7 Insights for Leading a Successful Ministry Team at Your Church

When it comes to leveling up church leadership, your first stop may not be Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Inc.—but it should be. Popeyes isn’t just a purveyor of fried chicken and franchises, but, under the leadership of CEO Cheryl Bachelder, has regained market share, increased stock prices, and opened 1,000 new locations in 10 years. 

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And it’s because Cheryl uses servant leadership principles to lead undeniably successful teams.

Cheryl doesn’t just lead companies, she also serves on the stewardship team of her church and coaches churches to help them build thriving, servant-minded teams. And after decades in the corporate world, she believes churches have a huge opportunity to tap into their business-minded congregants to help improve leadership teams, set a more daring vision, and work on projects that are critical to ministry growth.  

At our 2019 Pushpay Summit conference, we invited Cheryl to share her vision for church leadership teams. In her Q&A section, she responded to questions from church leaders like you who were eager to learn the traits of successful servant leaders and healthy ministry teams.

1: 80% of workers in America haven’t been thanked in the last week. What are some creative and practical ways to thank staff?

A: For Cheryl, the focus shouldn’t necessarily be on the method of thanking people, but on the words used. She advocates for saying thank you in very concrete, specific ways—avoid anything that sounds gratuitous or scripted. Instead give people what they want: Concrete details about the thing they did well.

2: After leading Popeyes through a tough time and difficult transition over a decade ago, how did you lead well on days you felt discouraged and exhausted?

A: People can’t lead successful teams if they’re burnt out and unhealthy, but she also believes that leadership comes with a stewardship element and the impetus to stay calm. 

“Calm is contagious and so is panic.” —Former Navy SEAL Rorke Denver

There are no exceptions. If you’re feeling panicked, spend some quiet time getting yourself together before you face your team. For you, this may look like listening to your favorite worship song, reading scripture, bingeing funny Youtube videos, or taking a quick walk. Whatever you do, be sure to carve out a moment to remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. Cheryl says that helps focus leaders who feel overwhelmed but need to be present for a meeting or event. 

Take care of yourself—don’t take your health for granted.

3: How can leaders get the rest of their team on board with a goal or daring destination?

A: The thing Cheryl wants church staffers to remember is this: Getting buy-in doesn’t happen overnight, the process is never fast. The first time you pitch your daring destination to your team, you’re likely going to get negative feedback. That’s natural because change is so scary, so don’t expect immediate cooperation. Instead, take your time. 

While most leaders talk through their ministry roadmap or strategy once and then expect people to immediately pick up their baton and run with it, but such a plan is bound to fail. Be realistic about what your organization can achieve in a month to a year and pace your milestones in a way that’s plausible and doable. That way, your team members can buy into your vision in chunks. She also recommended talking about your roadmap clearly and constantly. Give people the time to ask questions, learn from you, and start doing their part in achieving your vision.

4: If you’re a new leader, how do you get an existing team to trust you and follow your plan?

A: Sometimes new leaders inherit teams of people that struggle with passion or work ethic. Or maybe you’ll find that one or two people aren’t on board with the type of commitment you’re asking of them. These team members like the status quo and love how things have been running—they don’t want to be changed nor challenged to rise up to a new task. If you have people like that, they distract team efforts and make it extremely difficult for you to achieve collective goals. 

And that’s okay.

“If you don’t want to learn and grow and stretch, you’re not going to a daring destination.” —Cheryl Bachelder

Cheryl encourages church leaders to meet with people on your team who are underperforming, distracting, or otherwise problematic and discuss the future with them. Talk through the person’s role within the roadmap and work with them to figure out what they need before they’ll truly commit to their role in reaching your ministry goals.

While an underperforming team member shouldn’t get all of your attention, Cheryl believes it’s important to focus on people who might distract team members who are already bought into the vision.

Having a conversation with underperforming staffers will be difficult. But they’re necessary. Cheryl’s main advice for these conversations? Be honest and direct. Many people think that straight talk has no place in leadership but that’s wrong. Straight talk enables new leaders to level-set and clarify expectations. Without directness, it’s easy for people to fall out of sync with the ministry’s strategic plan. 

“Straight talk is required to be a servant leader.” —Cheryl Bachelder

In addition, Cheryl reinforces that leaders need to have high character and high competence—and no less should be expected from team members. If you step into a team where that’s lacking on some level, being honest about expectations give low performers the chance to opt-out voluntarily if they’re not willing to learn new skills or step up at all to do what’s needed.

5: Who do you entrust with key input into roadmap development? Do you allow people with moderately different ministry philosophies to speak into your strategy?

A: Cheryl believes key leaders should run point on creating the church roadmap if time is limited. However, if there’s enough time, goal-setting should involve team members as well. That gives people ownership over the things they’ll ultimately be responsible for and makes it easier to implement new strategies. 

At the end of the day though, Cheryl calls for leaders to pull the trigger on ministry areas where disagreements exist. So if a decision is at a stalemate, you break the tie. The worst thing you can do for your team is to be indecisive. 

It’s really hard to follow someone you can’t count on for clarity.

6: Cheryl advocates for loving the people you lead. For younger leaders, how do you navigate that delicate boundary between boss and friend?

A: Cheryl loves younger leaders—they tend to be optimistic, and those types of people thrive in leadership roles. They also fuel missional work and curate excellent work environments. 

But here’s the rub: All workplace exchanges depend on trust and being relational, yet people only live a portion of their lives with their coworkers. So there’s a line that’s sometimes hard to cross or easy to cross but helpful to avoid.

Cheryl encourages people to know the people you work with, bond with them, find ways to have fun at work, read leadership books together, lunch together, but distance yourself a bit when it comes to your private life. At some point, you will want your regular life to be private, and that’s healthy.

7: How do you deal with a difficult boss?

A: For a full year, Cheryl worked for an extremely difficult boss, and when the time came, she felt peace about leaving the organization for a new organization. But how did she handle her every day?  She did her best work each day for the company until she wasn’t there anymore. 

She distanced herself from the situation as best she could while also trying to do her absolute best. For her, it’s important for people to respect and honor the leaders they serve. For her, it wasn’t only good practice, but it was in pursuit of the Biblical all to respect those in leadership. As an added plus, she never left an organization on bad terms and discourages others from rage quitting to having cathartic experiences at work. 

Even in the church, bad leaders exist. If you’re being led by one, it’s important to know when it’s time for you to walk away from poor circumstances. Almost everyone in ministry has a boss to report to, but if you’re one making hiring decisions, it’s critical to know what potentially bad leadership hires look like. 

The good news? We have the skinny on the types of people that churches should avoid hiring and how to manage them if they slip through the cracks and get hired. Learn more in the free ebook, Toxic Leadership. Click here to download this free resource today.

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