When you think of a growing ministry in your community, you would probably assume it’s a healthy place to work, right? Most people I talk with assume that back stabbing, silos, and typical office problems don’t really happen at most non-profits. In reality, these issues pop up anywhere you find people working together, and ministries can actually be impacted more because the individuals who work there are passionately and deeply invested. Because of that, when things get political or large disagreements take place, team members dig in. The leader in most ministries tends to be the “charge ahead visionary” who prioritizes getting things done, but typically isn’t intentional about organizational health. They “work for growth and assume health.”
As someone who works with not-for-profits all over the country, I would argue that leaders should be flipping those priorities. When you prioritize the health of your ministry, growth will naturally take place. When political problems take root and aren’t addressed, they quietly become a normal part of the culture, and you’ll soon see people sending passive aggressive emails to their colleagues instead of walking down the hallway.
So what does it looks like to prioritize the health of your ministry? Here are three qualities that all healthy organizations have that you can start working towards.
- Everyone serves the same mission
We went into a ministry recently and sat down with their entire leadership team to talk through strategy and fundraising. Halfway through the conversation we realized something very important- they all had different priorities. Some were looking at their clients, some were looking at the community impact, and others were looking to their donors. It’s 100% normal and even celebrated for your staff to have different passion points and areas of the ministry that excite them, but it’s crucial that you’re all on the same page when it comes to the mission and the big picture goal.
If you’re running a church, are you serving the individual or a church as a whole? If you’re running a pregnancy center, is your goal around your client’s needs or your donor’s vision? I would suggest to any not-for-profit to have a simple statement and vision that everything flows through. My church’s mission is “Make disciples. Plant churches.” Any decision must line up against that mission, rather than against the preferences of powerful individuals. I’ve been told that a sharp vision will not only cut through bad ideas, but also through good ideas that don’t advance the mission. This kind of clarity is critical when the inevitable conflict arises between original vision and personal preferences.
- Staff speak honestly to leadership without fear of revenge.
First off, I’m not giving anybody permission to send a company email about how the boss is crazy, so don’t try. That will go badly for you, and it should. The importance of this quality in your workplace comes back to the organization being a safe place that values all of its employees. If you walked around your not-for-profit and asked “Do you feel like your ideas are heard and valued”, how would people respond? How does leadership respond in a staff meeting when a conflicting idea is brought up? I’ve seen way too many ideas batted aside without consideration, killing any motivation that the employee had for improving the organization.
If you are in a leadership position supervising a team, how can you change that kind of culture? Sometimes it’s simple enough to start with saying it out loud: “I’ve been bad about receiving input. I want to offer a guarantee that I won’t criticize suggestions, I’m open to hearing your opinion and ideas. This doesn’t mean I will always say yes to your idea, but it means I will always hear it and value it.
As the leader, you see the whole picture and need to make decisions that are best for everyone. By inviting your team to share openly what they are thinking, your knowledge and wisdom on deciding what is best will continue to grow. And as your team feels a sense of ownership, they will engage rather than just watch the clock.
- Cultural health lives and dies on humility.
Conflict is hard, but necessary. If it’s done humbly, it can be very beneficial. But everyone involved has to to lay down their personal agenda for what is actually good for the ministry.
If you come to me because you think that I’m wrong, I’d better have the humility to receive what you have to say and first ask myself if it’s true before I react emotionally. By the same token, you should be prepared to find out that you didn’t fully understand, and that your criticism was incomplete. Either way, both of us should be trying to advance the mission, not to win an argument. Nobody wins that argument.
There aren’t winners and losers in a healthy culture. There is only the advancement of the mission.
The first real taste I had of an organization that chased after health was the leadership team of the church I was employed with. My pastor taught me what healthy conflict looks like. In our relationship, we would say he was the gas and I was the brakes. Staff meetings would get intense, but a decision was always made. Even if I we didn’t go with my position, I dedicated myself to the success of that decision, because it advanced the mission. A win for the team is a win for me, and I would do everything I could to contribute to our goal. While it would have been personally gratifying for that plan to fail so I could say that I was right, such an attitude would have gotten us nowhere.
It’s so easy to become entrenched in your opinions, but humility and a larger vision will take you much further.