Leading Staff in The Rural Church

by John Powell May 12, 2015

Many times, those who lead ministries in small or rural churches let slide things like effective staff leadership, thinking such a practice is only the mandate for larger churches or churches in busier contexts. But if the small, rural church pastors neglect tending to their support leaders -- whether vocational or volunteer -- they can stifle the growth of their ministry, both spiritual and otherwise. Here, then, are some practical ways pastors in smaller contexts can effectively pour into their staffs.

1. Never stop reading

Reading can be your greatest asset to managing a small staff.  Ask them to read books and prepare (brief!) reports on what they’ve read to share in a staff meeting.

Also, reading the same book together will give you key leadership moments with your staff, and help you all to be sanctified together.

2. Have regular staff meetings. 

After losing a staff member, I took a short break from staff meetings.  It was one of the most hectic, and also one of the most unproductive times we had.  Staying on the same page and making sure the holes were covered in staff meetings always ensures we’re ahead of the game instead of behind the 8 ball.

3. Regularly re-assess your plans - and include input from everyone. 

Sure, you’re the pastor.  Sure you drive the train.  Sure you’re the visionary.  But a wise leader desires input from all levels.  Don’t shoot someone’s ideas down constantly just because you’re on a power trip and your ideas are better.  Write their unrefined idea on a white board and help them refine it.

Also, re-evaluate your long term plans often.  It will give you encouragement to see what you’ve accomplished, and will help you to stay focused on what you have yet to complete. We have a 10-year plan that has produced some of the deepest encouragement for our team as we’ve watched it come to fruition.

4. Get away. 

When the staff really needs to accomplish talking through something, often times we’ll take a Sunday School room over for the day, just for a change in scenery.  But it’s also important to get out of town for key leadership moments.  Some of the best times we’ve had as a team were in an old ice-cream parlor in a town about an hour away.

5. Hire well. 

I know this is difficult with committee driven churches.  Do not apologize for inserting yourself in to the mix as much as you possibly can.  It will be your responsibility to recommend firing a staff member if their work ethic is sub-par, and it’s your responsibility to nurture them through scars in their personalities.  So it should follow that you should have some input on who is hired.  Most committees will hear this plea and invite you to be a part of the process if you but ask.

6.  Keep a vision in front of your staff. 

Don't assume that vision sticks easier in smaller groups. When you feel that there’s a lack of energy on your team, re-evaluate your mission statement and 5 and 10 year plans.  This will immediately get you back on the same page and propel you in to the coming weeks.

7. Be flexible and don’t micromanage. 

In the business world, micromanaging is known to be a productivity killer.  Why don’t pastors understand this?   Hire the right people, and then let them do what they’re good at.  You do what only you can do, and let them do what only they can do.

8. Be early in to the office. 

Lead from the front by example.  If you arrive 30 minutes late every day, expect them to as well, no matter what you tell them to do.

9. Invest in your secretary. 

Many pastors don’t use assistants well. If you have a secretary or assistant, employ her transcribing, filing your sermons, filling out your forms, setting up appointments, and doing things that distract you from your core-competencies. Beyond that, send her to classes for efficiency and job training, to conferences for further education and spiritual growth, and praise her when she does excellent work.

10. When you see a deficiency in a staff member, mention it to them right away in private, and do not let it brew. 

Deal with things quickly and get them over with so that ministry isn’t hampered.  You’re all there to grow together.

11. Be humble and invite correction. 

Apple exercises what they call “fearless feedback” amongst their employees.  It’s a time dedicated to receiving what could be hard to hear, in order to become better.

Willingly subject yourself to fearless feedback from your staff members.  You might be surprised to hear the insights they have about you, that God can use to conform you in to the image of His Son.

12. Have fun. 

I know it’s hard to have fun when there’s so much to do, the weight of another sermon or two hanging on your shoulders, and the general weight of being responsible for people.  But how many other people get to serve the Kingdom of Christ as their vocation?  This is the best job in the world, and you should at least enjoy it.

Most of these practices are not strictly limited to smaller contexts, but this is sort of the point -- sometimes when we are smaller, we think smaller. By employing some well-worn practices in shephderding other leaders, the small or rural church pastor can find new ways to keep the energy and the church growing. Don't underestimate your church.