The Most Important Things I’ve Learned About Caring For Leaders


Well I've been asked to speak on the most important things that I have learned about caring for leaders. And I'm really thankful that the leaders of this conference have chosen this topic to be the subject of our conversation, and the subject of this breakout session. Because really it's an expression of how [Soger 00:00:21] Network is committed to making sure that the leaders and the pastors of the churches that are involved in our network are cared for. And that's a real value for [Soger 00:00:31] Network. Dave Harvey in his e-book Healthy Plurality Equals Durable Church, which was recently released writes "Our network bleeds soul care. Soul care is the belief that ministry flows from the inside out. Beneath it lays the gospel inspired idea that our ministry is only as fresh as our connection to Jesus Christ. Lasting in ministry means we must know our heart and know how God's word speaks to what see. God loves us so much that he unites us into teams to experience community, and love towards each other. This means we provide care for each other and receive care from each other." 

So this concern for care that [Soger 00:01:18] Network has is really rooted in the gospel itself, and you hear that there in the quote from Dave Harvey. When Christ saved us, he not only saved us but committed to care for us. And we see this especially in Ephesians chapter five. So in Ephesians chapter five, we're told that Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. But then he doesn't just leave us to ourselves, right? Rather Christ has committed to sanctify us, to make us holy. And he's committed, I love these words that Paul uses in Ephesians chapter five. He's committed to nourish us and to cherish us. He's committed to care for us. And one of the ways that Christ cares for us and meets us, is by placing us in community. Namely in the context of a church, which is to be marked by love and care. And so it's through this love, through this care, it's through this nurture that we are to become whole and strong and healthy. 

So with that in mind, I ask the question well why is it important for the leaders of our church to experience this kind of care? And here's what I'd say and I think this is really important for us to grasp. The spiritual vitality and the relational health of our churches will only be as strong as the spiritual vitality and relational health of the leadership team. Okay. So let me say that again. The spiritual vitality and the relational health of our churches will only be as strong as the spiritual vitality and relational health of the leadership team. So it's helpful even with the folks that you're leading just periodically to ask "How do you feel you're being cared for? How do you feel you're experiencing community within this leadership team? Within our team together as leaders." 

If our leaders are not experiencing this kind of care and the benefits that come from this kind of care, chances are it's very unlikely that the church is. Right? But if our leadership team is experiencing this kind of care, and we're experiencing this together and the benefits of that care, then it is ... there's a really good chance that that's spilling over then out of their lives into the life of the church. So with that in mind, I wanna share with you some things that I have learned ... I'm sure there's much more we could say, but just a few things that I have learned over the years that I've been in ministry in caring for leaders. And I'll just say right up front this is not because I've mastered this, a lot of times I feel like I'm not very good at this and I always feel like I'm learning. I've been pastoring the same church for 15 years, and I still feel like I'm learning what it means to care for our leaders well. But hopefully as I share out of my own experience and even some of my failures, it'll serve as a good basis of our conversation together and be helpful to us all.

So you should've received a handout, and on this handout you'll see it's front and back. There are seven commitments for the leader who cares for leaders. Okay. Seven commitments for the leader who cares for leaders, and I'll work through this material and then hopefully we'll have some time for discussion and questions and that sort of thing. I'd love to hear from you. So the first is renewal, the first is renewal. All of these start with an 'R' okay, so let me know how ... So the first one is renewal. We should seek to create an environment in which we and our leaders are experiencing ongoing spiritual renewal. And you know we might ... we might say this is to be assumed, you know? We all should assume this but it's just so essential and so vital that I don't want us to assume it. I want us to take just a little bit of time to pause here and say this is just so absolutely critical. Of course we're limited in some regard as it relates to us and particularly our team experiencing spiritual renewal. Because spiritual renewal is something an individual has to pursue themselves personally. And it's only God that can accomplish that type of spiritual renewal in one's soul. But we can as leaders seek to provide and create an environment in which spiritual renewal is valued and pursued. 

So listen to how Jesus does this. So you're thinking about Jesus leading the disciples and that's a leadership team. He's leading them, he's seeking to care for them. And John chapter 15 verse five, Jesus says "I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing." And so the life we live and the culture we could create ... that we create should communicate that abiding is everything. So there should be this sense among the leaders that we are leading, and among our team that if we are not walking closely personally with Jesus, nothing is going to get done. Nothing of any value. Therefore on a personal level we should value spending time with Jesus, it should be the top of our priority list. Spending time with Christ and his word, worshiping him. Calling out to him in prayer. And then very practically speaking as we think about as a team, we should value spending extended times with our team in the word and in prayer. 

I imagine many of you are doing this. I hope that you are. If you are doing this, there's a few things you can do. You can read through a good book together, right? That's devotional in nature, that helps you think about certain areas of life in ministry, biblically and theologically. You can also read through large portions of scripture together. Our elders actually just met recently and we had about a day and half together. And we started both of days by reading through the pastoral epistles. So we just went around and each guy read a chapter, and we read through First Timothy and Second Timothy and Titus. And then discussed and talked a little bit about what we saw there and the implications for our ministry. Another we can do is we can spend extended times in prayer together as a leadership team. One of the things we like to do when we get these longer periods of time together, is we like to pray through our membership directory. So we have a membership directory in our church and on each page there's about five people, couples and individuals. And so we'll just go around and each person chooses someone on that page. And it takes us a while, but we work through the directory and pray for our membership. 

We've also set aside seasons of fasting and prayer. So we'll say "Hey for this next month let's commit on Thursdays that we're gonna skip lunch. We're not able to all get together, but wherever we're at let's spend that time during lunch seeking the Lord in word and in prayer. So these are some real practical things we can do to encourage spiritual renewal on our team. One thing too and this is something that is related to this that I've tried to do in particular with our staff, is encourage our staff to make time for personal development. I imagine some of y'all are familiar with the five hour rule. Benjamin Franklin actually practiced this. Throughout his life he would take one hour each day to commit himself to learning, personal learning and development. And so I've encouraged our staff, this is kinda part of their work schedule, to take an hour each day to pursue personal development and renewal. They can read, they practice their craft, they can do any ... you know spend time in extended prayer. But to give themselves to personal renewal and growth. And I've found that that's really good for my soul and they have as well. So that's the first thing, a leader who's committed to caring for leaders, is committed to renewal.

Secondly would be rest. Rest. So in Mark chapter six, Jesus sends the disciples out to do ministry. And after the disciples have gone out, they preached the gospel, cast out demons, healed those who were sick. They returned and they're very excited, they've got a lot of stories to tell. And Jesus responds in Mark chapter six, verse 31 by saying "Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while." Rest a while. So Jesus is caring for them, right? Again he's calling them away to rest. Jesus is caring for his disciples by inviting to rest. And as he invites them to rest, Jesus is acknowledging that we are ... that they are embodied souls. That we have a soul and that that soul dwells within a body, and that Jesus' care for the disciples is holistic. So when we invite our leaders to rest we are caring for them holistically. We're caring for their souls and for their bodies. And so as leaders we should model sabbath rest, and should encourage those on our team to rest to celebrate the benefits of rest.

We had an elder that we were going through assessment with, this was a number of years ago. And there were a lot of things in this guys life that were commendable, but as we went through the assessment process one of the things that emerged was that he was just really stressed out. Demands at work, there were some unique demands in his family life that were beyond his control. And so as he was trying to tend to all these different things, he was just overwhelmed. And really the way that was expressing itself was he found himself being tempted, increasingly to be short with his wife and with his children and that sort of thing. 

So we started going through a process, we started reading some books together and listening to sermons and meeting together and so forth. And out of that he decided to set aside a day each week to rest, the sabbath rest. And it's just been really life giving to him. And now he's actually been serving faithfully as an elder at our church for about six years. And he really ... It's encouraging to see. He like tenaciously guards that day, he doesn't wanna schedule anything on that day. And that was just one example of encouraging rest, trying to model rest, celebrate rest, where we saw one of our leaders really embrace that. And it's been life giving for him and really see that as a blessing and a win for us. So we need to model and encourage regular rhythms of rest.

As a part of sabbath I would include as well, and this goes under rest I would include retreat. You see how I did that with another 'R'? Do you like that? So that's retreat. Okay. So here is something that I have not done very good at. For years I would schedule for our elders ... and that's the main leadership team that I lead besides our staff. So a lot of this I'm saying in terms of the context of our elders but it would apply more broadly to other leadership teams. But I would plan elder retreats, okay? And so what we would do on elder's retreats is we would meet all day Friday and Saturday. And when we would get together to meet, we'd spend about an hour in the morning in what I'd call word and prayer. We'd read the word some, we'd pray together. And then we'd launch into meetings then we'd get lunch together, then we'd have meetings all afternoon. And ... So we'd do that and we'd do that Saturday. And when we got done I just felt like "Man we got so much done. This was so productive and so forth." 

And after a while, y'all can probably see where this is going. Y'all are smarter than I am. After a while the elders were like "This is not a retreat. We enjoy this, but it is not a retreat." They started calling it an Elder's Intensive, okay? So we started having eld ... We renamed it Elder's Intensives for a while. But then we kept ... They kept pressing a little bit. They're like "Man we just need to spend some time together and this is just like ... This a lot of work, we're getting stuff done. But we just need to hang out." And so we started changes things with their input, which has been extremely helpful and I'm so thankful for. 

So now what we do, we tried to with the elders retreats plan times away, where we would get out of town for a weekend. But the way that our elder team is made up, we just got a lot of young elders that are having babies. And new babies, and the wife's pregnant and so forth. So it was just really hard for us to get out of town as a team. So now we really try to capture that Friday night and that Saturday night. So this last one we did on Friday night, all the elders and went out together, a nice place got dinner. On Saturday now all our families went out together. And we went to this dairy farm and there's like a trampoline there and a slide and all that stuff. A hay ride and so forth and we just had a blast. And the families had a really good time together. 

And we worked that into the budget, and we're intentional to do that on a consistent basis. And now as well we're trying to do one Friday each month where we get together, elders and their families for a dinner. And again we worked that into the budget because we feel like that's a priority and we want to invest relationally in the team that way. I say all that to say and some of you may not ... this may be particular strength of yours, but it wasn't for me. And it's something that I've recognized that as a leader it's easy for me to underestimate how much as a leadership team, we just need to spend time hanging out. We just time like nurturing those relationships and getting to know one another and spend time with each other without an agenda. Without trying to necessarily accomplish anything, with not checking a box at the end that we've gotten something done. So one of the ways that we care for our leaders is by creating space to rest and to retreat. 

Third, a leader who cares for leaders committed to reconcile. To reconcile. So we know this, conflict will happen. Not only will conflict happen in the church, but conflict will happen among the leaders. It's inevitable. And how we handle conflict says a lot about how well we are caring for our leaders. One thing I would say here and of course we could say all kinds of things about conflict, but one thing that I would say is we need to press in to conflict and see it as an opportunity rather than retreat from it. In this sense we need to be actively pursuing reconciliation. It is true that love covers a multitude of sins, right? And there are certain things we can and we should overlook, and we all need a lot of grace. But it is also true that there are many times where we are just overlooking minor offenses or weaknesses in love. But we are running from legitimate concerns out of fear, right? And that's unhelpful to the leadership team. One of my mentors often says "A leader's effectiveness is directly linked to his or her willingness to have hard conversations." A leader's effectiveness is directly linked to his or her willingness to have hard conversations.

And I think that's true in a lot of areas. I think that principle particularly applies in how we care for leaders. Are we willing to have hard conversations? Is it obvious in our leadership team that we are willing to conversations that are marked by truth and love? Truth that we're willing to be honest, we're willing to be sincere, we're willing to say hard things and to receive hard things. And we're willing to do that in love with humility and kindness. 

So we gotta be willing to say things like "You know what you said in that meeting really hurt me or embarrassed me. And I'd like for us to talk about that." Or "Hey, this project that we've been talking about for a while, it's just not getting done. And we need to make sure it gets done, so let's talk about that. What do we need to do to make sure this gets done?" Or "I know that you have a desire to serve in this role, but I just really don't believe this is the right fit for you right now. And so we need to talk about where can you plug in on the team where you can really thrive and flourish." Or "Hey man, we just ... we work too much and we don't hang out enough. Can you make some time for us to hang out and just relax?" Like my elders were saying to me.Sometimes it's tough, it's necessary ... It's tough to have those conversations but it's necessary. You know we were talking about the analogy of the vine and the branches before. And this is kinda like the pruning work. Nobody enjoys pruning but it's necessary to remove those obstacles that hinder relational health and healthy community on the leadership team. 

Okay, fourth commitment. Fourth commitment for a leader who leads leaders is respect. Respect. Dave Harvey actually talked about this a little bit in his talk last night. But Andy Crouch has been helpful to me in thinking about the dynamics of power and humility. Okay? He's been helpful for me in that regard. And most of us ... One of the things he points out is that most of us have or possess power and authority, that we just don't realize that we possess. So that's true actually even in this room right now that I possess a certain amount of power and authority. So I'm talking and you're listening, right? Everyone's like focused this way. All the chairs are like turned this way and directed towards me. I'm standing and you're sitting. Some of you may be thinking "I was really enjoying being here, but I don't know if I wanna be here anymore right?

So there's these dynamics though right? Of like power and authority and influence, that a lot of times we don't even realize are taking place. And there was a time ... Let me say this, if that is true here in this room, if you're a leader in your church, particularly let me say if you're a lead pastor in your church you can multiply that by like a 100 right? I mean you possess a tremendous amount of power and authority and influence in your church that often times you're probably unaware of. And so I used to actually deny that, like the sense of like I possessed power or authority. Because I felt like it was prideful or it was ... you know it wasn't being humble. But actually what we need to see is that when we deny it, we're actually ... we're putting ourselves in a place where we're blind to it and then we're more susceptible to abuse that power and not to discern how it can be used for good. So it's actually more helpful to acknowledge it and to own it, and then to reflect on okay, how do I not abuse this but how do I use it for good. 

So the key is not so much whether or not we possess authority and power, every single person in this room does. We just went around, everybody said your role in your church. You possess certain power and authority within your church. The question is how will you use that to serve and bless others rather than to abuse or hurt others. So again there's a lot we can say about this. But one of the ways I think that we need to be intentional about respecting the other leaders on our team, is in the way that we speak to them. And this has implications for the content and the tone of our speech. We should never be harsh or belittle another leader on our team, even if we disagree with them. But we should always treat them with respect. Ephesians 4, 29 says "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths. But only such as good for building up as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."

And so sometimes it's just helpful to say you know that, being a jerk is not macho nor is it being a good leader. Right? It's just being a jerk. And it's an abuse of power and it's a failure to care for others. So one of the ways that we respect those on our leadership team is obviously not speaking disrespectful to them. But in contrast to that to intentionally look for ways that God is working in their lives. This is something that [Soger 00:21:03] Network talks about a lot. I know Dave Harvey talks about it a lot, it's been really helpful to me. But intentionally recognizing the good that God is doing in one's life and to point that out and to encourage them. Sam Crabtree in his book Practicing Affirmation says ... he talks about the 3-1 rule. Some of y'all probably heard about this. But CJ Mahaney says that for his staff he has a 3-1 rule, three affirmations for every criticism. He says like in a marriage or that sort of thing, he would even make it a much larger ratio. But three affirmations for every one critique. 

And we see this especially with Paul in his letters that he's writing to the church. At the beginning of his letters, the end of his letters where he's pointing our certain leaders or that sort of thing. He's commending them, encouraging them. A lot of times we brush over that, but actually we should pause. Because that's a critical way that Paul caring for those leaders within those churches is to point out those evidences of grace. And that's a critical way in which he's strengthening those partnerships that exists between him and those churches. So we should respect the leaders that God has given us in our church, and one way is by honoring the work that God is doing in their lives and affirming them.

Fifth is receive. So the fifth commitment for a leader who cares for leaders is to receive. So in caring for leaders we need to remember that as a leader, we need care. And one of the things that's important here to recognize that when we receive care, we are not only being cared for but we are caring for others by receiving. So when we are vulnerable, when we're transparent, when we're willing to share our own weaknesses we create an environment in which others feel free to do the same. So I know that for many people, their first year of marriage is wonderful. It's like ... you know they refer to it as the honeymoon stage, 'cause it's kinda of an extended honeymoon. And first year of marriage is kinda the sense of like "I can't imagine us ever fighting or that sort of thing." And if that was your experience, I'm very happy for you. That was not our experience. 

So my wife and I, when we first got married we had a really tough first year of marriage. It was very difficult. We were trying to deal with some really challenging serious things in our marriage. So at that time ... I was already in ministry when we got married. And at that time we were actually pretty fearful and insecure about sharing that with our elders. And that's really not a reflection on our elders as it was a reflection on us. But when we humbled ourselves and we opened ourselves up to receive, man our elders were just so generous to give. And through that process you can imagine what happened. As began to share our challenges and the struggles we were having and the things we couldn't get past, the other elders just started opening up right? Like "Well we remember this time where we went through in our marriage. And just this season we didn't know how we were gonna get through." Or "We struggled with this." Or "This has been a hardship that we've dealt with." And it just ... It brought the whole leadership team closer together in remarkable ways.So caring is not always giving, that's the point I'm trying to make. Caring is not always giving. We actually care for others when we humble ourselves and take a posture of receiving. And so that's another important aspect in caring for leaders.

Sixth ... Sixth commitment in caring for leaders. And this is ... The sixth commitment is rely and this is similar to receive. We need to receive care. But what I wanna say here is we also need to rely on the strengths, giftedness and unique insights and wisdom of the other leaders that we serve with. Okay, so we need to rely on the strengths, gifts, unique wisdom and insight of the other leaders. Again Dave Harvey in his book Healthy Plurality Equals Durable Church says "Success is not just me arriving somewhere, but it's us." And he's referring to the leadership team. "It's us arriving somewhere together." And so if we're caring for the team well there needs to be this sense from whoever is the primary leader that we are in this together. And as much as you need me, I need you. I need your friendship, I need your gifts, I need your strengths, I need your unique insights. You matter to this team, and everyone on this team is working together to arrive at a certain destination. 

And when we do that, when we genuinely rely on others essentially what we're doing is we're acknowledging God's work in their life. We're acknowledging the unique way that God has gifted them. We're acknowledging the unique contribution they make to the team and they feel cared for. And they're experiencing care through that. And that's often more difficult to do than it is to say because it requires a number of things. Let me just mention a few. It requires one, that we give away authority. It requires that we're willing to give away authority to other leaders on the team. And so one of the things we need to be mindful of is not be threatened by what we might refer to as high capacity leaders. You know if there are men or women on the team who are high capacity leaders and they share a similar vision and they have character. And that's very important that they would share a similar vision and have real character, then we need to empower those leaders. 

Now some of you, if you're church planners and you're early on you might be saying "Where are these people? Because I'm just desperate for them. I want them now!" You know? But it's interesting like you're so desperate for them early on, but then as you go further along you can start to feel really threatened individuals like that right? And so it's important that we be willing to empower those leaders and give them real authority. Another we need to do in this regard in relying on other leaders is we need to create an atmosphere that encourages open dialogue and allows for pushback. That encourages open dialogue and allows for pushback. So we need to regularly try to seek out feedback from our leaders. One of the way that we do this at our church is we have a service review each week. And we go through the service and we get to the sermon. And basically all the people on the staff ... I want everybody to go around and tell me "What did you think was helpful from the sermon? What do you think was good about the sermon? And then where are the areas that you feel like, maybe I was unclear or I could've done better? Or there was something that maybe I said was wrong?" 

And we just go around and we do that every week and I want that to be done in public, so that other people can hear individuals on the team giving me honest feedback. I think that's just so critical. I try to do this if I have an opportunity to teach, if I'm in a meeting. If I'm in a counseling situation, a hard conversation and there's another leader with me when that's done, I regularly try to be intentional to say "How did you think that go?" Or "How did you think that went?" You know? "What did you think was positive? What would you do differently?" If we're going to truly rely on fellow leaders, they need to have sense of confidence that they're input is welcomed and it's encouraged. And that when they give it we can handle it, and in fact we invite it. Right? So that goes to a lot of ... just idea too. We've gotta be secure enough to receive that but we wanna create that kind of environment. 

Another thing, I'm still on this point of rely. But another thing I'd say we need to give away authority, we need to create an atmosphere of open dialogue and feedback and then the other thing I would say on this if we're gonna really rely on other leaders is, we have to be willing to submit. We have to be willing to submit. And think about this in particular as it relates to being on an elder team, but we need to be willing to lose votes, we need to be willing to submit and we need to be willing to follow. We need to be willing yield and trust the collective wisdom of the team. 

So just to ... This is a pretty simple illustration. But I remember just ... even this last ... I was talking about recently our elders got together for about a day and a half. And there was a situation that came up about membership. There was a couple that I had done the membership interview with them. And so I came to the elders, and I had a particular idea ... There was an issue about their baptism. About whether they could join or not given the situation with their baptism. And so I was presenting this to the elders, and I was thinking this was gonna go in a certain direction. Actually I was hoping to ... I thought we should probably receive them into membership. And so I brought it up to the elders and I said "Okay, let's talk about this." And immediately the conversation went in the direction ... a direction I did not anticipate. 

And so they were leaning towards ... in a different direction. I felt pushback just a little bit. And they started talking about it a little bit more, and I'm just kinda listening. And they're still headed in another direction. And at that point, I knew I could push more if I wanted to, but I just felt like you know it's better for me just to resign and say ... So basically what I did was. I said "Okay, I think it's clear we've made our decision. Let's move on to the next item." And so we decided those folks are not actually gonna be joining our church. But one of things that I learned from another mentor early on actually, it's that often times it's more important that I be willing to trust the leadership team and yield to the leadership team, than always convince them of where I want to go and get them to go there. And as you do that, the team will feel cared for. They will feel cared for because they're not there just to rubber stamp. But they actually have a voice and you're recognizing it, acknowledging God's gift in their life and role and the unique contribution that they make. 

Okay, so seventh and last commitment for leaders who are committed to caring for leaders is remove. Remove. So in Acts chapter 20 verses 29 to 30, Paul is talking to the elders at Ephesus. And he says "I know that after my departure, fierce wolves will come in among you not sparing the flock. And from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things to draw away the disciples after them." So Paul acknowledges that among the elders at Ephesus, there are gonna arise individuals who are gonna be wolves to the congregation. They're supposed to be shepards but they turn out to be wolves. And it's always sad, it's always difficult to remove a leader. But sometimes it's the best thing we can do to care for the leaders in our church. 

We've been talking about health and having a healthy leadership team. And a bad leader can be like a virus, like a bacteria to a leadership team. And really sap the vitality and life out of the team. I remember early on in the ministry at the church where I serve, we had an elder who came on our elder board. And we had a very small elder board at that time, so this made it even more difficult. It wasn't a doctrinal error, it wasn't even like a sexual ... like a moral failure. Like he was sexually unfaithful to his wife or he had been involved in some financial scandal or that sort of thing. But what we found over time was that, there was just an unwillingness to submit to the elders. There was kinda this sense that like once he became an elder, well now we're gonna do it my way. You know? So we just found this happening time after time, where we would have things come up and the elders would disagree, and the elders would wanna move in one direction. And he would kinda lock things down. Like you know? He even at times threatened you know "Well if we don't do it this way, then I'm gonna have to resign." Kinda thing.

And so we had a number of difficult conversations and then eventually, just came to the conclusion that he has to be removed from the elder board. And that was really tough, we were really small at that time and it was really difficult to do. But it was necessary and actually it was the best way for us to care for the leaders and the church as whole, was to remove him. And so sometimes, when we're caring for leaders that's one of the best things we can do, is to remove a bad leader. Sometimes we do have to do that.

So those are the seven commitments. Renewal, rest, reconcile, respect, receive, rely and remove. I'm gonna read one passage of scripture here and then open it up for questions. But this is from Second Samuel chapter 23, verses three to four. Second Samuel 23, three to four. Love this verse, this from David. "The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me when one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of the Lord. He dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning. Like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth." And so as we care for leaders this can be a prayer for us. David's prayer can be a prayer for our own lives and ministries that our leadership would bring light and life to the leaders who have been entrusted to our care.