#BestOf2013: The #1 Leadership Key to Spark Innovation in a Small Church

matches If you’re a Small Church pastor like me, you’ve spent a lot of years struggling to motivate people to do great things.

Good things.

OK… anything.

During my years of struggle, I used to say “I can’t wait for the day when I feel like I’m sitting on a runaway horse, trying to steer it in the right direction, instead of behind a mule, trying to kick it into action.”

Then, a few years ago, I discovered the #1 key to spark that kind of thoroughbred motivation.

If you want to increase your chances of working with innovators who need guidance, instead of heel-draggers who need motivation, this is the best piece of advice I can give you. I now consider it to be one of my main roles as a church leader.

Find a way to say Yes.

Yes to people. Yes to their crazy ideas. Yes to their passion. Yes to something God may be trying to do through them that I just can’t see yet.

 This article was originally posted on January 8, 2013when we had less than 10% of today’s readers. I think it’s worth a second (or first) look as one of the overlooked #BestOf2013.


Stop Being the Bottleneck

I know of too many pastors, especially in Small Churches, who seem to feel it’s their God-given duty to expose the faults of every idea, discourage innovation and snuff out any spark of creativity.

They claim it’s about respecting authority, maintaining doctrinal purity, or stemming the tide of whatever moral crisis they believe is at hand. But it’s almost never about any of those things.

It’s about control

But when everything has to be controlled, when every detail of each decision has to pass the pastor’s white-glove test, very little gets done. People stop offering great ideas because they know they’re unlikely to get a fair hearing. Then we wonder why we’re constantly in the company of whining, uncooperative mules? We’ve cross-bred their stallion with our donkey.

Innovation, but its very nature, means living with a certain lack of control. Why? Because the details under our control are, by definition, not innovative. Innovation means new, untested, unknown and uncertain.

Let’s find passionate people and discover how to say yes to their passion.

I can hear your objections already, so let me preempt them by saying of course that doesn’t mean saying yes to every stupid idea. But sometimes it does mean finding the non-stupid part of the idea and helping people shape that until you can say yes to it.

Sometimes that means encouraging them to re-draw their plans. At other times, it means sitting with them to tweak an almost-good-enough idea to make it doable. Occasionally  it’s just about finding a way to pay for it.

I’ve learned that you get better ideas, and better people giving you those ideas, when they know their pastor will be their greatest encourager, supporter, promoter and fund-raiser, instead of the main hurdle they have to overcome.


Become a Yes Man/Woman

I don’t want to have Yes-Men working for me. But if I was a team member, I’d love to have a Yes-Man or -Woman leading the team.

Small Church pastors, we need to become those Yes-Men.

Having Yes-Men working for you is dangerous. It breeds false pride in the leader and dishonesty, status-seeking and mediocrity in the worker. Control freaks like Yes-Men.

Having a wise Yes-Man/Woman as your boss is awesome. It breeds freedom, creativity, sharing of ideas and great innovation.

Of course, when we say yes a lot, we’ll end up making some mistakes. But we’ll make mistakes when we say no a lot, too.

“Yes” mistakes are a lot more fun than “no” mistakes.

Saying yes can give you a reputation. A reputation that will draw positive, creative, passionate people who will want to work with and for you. And it will keep the mules away.

Saying yes a lot can mean a wild ride sometimes. But that’s what it feels like when you’re sitting in the saddle on top of a stallion.


So what do you think? Have you made the mistake of saying “no” too often? Are you ready to become a “Yes” Man or Woman?

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
Enter your comment right below this post and get in on the conversation.

(Matches photo from Nina Matthews Photography • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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5 thoughts on “#BestOf2013: The #1 Leadership Key to Spark Innovation in a Small Church”

  1. Loved that article! Glad you ran it again because I wasn’t on board when it ran before. As a leader I need to refresh the activation of that concept often. It’s so easy to slip back, first into the “Maybe,” on our way to the “No” mindset. Thank You!
    Jesus Makes You Incredible Every Day!
    Make it a Great Week ! ! !

  2. This article articulates one of the main reasons I do not go to a local church (aside from preaching that neglects academic study, sensitivity to God’s Spirit, life experience, or all three). I have a lot I can offer (I have a BS in Bible, an MA in Old Testament, and lots of other relevant training and experience), but the only way I’m allowed to contribute in the church is in a pidgin-holed position they already have (sound-board, nursery, kitchen, music [hah!], etc.), which are not in line with my talents or passions. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who has left for this reason.

    1. I feel your frustration, Adria – on all the points you’ve mentioned. In fact, your outline of what you’re looking for, but haven’t found, almost sounds like a step-by-step description of what we’re trying to do at our church – with mixed results. The reason such churches are rare isn’t that no one is trying, but that it’s very hard to pull off.

      Even if you can’t find such a church near you, keep looking until you find a church that’s at least striving to be like that. Then pitch in and help them get closer by bringing your gifts into the mix. That’s really all we can ask – a church body that’s open to new things and striving to be better every day.

      As easy as it is to get cynical, don’t give up on the church. Keep looking. You and I need the encouragement of other believers and the body of Christ needs members like you.

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