October 24, 2011 Tony Morgan

Senior Leadership Teams: 7 Questions to Identify Who Should be on the Team

When considering who should be on the senior leadership team, many times we try to answer the wrong questions. Sometimes we ask, “What positions should be represented on the team?” In church world, we may think the “Pastor” or “Director” title or people with certain positions automatically qualify. That’s not always the case.

Sometimes we ask, “Who has been around for the longest?” Tenure does not necessarily equate with the profile of the person you want serving on this team. In fact, I’d argue that if you’re stuck and fresh perspective is one of your needs, sometimes the newest person may be who should be on the team.

It’s not about positional leadership or length of ministry. It’s not necessarily 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 your senior leadership team. In other words, every person and every ministry needs to be connected to one person on your senior leadership team.

With that preface, here are seven questions to help you identify who should be on your senior leadership team. This assumes, of course, people have already met the qualifications of leadership defined by Scripture.

  1. Do they have the leadership gift? This is the key question that shapes everything else. If they aren’t a leader, they shouldn’t be on this team. You also need to consider leadership capacity. We know from Scripture that there are leaders of tens, fifties, hundreds and thousands. For this team, you ultimately need leaders of hundreds and thousands.
  2. Are they a big-picture thinker? In other words, this person always prioritizes the church’s health over what’s happening in their specific ministry area. They are more concerned with alignment to the overall goals rather than defending their turf. They won’t let their passion for a specific ministry get in the way of making decisions that help the entire church take a step forward.
  3. Is this person a strategic thinker? You need people who can think beyond the daily details. There are places for managers on your team. You need people who can take the game plan and make it happen. Your senior team, though, isn’t the place for managers. Find people who think about the future and then can strategically propose how to get from here to there.
  4. Can they build teams? In ministry, this is primarily about building and equipping teams of volunteers. As the church grows, you also need people who can develop staff teams. These are the folks who have demonstrated they can identify and empower other leaders. If their instinct is, “I need to do this myself,” you have the wrong person.
  5. Do they share the vision and values of your organization? This is no team for someone who perceives they need to provide checks and balances. Maybe they pride themselves on being the “devil’s advocate” in your organization. The devil already has an advocate — you don’t need one on your senior leadership team. Every leader at this level needs to be 100 percent on board with the church’s vision and values.
  6. Does this person help us reflect the diversity of our ministry? Sometimes we falsely assume every leader is wired up just like us. That’s absolutely not true. Leadership comes in a variety of shapes and sizes based on someone’s gift mix, background, personality and experiences. Consider using the “Leading From Your Strengths” profile to help you identify how different strengths are the foundation for different leaders.
  7. Is this person a lifelong learner? 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 will be different. You need people who embrace leadership development for themselves and their teams.

By the way, especially for smaller or newer churches, you don’t necessarily need to be paid staff to be on the senior leadership team. For lay people, though, they still need to be fully engaged in ministry and serving in a leadership capacity. If a volunteer leader 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.

The other thing to remember is that this team needs to change over time. As the church grows, your senior leadership team may need to change. It would be highly unusual for the same team to remain in place year after year. With that in mind, you may want to every 18 to 24 months ask yourself do we have the right people on the team?

Based on your experience, what questions would you add? Join the conversation by sharing your comment.

Other articles in this series:

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.

Comments (11)

  1. I would add: “Do they demonstrate initiative?” I’m learning this quality to be essential in vision execution. If we just gather at meetings and talk about what needs to be don, but your leaders only take action when you direct it, then have to direct it again – it exhausts the process. What may have been a great idea fails – not on the merit of the idea, but due to lack of execution.

  2. Great list, Tony. Thanks!

    One question I’d suggest adding is some variation of this:

    “Have they been thru God’s character-shaping crucible?”
    “Are they humble and teachable and willing to engage their own areas of wounding?”
    “Do they know their own ‘shadow side,’ and have they learned how to keep it ‘out in front’ of them as they lead?”

    The wording can change, but the notion here is to filter out leaders who have not yet wrestled deeply with God over their own brokenness and ego issues. A highly gifted strategic leader can still cause a lot of damage if they are still being driven by their wounding.

    Thanks again. Great post.

  3. The only question I would add is “Does this person camp on God’s goodness?” Nothing like a “negative nellie” (no matter how strategic they think) to create a bad team culture.

    Cynicism steals momentum. Ministry can be made tough by “outsiders” who are negative we shouldn’t allow it to be made tough by “insiders” who are. I talked about the discouragement in ministry here: http://marksremarks.org/.

    Thanks for you constant encouragement Tony!

  4. One more: Who do they follow?

    Assuming (as you implied) their first answer is Jesus Christ, who would be their next rung of gurus they look up to? I have found that if you have two people who in separate offices are idolizing different gurus, the very definition of “success” will be defined differently. For every senior pastor who thinks Rick Warren is all that and a bag of chips, they may have a staff member who thinks Rob Bell is the cat’s meow.

    Likewise, will they follow the church and denomination or in-house creed to the same level of support as the other team members? If the church team believes in certain programs, philosophies or theology that the individuals repeatedly kicks at, it is unlikely that he will ultimately last over the long haul unless the dynamics of the team allows for such public discontentment.

    Finally, are they under an unhealthy influence of their spouse more than their team/leader? Again, family should come before profession… however, will the spouse be micromanaging the person’s ability to wholeheartedly take part in the church? I have had a staff member in the past whose wife watered down his passion for the role he signed up for and ultimately caused him to quit.

  5. Chris Clements

    I think the following question (Do they share the vision and values of your organization?) Should be re-phrased to say: “Do they share the vision and values of Jesus Christ”.
    Too many people allow man-made standards and traditions dictate and validate their ministry.
    Our standards of excellence should be measured to Jesus Christ alone. Not man’s opinions!

  6. JG

    Do they represent our congregation?
    Are they in touch with the people?
    Do they care for people?
    Are they fully unified with the vision of this church?
    Are they super old like everyone else on this leadership team?


  7. I suggest 2 additional traits, once the Biblical and character requirements are met, along with a deep desire to wholeheartedly serve Jesus and His mission for the church.

    First, does the team, as a whole, demonstrate wide diversity in terms of expertise in, skills for, and approaches to your church’s ministry? Studies on collaboration and teamwork clearly indicate the more diversity the better. Properly managed, diversity of thought can enable your team to make better decisions, identify greater opportunities, and create innovative solutions to challenging problems. Of course, such diversity creates challenges, but with solid communication skills, the results of different perspectives, skills, and approaches coming together can be significant.

    Second, do team members have the ability to communicate well and work together well with others? Can these leaders build and maintain solid relationships while directly challenging one other? And do these leaders have the guts — and the strength of character — to stand up and allow their voice to be heard, even when it might be a minority voice?

    Again, it takes great guts to build your leadership team with great diversity, knowing the conflict that will likely surface. But that conflict — over ideas, strategy, and purpose — will enable your team to perform at much higher levels.

  8. To say that a senior leadership team does not need someone to provide checks and balances is just wrong. To many senior pastors want to surround themselves with a bunch of “yes people” who follow ‘his vision’ (note lower case h). A good leadership team should be made up of people who are willing to disagree, discuss, and work together on the best way to follow ‘His vision’. Pastors with some degree of humility are big enough to listen to their staff, even the ones who don’t always agree with every idea, and work as a team. These pastors are also willing to admit when they are wrong and someone else may be right.

    Sometimes I fear the trend of “dictator pastors” that I’ve witnessed 15 – 20 years ago is making a come-back in this generation of church leaders.

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