4 Ways Ministries Embrace Mediocrity – Episode 77 | The Unstuck Church Podcast


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Accepting These Things Guarantees Your Team Won’t Reach Its Full Potential

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“The toughest test of a manager is not how they deal with poor performance — it’s how they address mediocrity.” 

It’s a quote by Joseph Grenny I read in the Harvard Business Review a while back, and boy, is it true. Leaders can tend to blame mediocrity on ineffective employees or volunteers, instead of recognizing our own ineffective leadership as the problem.

I’m not going to lie: Amy and I got a little snarky and sarcastic in this episode. Of course church leaders don’t really want to embrace mediocrity, but they do often employ strategies that guarantee mediocrity will happen.

This was a fun conversation. And don’t worry, we spend most of the time giving really practical next steps you can take if you realize you have been allowing mediocrity to happen on your watch.

It’s absolutely possible to turn the ship. Listen for some examples.

“The toughest test of a manager is not how they deal with poor performance — it’s how they address mediocrity.”  Click To Tweet There's little accountability for mediocre results. Our tendency is to blame ineffective employees or volunteers for mediocrity in our ministries instead of acknowledging our own ineffective leadership. Click To Tweet

In this conversation, we discussed: 

  • A 3×3—or 4×4, or 6×6, your choice—model for clarifying the wins for your team members’ roles, creating more accountability for outcomes, and improving the overall effectiveness and culture on your team 
  • Why we tend to hold poor performers accountable but we let mediocrity continue for years on end with no consequences
  • The effect a people-pleasing tendency by the senior leader has on the whole team
  • Strategies for beating mediocrity and making your ministry more effective

Leader Conversation Guide

Want to take this conversation back to a staff or senior leadership team meeting? Here are some sample questions and strategies to help you navigate the conversation:

  1. How do we, as team, define the differences between mediocrity and poor performance?
  2. Have we given any of our people jobs without clarifying the wins for their roles and why those wins are important to the overall mission of the ministry? Who?
  3. You can’t do a lot of things and do them all “above average.” In what areas of our ministry do we find the most complexity?
  4. What measures of performance and health do we need to start monitoring?

Share Your Thoughts and Questions on Social Media

We use #unstuckchurch on Twitter, and we start a real-time conversation each Wednesday morning when the episode drops. You can follow me @tonymorganlive and The Unstuck Group @unstuckgroup. If Facebook is where you spend your time, I’m there, too.

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Sean: 00:10 Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast. My name is Sean Bublitz, and each week our team is having a conversation about getting churches unstuck. If you’ve ever felt like your church wasn’t firing on all cylinders, like there was so much more potential, but you just couldn’t quite reach it, today Tony and Amy are going to flip the script and look for ways to better embrace mediocrity in your church and along the way they’re going to discuss the practical steps that you can take to see your church reaches full potential. So let’s dive in here, Tony and Amy.

Amy: 00:40 Well, today we’re talking about mediocrity in ministry. My goodness. Who picks these topics, Tony?

Tony: 00:46 Oh, what do you mean? You know, every church leader doesn’t aspire to be the most mediocre leader. They can be leading a mediocre ministry. Come on, Amy. I have a feeling this is going to be one of our most popular podcasts ever. We’re going to be talking about four strategies for embracing mediocrity in your ministry. I mean this is going to be phenomenal.

Amy: 01:10 You always have so much energy as my favorite cynic when we flip these topics to the other side. Mr. Morgan, ladies and gentlemen. All right, Tony, you wrote an article not too long ago where you shared a quote from an article that Joseph Grenny wrote for Harvard Harvard Business Review. The quote was this, “The toughest test of a manager is not how they deal with poor performance. It’s how they address mediocrity.” So why did that quote grab your attention?

Tony: 01:39 Yeah, for a couple reasons. First, poor performance—That’s easy to identify. And even in churches, we tend to hold poor performers accountable. My sense is though that churches generally mediocrity slide, there’s very little accountability for mediocre results. And our tendency in fact is to blame the ineffective employees or volunteers for that mediocrity rather than acknowledging our own ineffective leadership. And that’s why I think this is such a challenge for us as leaders.

Amy: 02:18 Right? You referenced for strategies to help us embrace this mediocrity in our ministry. So I’m guessing you’ve already hinted at the first strategy, right?

Tony: 02:27 That’s right. You’re correct. The first strategy for embracing mediocrity is to give people jobs without clarifying the wins for their roles and why those wins are so important to the overall mission of the ministry. And so, first of all, if we’re going to get this right, if we’re going to get beyond mediocrity, we have to have organizational clarity. And I’m going to sound like a broken record here, Amy, because I know we’ve talked about organizational clarity in the past and these three key questions, why do we exist as a ministry? That’s our mission. Where are we going in the future? That’s our vision and how are we going to get there? That’s our strategy and it’s important that we answer all three of those questions. Clarifying Your Ministry strategy though will help you identify the wins for everyone’s role on the team. Clarifying the mission and vision that’s going to help you communicate why those specific wins are so important for us to engage. And so, Amy, when it comes to role clarity, we’ve talked about kind of a three by three model. Can you share a little bit about what that model is all about and how that helps clarify the winds for a ministry role?

Amy: 03:54 Sure. You can call it a three by four by four, six by six. It’s really just a simple management tool with the team because it forces them to align their activities to what they’re trying to get accomplished. So what it stands for is in a team setting, let’s just use the three by three, like you said in a team setting. When you’re together, it’s naming the three most important things that you need to get done in the next three weeks. And I say a team setting because here’s what I think the most important things are I need to be doing, but I’m saying that in front of my peers and my leader and you can get some way in from the team. For instance, if you’re trying to build a volunteer leadership culture and you’ve got heads down tasks, you know, your three most important priorities, your team can challenge you and say, well, where are you meeting with leaders?

Amy: 04:42 Where are you addressing this? When we have for our team, what else I like about it is it gives visibility to what everyone else is working on and again, we all own the mission vision strategies of where we’re going, even though we don’t lead all of them, but it gives visibility to the teammates and it brings accountability. So if I declared this is what I was going to work on, I’ve got some team members who now know that and we’ll check in with me. And then of course, every three weeks you get to celebrate what the team got accomplished. So that’s just one simple way. Then every three weeks you repeat that exercise. So that’s the three by three, Tony, what’s the next step for embracing mediocrity?

Tony: 05:22 Yeah, the next step, if you want to be very mediocre in your leadership and your ministry is to avoid monitoring any measures of performance or health in your church. Amy, as you know, that’s not the objective of the churches that we’re serving at The Unstuck Group. And so what we do is help them create a dashboard to monitor ministry health. And some examples, I went back and looked at some recent churches we’ve served one church on their dashboard said we want to increase volunteer engagement by adding 100 volunteers to our ministry teams over the next 12 months. Another said, we want to create captivating kids’ ministry environments and programming that attract over 300 kids every week. And then another church said, we want to include, we want to clarify and implement and intentional leadership development strategy that increases the number of leaders by 50 across all our ministry teams.

Tony: 06:25 These are just examples, Amy, but what they can point to on a dashboard that they’re monitoring consistently know exactly what they’re going to do and what are the results that they’re expecting. And what I love about this is not only the focus and clarity that that brings, but what it does as well as it starts to create some peer to peer accountability. In other words, rather than the senior pastor or the executive pastor being the only person that’s driving accountability for results. When you have a dashboard with clear objectives, measurable objectives on it, it starts to create the sense of we’re all pulling together and we’re all holding each other accountable for those results. And so it’s just creating that peer to peer accountability.

Amy: 07:16 Yeah. That’s great. Alright, so far you’ve shared to embrace mediocrity. We have to avoid clarity around the wins for the roles and that we have to avoid measuring performance and health. So what, what’s next for mediocrity?

Tony: 07:30 Yes. If you want to be mediocre in your leadership and in your ministry, you should encourage as much complexity as possible. So let me give you some examples of complexity we’ve seen in churches. For instance, in one church they were trying to do four different styles of worship at two different times on Sunday mornings.

Amy: 07:54 That was just one church we were talking about. I think that’s, we’ve seen that across a lot of churches.

Tony: 07:59 We’ve seen that in many instances. Yeah. Another example, and again we’ve seen for sure seeing this many instances, instances you can encourage complexity by rather than clarifying and discipleship path, you promote dozens of different ministry programs. And ministries compete with each other for people’s time and attention. Another example of complexity that we’ve seen in churches is creating 30 different committees. I can’t believe this. 30 different committees, but we’ve seen it to make decisions about everything that happens in your ministry, including who does what and with how much money. So those are some examples of complexity. If you’re wanting to be mediocre, I wanted to encourage you to do that. I’m speaking sarcastically, Amy, because when you allow complexity to prevail in your ministry model, the result at best is going to be mediocrity. And the reason why is obvious you can’t do everything and expect to do all those things above average or with excellence. And so it just creates challenge for the churches that are trying to engage at great mission.

Amy: 09:16 Well, I can’t imagine what the fourth strategy is. The last one. So please share with us, Mr Morgan.

Tony: 09:23 Yeah. I almost feel like we should have a drum roll here. So I could probably talk about several other examples of how to embrace mediocrity. But the last one that really comes to mind for me today is this: If you’re going to be mediocre in your leadership and your ministry, you should try to please everyone. And I know that this is challenging, especially for church leaders and particularly for pastors who are generally highly relational leaders. And believe me, we’ve worked many pastors who freely admit that they struggle with people pleasing. And first of all, I just want to challenge you. It’s really impossible to keep everyone happy in your church and you know this because it’s impossible to keep everyone in your family happy at the same time. I mean all and all the time. Once your family or your church grows beyond just you, it’s really difficult to keep everyone happy all the time.

Tony: 10:29 The other thing I want to challenge you with here is that if you’re trying to please everyone, you better never make any changes because changes even when they’re good and healthy, changes are going to make some people mad. And an example of this from my family, gosh, it’s been about, I guess it was about 12 years ago, we were moving from the South Bend area in Indiana down to South Carolina. Great opportunity for our family, great opportunity for me and my ministry. But of the six Morgans, at least two of them did not think that was a good idea. I mean they were digging in and complaining and very emotional. And it was the type of thing like, you must not love me anymore because you’re pulling me away from all my friends and making us move to a place where we know no one. One of the Morgans actually wrote a letter to the people that purchased our house complaining about what lousy parents we were.

Tony: 11:35 And it’s just a good example of this was, I mean, Emily and I knew we had prayed through this. We had encouragement and counsel this was, this was the right next step for us to be taking. But it was a change. It was a good change, but it did not keep all six Morgans happy by any means. You’ve experienced this in your churches and you know this to be true even when you’re making healthy church changes, good changes that are going to help your church have a bigger kingdom impact, any change, it’s going to make some people mad. It’s gonna, some people are not gonna be happy with that change and then finally, let me just share this challenge that perceived happiness or you could look at it as pain avoidance may actually prevent people from taking their next steps toward Christ and it may prevent your ministry from taking the next steps.

Tony: 12:29 It ought to be taking as well. Sometimes we as individuals, and I would say corporately as churches, we need interruptions. We need disruptions in our lives to turn our focus back to Jesus and to let him have complete control of our lives and I can speak from experience those interruptions, those disruptions, they’re not pleasing, but oftentimes that is what forms character in us. It’s what draws us closer to God and it’s what encourages us to take the right next steps that we need to be taking and so pleasing people, it’s not the answer if we want to accomplish what God has for our lives and for our ministries, but it is the fourth thing we need to embrace if we’re trying to embrace mediocrity in our leadership and our ministry.

Amy: 13:28 Yeah. Tony, I would just add one thing. You know, a lot of the disruptions that I see that need to happen in churches, it really has to be led by the senior pastor. There are some disruptions only the senior pastor can make. And I think about a podcast we did recently on building great teams. When you have a great team around you, it gives you the courage, I think sometimes to move from people pleasing to really being strategic about your decisions and then having a team help you navigate some of those disruptions. So, any final thoughts, Tony, on mediocrity before we close?

Tony: 14:00 Yeah. Let me just share this. If you sense your churches mired in one of these seasons of mediocrity, it’s really difficult to get out of it on your own. And just like people go to doctors when they’re sick, they’re actually experienced coaches who can help churches that are sick as well, and that’s what we do at The Unstuck Group. As I’ve mentioned before, we can right size our unstuck process and the fees that fit every size church. And so if you need some outside help to get beyond a season of mediocrity for your church, we want to engage a conversation with you and obviously there’s no charge for that initial conversation to discuss what those options look like. And if you’re interested, you can go to theunstuckgroup.com/start. And we can begin with that conversation with you to talk about potential next steps.

Sean: 14:56 Well, thanks everyone for joining us today. Tony just mentioned, it’s easy to begin a conversation with our team to talk about how we can help your church get unstuck. Just go to theunstuckgroup.com/start. We’ll connect you with one of our ministry consultants so that we can hear your story and figure out a path forward that help your church get unstuck. If you’d like to learn more on the topic that we discussed today, you can check out the show notes at theunstuckgroup.com/episode77, and as always, if you’d like to learn anything more about The Unstuck Group, we can check us out at theunstuckgroup.com. Next week we’ll be back with a brand new episode. Until then, have a great week.

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