5 Things I Learned About Leadership as a Church Planter

by Danny Parmelee, pastor, Epikos Church

5 Things I Learned About Leadership as a Church Planter first appeared at converge.org.

Expo

At the Exponential Conference last year I had the opportunity to share some of the things I’ve learned about leadership as a church planter. I presented it in two parts: Five things I learned by doing some things correctly and five things I learned by making mistakes (stay tuned for part two). These of course are not exhaustive but just a few simple things that stuck out to me as I planted epikos and saw it grow from our living room to a multisite, multiethnic church of over 2000 people.  

1. Invite people into the room

Look for every opportunity to expose others to what you do. It sometimes is as simple as inviting your volunteers, interns and younger leaders into staff meetings, counseling appointments, conferences, sermon preparation and community events. I would even blind-copy leaders on emails to demonstrate how to deal with conflict and criticism. Behavior is caught more than taught. The amazing thing is that, out of this, leaders often rise up realizing they can do what you’re doing. You then get the opportunity to give away and empower people to do the work of the ministry.

2. Recruit based on character and chemistry

Competency to do a job or task is important, but competency is more easily learned than character and chemistry. Chemistry is that natural fit with you and the existing team. Chemistry isn’t always an objective trait, but it does often include: philosophy of ministry alignment, shared theological convictions, even personality and interests. You can do what I call the party test. When they walk into the room, how does the person make you feel? Do you dread an interaction? Or are you excited they are there? In looking at someone’s character we often explored how they dealt with adversity, conflict and pain. We also explored how they handled great success. Even if they can do great things (competency), it will not work long term if the chemistry and character aren’t there.

3. Develop leaders through internship programs

Experience is the greatest step toward full-time ministry. One of the core values in our internship program was to focus on their development and not on our church’s needs. This doesn’t mean they won’t fulfill the church’s needs, but it’s more about the development of the person. The moment you see interns as cheap labor you likely will have a poor internship program. Some of these leaders may end up on staff, but be careful of using internship programs as “staff trial run.”  Some interns may use their experience for full-time ministry elsewhere, including the church down the street! Have a sending mentality–and I don’t mean sending them for your coffee.

4. Hire people with the potential to surpass you

This is the craziest thing I’ve learned and, if I ever write a book, I think I would focus on this.  When you start hiring for leadership positions, look for people who have the capacity to be better at things that you’re good at. They may have excelled in a smaller environment and just need a bigger pond to swim in, or just need some development of their gifts. While this is similar to hiring people around you to fill in the gap of your weakness, it is fundamentally more risky. If you recognize someone has raw talent or giftedness in an area in which you already excel, would you really be willing to develop them to surpass you in preaching, leadership, team building, etc? That can be a hard to pill to swallow, but it’s for the growth of the church.  

5. Remove or reassign those who don’t fit

In every church you’ll find people who can be toxic for your team. Leadership always multiplies itself, even when it’s bad. If you identify leaders or staff with competing vision or character issues, don’t think these issues resolve themselves. In a fair and healthy way they should be removed. These types of people can cause long-term damage to your team and culture. If competency is the only issue, consider reassigning them to a different task or helping them find a better fit in ministry. To remove or reassign someone is a delicate and sensitive process.  When it’s done well it can be a huge win for the church, the person and the kingdom of God.

Danny Parmelee is pastor/planter of epikos church, with three campuses in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He planted with Converge.

If you want more to learn more, check out what we will be talking about at Exponential 2017.