The Barrier of Leadership: Breakthrough of Certainty


The barrier of certainty is a difficult barrier to face: Are you certain that your team has what it takes to advance the cause?

Pastor Jerry looked around his staff at the meeting – all five of them. His associate pastor of the last two years was performing above average and led the community care ministries. His youth pastor looked tired a lot of the time, but things were going fine in youth and no one’s car had been broken into for 10 months now, a new church record. The secretary/communications director was working out fine, but she didn’t support Jerry’s leadership the way he hoped a key support staffer would, and she was divisive in the office. His outreach director (still a volunteer position) was doing his job acceptably, but he had worked for a lengthier time under the previous senior pastor and continued to espouse the former leaders position on a variety of issues. Fifth was the worship leader, who continued to butt heads with Jerry – not about the type of music to do, but about the length of the worship set within the service.

The church was poised in their community to have a huge impact. Their community of 180,000 had heard rumblings about some great things going on at the church, and they had a prime location in the town with 15 acres next to them that had just been donated three months prior – making headlines on the front page of the city paper. They had a great buzz in the community, a great location, great potential. But as Jerry looked around the room, he began to realize that in the midst of all the greatness, he had a mediocre team. He left the meeting, went into his church study and decided to do something about it.

Jerry was continually frustrated with a “so-so” staff that lacked passion and energy in a community that was searching for answers and looking to the church for some of those answers. So, in a rash attempt for a quick fix, he called a mentor 3 hours away and asked for – gasp – help! “He wouldn’t have time to help me,” Jerry thought as he dialed the number. “He’s probably not even receiving calls today.” But in a serendipitous moment, the secretary patched him directly through, and Don sounded happy to hear his voice. As luck would have it (read: God), Don would be in the area in two weeks, and a long lunch talking strategy sounded great to them both.
During the lunch, Jerry came to several revelations: the church income wasn’t a big problem right now, but his staff configuration was. He had several options open to him, but remember – he didn’t realize that his team was the biggest problem until two weeks before.
  1. His associate was gifted, but almost all of the gifts were in Jerry’s areas of expertise also. The care groups were hobbling along, but his associate’s passions were in the areas of teaching and exposition – and he had the gift of leadership like Jerry did. The solution: put his leadership and teaching gifts to good use in a young adult/young family outreach-style ministry outside of Sunday morning. It took off like a rocket, and the associate basically “pastored” that sub-congregation, and it thrived under his leadership.
  1. His outreach pastor had some good ideas, but he was stuck in the past when it came to supporting leadership. Jerry had a lunch with him and explained some of the strains in the team as it related to this outreach position. The staffer was able to take the critique, form an outreach team under him (also of lay leaders), and they took on visitor-follow-up with passion and excellence.
  1. Jerry discussed the worship possibilities and came up with some creative solutions with the children’s ministry problems that were preventing the adults from adding 10 minutes to their service. This eased the frustration in the worship leader and gave the whole church what they really wanted in the first place – a service that was a bit longer.
  1. Jerry had some flexibility with staffing since his children’s director had recently moved. He had been wanting to move a key lay leader into a staff position for some time, but his communications director in the office was tying up resources that could have been better used. He met with his communications director, discussed the staffing changes, and gave her two months to find another job. She found another job in five days and quit early.
  2. Jerry brought in some training resources for his youth staffer for him to build stronger team of volunteers so that most of the work wasn’t falling on his shoulders a majority of the time.

All the time that Pastor Jerry thought the problem was with other elements of the ministry, and the problem was with his own team!

The team issues are not always the case, however. Sometimes the problem lies with divisiveness in the congregation at large. 

In the past, many churches had multiple boards. This multiple board structure tends to frustrate the people who serve on them, and tie up their time in meetings which could instead be used in ministry with people. Many effective churches have learned the importance of being “staff led” with boards sharing in vision ownership and supporting the leadership. When that is true, then, the staff leaders need to be the right people for the “machine” to work well. This is true in the case of teams of volunteers as well. Just because someone is working “for free” does not mean they have the right to do whatever ministry they want to in the church!

Pastoral leaders who have a clear vision understand the importance of aligning gifts and passion with the purposes of the church. Developing a winning team means the senior leader surrounds himself/herself with people who have complementary gifts, buy-in to the vision of the ministry, and are willing to work in a team environment. Michael Jordan is an unequaled basketball players not only because of his individual talents (which are HUGE!), but because of what he brings out of each team member.

It has been my experience that the challenge of shaping a team identity is more art than science. Managing (and yes, sometimes massaging!) the various personalities of the team so that they mesh and blend together is a critical assignment for the senior leader. In addition, the team must find creative ways to honor the individual skills of the team members AND to simultaneously produce shared ministry that extends beyond the ability of any one person “flying solo”. Senior leaders must master the art of team building for the sake of the vision.

Remember, ministry is “war.” Paul reminds us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but it is a struggle, a war. You are in a foxhole with a team of people which will either advance the cause, fail morally and lose ground, or tread in the waters of mediocrity. The barrier of certainty is a difficult barrier to face: are you certain that your team has what it takes to advance the cause?


  • Team Development is an art which leaders of growing churches must master.
  • Aligning the gifts and passions of key program leaders makes for maximum performance and ministry fulfillment on the part of leaders.


1. Write down the names of your staff or key volunteer team.

  • Note their strengths and weaknesses
  • Note issues you were previously aware of
  • Note issues you are just discovering
  • Note actions you need to take to improve the team
2. Set up a meeting with a trusted advisor to discuss the team structure and plan for the next two years.

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