The call to prepare staff

What skills are most needed to practice ministry in your context? How can you inspire and encourage the development of those capacities in yourself and your colleagues?

When congregational and denominational executives discuss the development of leaders, they are usually talking about their constituents. Congregations want to develop lay leaders. Bishops and other executives focus on developing pastors.

When the conversation turns to developing the congregation’s or the denomination’s staff, it is rarely about strategy and more about budget. How much money is each staff member allocated for continuing education? When revenue is down, the continuing education allowance is often among the first items to be reduced. Supervisors often discuss educational opportunities in terms of cost and calendar, leaving employees in charge of figuring out what topics to study.

Christian churches and other institutions have not given the topic of leadership development the strategic attention it deserves -- but they must as they seek to meet the challenges of a more uncertain environment.

In the last year, I participated in the early design phase of a leadership development program for rising corporate executives. I joined a two-day roundtable with the chief learning officers of 20 Fortune 100 companies as they described their “talent development and recruitment” strategies for each other. The trend is to equip and encourage executives to spend significant time in structured learning situations with their most promising employees and only send employees off to a seminar for specific training.

In earlier research, the gathering’s host, Duke Corporate Education, probed to understand the capacities that these corporations were seeking to develop in their employees. The research identified three capacities that cut across multiple responsibilities from finance to operations to marketing: perceiving, sensemaking and choreographing.

When we consider developing staff, a critical step is to determine the purpose for the development. What skills should you develop together? Skills that each person needs to do his or her work.

For example, using the capacities identified by Duke Corporate Education, what would it look like for you to build the capacity in yourself and your colleagues in these three skills?

  • What about inviting every team member to spend an hour in a different local coffee shop, write up their observations and present in a staff meeting?
  • Could staff members take turns sharing a vexing ministry challenge? Their colleagues could then be invited to ask questions intended to peel back layers and gain deeper understanding.
  • Could the leadership of major activities be rotated so that different team members have a chance to work on highly complicated projects?

As a pastor, I have long been committed to creating the conditions for others to develop vocationally. It is rewarding to work with church members and students. Yet as a team member and supervisor I have found even more opportunity for such work. Developing and executing a plan for individual and team development is not the same as teaching a class or counseling an individual, but the intensity of working together and learning together can sometimes be more fruitful.

Much of my effort as a team leader is to organize the work so that it is small enough to do and big enough to matter. This requires everyone involved to consider what matters most to my colleagues and what all of us are able to do today that moves the work forward. Making such decisions in a transparent way can be both educational and productive.

What capacities are most needed to minister in your context? How can you inspire and encourage the development of those capacities in yourself and your colleagues? How could you spend your time in meetings so that the work is coordinated, accountability is encouraged and capacity is increased?