Solving Frustration, Silos, Turf Wars and Inaction
Most leaders recognize the symptoms of a “decision rights” issue in their organization, but it’s rare that a leader can properly diagnose it. That’s just the nature of where you sit in the team. You don’t experience what others are experiencing when it comes to making decisions.
A few of those symptoms you might see…
- General frustration among staff members
- Ministry silos and turf wars
- Lots of talk, and little-to-no action
There might just be a fuzzy decison-making process in your organization.
As I‘ve been talking with churches over the past 10 weeks, initially everyone’s focus was on what to do right now. With no physical gathering, leaders were focused on the basics of, How do we do church without a gathering? How do we stay connected? How do we care for our people?
As it’s becoming clearer that things won’t ever go back to “normal” as we knew it, what leaders need to start talking about now is, How do we apply that same thinking to the people side of our ministry?
So for the next two weeks, we’re going to talk through staff leadership issues that most churches are a little fuzzy on. The first is this issue of “who gets to make decisions” (which we find is a challenge with almost every church we coach).
And I should also say, in moments of crisis, it’s wholly appropriate for the leader to make more decisions. The rest of the organization’s actually looking to the leader to be decisive.
But we’re in month 4 of the coronavirus crisis. If you are still leading and making decisions as if you’re in the moment of crisis, you need to begin to shift your leadership approach and your decision-making approach to become more collaborative—or you’re going to limit the impact that your organization can have in the months and the years going forward.
In Part 1 of this conversation, Amy and I discussed…
- The 7 ways decisions can be made, how to know which is right for the situation, and how to get unstuck in your decision-making process
- Why the way many churches hold meetings actually creates confusion about WHO gets a voice into making decisions
- The symptoms of unclear decision rights, and some things you may hear your team saying that can tip you off
- Why unclear decision rights is not a CHURCH SIZE issue—it’s a clarity issue that we see across churches of all sizes
- Why the leader may be frustrated with the symptoms or results but is often the last one to recognize what’s going on
- Which decisions seniors leaders need to hold, and which you should be giving away
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Times like these shine a spotlight on issues like lack of vision clarity and team misalignment, but your team is the most valuable asset you have for making progress toward your vision.
Our churches are going to need strong teams pulling in the same direction to navigate ministry in the months (most likely many months) ahead.
Use this course to invest in yourself as the leader of your ministry team, and get your team pulling in the same direction to climb a new hill.
Leader Conversation Guide
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Let Us Know on Social Media
We use #unstuckchurch on Twitter, and we start a real-time conversation each Wednesday morning when the episode drops. We’d really love to hear from you during this time:
- How can we be praying for you as a lead and your church?
- What stories can you share of ways churches are responding well during this crisis and focusing on opportunities instead of loss?
Links & Resources from the Episode
- Listen to Part 2: Leadership Skills You Don’t Learn in Seminary
- Unstuck Church Staff Course
Enrollment is open now through July 18!
- 7 Shifts Churches Need to Make Because of the Coronavirus
- Decision Rights: How to Clarify Who Decides What
- Start a conversation with The Unstuck Group
Ready to talk about how your ministry strategy will need to pivot to prepare for a new normal? Let’s talk. In just the last couple of months, we’ve been helping 50+ churches navigate that very thing.
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Welcome to The Unstuck Church podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Having a clear ministry strategy has never been more important than it is now, but if you have a clear strategy and you feel to get your team organized, aligned, and led well, you’ll struggle to execute on that strategy. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy begin a new series on team shifts churches need to make for the next ministry season. Before you listen today, though, make sure you subscribe and get the show notes. You’ll get resources for this week’s conversation, bonus resources and access to our podcast resource archive. Just go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe. Now let’s join Tony and Amy as they kickoff a new series on team shifts.
Well, Tony, this week we’re kicking off a new podcast series on team shifts, the shifts that need to happen on your staff teams in light of the new reality that we find ourselves in. And this isn’t to be confused with the seven shifts we talked about these last two months related to how we approach ministry. These shifts we’re going to be talking about are on the people, the people side of ministry, because as important as strategy is, if we don’t have our people organized, aligned and led well, well, we’ll have a hard time executing any strategy well, right?
All right, Amy. And as I’ve been talking with churches over the last 10 weeks, initially, and this is to be expected, everyone’s focus was on what to do right now. With no physical gathering, leaders were focused on the basics of how do we do church without a gathering? How do we stay connected? How do we care for people? And those were the right questions for the moment. Those are all good things. And many churches have rallied and actually reinvented themselves for the short term. But as we’ve been saying in almost every podcast since then, we’re not going back to normal. What was was, and now churches need to focus on how to redesign their ministry strategies for a new reality. What we need to talk about now is how do we apply that same thinking to the people side of our ministry? What shifts need to happen on our teams in order to lead and deliver on the new strategies that have been created? We have to think through what are the new roles that are critical to add to our teams? What are the roles that are not critical anymore? What new skills and giftings need to be added, and how do we engage the body, the believers in our church, to serve in new ways?
Yeah. And Tony, although I spend a significant amount of my time on staffing and structure, you know, coaching in that space, man, eight weeks ago, this was fuzzy for me. It was kind of uncomfortable. But now I think we’re all getting clarity in some of the key shifts teams need to make to lead effective ministry going forward since the disruption.
That’s. And over the next two weeks, we’re going to talk through two staff leadership issues that most churches are still a little fuzzy on themselves. And today I want us to talk through decision-making. This is the issue of who gets to make the decisions. And that’s a challenge with almost every church we coach during a staffing and structure engagement. Amy, you know this more than anyone and because you are often the coach through this part of our process, I thought we would flip roles today. And I’m going to ask you a few questions. Are you good with that?
I am. I am.
All right. Well good. Before we dive in, I also want to share with our listeners that in tandem with these two podcasts, we’re also releasing a brand new resource to help you learn the skills you need to lead an Unstuck church staff. So if these conversations hit home, when it comes to aligning and maximizing your team’s work, listen, because at the end of the podcast, I’m going to give some more information. But Amy, today, I want us to talk through decision-making I’ve seen you lead this conversation with the churches we serve, and you seem to have a lot of passion around this topic. Why is that?
I do, maybe it’s because I’ve been on a team where decision rights were clear, and that’s a good thing. We had great alignment in ministry. There was a lot of action. There was lot of momentum. As a team, we had a lot of agility and honestly, our relationships were really strong during that time. And I’ve also been actually on the same team when decision rights were unclear. And I’ll tell you what, Tony, there was very little ability for us to work together well anymore to pull together. Every one of us, we were kind of in our own little world. There was a lot of lethargy on our team, a lack of energy and excitement. We had very little ability to make changes, honestly, even critical changes because we were so buried in the red tape of the complexity of our organization. And the worst part, honestly, was relationally. We had unhealthy relationships. There was this emerging lack of trust between colleagues, and the root issue for us really was primarily a decision rights issue. You know this, I worked for a church in Minnesota for over a decade. And I remember that season when our decision rights were completely unclear. I think we had launched our fourth or fifth campus, and we had added some new leaders to our team, and we were completely paralyzed by our lack of clarity around who made what decisions. I actually wanted to quit some days. I’m sure my colleagues did too. Cause you know me, I like to know what’s expected. And then I like to be empowered to go and get it done. And the problem was, I didn’t have any clarity around what decisions I got to make anymore. And neither did my colleagues. And at our best, we were stuck organizationally. But at our worst, we were getting toxic relationally. So, you know, leading ministry is always hard work, but now it wasn’t fun anymore. And it wasn’t until we walked through this conversation around decision rights, that health began to return to our team. So I do have a lot of passion, and really, bottom line, because it’s a solvable problem. This is not something that needs to be a mystery, who makes what decisions. Leaders can bring clarity to that organizational clog.
Yeah. Amy, I hear the passion. Before we dive into some of the specifics, why do you think this whole conversation about decision rights is so important to include in this conversation about team shifts? Why is this an important conversation for churches to be having today?
Great connection, because hopefully you are shifting your staff. Hopefully you are redeploying your staff. And what people were doing two months ago is probably not what they’re doing today. And if we make these changes and we don’t bring clarity to who has what decision rights, we’re going to get stuck. The story I just told, we had shifts, we launched new campuses, we added staff, but we never went back and clarified those things.
Yeah. And actually what I’ve experienced. And it sounds like, I mean, what you’ve just illustrated certainly confirms this. It’s in the moments where change is happening, where the lack of clarity on decision rights compounds itself. And so, I just felt this is an important conversation for us to be having. And I’m glad that you’re going to be bringing your experiences, your personal leadership experiences, to the conversation, Amy. But certainly all the conversations you’re having with churches across the country related to this is going to be so helpful. As you mentioned, when it comes to the impact on a team, when decision rights are unclear, that can lead to some symptoms that things are just not right. What are some of those symptoms that you see when decision rights are unclear.
Right. This is an issue that can kind of be below the water line where you don’t know exactly what’s wrong, but here’s what you’re seeing. People are frustrated. There’s ministry siloing happening. People are talking to one another, instead of going back to the source of problems and conflict. There’s lots of talk, right? We have great meetings, lots of talk. And then there’s no action. So let me give the listeners an example. When I work with our churches, I send out a survey to staff and ask them about, when you think about working on this team, what are the headline strengths you have as a team? And what are your headline challenges? And here’s what it sounds like when I know an organization has unclear decision rights. They say, I get frustrated when I’m trying to get buy-in or approval for something in a timely manner. It goes to leadership, and sometimes I never hear back. Or collaboration gets frustrating and bogged down because there isn’t clarity on who makes decisions. And with that too many people want to make the decision. Or one last one, it’s unclear who has decision making authority and when staff can decisions on their own or in departments: Example, do I ask for permission? Do I just go ahead and run with this and then deal with consequences? And this part, if anyone is even paying attention to what I’m doing. So when I read things like that, I’m like we have a decision rights issue. And when I hear that, I dig a little deeper. Here’s one of four things that I typically discover about their decision making process. Either all decisions have to go to the top. And that was kind of in that first comment. So no one feels empowered to make decisions. And Tony, sometimes it might be a control thing where the top leaders think they can make better decisions than everybody else. Most times it’s a lack of clarity. So a decision just has to make its way up the chain of command and leadership has to make all those decisions and decisions go unmade.
Yeah, Amy, what I’ve seen. I mean, there are some controlling leaders out there that just feel like they have to make all the decisions. It’s interesting though. I mean, in most churches, the pastor is leading a church with the number of staff and the number of congregants larger than he or she has ever experienced. And part of it is they just didn’t realize just because they’re the senior pastor, the lead pastor, they’re not required to make all the decisions. I mean, no one’s ever kind of taught them there are ways that you can empower other people to make decisions. And that doesn’t have to be your responsibility. You don’t have to carry that weight.
That’s right. That’s right. So that first one where everything goes to the top is a problem. Another problem is when decisions get made, but you don’t get the right people involved in the process. You know, I often talk with team members who just feel hurt. Like they made a big change in my ministry, and nobody even asked me my thoughts about that. And again, I don’t think those leaders intentionally tried to hurt people or exclude people. It’s just, we don’t have a good process. Another one is that decisions are made in silos. So a team makes a decision completely without regard for how it impacts another team. And so peers begin to feel surprised by decisions. And that’s where that lack of trust begins to be birthed. And after this goes on for awhile, you have staff leaders who start to have some turf issues, right? They start to protect their part of the ministry. And that siloing starts to go deep in the organization. And the fourth one that I would talk about, you know, all the way to the top, we make it, but we don’t include people. We do it in silos. The last one is that no one really knows who makes decisions, therefore, decisions just go unmade. And that has longterm toxicity in an organization. And by the way, Tony, I appreciate that you shared how, when organizations grow, we just don’t know how to do this. But decision rights, actually, is not a size-related issue, I don’t think. I’ve worked with mega churches. I’ve worked with large churches. I’ve worked with mid-size and small, and at their root, it’s just a clarity issue. And any church can fall victim to it.
All right, Amy, you got me thinking here. As the leader of our team, I’m always focused on our mission, on developing strategies to help churches get unstuck, and on my own work and what I need to get done. I’m not sure I would know if we had a decision rights issue. So what do you think? Do we?
Actually, it’s a great point, Tony, I’m glad you asked. But first off, no, we don’t have a decision rights issue. Plus I wouldn’t want to go public with all those issues, so we can chat about some things after this. But I think it’s a great question because often the leader of a staff team might be frustrated with the symptoms or the lack of results he or she has seen, especially lack of ministry progress or sense that they’re not winning, but they don’t really know the why, and I think especially if it’s a decision rights issue. And why is that? It’s because and I’ll say this very respectfully, the senior leader, I often quote it as “is at the, is at the top of the food chain,” organizationally speaking. So in a staff led structure where there’s clarity on what the church board does and what the senior or lead pastors responsible for, that lead pastor has decision-making power over what they’re doing. Kind of what you just said. I know the mission, I know the strategies, I’m working on my stuff. But sometimes they have little to no idea what it feels like to be in the middle of an organization. And it’s the middle where those strategies are being created and where they’re being executed. And the staff often want the lead pastor to be pleased with their work, right? We like to please the people that we’re working for, and they want them to like them. So the issues aren’t raised to the lead pastor, that’s not where they complain and where they go. So while there’s an issue, it’s often not diagnosed, and you can’t fix, Tony, what you’re unaware of. Our lead pastors can’t fix what they’re unaware of. So lead pastors and executive pastors, if you’re wondering if you have a decision rights issue, just talk to your staff, you know, probe for that, mine for it.
Yeah. And let me just say it even maybe more pointedly. Once you start paying people to do stuff for you, they’re less likely to tell you many times what you should be hearing. And so you really have to get, because their their livelihood is tied to their job. I mean, this is so obvious. It’s so basic, but I don’t think we think about this as leaders. So if you’re the senior pastor or lead pastor, you really have to get more intentional about the questions that you’re asking, to probe and to really make sure we are healthy in this area, or we have some opportunity for improvement and we need to engage some intentional conversations to bring back alignment in this particular area for our organization. But, with that in mind, let’s shift to the solution side, Amy. How can churches get unstuck with their decision making?
Yeah. Before, as I walked through the model, and by the way, in our show notes, you can take a look at a PDF of this. But I think the first thing to remember about when you’re making decisions is before any decision can be made, you have to decide first how the decision will be made. In other words, before you start talking or discussing, you know, an issue, if there’s a decision that needs to be made, you have to decide how you’re going to make that decision. And I’ll come back to that in just a minute. There are seven decision rights that I lead churches through. And maybe just for some fun, I’m going to throw an example right in the middle of it. So we’ve been talking a lot, Tony, about digital strategies, online worship services, things like that. Let’s just say, for example, the church realizes, I think we need to redesign our online experience going forward. If we’re going to reach new people, we have to do something other than just broadcasting what we do in a room. The first question is how will we decide what that new online service should look like? So that’ll just be our decision, just for sake. The first decision, right, is that a leader will decide, and simply put, you just appoint a leader to make that decision. Now, the good part about that is you can make the decision pretty quickly. It’s just that there’s not a lot of buy-in that comes from that, but you could do it. And by the way, when I say you pick a leader, it doesn’t mean the lead pastor, the executive pastor. You simply appoint the person that’s going to make the decision. The second decision, right? Again. Now we’re going to start to increase voices into this decision, but it’s leader decides with input. So simply, you appoint a leader and then you tell that leader, go get some input from others before you make the decision. But here, the leader is still the only one with a vote. They’re going to make that decision, but get some feedback from others. The third level is a subgroup decides. So you task a small team, a small group, with making that decision. And I’m going to come back to this one in just a minute. And in that decision, right? I often used the conclave. Those three or four people go away. They talk amongst themselves, make a decision. The fourth level is subgroup decides with input. So very similar, but those four, three-four people are going to go get some input from their teams before they do that. So maybe in an online service world, you might say, I want this teaching pastor involved. I want this worship leader involved. I want this technical director involved, and I want this ministry leader involved. So they’re going to make the decision at this level, but they’re going to go get some input from their teams first before they make it. The fifth level, we call majority vote. And just like, it sounds, you pick a team of people who are going to make the decision. And once you come up with your best ideas, you all take a vote. And the one with the top votes gets the answer. I mean, gets the decision. And we’ve talked about this before. And any churches I work with will have heard this. But I often say this is a great decision right for Subway or Chick-fil-A, but it’s often a really bad decision right for ministry decisions, because there are often more losers than there are winners. And it’s very easy for team members who are even involved in the vote to acquiesce or to say things like, well, that wasn’t the one I voted for. But nonetheless, it is a decision right. And honestly, in our smaller congregational led churches, this is the decision right for most decisions. But it definitely has a downside.
Yeah, and we don’t want to leave churches at that place. I mean, if they’re going to grow their impact and grow their influence, they have to get beyond making decisions by just voting on every decision.
That’s right. That’s right. Number six will sound familiar. Cause this is the default for a lot of churches, but it’s called consensus. And that is you appoint a team of people to design this new service, this new online service, and consensus comes when no one is opposed to the design. So what I mean there, Tony, is everyone doesn’t have to feel like it’s it, it’s perfect, this is exactly what we should do. They may disagree or have some challenges with some things, but they’re all at least neutral or favorable towards the decision. And then the last decision right is called alignment. And that’s when we are all very favorable. And sometimes you have some decisions that need to be at alignment. I have to believe when our church borrowed a lot of money to build a brand new building on a land parcel about seven miles away, that our leadership had alignment around that was where God was calling us. But two variables again, number one, you have to think through how much time do we have to make this decision? How much buy-in do we need? And that should help you choose the right decision right. Does that make sense, Tony?
It sure does, Amy? Yeah, sure does.
,The key is before you open up the discussion, you have to determine who has a vote and who has a voice or who doesn’t have a voice at all. So when I take this example, for instance, on an online service, there’s a lot of different ways you could go with this. And if you just start talking about it at a team meeting, and you’ve got eight people in the room, guess who thinks they have a vote in that decision now? Everyone thinks they own it. And by the way, if they do, how long do you think it would take them to, to make that decision?
Forever. I’ve been in that meeting and then the next meeting. And then the next meeting. I.
I know, let’s just say for this one, we go back to that subgroup decides with input. Okay. So we’ve announced these are the four people who are gonna make the decision. Before they do, I want this team to give them some input. So if I’m not one of those four, I now understand my role is I have a voice into this, but I don’t have a vote. And those four people, they know they own this thing. And by the way, that’s where leadership is forged, right? Think about something, make a decision, see how it works. By the way your subgroup has to still go, are we going majority vote, consensus or alignment because you’ve got multiple people involved, but we don’t need to go down that bunny trail. The key is people need to know what decisions they own, and that decision rights model brings a language so that people understand their role in any decisions.
A couple of things come to mind here, Amy. One of them is, I’m just thinking about the analogy of all the decisions rising to the top of the organization. So it would be level one or level two, leader decides, or a leader decides with input. And there are places, in fact, I’m going to talk about one in a moment where that’s a wholly appropriate way for organizations to make decisions. The problem is if that’s the only way you make decisions in your organization. And it, to me, the easy analogy here is to think about it in terms of parenting. As parents, if we make every decision for our kids, we never teach our kids how to make decisions, and they never grow up to be healthy, strong, independent adults. The same thing happens in an organization. If you don’t ever empower other people in your organization to make decisions and go to different levels in this decision rights spectrum that you’ve described, they’re never going to learn how to make decisions. They will never be empowered as leaders. And what that is going to do, in the long run, it’s going to limit the impact that your organization can have because every bit of leadership decision making is going to rest on one person’s shoulders. So that’s one thought that came to mind. Second thought and it’s related to the season that we’ve just come through as a church. In moments of crisis, it’s wholly appropriate for the leader to make the decision. And in fact, in moments of crisis, the rest of the organization’s actually looking to the leader to make decisions, but now we’re into month four of this whole situation. And if you are still leading and making decisions as if you’re in the moment of crisis, you need to begin to shift your leadership approach and shift your decision making approach to become more collaborative again. You need to begin to go to different levels of this decision rights spectrum. Because we’re still living through the crisis, but it’s not the moment of crisis. And if you, again, continue to hold on to all the decisions, you’re going to limit the impact that your organization can have in the months and the years going forward. So, those are just a couple of thoughts, Amy, as I heard you talking about this. This is so refreshing and empowering for leaders, though, to think about the different ways that we make decisions, can make decisions, the different ways that we can give people a voice in the decisions, but helping to clarify who gets to make the decision, it’s such a simple thought, but it’s so critical to building healthy teams. I’m sure listeners are thinking this, though, but who gets to determine,who makes the decision, who gets to determine who has the decision rights?
Yeah, typically the lead pastor and executive pastor are the people who are determining decision rights. And by the way, I think they need to have agreement, if there’s an executive pastor in the mix, that the lead and the executive pastor confer on that before opening up a discussion. And of course in my world, Tony, a lot of decision rights where our dysfunction was, was at that senior leadership team, because there are a lot of decisions that senior leadership teams need to make. When we talk about core strategies to accomplish ministry, you need to have those leaders in agreement, but they don’t have to be a voice into every decision, and they don’t have to have a vote in every decision. So that kind of determines, on a high level team, how are we going to make that decision? I’ll give you an example. I led the weekend services. So I had, really, a lot of decision rights around how we executed that, gathering how we did communications, but you know what? I really didn’t have decision rights over our music. It was either my my lead pastor had that decision right. I had input, but I realized quickly, I couldn’t just go take this church in a direction that I wanted. There was a submission that came, and it was good for me to understand that because then I had to, you know, I probably agreed 85%, but I had to submit that last 15%. So sometimes people go, well, if you put me over kids’ ministry, let me lead it. Let me decide. But you’re going to have a senior leadership team who’s probably going to be involved in some of those core strategic decisions. But this language lets you determine, you know, who’s making it.
All right, Amy, I have one more question. This should be pretty obvious, I think, but I just think it’s helpful that we verbalize this. If I’m a part of a team, and I’ve agreed to the decision rights, but after the decision is made, I still don’t agree with the decision. Am I allowed to continue to voice opposition or to be opposed to that decision?
Absolutely not. I mean, I think it’s during the storming time of decision making, let’s say you have a voice into it, but there’s going to be someone else who’s making the decision. Your job as a team member is to provide the best input you can and to be contrarian when you need to be contrarian, and to be encouraging when you need to be encouraging. But once the decision is made, you’ve got to get behind that leader. If it was easy, they would have made the decision a month or two ago, right? It’s often decisions are hard. So when you leave and if other people bend your ear and complain, your response is something to the effect of, you know what? It was a hard decision. I support Tony. If it was easy, we would have made it before. We thought about those things, and we made the best decision we could.
Good. Now I don’t have to have that conversation with you after our recording today.
Well, Tony, I’ve done a lot of the talking today. So let me just ask you as you’ve listened to all this, do you have any thoughts on this topic before we wrap up the conversation?
Well, as I’ve worked with churches over the years, one thing that comes up every once in a while is a statement like we’re a church, not a business, or they’ll ask me is a church more like a family or a business? And my response has always been you’re an organization. In other words, I didn’t answer the question, Amy, and that’s what you’ve hit on for me today, Amy. Most senior pastors received a lot of training on how to be a pastor, on how to study and understand God’s word, and how to help people become disciples of Jesus. But most have not been trained on how to run an organization. And if you’re a senior pastor that’s having success reaching new people and helping them take their next steps to be more like Jesus, you’re not only leading an organization, you’re leading a growing organization. And for many pastors, they’re telling us they feel frustrated by the things that we’ve talked about today. A lack of follow through, ministry silos, feeling stuck when it comes to their team. But I would add a few others. I’ve heard like there’s time-wasting meetings, there’s under-performance issues. There’s a lack of leadership to help lead the church. And so what I want to share with our listeners is that we’ve created a brand new online training tool. It’s called The Unstuck Church Staff Course. And it’s intended to give pastors a self-paced training tool for learning more skills like the one we covered today. It includes modules that address the core tools you need to build and lead an effective organization. And given what we’ve experienced these last few months, developing these skills will be more important than ever. So we hope you’ll use this course to invest in yourself as a leader of your ministry team and that you’ll get your team pulling in the same direction to climb to a new mountain. So you can check that out at theunstuckgroup.com/staff.
Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. As Tony mentioned, we’re launching a brand new course to help you structure your team so your church can thrive. To learn more about the interactive Unstuck Church Staff Course, just visiting theunstuckgroup.com/staff. If you like what you’re hearing on the podcast, help us get the content out. You can do that by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform, giving us a review and telling your friends about the podcast. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, have a great week.