Survival Kit for Church Staff – Part 1: How do you ask questions?

Survival Kit for Church Staff Part 1

When you are on a church staff, you live in a very rare club of professionals. Working at a church has much of the same dynamic of the business world yet the added personal, spiritual and altruistic component. I get a lot of younger worship leaders and staff people at churches from all over the place asking advice about this, so I thought I would share some of the wisdom from those conversations.

How do you ask questions?

Asking a question is probably the most feared process from a staff person at a church for those who do not have the power of the senior leader. Often, a staff person feels his or her job is on the line or that retribution soon will come back to bite. Often it does even with the result of the loss of employment.

But, often you have to ask. You need clarification. When the pastor’s wife really decides things outside of the appropriate role or there may be nepotism at play. When the board chair’s son is the youth pastor a system becomes littered with land mines. Step on the wrong issue and a hornet’s nest is stirred.

In other settings, I know people who work for longtime friends. They know the staff partners and their leader personally yet when it comes to giving feedback or asking questions it is not as simple as one would think.

My hope would be that leaders could be servants and open to feedback from their staff, but that is truly less than normative. What this does is keep healthy dialog hampered and relationships on egg shells. To combat this, a church staff person has to weigh the risks. To keep sanity, a staff person often just leaves the situation if conscience is being crossed or stays quiet due to lack of empowerment.

Challenging the process is part of what being a leader is, so you must find a way or your frustration will lead you to possibly act out of character. No one wants that, especially you.  A good leader can take feedback and actually will invite it. So, take a step.

Here are a few things that you might try in getting your point or question across:

  • Timing is everything – When you ask is very important. This means being opened to patiently seeing an opening. After a confrontation about a separate issue might be a bad idea. Waiting too long after an event might be a problem as well, so do not let the paint dry on things if possible. I think sooner is better than later.
  • Choose the right setting – The place is important. If the issue is personal, having a confrontation in your pastor’s office might be a bad idea. Generally, neutral ground helps. Don’t blindside someone. Warn the person you having something you are going to talk with them about. The other party might appreciate being included in choosing the setting.
  • Know your audience – Do not assume the leader you are dealing with thinks like you think. Be careful to put yourself in his shoes. This is one way to be a servant and show humility.
  • Judge behavior, not motives – If you want to be effective, then do not assume bad motives even if there was bad behavior going in your direction. This does not mean you cannot ask or question or challenge the leader, however. Be kind, not a butt head.
  • Get help – Advice and counsel will make your life better and keep you honest with yourself. Allow someone who knows you, who is confidential and who has wisdom about the setting you are in or issue you have to be a sounding board and advisor. If you fail to do this, you might blow it really badly!
  • Use the system already in place – If there happens to be a setting, a forum or process in place then use that process. At your annual review, be sure to document your perspective and be clear about the questions you have. Healthy leaders can take it and will appreciate it.

I sure hope this helps some of my friends on staff at churches. What say you about all of this?

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Rich Kirkpatrick

Rich Kirkpatrick

Writer, Speaker, and Musician. Rich Kirkpatrick was recently rated #13 of the “Top 75 Religion Bloggers” by Newsmax.com, having also received recognition by Worship Leader Magazine as “Editor’s Choice” for the “Best of the Best” of blogs in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

35 comments

  1. What’s an annual review?

    1. uhm… good point. Those are regular meetings that allow employer and employee to dialog about goals and expectations and so forth. Essentially, it is amazing how many who work for a church never get those.

  2. What’s an annual review?

    1. uhm… good point. Those are regular meetings that allow employer and employee to dialog about goals and expectations and so forth. Essentially, it is amazing how many who work for a church never get those.

  3. What’s an annual review?

    1. uhm… good point. Those are regular meetings that allow employer and employee to dialog about goals and expectations and so forth. Essentially, it is amazing how many who work for a church never get those.

  4. What’s an annual review?

    1. uhm… good point. Those are regular meetings that allow employer and employee to dialog about goals and expectations and so forth. Essentially, it is amazing how many who work for a church never get those.

  5. What’s an annual review?

    1. uhm… good point. Those are regular meetings that allow employer and employee to dialog about goals and expectations and so forth. Essentially, it is amazing how many who work for a church never get those.

  6. This is good stuff. Timing is everything – I’m glad that this was first on your list! That has brought me great success, and poor results when I didn’t think about it. Can’t wait to catch up with you in a few weeks!

  7. This is good stuff. Timing is everything – I’m glad that this was first on your list! That has brought me great success, and poor results when I didn’t think about it. Can’t wait to catch up with you in a few weeks!

  8. This is good stuff. Timing is everything – I’m glad that this was first on your list! That has brought me great success, and poor results when I didn’t think about it. Can’t wait to catch up with you in a few weeks!

  9. This is good stuff. Timing is everything – I’m glad that this was first on your list! That has brought me great success, and poor results when I didn’t think about it. Can’t wait to catch up with you in a few weeks!

  10. This is good stuff. Timing is everything – I’m glad that this was first on your list! That has brought me great success, and poor results when I didn’t think about it. Can’t wait to catch up with you in a few weeks!

  11. Nice Rich! Did you ever check out “Crucial Conversations”? Good stuff you’ve got posted here my friend.

    1. I bought the book because of you Ben! But, it is still on my “to read” pile.

  12. Nice Rich! Did you ever check out “Crucial Conversations”? Good stuff you’ve got posted here my friend.

    1. I bought the book because of you Ben! But, it is still on my “to read” pile.

  13. Nice Rich! Did you ever check out “Crucial Conversations”? Good stuff you’ve got posted here my friend.

    1. I bought the book because of you Ben! But, it is still on my “to read” pile.

  14. Nice Rich! Did you ever check out “Crucial Conversations”? Good stuff you’ve got posted here my friend.

    1. I bought the book because of you Ben! But, it is still on my “to read” pile.

  15. Nice Rich! Did you ever check out “Crucial Conversations”? Good stuff you’ve got posted here my friend.

    1. I bought the book because of you Ben! But, it is still on my “to read” pile.

  16. those are great points, but you have to remember that sometimes the most important questions are the ones that there is no right time or right way to ask them.
    unfortunately with those sorts of questions, there are generally consequences, usually passive-aggressive in nature, that are associated with asking those tough questions.

  17. those are great points, but you have to remember that sometimes the most important questions are the ones that there is no right time or right way to ask them.
    unfortunately with those sorts of questions, there are generally consequences, usually passive-aggressive in nature, that are associated with asking those tough questions.

  18. those are great points, but you have to remember that sometimes the most important questions are the ones that there is no right time or right way to ask them.
    unfortunately with those sorts of questions, there are generally consequences, usually passive-aggressive in nature, that are associated with asking those tough questions.

  19. those are great points, but you have to remember that sometimes the most important questions are the ones that there is no right time or right way to ask them.
    unfortunately with those sorts of questions, there are generally consequences, usually passive-aggressive in nature, that are associated with asking those tough questions.

  20. those are great points, but you have to remember that sometimes the most important questions are the ones that there is no right time or right way to ask them.
    unfortunately with those sorts of questions, there are generally consequences, usually passive-aggressive in nature, that are associated with asking those tough questions.

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