourages innovation.
  • Mission/Goal Orientation: Possesses the ability to define issues and focus on achieving workable solutions consistent with fulfillment of church mission and consistent with the church’s ministry process.
  • Interpersonal Skill: Effectively and productively engages with others and establishes trust, credibility, and confidence with others.
  • Leadership: Motivates, empowers, inspires, collaborates with, and encourages others. Develops a culture of cultivating people (both staff and volunteers). Builds consensus when appropriate. Focuses team members on common goals.
  • Teambuilder: Knows when and how to attract, develop, reward, and utilize teams to optimize results. Acts to build trust, inspire enthusiasm, encourage others, resolve conflicts and develop consensus in creating high-performance teams.
  • Technical/Functional Expertise: Demonstrates strong technical/functional proficiencies and knowledge in areas of expertise, as defined by the employee’s job description. Consistently does the right thing by performing with reliability.

Now, not every organization, or even every church, would identify the same competencies as important. While this may be our list, yours may be a little different. In fact, I’m almost sure your list would be different from ours. The crucial issue, as it pertains to staffing, is to clearly articulate those competencies and let them guide you in the hiring process.

Covenant Life Staff Evaluation System: To see how the above competencies are evaluated, read through our entire evaluation system.


Interact: What competencies are most important in your organization?

First Who, Then What: A Philosophy of Church Staffing

First, get the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figure out where to drive it” (Jim Collins, Good to Great, p. 41).

First…                                                                                           Then…

The core of my staffing philosophy: Fill the bus with the “right” people. Collins goes on to say, “If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great” (p. 41). Build the team of all the right people and then watch to see the great things that team can do.

So, the question becomes, who are the “right” people? How do we define “right”?

The Right People: Character. Competence. Chemistry.

These three C’s (character, competence and chemistry) are adapted from Bill Hybels in Courageous Leadership and form a solid foundation for determining the “right” person.

  • Character: I want people of integrity in whom I have confidence in the person’s walk with Jesus Christ.
  • Competence: I want people who are already making huge contributions and demonstrating their gifts and abilities in big ways. More on this in the next post.
  • Chemistry: I want people who are cultural and relational fit with me and our team.

Honestly, putting this into practice is tough. It’s much easier to identify a hole and then look for someone to fill it. It’s much tougher in practice to actual go about finding the right people and then figuring out where they serve. But without a doubt, it’s worth the effort. Find the right people. Then find their seats on the bus. Then get the wrong people off the bus. And then watch your team’s productivity explode.

Interact: What’s your philosophy of staffing? What criteria do you use to determine who the “right” person is to hire?