October 11, 2023

How to Choose Your Senior Leadership Team – Episode 317 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

how to choose your senior leadership team

Fresh Content Each Week

New content to help you lead an unstuck church delivered to your inbox on Wednesday mornings.

We know your inbox is probably full.

We want to make it easier for you to find the right content-the articles, podcast episodes and resources most relevant to where you are in your leadership.

  • Protected: Order – August 7, 2021 @ 01:25 AM

    Podcast Episodes

  • Articles & Blog Posts

  • Protected: Order – August 7, 2021 @ 09:59 AM

    Quarterly Unstuck Church Report

Developing an Effective Senior Leadership Team (Part 2)

If you enjoy this episode, subscribe on your device for more:
iTunes   RSS  Stitcher   Spotify

When considering who should be on our senior leadership team, many times, we try to answer the wrong questions.

Sometimes we ask, “What positions should be represented on the team?” In the church world, we may think anyone with “Pastor” or “Director” in their title automatically qualifies. That’s not always the case, regardless of the position.

Sometimes we ask, “Who has been around the longest?” But tenure doesn’t necessarily equate with the profile of the person you want serving on this team. 

So selecting leaders for this team is not about positional leadership or length of ministry, and it’s not necessarily about the people at the very top of your current organizational structure. 


This week, we’re going to focus on answering who should (and shouldn’t be) on your senior leadership team. (In our last episode, we made the case that the capacity of this team will determine the potential impact of your ministry–therefore, it’s pretty important that you find the right people with the right gifts for your SLT!)

In this episode, Amy and I will offer practical guidelines and seven defining questions to help you identify the right leaders for your senior leadership team. We’ll walk through:

  • How NOT to choose your senior leadership team
  • Seven defining questions for identifying leaders
  • How often your senior leadership team should change
Selecting members for your senior leadership team is not about positional leadership or length of ministry, and it’s not necessarily about the people at the very top of your current organizational structure. [episode 317] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet As the church grows, your senior leadership team needs to reflect that ongoing change. [episode 317] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet Leadership comes in a variety of shapes and sizes based on someone’s gift mix, background, personality, and experiences. [episode 317] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet Senior leadership team members must prioritize the church’s health over what’s happening in their specific ministry areas. They should be more concern with alignment to the overall goals than defending their turf. [episode 317] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet

This Episode Is Sponsored by Ministry Brands:

ministry brands logo

You may think you know Ministry Brands, the parent company of industry-leading brands such as ShelbyNext, FellowshipOne, and easyTithe. But wait until you hear about their brand new flagship solution, Ministry Brands Amplify: a cutting-edge all-in-one Church Ops solution helping empower healthy churches, connect, engage, and grow their Ministry while boosting member engagement, allowing church staff and volunteers to focus on their calling.

Empower your Ministry today with this all-in-one Giving, People, Streaming, App Builder, and Website solution.  Learn more at ministrybrands.com/unstuckgroup.

Other Episodes in This Series:

Leader Conversation Guide

Want to take this conversation back to a staff or senior leadership team meeting? 

Our Show Notes subscribers get a PDF download that recaps the episode content and includes a discussion guide you can print out and use at an upcoming meeting.

Opt-in here and get access to the full Leader Conversation Guide archive.

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.

Write a Review—It Helps!

Your ratings and reviews really do help more pastors discover the podcast content I’m creating here. Would you take a minute to share your thoughts? Just open the the podcast on iTunes on your phone or computer, click Ratings & Reviews, and leave your opinion. Or leave us 5 stars on Spotify.


Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Often, when churches are building a senior leadership team, the tendency is to invite team members based on their title or their tenure. But in truth, the criteria for great senior leadership team members goes much deeper than that. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy continue our series on church senior leadership teams and how you, too, can take the lid off of your church. If you’re new to The Unstuck Church Podcast, stop before you listen and go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe to get the episode show notes in your email. When you do, you’re gonna get resources to support each week’s episode, including our Leader Conversation Guide, access to our podcast resource archive and some bonus resources you might not find anywhere else. Again, that’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now, before this week’s conversation, here’s Tony.

Tony (00:57):

You may think you know Ministry Brands, the parent company of industry-leading brands such as Shelby Next, Fellowship One and easyTithe, but wait until you hear about their brand new flagship solution. It’s called Ministry Brands Amplify, and it’s a cutting-edge, all-in-one church ops solution, which is helping empower healthy churches to connect, engage and grow their ministry while boosting member engagement. And that’s allowing church staff and volunteers to really focus on their calling. Empower your ministry today with this all-in-one, giving, people, streaming, app builder and website solution. Learn more at ministrybrands.com/unstuckgroup.

Amy (01:47):

Oh, welcome back to our listeners. Welcome back to you, Tony. We are in the middle of a series on developing an effective leadership team. Before we dive in, though, how are you doing?

Tony (01:57):

I’m doing well. I’ve been on the road quite a bit, but, Amy, I know you have as well. Where have you been recently?

Amy (02:03):

Well, how’s that song go? “I’ve been everywhere, man.” I’ve been to Utah, worked with a fantastic church out there. And down in Florence, Alabama, another great church. And then I just got back from Lynchburg, Virginia, and this has been a staffing and structure run for me with those three churches. But great teams, man, so humble and just really looking at the next steps they have in their structures. So, you know, had to put my, my thinking hat on, and I think God really showed up and worked with us, worked with me, worked with these teams throughout the engagement. So really fun.

Tony (02:40):

Well, speaking of that then, since we’re talking about senior leadership teams, it’s kind of apropos that you’ve had all this recent experience helping them with staffing and structure because I know that topic comes up just about every time. So I’m glad that you’re serving those churches and helping them think about specifically the senior leadership team.

Amy (02:59):

Yep. That was a frequent conversation. So I am; I’m ready to have a conversation around it again today. You know, last week, we took some time to explain exactly what a senior leadership team is and what it isn’t and made a case for why most churches should have one. And I’m sure our listeners who are new to this concept have some questions, more specific ones, Tony, about what the team actually does and who should and shouldn’t be on it. And that’s exactly where we’re gonna go today. It’s what we’re going to be covering the remainder of this series.

Tony (03:28):

Yeah, that’s right, Amy. And today, we’re going to focus on answering who should or shouldn’t be on this team. In our last episode, we made the case that the capacity of this team will determine the potential impact of your ministry, and therefore, it’s pretty important that you find the right people with the right gifts for your senior leadership team. But by the end of today’s conversation, you’ll walk away with seven defining questions to help you find the right leaders for this team. So, if you’re not driving, grab a pencil and paper. Do they still make pencils, Amy? Grab, grab your phone.

Amy (04:03):

I got to sitting right in front of me.

Tony (04:04):

Grab your phone because we’re gonna have seven questions for you to consider.

Amy (04:08):

And of course, they’ll be in our show notes, as well, if you are driving and can download them later. By the way, I love this format. I like, I like the seven things that you need to ask.

Tony (04:16):

That’s right.

Amy (04:16):

So, where are we gonna start, Tony?

Tony (04:19):

Well, before we dive into the seven questions, I wanna provide some background and context for this conversation because I think that when you’re considering who should be on your senior leadership team, many times we try to answer the wrong questions. As an example, sometimes, we ask what positions should be represented on the team.

Amy (04:40):


Tony (04:40):

And in the church world, many times, we think anyone with a pastor or director in their title automatically qualifies for the senior leadership team. But that’s not always the case, regardless of the position. And sometimes, we ask the question who has been around the longest. But tenure doesn’t necessarily equate with the right profile of the person that you want serving on this team. In fact, I’d argue that if you’re stuck and gaining a fresh perspective is one of your priority needs and sometimes, the newest person on the team should be added to your senior leadership team.

Amy (05:18):


Tony (05:19):

So, selecting leaders for this team is not about positional leadership or length of ministry, and it’s not necessarily about the people at the very top of your current organizational structure. However, once you identify the right people for your situation, you should build your structure around the senior leadership team. In other words, every person and every ministry needs to be connected to one person on your senior leadership team.

Amy (05:48):

Yeah, that’s really good insight, Tony. I think your point about not just selecting leaders based on tenure is a timely word as we just wrapped up that series on empowering next generation leaders. Because if we’re only selecting leadership positions based on the length of ministry, we are never going to raise up young leaders on our team. Alright, with all that as a preface, let’s dive into the seven questions that’ll help our listeners identify who should be on the senior leadership team.

Tony (06:14):

Okay. But one quick caveat before we jump in, Amy. This list assumes that people you’re considering for this team already meet the biblical qualifications of leadership as defined by scripture. And if you don’t know what those are, you can check out First Timothy chapter three as an example. But first make sure all of those boxes are checked, and then, you can use this list of questions. Okay, here we go. Question number one: Do they have the leadership gift? And this seems obvious, but this is really the key question that shapes everything else. If they’re not effective leaders, they should not be on the senior leadership team. You also need to consider leadership capacity because we know from scripture that leadership is a gift, and those that have the leadership gift have different levels of leadership capacity. And we define at The Unstuck Group those leaders of 10s, those leaders of 50s, hundreds and thousands—not literally 10 people, 50 people and so on.

Amy (07:19):


Tony (07:19):

But for this team, you need leaders of hundreds and thousands. You need high-capacity leaders.

Amy (07:26):

Yeah. This issue of capacity is so crucial because a leader can’t take a team further than they’ve been themselves. And high-capacity leaders will not follow low-capacity leaders. So if you’re hiring leaders with a capacity of 10s and 50s to the senior leadership team, it could create a serious lid. Right? Again, to the health and growth of your church.

Tony (07:47):

Absolutely. And that’s why, Amy, it, it has to go beyond just positional leadership. Just because someone has the pastor title doesn’t necessarily mean they have the leadership capacity for this specific role. So, if the answer to question one is no, then there’s really no need to continue through the rest of this list. But assuming you can answer that question with a yes, then question number two is this: Are they a big-picture thinker? In other words, these leaders prioritize the church’s health over what’s happening in their specific ministry areas. They’re more concerned with alignment to the overall goals rather than defending their turf. They won’t let their passion for specific ministries get in the way of making decisions that help the church take a step forward.

Amy (08:39):

Yeah. When I’m working with teams, Tony, when I’m working with typically the senior and executive pastor through some of the more detailed parts of our staffing and structure engagement, when we’re starting to talk about names and potential whos, I often ask the senior pastors, “Can this person take off their functional hat?”

Tony (08:56):

That’s right.

Amy (08:56):

Literally take off that hat, whether it’s their family ministry’s hat or discipleship or operations, and can they put on, you know, your church’s hat? So, if it’s Grace Church, can they put on their Grace Church hat? For instance, you know, will this person engage when we have to put student ministries under the spotlight? You know, or they gonna check out, open up their phone, do something else. Can they engage when we have to prioritize capital expenses or when we’re getting updates, you know, from initiative leaders. So you have to have that strategic ability to not just be honing in on the topics that interest you. And it’s why, I hope this is fair, it’s why I rarely put a worship leader, someone who’s literally leading worship week in and out, on this team because that’s really not their thing typically.

Tony (09:39):


Amy (09:39):

They’ve got their mind and their attention spent on getting ready for the weekend. And, again, if we’re gonna talk about student ministries, it might be a time that they would just kind of check out. So can they take off that functional hat and put on the church hat?

Tony (09:52):

I have seen, Amy, just to be fair, there are some worship leaders out there that not only are gifted at leading worship, but they are very big-picture thinkers when it comes to where the church is going and helping to lead direction and strategy. And so, it, it really is more about their wiring than it is their role.

Amy (10:12):


Tony (10:13):

But that does lead to question number three, and that’s: Are they strategic thinkers? And you need people who can think beyond just the daily details. So there are places for managers on your team; managers play an important role. You need people who can take the game plan and then make it happen. But for your senior team, this isn’t the place for managers. Find people, instead, who think about the future and then can strategically propose how to take you there because one of the primary roles of this team is developing ministry strategy to accomplish the church’s vision.

Amy (10:50):

That actually reminds me, Tony, in a recent webinar we did on sharpening your vision-casting skills, one of our panelists, who is a senior pastor, made the comment that if someone in his church asks him, “Where’s God leading our church in the future?” He said, “I can’t respond by saying ‘I don’t know. I’ve been stuck in too many meetings.'” I thought it was great.

Tony (11:10):


Amy (11:10):

All that to say, it’s important that everyone on this team realizes that the time the team spends together isn’t going to be spent going into the weeds and the various details of various ministry. It needs to be spent on high-level vision and strategic initiatives.

Tony (11:24):

For sure, Amy, and I feel like that leads into question number four a bit, which is: Can they build teams? In, in ministry, you know, this is primarily about building and equipping teams of volunteers. And as the church grows, you also need people who can develop staff teams. And these are the folks who have demonstrated they can both identify and empower other leaders. If their instinct is “I need to do, to do this myself,” you have the wrong person because that will automatically put a lid on their own growth and the growth of the ministry. So, just like this person shouldn’t be too in the weeds with the how, they also need to be able to release that how to others on the team.

Amy (12:08):

I thought you were gonna say, “If their natural instinct is to hire someone. . .”

Tony (12:11):

That, too.

Amy (12:12):

That’s also a gap.

Tony (12:13):

Yeah, that, too.

Amy (12:14):

And that’s why sometimes corporate leaders struggle to come into a church environment with leadership because, especially in the family ministries, discipleship areas, part of that leadership is doing exactly what you’re saying: building those high-level volunteer roles in. And, you know, we always encourage churches when they’re hiring new staff members to their team to focus on hiring leaders who empower their teams to do ministry. Not doers who prefer to execute the ministry strategy on their own. Now, there are some exceptions to that in the operations area and weekend digital communications, but nowhere else is this as true as it is for your senior leadership team. We need people who can lead other people.

Tony (12:55):

Yeah, you’re absolutely right, Amy. That brings us to question five. And that’s this: Do they share the vision, the values of your ministry? Your senior leadership team is not the right place for people who perceive that they need to provide checks and balances. Maybe they pride themselves on being the devil’s advocate in your organization. Let me just say this as clearly as possible. The devil already has an advocate, and you don’t need an extra one on your senior leadership team. So, every leader at this level needs to be 100% on board with the church’s vision and values or else the whole team will feel the tension of being pulled in different directions. And that’s why every member of this team needs to be on board and protective of the big picture.

Amy (13:44):


Tony (13:44):

Strategic vision for the church above their own ministries and preferences.

Amy (13:50):

And you aren’t saying that team members shouldn’t voice the contrarian perspective now again. That’s actually helpful, I think, and pushes the team to think through their decisions better. But if that’s a badge they wear, always being the contrarian, as you said, the devil’s advocate, that’s not helpful. That’s just actually annoying.

Tony (14:08):

Yes, I totally agree, Amy. And in next week’s episode, we’ll dive into exactly what the role of the senior leadership team is and isn’t. So that will help clarify some of that as well.

Amy (14:19):

Okay. That sounds good. We’ll wait for that conversation. I can’t wait for that one. But what’s the sixth question for determining who should be on this team?

Tony (14:27):

Question six is this: Do they help us reflect the diversity of our ministry? And sometimes, we falsely assume every leader is wired up just like us and that’s absolutely not true. Leadership comes in a variety of shapes and sizes based on someone’s gift, their background, their personality, their previous experiences. So, while everyone on this team needs to be aligned around the mission, around the values of the ministry, that does not mean everyone on this team needs to be exactly the same.

Amy (15:01):

You know, Tony, as you’re saying that, I’m reminded of our Unstuck Advisory Team. You’ve demonstrated what you’ve just espoused when you put that team together. Why don’t you share with our listeners just what went into putting that team together?

Tony (15:13):

Well, as, I mean, I grew up in a certain style and philosophy of ministry, Amy. And no doubt, those ministries were very effective. But I also know because of the work we’ve done these last 15 years that God’s using all kinds of churches in a variety of different communities to reach people for Jesus and help them join the mission of the body of Christ. And because of that, I just wanted to make sure, as we’re pulling together our advisory team, that we bring people together that do share a diversity of experiences and backgrounds so that they can bring their voice to helping us shape where we’re going as a ministry as we help churches get unstuck and move their mission forward.

Amy (15:59):

That’s right.

Tony (15:59):

So, I’m pretty proud of the fact that we really do. We have a variety of people coming from not only different ethnicities and obviously men and women but just a different approach to ministry.

Amy (16:11):

That’s right.

Tony (16:12):

Some more non-denominational styles of ministry, some mainline styles of ministry, churches of different sizes. And because of that unique perspective from all that diversity of background, I think it just makes our ministry stronger in the long run.

Amy (16:29):

Yeah. And they’re so humble as they, as we meet together and share perspectives. I think it’s helped us all think wider and deeper on critical issues.

Tony (16:38):

Yeah. And just, just to express that even a little bit further, I love it when that group comes together. They’re not bragging about their churches; they’re curious about what’s happening in other churches.

Amy (16:49):


Tony (16:49):

And that’s, again, an indication that we have the right people on that team.

Amy (16:53):

Yeah. Well, thank you for sharing that. I don’t know if our listeners know we have an advisory team, but I think it’s a good example and hopefully shows our listeners that we really do practice in our own organization the concepts that we preach to churches. All right. I think we’re on the last one. What’s the final question?

Tony (17:09):

Question number seven is this: Are they lifelong learners? Ideally, you’ll identify people who will grow with your organization. It does no good to have someone who has all the answers because tomorrow the questions you need answers for will be completely different.

Amy (17:27):


Tony (17:27):

So, instead, you need people who will embrace continuous leadership development, both for themselves and for the teams that they’re leading.

Amy (17:36):

That’s a good one, Tony. And I’m not sure if it’s one that people would assume would be on this list, but I, I’ll just admit I was challenged by the last one when I was prepping for the podcast. You know, as a senior leader on our team, I was challenged to up my game in this area because humility and a desire to continuously learn and grow is so key at every phase of our leadership. Whether we’ve been leading for five years or, in your case, 25 years, I think it’s easy to feel the difference between a leader who thinks they’ve made it, kind of know it all, have it all figured out and one who always desires to grow and learn from others. So. Well, those are great questions. Again, they’re in our show notes, and hopefully, those seven questions are helpful in determining what kind of leaders pastors should be seeking out or developing to fill those current or future senior leadership team roles. But, Tony, any other final thoughts you wanna share on this topic of selecting the “who” for our leadership team?

Tony (18:32):

Yeah, just a few more thoughts on this, especially for smaller or newer churches. You don’t necessarily need to be hiring staff to be on your senior leadership team. And I’m sure that’s a concern for small church pastors who are listening. But when you’re selecting laypeople for these roles, they need to be fully engaged in ministry and serving in a leadership capacity. If your volunteer leaders can’t invest the time to do that, you may need to move them into more of an advisory capacity or just pull them in on specific projects rather than considering them as part of your team. The other thing to remember is that this team needs to change over time. As the church grows, your senior leadership team needs to reflect that ongoing change, and it would be highly unusual for the same team to remain in place year after year after year. And with that in mind, every 18 to 24 months, you may want to re-ask yourself: Do we have the right people on our senior leadership team?

Sean (19:33):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. At The Unstuck Group, our goal is to help pastors grow healthy churches by guiding them to align their vision, strategy, team and action. In everything we do, our priority is to help churches help people meet and follow Jesus. If there’s any way we can serve you and your church, reach out to us today at theunstuckgroup.com. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So, until then, have a great week.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.