By Brian Boyles
Most of us have heard the saying that everything rises and falls on leadership—and ministry is no exception.
Consider what God was able to do through Moses, David, Solomon, Josiah, Nehemiah, and many other leaders in the Bible. If you oversee any ministry, it’s undeniable that strong leaders are a valuable resource to accomplish what God has called you to do.
The more leaders you have in your ministry, the more can be done for His kingdom. This is not meant to be some sort of humanistic approach; it is just a statement of fact. When you consider the Bible names listed above, their leadership abilities were part of the story.
If you hope to oversee a thriving ministry where leaders come alongside you and put their shoulder into the vision, it’s important to know how to retain these leaders. I’ve had strong leaders leave my ministry, and I’m constantly striving to learn what makes them want to stay.
While there are no surefire ways to keep all leaders at all times, there are definitely strategies that can increase your chances of retaining more of them over time. Here are a few.
1. Be clear about the vision.
Whether your ministry is for preschoolers, students or senior adults, people want to know what you are trying to accomplish. Leaders don’t want to wander aimlessly; they know they have limited time and resources and they want to make a difference.
When you stand up before them, be clear on what is the goal of the ministry. This lets them know you have put thought into this and they can trust you with their time and resources. To increase your chance of retaining a great leader, be clear.
2. Be transparent.
Early in my ministry I wanted to minimize bad information for fear that if people knew the ugly truth, they might be more likely to leave.
In reality, great leaders can tell when someone is blowing smoke at them. If you try this, you’ll lose. I’ve heard other leaders say how important transparency is; yet when they share information they’re only truthful if another person asks a perfectly-worded question.
Don’t do this. It will frustrate the leaders you are leading. Instead, force transparency into the organization. Forced transparency lets people know the whole truth, including the ugly truth, even if they didn’t ask the perfect question.
Now, don’t just drop bad news and then smile. This will make you seem naïve, immature, or foolish. Forced transparency has two parts: information and solution. Offer a solution to go along with bad news. This shows you’re aware of the problem and you’ve spent time working on a way to fix it. They’ll respect you for being honest, and will trust you more.
To increase your chances of retaining great leaders, force transparency to them.
3. Thoughtfully invest in them.
This is probably the easiest lesson to learn, but you have to be intentional. You could buy a set of books to give out to all the leaders, or you could give them each a coffee mug, but this could come across as cheap or like you put no thought into it.
Instead, give them a book that helps them to be practical and strategic in their roles—whether they’re paid staff members or volunteers. I recently had a leader share he was having some issues with his son, so I gave him a book filled with prayers for teenagers.
Another leader was recently laid off, so I got him a book about God’s love and faithfulness in times of loss. One leader recently shared with me that her neighbor was struggling with depression so I got a book on this topic that she could then give to her neighbor.
Be thoughtful with your leaders or they’ll think you only care about what they can do for you. That’s not pastoral, that’s manipulation.
4. Give them room to make decisions.
By this, I mean allow them to make real decisions that will make a real difference.
Too often, we in ministry wrongly think we’re the only ones with a good idea. We try to enlist great people to serve in ministry with us, but then we treat them as if they can’t possibly make a better decision than we can.
Not long ago I needed to do a lot of renovations around the church. I could have written down a list of ideas, presented them to the congregation, and asked them to fund it. Instead, I invited about 20 of my top leaders to a conversation at the church. I discussed the list with them and ask which ones they thought were most important.
Based on their thoughts I prioritized the list and removed the ones they didn’t deem important. My list of repairs was reduced, but the smaller list was funded almost immediately and significant improvements were made. They decided what was important to them, and they felt valued that I sought out their opinion.
If you want to retain leaders and show that you value them, be humble and let them make important decisions.
5. Commit to improving yourself.
You must have an insatiable passion to improve your own leadership. If you have great leaders in your ministry, or if you want great leaders in your ministry, and you hope to retain them, you need to constantly improve.
Leaders understand the need for constant improvement of organizations and individuals. There’s no such thing as a plateau in leadership. You’re either better, or you’re getting worse. If your leaders are observant, they’ll notice either way.
If you want to retain great leaders, become a great leader. Read books on leadership, study great leaders, get leadership coaching, and meet with leaders and ask them questions about leadership. Don’t just accept your place on the leadership spectrum. Commit to becoming better.
Brian is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Snellville, Ga.