Wednesday, May 5, 2010

When the Game Plan Changes....

As a church grows, more members and more staff don’t just make the church bigger. They make it DIFFERENT. Roles and relationships change, often dramatically, and usually unintentionally.

Most people fail to recognize this; especially those whom it directly affects.

Over the years, PCC has steadily grown. More like a glacier than an avalanche, we’ve worked our way through the various stages of growth from a solo-pastor to a multi-staffed, multi-celled, multi-department church. Along the way we’ve had to reinvent our structures, policies, roles and relationships many times. Some changes were so natural we hardly noticed them. Others were difficult, some gut-wrenching. But all of them are INESCAPABLE. Our only choice was to embrace them or resist them – but we could not avoid them.

Our church is at such a place again; the game is changing dramatically. It’s a bit unsettling.

When a church leadership team increases to 15-25 people (i.e., staff and lay leaders heading departments) the game changes radically. The dynamics of this size group can be very unsettling for those who prefer to work with a smaller group of close friends. For them, it can get downright painful.

Let me ILLUSTRATE with the game of FOOTBALL. On a football team very few of the players are inter-changeable. Guards seldom become quarterbacks. TEAMWORK is more important than one-on-one skill. In fact, a great athlete who insists on continually freelancing can disrupt the entire offensive team or defensive team. THIS SAME PRINCIPLE HOLDS TRUE FOR THE LARGER LEADERSHIP TEAM.

For members of a leadership team that once played in a team of close-knit relationships and spontaneous decisions, this can be a very difficult adjustment. It can leave some members feeling left out or unappreciated. Some won’t be able to make the change. Some won’t want to. BUT THERE IS NOTHING THEY CAN DO ABOUT IT. At this size, THE GAME HAS CHANGED.

Caught By Surprise…..

These kind of changes are inevitable in a growing leadership team, yet many leaders don’t see them coming. What worked in the past no longer does. The simplest and most predictable indicator that leadership roles and relationships ARE changing and NEED to change is the NUMBER OF PEOPLE ON YOUR TEAM. But there are others. Here are three more indicators that suggest the game has changed – even if no one has noticed.

Relational Overload

A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF TIME SPENT MASSAGING RELATIONSHIPS is an early sign that the game plan has changed.

I’m a relational type of guy. That’s my preferred style of leadership. I’d rather convince you than give a directive. I’m not good doing memos. Instead, I prefer to cast vision and direction through ad hoc meetings while standing in the church hallway or sitting at a picnic table at a church picnic.

But that style doesn’t work forever. With steady growth, comes a need to add new players. Eventually there are too many workers on the team to maintain direct relational contact with. Then I find myself in the role of spending a lot of time trying to keep everyone happy and in the loop.

This leads to being sucked into a relational nightmare. I often end up spending hours each week tying to catch up with anyone who feels left out or who’s feelings have been hurt. My time used to motivate the team, cast vision, and study God’s Word DISAPPEARS, being squeezed into late evenings and early mornings. Days off become days to catch up. What used to be fun with friends, becomes dreaded tension.

Increased Miscommunication

Another sign that the game plan is changing is miscommunication. When important messages or instructions are chronically missed, misunderstood, or ignored, IT IS TIME TO CHANGE THE WAY WE PLAY THE GAME.

When operating with a smaller staff and leadership team, you almost never have to schedule formal meetings to discuss anything. You are already together most of the time. If we have something to discuss, we discuss it on the spot. It is fun and fluid, and takes little time or planning.

But as a staff and leadership team grows, someone is always missing, or out of town, is late, or does not communicate with the rest of the team. The larger the leadership team, the more hectic the game gets, and the greater the need becomes for specially called meetings and chalk talks TO KEEP EVERYONE ON THE SAME PAGE. As the team grows, we have to DEVISE MORE STRUCTURED and INTENTIONAL COMMUNICATION TOOLS.

That’s not as easy as it sounds. Expect resistance. Players who thrive on leisurely fairways feel cheated (offended) when you substitute spontaneous conversations with scripted meetings and agendas. For many of them, it’s not the game plan, it’s the relationships that count the most.

Because of this resistance (and the fact that some of us like the old game better than the new game), it can be tempting to communicate in the old ways long after they no longer work. That might keep one or two of the players happy, but the rest of the team will flounder.


If PCC is to reach its redemptive potential, I would consider this unacceptable.

Conflict Over The Decision Making Process

When the decision making process produces conflict, it is a sign that something is STRUCTURALLY WRONG. Most often it will be a set of rules or assumptions from the past, appropriate for a game plan you are no longer playing.

Occasionally, the problem comes from MAKING DECISIONS TOO QUICKLY. This happens when a long-time track star moves to a larger team-based ministry style. USED TO BEING HIS OWN COUNSEL, this pastor (or team leader) CONTINUES to make decisions without consulting the rest of the team. This can be very disruptive to everyone else.

As a leadership team grows, decisions that affect the whole church need to be made by a GROUP at the top.

The real issue at this stage is not WHO makes the decisions. Rather, it’s a matter of whether or not the DECISION-MAKING PROCESS is APPROPRIATE to the NEW GAME we are playing. And when it no longer fits, we must be willing to change it.

As a youth, I played a variety of sports. I certainly had a favorite. But once the season began, it DIDN’T MATTER which one I LIKED THE BEST (or which one came most naturally to me). ALL THAT MATTERED was my WILLINGNESS to ADJUST to the game we were CURRENTLY playing.

Too often, church leaders know what game they prefer to play and keep on playing that same game plan no matter what. The odds of success are about the same as Tiger Woods dropping a five foot putt with a basketball. When the game changes, some things won’t happen no matter how hard we try or how talented we may be.

In contrast, successful church leaders PLAY THE GAME that is IN SEASON. They ACCEPT the CONDITIONS and NEW RULES. They discern what kind of leadership is needed and adjust their structures, roles, and relationships accordingly.

And they play ball at a whole new level.

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