How COVID-19 Changed What Your Team Needs from You as the Leader – Episode 168 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

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Pastor and Team Health Part 2: Taking Care of Your Team

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The demands and expectations for leading ministry seem to be surging, as we change how we’re doing ministry, serving people in our community, and caring for the sick. We’ve felt it at my company, The Unstuck Group, and we’re hearing it from the hundreds of pastors we’re serving, too.

The workload has grown exponentially, and none of us can do it all. You, and the people on your team, are only human.

In last week’s episode, we talked about how pastors can stay emotionally healthy as they are under greater pressure and being criticized more than ever. The order of these two episodes matter—you need to listen to Episode 167 first.

In this second part, we’re talking about how what your team needs from you as their leader has changed, and how pastors can help their teams stay healthy in a turbulent season.

Lance Witt joins Amy again for this conversation, and they dive into things like:

  • Finding the synergy of health and high-performance on your team, and the actions you take as the leader to build it
  • The specific things your team needs most from you during the pandemic, and how you may need to adjust your style to provide them
  • Lance’s suggestions for practicing spiritual disciplines together as a team
  • Adjustments to make in your leadership for enhancing productivity, even during this season of rapid change and high anxiety
  • Slowing down, taking a long-term view, and protecting your team
Unspoken expectations are just resentments waiting to happen. @lance_witt #unstuckchurch [episode 168] Click to Tweet While you're getting a lot of great stuff done in this season, be sure to love your team along the way. Make sure your relationship with them is personal, not just transactional. @lance_witt #unstuckchurch [episode 168] Click To Tweet

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Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. The demands and expectations for leading ministry seem to be surging. Changing how we’re doing ministry, serving people in our community and caring for the sick have left many leaders feeling that the workload has grown exponentially, but the truth is none of us can do it all. And the people on your team are only human. Today on the podcast, Amy wraps up a two-part series with fellow Unstuck teammate, Lance Witt, on how pastors can help their team stay healthy in a turbulent season. Before you listen to today, though, subscribe to get the show notes in your email. Every week, you’ll get resources to go along with that week’s episode, our leader conversation guide, access to our podcast resource archive and bonus resources you won’t find anywhere else. Just go to and subscribe. Now let’s join Amy and Lance for this week’s conversation.

Amy (01:00):

Last week, we had a great conversation with Lance Witt on the topic of pastor health. And if you missed that episode, I highly encourage you to go back and take a listen. There’s some great coaching in there on some very practical things that we can all do just to have a healthier soul while we’re leading in ministry right now. But Lance is back again with us this week to continue the conversation with the focus on team health. So welcome back, Lance.

Lance (01:25):

Thank you, Amy. It is great to be with you again, and you know, I do think the order of these two podcasts matter. I think the tip of the spear for pastors is really taking ownership of your own personal health. That really is where you have to start, but it doesn’t stop there. I mean, I think we have to then translate some of that same practice into building great teams, because if we don’t, then the team can actually become the bottleneck to our church really getting after the vision that God has given us. So I’m excited to jump into this topic today.

Amy (02:02):

You know, Lance, I met you three or four years ago, but I really got to know you while you were writing your book, High-Impact Teams, which is a great book by the way to our listeners, practical health when it comes to leading a team that’s healthy and high performing. But what inspired you to write that book?

Lance (02:19):

Yeah, when I think about that, there was actually a moment, Amy, I can still picture it. I was in Breckenridge, Colorado in a beautiful mountain home with about 10 pastors on a little retreat. And I was doing a teaching on Sabbath, and this fairly younger, like maybe 37-38 year old, pastor at the end of my teaching, he said, you know, can I confess something honest to you? And I go, well, sure. And then he surprised me with what he said. He said, I try to keep guys like you away from my staff. And I was sort of taken back. And so I said like, what do you mean? He goes, well, the last thing some of my underperforming staff need is another Sabbath. They don’t need another excuse not to get work done. And in his way, he was trying to say, I don’t want anything that’s going to detract us from really getting after the thing that God’s called us to. And I remember in that moment kind of realizing that not everybody has the same issues I have. I’ve struggled with workaholism and overworking and overfunctioning, but that pastor was reminding me in a pretty blunt way that not everybody struggles with those same things. And so what I began to think about was, I don’t think you have to choose. I don’t think it’s only about high-performance to the neglect of health. And I don’t think it’s only about health to the neglect of high-performance. And so I began to really dream about what would it look like to create the synergy that can come in a team when we really focus on both health and high-performance? So that was kind of the impetus that really got me started down the track.

Amy (04:01):

So in this season, Lance, what do pastors and leaders need to do to personally care for their team?

Lance (04:07):

Okay. So when I think about that question, I think about something that my family started doing during COVID.

Amy (04:14):

What’s that?

Lance (04:14):

So my son-in-law and daughter turned us on to this series that they had been watching about formula one racing. I knew nothing about Formula 1 racing, but it was a very fascinating series and kind of just seeing all of the behind the scenes look at Formula 1. But one of the things that you discover in Formula 1 is they have an amazing ability to speed up, but also slow down very quickly. And so when it comes to your teams and when it comes to pivoting and the tasks that you guys have had to do and the adjustments you’ve had to make, you’ve had to go fast. But when it comes to the people side, when it comes to the team side, you have to learn how to slow down and to like be present, to put down your phone, to not always be in task mode, to actually ask personal questions, like, how are you doing and how are you doing really? And so I think it’s just taking that time, but in this season, we’ve had to move so quickly that I feel it when I sit down with a pastor that their RPMs are re- lining. And so I would just say, if you’re going to care for your team, you have to dial back the RPMs a little bit. And I think one of the most practical ways that you can do that is to actually like show care and demonstrate personal care for the families of your team members. I mean, you could even consider taking a different staff member and praying for them and their family every single day. You might even ask like, hey, how could I pray for you and your family this week? Write some personal notes. At the end of a meeting, take a few minutes to sit down with somebody and just not rush off to the next thing. And so I think one is just about that personal, kind of warm shepherding care that you have to demonstrate. And then I would also say, before I move off of this one, Amy, I think you need to acknowledge the stress and loss that everybody’s feeling. We give that sort of, acknowledgement to our congregation but not often to our teammates. And so I think, just as a general rule, we as Christian leaders don’t do a good job of grieving loss. And so I just want to remind all of us, there’s an entire book in the Bible called Lamentations. Jesus said, “Blessed are those that mourn.” And I thought about this a lot during this coronavirus pandemic, like my response to crisis as a leader is suck it up, put on my leader hat, stuff any emotions that I have, make the next best decision and then just move on. And I think I’ve got to acknowledge that my team, they’re feeling the stress for their families and for themselves personally. And I think just to acknowledge that and to acknowledge that this is a time of loss can actually feel like care for your team.

Amy (07:22):

Well, and this is something that you practice. Being a teammate, I probably at least once a week, start my day with a Slack message from you, checking in on my family, my mom, different things that are happening in life. And it reminds me I need to do that because it blesses me, and it’s so good to know someone’s praying for me. And then it reminds me to interrupt the pace of my life to do those things as well.

Lance (07:50):

So when I’m spending time with the Lord, often in the mornings, I’ll just say, Lord, who do you want me to reach out to? And there are times, Amy, when you are, you know, what your family is going through, or some situation will come to mind. And it doesn’t cost me anything, you know, other than just a little bit of time and then just to offer up a sincere prayer. I dunno, I just think that matters to people and especially in a time like this, it just communicates concern and care.

Amy (08:23):

Yeah. And where else will that come from? You know, it comes from the body of Christ.

Lance (08:28):


Amy (08:29):

Well let me ask you another question. As we think about our pastors, what does their team need from their leader that’s different than what they needed before the COVID crisis? What has changed?

Lance (08:40):

Gosh, everything’s changed. Right? The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear that question is just some extra grace and understanding and making sure that while you have firmly put on your leadership hat during this crazy season, that you are also wearing your shepherd hat. And that’s part of what I was talking about earlier when I was talking about slowing down, because when I have the leader hat on, I’m like focused. I am task. I am get it done. Right? But when it comes to my team, I think one thing they need is a little more grace, and kind of the word I find myself using with a lot of pastors these days is to embrace the quality of gentleness. You know, so often when we pray as pastors, we’re asking God to expand our territory, right? Prayer of Jabez kinds of prayers, and give us greater vision and give us the people we need to accomplish the vision and impact our communities, and all of that matters. But when’s the last time you, as a leader, prayed that you’d be more gentle? And I think your team needs that right now. I think about like, you know, when you handle a newborn, either, you know, a newborn baby comes into your family or a grandparent or somebody on your team has a baby, and you hold that baby for the first time. What do you do? Well, first off, you gotta slow down. You don’t just, you know, just quickly do that. You slow down. You’re careful. You pay attention to what you’re doing. There’s a softness and like attentiveness that just comes with doing that. And I think our teams need that right now, that kind of gentleness. It makes me think of when Paul said in Philippians 4, and it’s a verse that’s tucked right in the middle of all these other verses that we like to quote, but we almost never quote this one. And Paul says, let your gentleness be evident to all. And I’m amazed when you start looking at like in the New Testament, how often there’s a command for us to be gentle and to be gentle leaders. And so I would say, you know, one thing that your team needs from you right now, grace, understanding gentleness. And here’s the last thing I would probably put on the table. They need more intentional, personal connection. I had a guy, a pastor, say to me recently, he goes, I’m convinced that what our people and our team need is not more content, but more connection. And I think we feel that. I’ve started to travel some recently. And gosh, it’s been nice to actually sit in the room with a few people and just feel that sort of like personal connection. Right? So I would just say, pastor, what can you do, even in this day of Zoom calls and everything, what can you do to make it to have a little more intentional connection with those you lead?

Amy (11:40):

Good. On the spiritual side of things, what can pastors do to help their teams stay spiritually connected during this time? So you were just talking about intentional connection and I got that flavor, but how about on the spiritual side of things?

Lance (11:53):

Well, this one isn’t very sexy, but we got to say it. And that is you have to model it yourself. So I think, again, going back to kind of, what is your walk with God looking like right now? Because when I press in with a lot of people in ministry and when people finally get vulnerable and honest and go, man, my spiritual life’s pretty stuck. I’m just going through the motions, fairly routine. And so I think, you know, even be sharing like with your team, like what’s God up to in your life right now? What passage of scripture did you read this week that has really stuck with you? And how’s God coming to you personally, not just as a leader, not just to give you something to preach about, but to be reflective and to share kind of what God is doing.

Lance (12:43):

So there’s a phrase I’ll use it sometimes. As leaders, we need to use the mirror more than the spotlight. In other words, instead of shining the light on everything around us, we need to hold up the mirror to our own lives and allow God to do that good refining work in us. So I think, you know, again, you know that your spiritual life will be infectious and contagious for those around you. And then I would say, on a really super practical level, practice spiritual disciplines together. Like as a team, do a passage where you do a Lectio Divina, where you kind of read a scripture through two or three times and you really sit with that passage and let your team imagine what it would be like to be there. Or to begin a meeting with a moment or two of silence, like do two minutes of silence and then say, how is God showing up to us as a team? Maybe do a half-day retreat, or we’re going to agree together to fast, you know, about some kind of spiritual breakthrough that we’re looking for in our church and then do some really meaningful prayer together. I mean, man, this is a season where there is spiritual warfare going on all around us. So what could we do to like really desperately seek God? I’ll tell you, Amy, there is a passage of scripture, a story that changed my prayer life. And it’s a story of the guy who has a guest come to his house late at night, no advance warning. And he doesn’t have anything to feed him. And so he goes to his neighbor’s house next door, and he knocks on the door, and the neighbor, you know the story, he won’t get up immediately. And he says, hey, everybody’s asleep. It’s late. Go away. And this guy, because he has a social obligation to feed his guest, he knocks on the door again. And then the Bible says this, “I tell you he will not get up and answer the door because of friendship, but because of your shameless audacity,” and it is an invitation from God for us to begin to pray with shameless audacity that we’re not an imposition, we don’t have to come apologetically. And so I would say to you as a pastor, what are you and your team praying for with shameless audacity? You want to raise the spiritual temperature of your team environment? Man, get everybody praying with audacity for healing for someone, you know, who’s maybe suffering with COVID or, you know, people who need Jesus in your community. What is it your team could pray for with shameless audacity that could really make a difference?

Amy (15:24):

Well, let me shift gears here. You said at the beginning, you know, this passion between, you know, having healthy teams and high-performing teams, how would you respond to this? How can pastors make sure their team is not only healthy, but also effective? I know for myself, if I’m not winning, if I’m not moving the ball forward, if I’m not accomplishing some things, it’s hard for my soul to feel healthy. So, I don’t know. How would you answer that? How can they make their team healthy, but also effective?

Lance (15:53):

Yeah, that’s a great question. And I would go back to what we talked about earlier. I would lead with health because I think as you build relationship and as you invest in your team and they know that you authentically care for them, it makes now the productivity conversations a lot easier. And I think all of us, as leaders, have a bent toward one side of this equation or the other. Some of us are hard driving type A’s. We get a lot done. We want to move the ball forward, just like you’re talking about. We want to feel like we’re winning and making progress. And the people-side maybe comes a little more difficult for us. It’s something we have to kind of work at. Some of us, man, we’re great shepherds. We sit down, we can talk with people and have these unhurried conversations. And there’s just a warmth in the room when we have those conversations, but maybe we struggle with kind of, you know, ambition and maybe getting some stuff done that really is important. And so I think we want to make sure it really is a both/and conversation and that you know where you’re starting from. And so, I think, right now the single biggest thing that pastors need is one word. And it’s clarity. I think you got to get really clear because what may have been important seven, eight months ago has changed, and how we used to do our ministry and our ministry routines, and our programs in our buildings, all of that has changed. And so, if the teams are going to be effective, there has to be clarity around what’s really most important. And I believe that you have to get even more granular because we can’t plan out six months or 12-months or 18-months out as easily as we used to. So it’s more like, what are we doing next week? Because, you know, everything could change again. So I think clarifying expectations with your team is really the foundational piece. Unspoken expectations are just resentments waiting to happen. So let me say that again. Unspoken expectations are just resentments waiting to happen, and your team needs clarity around expectations and priorities maybe more than ever before. So get really clear and, I think, make them short term. And then I would say, get input and feedback in real time as much as possible. I think again, we’re learning something new every single week as we’ve made all these adjustments as we’ve had to pivot. And so make sure that the communication is coming upstream, not only just downstream from you to the rest of the team. So do a good job of debriefing, get honest feedback, encourage people to sort of bring you the brutal truth about what’s really going on. And I think if we can do those two or three things, I mean, we can at least move the dial on the effectiveness gauge.

Amy (18:48):

I like how you said, get input and feedback, not give input and feedback. You know, again, working with many churches, and you do this, too on the staffing and structure side, I don’t know if you find this, Lance, but when we talk about the strengths wheel, some people are wired to get things done and some people are wired for the people and relationship side. And I would say, probably 100% of the time, there are always more staff members on the people side than there are on kind of the task and get things done side. And so I would maybe just add, and see if you agree with this, when you go to get input and feedback, you’re going to have to create a safe environment for that. Yeah. You’re going to have to put people at ease because I have to remind lead pastors all the time. Everybody wants you to like them. And so it’s hard to get good input and feedback unless there is a safe environment where you’re mining for that truth and you are responding to it in a way that is not adverse. I don’t know. Would you add anything to that, Lance?

Lance (19:50):

The word that comes to my mind is the one thing that will shut down feedback and create an unsafe place is when you become defensive. When you become defensive, you shut down the conversation and people will walk away and go, okay, it’s not really safe to bring my feedback. So can I turn the tables and ask you a question real quick? Because you work with more teams than maybe anybody else that I know of. And so, as you’re kind of working with teams in this kind of crazy environment, what do you feel like are some of the things that, you know, these teams need. If they’re going to really be effective and move toward the goal of the vision that God has given them and make progress, is there anything that comes to mind that you would just sort of throw out on the table for leaders to consider?

Amy (20:40):

Yeah, I think maybe one of the big themes right now, and you just said it in that whole part of being clear, getting granular. Team members are getting locked up because everything’s switched. We moved online. And then we started regathering, and people have a lot, at least mentally, on their mind of all the things that they need to do. And if we’re really going to be, as we’ve been talking about fishing on the other side of the boat, if we’re really going to start to launch some new strategies to reach people who are not interested or currently outside the faith, we need some people to be focused on that. But if we don’t bring a lot of clarity to what the priorities are, then everything, it just feels like too big of a load because people think they have to do everything they did before. And now they have to do some of these new things, and it’s locking up teams. They’re getting stuck. And so, I think, pastors, if you can bring real clarity to what people need to be focusing on, and if you’re a large staff team, that your leaders understand what’s most important, and we’re giving permission to stop doing some other things so that we can get the flywheel moving on some of these new strategies, I think that would add a lot of health back into the teams.

Lance (21:53):

That’s such great insight. And I always think about that it’s my job as a manager to make sure that people that I supervise that their priorities are clear and to make sure that they know what those are. Some churches I know have been doing more like stand-up meetings so that at the beginning of a week, or even at the beginning of a day, people know like what’s the most important things I need to be doing. And if you are being supervised by someone who’s not giving you that clarity, that’s a fair question to ask. Like, what are the most important things I need to be focusing on right now? That’s good leading upward as a team member.

Amy (22:34):

And linking back to what you said just a few minutes ago. I like the short-term focus and priorities. You know, we preach vision all the time. We need to know where we’re going. We need to know what the goals are so we can create our strategies, but we’re all going to have to have an agility and adaptability to the new things that we’re learning. And so that shorter term, and if you mirror that or marry that with prayer. You know, if everyone was praying about people, you know, that they’re thinking about reaching that they’re hoping to reach, that’ll be forefront on their mind and actually align the teams as well. So all of it kind of fits together.

Lance (23:09):

Yes, it does.

Amy (23:10):

Well, Lance, it’s been great having you on the podcast these last two weeks. As always, is there anything, any final thoughts, that you’d like to share before we wrap up today’s conversation?

Lance (23:20):

Again, I think a lot of just what I would say to a pastor, like take a longterm view. You know, we’re in this thing right now. It’s probably not going to be over anytime soon. And so, and in the process of taking a long-term view, be sure you don’t overlook your team. I mean, it would be sad to get a year down the road and look back at all the changes you implemented, all the pivots that you had to make, all digital improvements that we all made, but your team is fried and exhausted and feels beat up and they end up just kind of resenting ministry. And that is not a fun place to live. And so while you’re getting a lot of great stuff done and making all the changes, can I just challenge you, be sure you love your team along the way. Make sure that your relationship with them is personal, not just transactional. It makes me think of Exodus 28, when God would say to Aaron, when you go in to do your priestly duty into that holy place, wear this ephod, this breast piece of decision, he would call it. And on the breast piece was a stone that represented all 12 tribes of Israel. And it was God’s way of saying to Aaron, hey, when you minister, make sure you have the people on your heart. And I would just say to you, as you carry out ministry, make sure that you carry your team on your heart, that you pray for them, that you’re interested in their families and that your personal care for them is front and center in these crazy days.

Sean (24:49):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. If you’re listening today and you’re sensing that you could use some help with managing your health and the health of your team, we’d love to help. Take a few minutes right now and go to Our Unstuck Leadership Coaches provide practical tools at coaching and accountability that’s contextualized for your unique ministry context. If you’re feeling stuck, if you’re feeling unsure, or if you’re feeling unhealthy as a leader, we would love to help. Find out more at Next week, we’re going to be back with another brand new episode. Until then, have a great week.

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