While I was in Jr. High and High School, I had the best job that any kid growing up in rural western Nebraska could ask for, spending countless hours farming and ranching for my grandparents. I would spend most summer days operating farm equipment through the fields, working cows, fixing fences, or even from time to time, going to town to get milkshakes!
I think about this time often and wonder, what made this job the best job? It wasn’t the job functions themselves, though I did love the work (and the milkshakes didn’t hurt either!). Rather, it was the environment that my grandparents created. By intention or not, my first ‘bosses’ created an environment that was one of the healthiest and safest work environments I have experienced.
I can likely assume one of a couple of conclusions about you…
- You oversee staff or volunteers in your church environment
- You are on a staff or volunteer team in your church environment. Regardless of what group you fall in, there are a few principles that each of us can foster in our respective environments, whether we are leading or following a leader.
Healthy environments are relational.
Statistics are clear and consistent, when the work environment is not healthy and safe, employees (and volunteers alike) will seek out new work environments. Toxic work environments, harsh supervisors, unrealistic expectations, and shallow connections all play into environments that are not held on to for the long term.
Contrast that with healthy environments that are relationally driven. Environments where individuals feel valued and appreciated, where genuine relationships are formed. It’s true for most of us when we are treated more than a task and valued for our contribution we naturally work harder and enjoy what we are doing. These environments are what give the people in them value and purpose. Unfortunately, often in the church where these attributes should be common and normal, sometimes they are not.
Healthy environments focus on mission.
Have you ever been asked to fulfill a task, but you are not given a reason why the task needs to be completed? Have you been invited to join a team, but there is no clear purpose or direction for the team? Most of us have experienced this before, and I imagine most of us remember the frustration that comes when we have expectations but don’t have a clear purpose behind the expectations.
Vitally important to leadership is to not just communicate ‘what’ we need our team to do, but the mission behind the ‘what’. How does our set up and tear down team help us accomplish the mission we have been called to? What role does our drummer play in accomplishing the mission? How does our faithful janitor help our church fulfill its mission? It’s so easy to assume that everyone else is automatically understanding their role and mission, but if we are not communicating this clearly and consistently, I can guarantee they are simply fulfilling a job because they were asked to. Over time these important people begin to feel disconnected and the work they do no longer part of the greater mission.
Healthy environments allow grace and growth.
You have likely heard the saying…People are more important than projects. We value people. We value staff. We value volunteers. We value the people that are in the trenches doing the work and making things happen. We value the people over the projects, over the results, over the activity, and over the outcomes.
That is an easy phrase to throw around until the project falls short. The graphic wasn’t designed how you had envisioned it. The message wasn’t delivered as clearly as you had hoped. The situation wasn’t handled how you would handle it. Your direction wasn’t followed.
If our environment has the foundation of grace and growth, then our environments will allow for these projects to come up short, provide grace in the midst of that shortcoming, and we as leaders get the opportunity to provide coaching to help the individuals grow. As leaders, if our first response is to remove someone at the first sign of a shortcoming, we do not have a discipleship-focused, healthy environment.
I’m thankful for the example my grandparents were to me…
They always had the priority of relationships. Family came first…celebrating a birthday with a milkshake came before fixing fence. Being at every football game was more important than getting the wheat planted. The work needed done and got done, certainly. But not at the expense of the relationship.
Church leader, church volunteer – Know your people. Spend time with them. Value them more than the work that’s needed to get done. Celebrate them. Know them well enough to know their needs, and help fulfill those needs.
Church leader, church volunteer – Know your mission and communicate it to your people often. As people, we get distracted and bogged down with the day-to-day work of it all. We need reminders that what we do, however seemingly big or small, is part of a bigger purpose and mission in the church, and ultimately in the Kingdom of God. Speak it often.
North Christian Church