Leading with a Fresh Sense of Vision – Episode 214 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

leading with a fresh sense of direction

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Winning in Your New Leadership Role (Part 1)

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In the past, incoming pastors were often hesitant to “rock the boat” when entering a new role. But after the events of the last year and a half, almost every church started to question their direction and vision, their strategies, and whether or not they had the right people doing the right things.

New pastors, and even existing pastors, are in a position where it’s more important than ever to help their teams and congregations embrace a new, fresh direction for where the ministry is headed.


Vision-casting is one of the four roles a senior pastor can’t delegate. But that doesn’t mean the senior pastor is the only one who can receive a vision for the church. In this week’s episode, Tony and Amy are exploring how to lead with a fresh sense of vision and direction when taking on a new role, as well as:

  • The shifting leadership landscape
  • The role of vision in creating alignment
  • Encouragement for casting vision
  • The difference between mission and vision
Vision-casting is one of the four roles a senior pastor can’t delegate. But that doesn’t mean the senior pastor is the only one who can receive a vision for the church. #unstuckchurch [episode 214] Click to Tweet As uncertainty increases, so does the desire for a clear sense of future direction. #unstuckchurch [episode 214] Click to Tweet

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

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Tony (00:00):

I mean, pre-COVID new pastors felt like they had more pressure, honestly, when they took on new leadership roles to maintain existing mission, to maintain vision and to maintain their current staff in their current structure and the values that the church embraced. But we all know disruptions happened: COVID—culture shifts, political dynamics. It’s impacted the vision and direction that churches had coming into the COVID pandemic. Now, the mission didn’t change, but the vision, the strategies and how we engage people, how we get the right people doing the right things—all of that now is up in the air.

Sean (00:48):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. For a lot of us, change has been the theme of the last 18 months; whether it’s jobs or homes or even churches, a lot has been up in the air. And for many ministry leaders, it’s becoming obvious that the direction and vision for their church needs to change as well. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy discuss what to do when you recognize you need a fresh sense of direction. Before you listen today, make sure you stop and subscribe to get the show notes in your email. When you do, you’ll get resources to go along with each week’s episode, including our leader conversation guide, access to our podcast resource archive and bonus resources that you’re not going to find anywhere else. Just go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe. Now, let’s join Tony and Amy for today’s conversation.

Amy (01:41):

Well, Tony, we’re launching a new four-week podcast series this week that’s focused on at least two-thirds of our listening audience if the recent survey data is correct. It’s all about winning in your new leadership role.

Tony (01:53):

Yeah. So we should jump to that first of all—at least two-thirds of the audience—because I don’t know, Amy, have you been hearing about the great resignation? I guess this is a thing that’s happening here, and there’s no doubt about it. People are leaving their jobs for new positions. But, actually, if you were to ask me the specific question, “are people leaving their jobs or are they considering leaving their jobs?” That’s where we get to this two-thirds number. The actual number of people leaving their jobs is high, but it might just be a reflection of the pent-up demand that built up through the early months of the COVID pandemic when few people were leaving their current positions. But if you’re asking the question, “are people considering leaving their jobs?” The answer is absolutely yes. And the reason we know this is because of a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers survey. They found that nearly two-thirds of workers aren’t just considering leaving their current job, but they’re looking for new jobs. And so, anecdotally, we’re seeing a lot of staff turnover in churches as well. So, this is something that’s trending in the marketplace, no doubt, but we’re also seeing it happening in churches. And it seems that it’s a higher percentage than normal. And if you’re curious what’s normal, I looked up the average turnover rate for employers year-over-year is about 15%.

Amy (03:19):

Which, by the way, Tony, I think is surprising to pastors. We never like people in our church to leave, but when staff members leave, it feels like maybe something is significantly wrong. And I have to remind pastors, usually during the staffing and structure review, that turnover is, you know, there is an average; it’s normal. Yeah.

Tony (03:37):

Yeah. But it does appear. And I don’t have data specific to the church context, but it does appear that we’re seeing higher than that 15% turnover in churches as well. So, yes, this series may directly affect the two-thirds of our listeners, if that data is correct, that may be seeking other jobs. However, if two-thirds of our listeners are considering a job change, I guess that ultimately is going to impact the remaining one-third of listeners as well. So, maybe this series and this episode, it’s for everyone. But, speaking of that, Amy, here’s my bigger concern. If two-thirds of us are considering a job change and there are only two of us on today’s podcast, that means one of us is likely looking for a new job, and it isn’t me. So, Amy, do I need to be concerned?

Amy (04:33):

Oh, this is awkward. But, actually, I have a note here that I’m supposed to read that I love working for The Unstuck Group, and I would absolutely never, never, ever, ever be looking for another job—no matter where it’s located, no matter how much it pays, because I can’t stand the thought of not being a part of our team.

Tony (04:50):

Thank you for following the script, Amy.

Amy (04:53):

You’re welcome. You know, I was thinking about being, now that my kids are grown, a stay-at-home mom, but that might be the only thing that would lure me away, Tony.

Tony (05:02):

Yeah, well, I can appreciate that. Well, Amy, before we really dive into the topic we’re supposed to hit today, I have a couple of tangents that I’d like to go off on. Are you okay with that? If I do that?

Amy (05:14):

I’m ready. I like your tangents.

Tony (05:15):

Yeah. So the first, and you alluded to this already, I mean the normal turnover on teams is 15% year-over-year. And some industries are a little bit higher; some industries are a little bit lower. But, I mean, just do the math; if you have 10 employees on your church staff team, that means every year, one or two of them are probably going to leave your team for another job or for another location or something. And because we experienced little turnover in 2020, because people were just apprehensive of what was happening in our world, and because of that, they weren’t making any big changes. We’re starting to see some of that catch-up happening in 2021, even in churches. And so let me just make this real practical for you. If you’re a multisite church that has six campuses, you’re probably in a normal year going to lose one of those campus pastors every year. And, let me just push a little bit here if you don’t mind. I think many times I hear from churches and pastors, “Oh, well, if that’s normal, that’s not us because we’re unique. We’re different.” I think what they’re really saying is, “we’re exceptional.” Or if I were to push a little bit further, what they’re really saying is, “I’m dealing with pride issues that make me think I’m a better leader than the other pastors down the street.” But, again, Amy, you said it; I think many times pastors are surprised when they see turnover that’s happening on their staff, thinking that something’s wrong, something’s bad. There’s something wrong in our culture, or maybe we hired the wrong people and now they’re looking for different jobs. No, it just means you’re normal. So that’s the first tangent. The second tangent is I think there are a lot of pastors and ministry leaders that are looking for other jobs right now. And I’m having lots of conversations with them because now they’re aspiring church consultants, and they’re ready to leave their day-to-day ministry jobs so that they can jump into some sort of consulting role. And what’s crazy is a lot of these folks are younger leaders in the church. I’m hearing from a lot of millennials right now that they want to jump into some sort of consulting function. Let me just give you a little bit of my backstory. And I know everybody’s journey is a little bit different, but before becoming a church consultant, I had a business degree. I had a graduate degree. I had 10 years of growing leadership responsibility in the marketplace and then 15 years of ministry and leadership and growing churches. This is not bragging stuff. I’m just kind of giving you my backstory before I decided to jump into what I’m doing now.

Amy (08:08):


Tony (08:08):

I had four published books, not self-published, but there were actually publishers that wanted to publish my writing. I had an online content, social media platform with tens of thousands of church leaders engaging every month. And most importantly, before I made my move, I had people who weren’t my close friends that were wanting to pay me money to help their churches get unstuck. And many times when I’m hearing from pastors or church leaders that you know, they kind of see the grass is always greener on the other side, they have one or two of their friends reaching out to them wanting help, and they think, “oh, this is it. This is how I can move from my current job to what God has for me next.” It may just mean that you have good friends that want your advice. So that’s a little bit of my story about how I started The Unstuck Group, but I just want to tell you sometimes church consulting, it looks glamorous from the outside looking in. I mean you get to be your own boss. You get to make your own schedule. You get to tell other people what to do, and then you get to travel home and you don’t have to actually do it. You don’t have to deal with the messiness of pastoring people. You don’t have to work weekends. I kind of like my job, Amy.

Amy (09:29):

I like that job.

Tony (09:30):

Yeah. But what you don’t see is the 20 years of developing my strategic leadership experience in my tool chest that I use today, the ups and downs of running a business where there’s no guaranteed paycheck, dealing with the state of California and all their regulations and taxes that are required to run a business in that state, nights away from my family, eating awful food in Subway restaurants in remote locations, missing my kids’ games, not being able to go to bed with my wife and working on the weekends (because actually I still have to do that). And there’s also not being with the team to celebrate the wins when the vision actually does become reality because they’ve worked their plans and they’re starting to see the fruit of the ministry on the other side of the engagements that we’ve had with them months or years in the past. And, most importantly, I don’t get to be with the team to celebrate the life change that’s happening in ministries as well. So again, Amy, I think many times we always look at what’s happening on the other side of the fence. And we think, “that’s the greener grass that I want to experience,” but we don’t share these highlights on Facebook. We don’t share these highlights on Instagram. And many times, we want what we don’t have until we actually have it. And a good friend of mine kind of expressed it this way. He would express, you know, if we all pushed our personal problems into a big pile and then we got to see everybody else’s problems, in most instances, we would actually pull our problems back. And we would gladly take our problems back. And I think many times we just assume that somebody else has it better than us or somebody else has it easier than us. And, in reality, God has us where he wants us to be to accomplish our mission. So that’s two tangents. Maybe we should do tangents in every episode, Amy. I think that was kind of fun.

Amy (11:32):

Well, your energy’s up. I know you like to go down these bunny trails every once in a while, but now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s talk specifically about where we’re going in this series.

Tony (11:41):

Yeah. So let me first start with what we’re not going to talk about in this series, which you may be thinking that’s what you’ve been talking about for the last 10 minutes. But, no, we’re not going to try to help you find another job, and we’re not going to try to help you hire a new staff leader. That’s not what we do at The Unstuck Group, but my friends at the Vanderbloemen Search Group can help with either side of that equation. And, actually, rather than trying to spell Vanderbloemen for you, you can just go to findourleaders.com. This is a free commercial; they should be paying me for this commercial. But, all that to say, with so many of you either looking for jobs or trying to hire people for jobs, don’t reach out to us; reach out to their team, and they can help you with those next steps. What we are going to discuss is what leaders should be doing when they start a new job. That’s what we’re going to hit over these next four weeks. And the reason why is that I’m having these types of conversations with pastors and leaders like, “I started my new role during COVID. I’m new, and everything in our ministry world is new. I need help clarifying vision and direction and figuring out how to engage our mission in this new normal. And I need to learn how to lead in this new position in this new season.” And the great thing is that is what we do. And so beginning today, we’re going to be talking about, specifically for those of you that are leading your church, how you do that when you’re in a new leadership role and you’re trying to create a fresh sense of direction. Next week, we’re going to come back, and we’re going to talk about how to delegate our old responsibilities so that we can embrace our new leadership roles. And I’m looking forward to this because we’re going to hear from Jeff Brodie; he’s the lead pastor of Connexus Church. And he had the unenviable opportunity to step into Carey Nieuwhof’s shoes as lead pastor.

Amy (13:48):

Oh yeah.

Tony (13:48):

So that’ll be a fun conversation.

Amy (13:50):

Jeff’s great.

New Speaker (13:50):

The following week we’re going to be defining success for your first 90 days in your new leadership role. And here we’re going to have a fun interview with one of the new leaders at Harvest Church in Southern California, which is where Greg Laurie’s the senior pastor. And it’s going to be fun to hear firsthand from somebody that’s brand new in a leadership position. And then we’re going to add in the fourth week of bonus episode, and this episode is actually going to be all about helping you think about getting a fresh start in your current role without you having to change employers or move locations. In other words, we’re going to talk about how you can rehire yourself so that you can take on a new leadership responsibility with your current church. And that’s going to be a fun conversation as well.

Amy (14:37):

Yeah, that’ll be a great conversation. Well, let’s dive into today’s then. You said, as a new leader in a new role, the priority we’re going to discuss today is related to providing a fresh sense of direction. And as I’ve heard you talk about this in the recent months, Tony, it sounds like you believe the importance of clarifying direction is even more pronounced now. Will you explain why that is?

Tony (14:58):

Yeah. It’s been fascinating over the last couple of years to watch this play out. Because I would suggest that pre-COVID, at least in church world, churches were rather slow to embrace change when it came to direction or especially the ministry strategies and methods that we’re using. I mean, pre-COVID new pastors felt like they had more pressure, honestly, when they took on new leadership roles to maintain existing mission, to maintain vision and to maintain their current staff in their current structure and the values that the church embraced rather than introduce any fresh sense of direction. In other words, it was almost the sense as a new pastor, early on at least, you don’t want to rock the boat because churches are hesitant to embrace change. So you move into a new job pre-COVID, and the priority really was just around getting to know people and building relationships. And then low on the priority list was bringing fresh vision or a fresh sense of direction. But we all know disruptions happened: COVID—a culture shifts, political dynamics. And this has certainly impacted churches as well in this last season, and it’s impacted vision and direction that churches had coming into the COVID pandemic. Now, the mission didn’t change. Almost every church started with this sense of purpose and direction for the ministry, but the vision, the strategies and how we engage people, how we get the right people doing the right things—all of that now is up in the air. And so for new pastors, and I would argue, too, even for existing pastors, they’re kind of in a new position where it’s more important than ever that they’re helping their teams and their congregations embrace a new, fresh direction for where the ministry is headed.

Amy (17:11):

I remember you telling me just a few days ago about a church that we’re both serving, how it’s the congregation almost asking for that direction and vision, right? That is unheard of you in previous times.

Tony (17:23):

That’s right. Yeah. So, as an example, in recent months, one church comes to mind, and we were actually with this church maybe four or five years ago before all of these disruptions and then that occurred. And, as a result of that, they’re kind of influx right now because the vision that they established previously worked previously for where they were heading, but now it feels like a huge disconnect. They, in fact, this church recently surveyed their staff team. Overall, the staff is very healthy, but the lowest score that the staff team provided was around clarity of a vision. It’s just a sense that right now there’s just a huge disconnect around that. And so this is again what we’re seeing across the board with many of the churches that we’re working with. In fact, in recent months, I’ve worked with three leaders who became new senior pastors during the COVID pandemic. All of them are feeling this immediate pressure from their staff, from their leadership boards and from their congregations to clarify future direction. In all three cases, there was a sense that what worked in the past wasn’t going to work going forward. And, more specifically, the vision each church had in the past wasn’t going to work for where we are today in our ministry. And there’s no doubt about it; as uncertainty increases, so does this desire for this clear sense of direction. I think that’s what all three of these new pastors were sensing. In the past, we almost cautioned new pastors, new leaders—don’t rush those early days of just getting to know people, getting to know the church and then pushing forward with new direction. But where we stand today, Amy, I think because of what we’ve experienced, there’s actually a new desire in congregations and on church leadership teams to see fresh vision. And I know that new pastors now, and I would argue even existing pastors are feeling more pressured to define that clear sense of direction of where the church is heading into the future.

Amy (19:41):

Yeah. And this shouldn’t be a surprise for new leaders who’ve gone through this and have taken on their new roles this year. But particularly to new lead pastors, Tony, you’ve talked about the roles that senior pastors can’t delegate for several years, and one of those key roles is related to providing that sense of direction.

Tony (19:58):

Yeah, that’s absolutely correct, Amy. I mean, it’s one of those key functions that we talk about senior pastors not being able to delegate; again, it’s all related to this vision clarity and vision casting. In fact, you can go back to episode number 93 in our podcast, and we did a whole series on these four roles that senior pastors can’t delegate. And, especially if you are a new lead pastor, you’ll want to go back and listen to that series beginning again with episode 93. But related to that, I’m often hearing things like this, I would say way too often, Amy. As an example, sometimes I hear a statement like this, “I don’t have a clear picture of the vision or a future direction of the church. And how can I cast vision if I’m personally not even sure of what that vision is?” Or, even worse, I’ve heard a statement like this, “I don’t have a clear vision from God for our church. Then, maybe because of that, I’m not supposed to be the pastor of this church.” And you’re probably aware of this, but I would say there’s some bad theology out there in the wild today. And one element of that bad theology suggests that only the senior pastor, because he’s God’s man and God’s anointed leader, can receive a clear, bold vision for the church. Unfortunately, we still see pastors today who tried to perpetuate this Old Testament approach to their position. And my suspicion is that they want to downplay who has access to the Holy of Holies, if you will, so that their position is elevated above other people in their church. But here’s the good news: with the death and resurrection of Jesus, the veil has been torn in two. Instead of only the high priest being able to enter into the Holy of Holies, now every believer has full access to God. Every believer is a priest. We are all the priesthood of the believers, and we can all hear from God. Secondly, we need to remember that vision for the church doesn’t come from a man. It comes from God. So the pressure is off. You don’t have to come up with the sense of future direction on your own. In fact, we found it’s a lot easier to hear from God if you lean into the power of the body of Christ. And through this process of hearing from God, it just becomes a lot easier when there’s a team of church leaders praying, listening, processing and confirming vision together. On the other side of that, there’s this additional benefit to this approach when you involve others in this process; rather than just one leader owning the vision, there’s an entire team of leaders who own the vision. So here’s my bottom line on all this, Amy. The senior pastor can’t delegate vision. They can’t delegate the future direction of the church to someone else, but the senior pastor doesn’t have to create the vision on their own. That’s something leadership teams should actually engage together. And, senior pastors, you’re only responsible for making sure that that sense of direction has been clarified and that everyone knows it. And that everybody is locking arms to see that vision become reality.

Amy (23:33):

And you know, Tony, we’ve done a lot of work here in the last, I don’t know, 12 to 18 months just helping churches land on vision. We’ve seen church teams do some pre-work before we’re on site with them, and they get in a meeting to dream, and it’s so good. And then we’d kind of take part two and facilitate it. I would say that senior pastors still have like decision rights on what’s going to go into the vision. So there’s no problem letting those lines just bleed a little bit and let people step out into some bold moves and get ideas on paper because those ideas lead to better ideas. But the senior pastor then kind of can confirm of everything that we just dreamt about. I believe this is where God’s sending us.

Tony (24:12):

Yeah. And it’s been fun for me, you’ve seen this, too, Amy, as church teams are engaged in these types of vision conversations. There’s no doubt about it. If you’re a senior pastor, in most cases, you are going to have a sense in your spirit of where the church should be going. But there’s something about hearing that first from the other leaders on your team that brings that confirmation that, indeed, this is what God has for our church next.

Amy (24:42):

Yeah. I think some pastors feel a burden, like the team is already working hard—is this going to seem overwhelming? But the energy that comes from the team, I mean I’ve had a couple of planning sessions the last few months where the team has just landed in a great spot and they are excited about it. They have a hill to take together again; it’s not just the minutia of day-after-day ministry. Anyways, I could go on, but, Tony, here’s what else I’m hearing from you in this conversation: leading your church with a fresh sense of direction is different than helping your church understand its mission. Why don’t you unpack that a little bit?

Tony (25:16):

Yeah, I know. And this maybe sounds very repetitive because I know we talk about this topic many times on the podcast, but there still seems to be a lot of confusion, especially in the church context, about the difference between our mission and our vision for the future. Mission oftentimes is captured in a brief statement that reminds everyone that this is why we exist. And many times that mission statement it’s in front of the church on a regular basis; it’s probably hanging on your wall someplace. It’s probably on your website someplace. And it’s important, I think, to articulate in your own language, this is why we are on mission together. That’s what the mission is all about. Vision, on the other hand, is about creating this clear picture of where we’re heading into the future. In other words, it’s helping us understand a specific destination. We’re not there yet, but we have a sense that this is where God’s taking us. So that mission statement, it’s hanging on your wall and you’re probably mentioning it every Sunday. But what we’ve seen is that churches really once they identify that mission statement, they think the work of vision is done as well. And it’s not. In fact, because of this, again, consultants probably don’t normally do this, but we stopped helping churches create mission statements a few years ago. And the reason why is we found churches weren’t stuck because they didn’t have a mission statement; churches were stuck because they didn’t have a clear picture of where they were heading into the future. And when you don’t have clear vision, what ends up happening is the loudest people in the room will make their case. Unfortunately, sometimes the loudest people in the room aren’t really on mission with you. Many times I have found the loudest people in the room aren’t the most spiritually mature people in the room either. And they may not be the people that God has appointed as elders, as leaders in the church to move the mission of the church forward. So when you leave your future direction to the loudest people in the room, it ends up really becoming more of a competition for attention and resources. Healthy churches are united in mind and purpose; they are fully aligned. And because of that, we really do have to get clarity around vision so that we can make sure everybody is pulling into the same direction in the future. One key element of that alignment is around clear vision and then the strategy to see that vision become reality.

Amy (28:11):

That’s right. And it’s not as hard as it sounds. I know it can feel overwhelming, but I see it time and time again. When we actually get off the treadmill of ministry to gather, pray and put our best thinking together, it is amazing what God creates out of that. Well, Tony, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony (28:27):

Yeah, Amy, I went back and reviewed our numbers through the first eight months of 2021. And in the midst of all the challenges churches are facing in this season, we’ve worked with 80 different churches and denominations already in 2021. You were wondering why your calendar was so full, weren’t you?

Amy (28:46):

I was wondering why I haven’t been home.

Tony (28:49):

Yeah. And in almost all of those instances, we’ve helped churches figure out how to clarify a fresh sense of direction for the future. Again, that’s just what we do at The Unstuck Group. In fact, I had a great conversation the other day with a church that we worked with several months ago and through that process really helped them get focused on their future direction. And, as a result of that, the pastor said, “through your process with The Unstuck Group, you helped us identify five bold moves that we want to make in the next five years.” And I just thought, yeah, that’s the win. That’s the win. And the whole team is now focused on those five bold moves. So, if you are helping your church to try to find this fresh sense of direction, especially those of you who are new in leadership roles, please reach out to us today. We’d love to start a conversation about working with you and your team to identify your church’s next bold moves as well. And you can begin that conversation at theunstuckgroup.com.

Sean (29:59):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. If you like what you’re hearing on this podcast and it’s helped you in some way, we’d love your help in getting the word out. You can do that by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform and giving us a review there. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, have a great week.

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