By Zac Workun and Chad Higgins
One of the key elements of great leadership is eliminating barriers between you and those with whom you work. COVID-19 has changed the way we work with our church staff.
Our job has always been extremely relational, and the ways we maintain relationships has changed greatly. Most churches around the country have moved to a work-from-home model.
I (Zac) serve as the student ministry specialist for Lifeway and have consulted with a lot of creative, tired, overwhelmed, and amazing student pastors in this season and beyond.
I (Chad) serve on staff at a multi-site church in central Oklahoma. I oversee our home groups and serve as one of our teaching pastors.
My church leadership has done a wonderful job of knocking down barriers and helping our ministry staff continue to serve our congregation well during this time.
Here are a few of the lessons we’ve learned that may help leaders serve their staff and volunteers well during this season of remote work.
1. Define and encourage good work habits.
The most important thing in a work-from-home (WFH) world is knowing what’s good work and how good it feels to accomplish it.
When work and home overlap, setting objectives, achievements, and boundaries are the most important priorities.
Ministry can be tireless and relationally draining, so it’s especially important to name priorities and work goals as a ministry team.
Everyone on your staff or volunteer team works differently, and now we all work differently. You were visually aware of this before the crisis hit, but it may be important to spell it out as you continue to check in with your team.
There’s likely someone on your team who’s super self-motivated and another who works at their own pace.
You probably have someone who’s clearly organized and others whose offices usually look like a tornado was fighting a warthog.
Now that your staff is working from home, most of their habits (good and bad) are amplified.
So how can you help? Give them the proper mixture of freedom and structure.
Your staff needs freedom to work in the ways that best fit their home situations while receiving enough structure from you to know what the good work is in this season.
They no longer have the easy transition to and from work, so they need your leadership in identifying the good work amid the mishmash of home life, work life, and everything else that’s now routed through their homes.
Their job has changed. Your team is trying to accomplish new things right now. They need you to give them a clear structure for what needs to happen and the freedom to accomplish those tasks in ways that work for them.
Give them permission. If they can have everything knocked out each day by 2 p.m., tell them that’s OK. If they need to build getting work done around a new work/home/school schedule, assure them that this is OK.
Use short, weekly check-ins with your team to establish what work is most important, when things need to be done, and to emphasize freedom to get things done.
Also, someone on your staff needs to know there’s a clear ending time. Working from home can become confusing because you never leave the “office.”
Help each staff member create specific boundaries to separate work and home.
2. Remember their children.
The most difficult thing my (Chad) staff has been walking through is trying to do good work while our children are with us at home.
If you don’t have children in your home right now and you’re trying to lead a staff that does, recognize it’s more difficult and disruptive than anyone had planned.
I thrive on routine and rhythm, and life with a 2-year-old doesn’t allow for these things.
Simple emails that formerly got a quick response can now take much longer because my daughter is trying to learn to fly off the back of the couch.
Children are a blessing. Be patient with your staff, especially those who have multiple young children. They may have little humans clamoring for their attention while you’re trying to communicate.
Balance pastoral care for your staff, as many of them are struggling to find this new work-home-school life balance.
Your staff and volunteer teams will work so much harder for you when they know you acknowledge their challenges and care for them and their families.
3. Talk about future struggles collaboratively and plan accordingly.
Your staff team is deep into the “now” of your ministry. For the last 40 days they’ve been working to solve problems. However, everything seems to be changing weekly.
The new normal is re-drafted as we make plans to evaluate what we’re doing, what we could be doing, and what timeline is effective, safe, and wise for returning.
On our team (Chad) everyone is starting to think about life when we can again join together at a physical location. Yet even when the doors open again, all your people may not show back up immediately.
Start this conversation now with your staff. Invite them to collaborate and think through future issues for whenever you move to the next stage. Be on the lookout and have conversations with your staff.
Involve your team early in collaboration about the future. There’s no reason to delay, avoid, or ignore that this current state will change and that your team must plan together accordingly.
4. Communicate reality without imposing fear.
Your team is not immune to feeling fear in this season. They have questions about the church’s finances, personal health, and job security. Don’t avoid these questions by saying nothing.
Communicate reality as you best understand it, without spin, without best-case scenarios. Your team will respect you for your straightforwardness. Over-communicate, yes, but don’t over-promise.
Be honest and transparent. Give your team clarity over fear.
Listen to your people and ask honest questions. Help your team know they’re part of the solution and that you’re working together to both serve your congregation and care for your staff.
Everyone understands we’re in difficult times. People aren’t looking to you to fix everything. They just want to know the reality of the situation, and they desire to fight for the future together.
5. Be their pastor first, boss second.
We can’t stress this final point enough. At Lifeway Students, I (Zac) tell our student pastors that their first team to support is not their student ministry volunteers, but their senior leaders and fellow team of pastors.
There’s no one more in the trenches with you than those you gather with for regular staff meetings. There’s a special bond that comes from working together on staff that’s to be treasured.
In many ways, your staff team is a special small group that understands the stressors and successes of ministry.
Pastors reading this: please remember that you’re their pastor first and boss second. This is the role they want most from you.
The one thing I increasingly hear from young ministers is their desire to know and be known by their senior pastor at a personal level.
You may have people on your team who are currently fighting depression because of isolation. There may also be people on your staff worried about changing family health.
The health and growth of your congregation will flow outward from the depth, trust, and commitment of these first team relationships.
Also, we’re all out of our normal routines, off of our normal spiritual habits, and we’re probably not seeking the Lord as we know we should.
Don’t miss the opportunity to shepherd the people on your staff back to a deep and centered faithfulness.
Make staff check-ins as much about returning to God as returning to your church campus.
And yes, we need to find ways to stay productive while working from home. There’s no better way to get this from people than to love them well. These are your co-laborers.
This season is testing and trying, but we believe there’s a chance for us to return to a deep faithfulness in the ways in which we work together.
ZACWORKUN (@zacworkun) is the student ministry specialist for Lifeway and co-founder of Youth Ministry Booster. He has served the local church in various youth ministry roles for 15 years. CHAD HIGGINS (@chadhiggins) is the co-founder of Youth Ministry Booster, consultant for student ministry for Lifeway and home group pastor at Summit Church Oklahoma. He has over 18 years of combined ministry experience.