Giving a Voice to the People You Lead at Church

One of the most frustrating things about being a part of any organization is finding out about decisions that were made by people above you—decisions that affect you, that you had no voice in making. I’m sure you’ve been there.  

The reason we find situations like this so frustrating is because we feel like we aren’t being heard. Being heard is important because people who feel heard feel valued and people who do not feel heard do not feel valued.  

Also, as someone who makes decisions on a regular basis that affect the people under my leadership, I’ve come to learn that I don’t always know what I need to know in order to make good decisions.

Getting the information needed to make good decisions requires that I take the time to listen to the people who will be affected by the decision.  

So, how do you make sure the people you lead–whether they are staff, volunteers or even family–have a voice in the decisions you are making? Here are three ideas I’ve learned along the way.    


Weekly One-On-Ones

If you are going to give someone you lead a voice, you’re going to have to spend time with them and listen to them. In my experience, weekly one-on-one meetings are vital to leading well. These meetings are important for hearing about what is going on in their world—personally and professionally.  

In order to make sure that your people feel heard, it is a good idea to regularly ask these kinds of questions:

  • What do you need me to know?
  • What do you need me to communicate to other people?
  • What do you wish leadership understood about your role?  

Questions like these will ensure that you are hearing from those you lead. Also, these questions help ensure that you and the leaders above you have the information you need to make decisions and that the people under your care feel heard and valued.  

A simple action step here: If you don’t have regular one-on-ones scheduled with the people under your leadership, adjust your schedule and make them happen!  

If you don’t manage staff but do oversee a team of volunteers, consider setting up regular one-on-one meetings with your volunteers. Obviously, once a week or even once every other week is probably unrealistic for volunteers so maybe something like once a month or once a quarter would be more realistic.


Skip-Level Meetings 

Another way to make sure you are listening to the people you lead is to set up skip-level meetings. The idea here is to occasionally meet one-on-one with people two steps below your level in the organization.

If you are the senior pastor, this would mean skipping the executive pastor and meeting with the youth pastor or children’s director. Or, if you are the executive pastor, this means skipping the youth pastor and meeting directly with a few small group leaders. I may be using the wrong titles and levels for your organization but I’m sure you get the idea.  

This practice has been one of the most valuable leadership tools at my disposal over the last few years. Not only does it help me get a clearer picture of what is actually going on, it also helps me connect with more staff and volunteers, which helps build trust throughout the church.  

It’s a powerful thing when your staff a few levels down on the org chart feel listened to by senior level leaders.  

You might be wondering about how often you should set up skip-level meetings. In my opinion, these don’t need to happen nearly as often as one-on-ones. I might suggest twice a year. 


Mine for Conflict 

Another great strategy for listening to the people you lead is to mine for conflict. Here’s what I mean by this phrase: There are times when someone makes an off-handed comment expressing frustration or disagreement. Our typical response would be to shrug and say, 

Weird.  They must be having a bad day.  

A wise leader will go mining for conflict. Chase down that comment and pursue a conversation.  

I’d like to understand what you are experiencing. Can you help me understand what you meant by that comment?    

You aren’t looking to get the person in trouble; you are mining for the source of the frustration. By doing this, you might just discover something very important that is frustrating more than one of the people under your leadership.  

Another way to mine for conflict is in staff meetings. This might sound a little scary, but staff meetings should involve conflict and disagreement. If they don’t, the meetings are likely very boring!

There should be some debate happening. And so, when someone expresses an idea and you sense that someone else disagrees with the idea, your job as a leader is to mine for conflict. 

Bill, based on your body language, it appears that you might disagree with this idea.  I’d really like to hear what you’re thinking. 

The idea here is to give your people permission to express their disagreement. This is important for two reasons. First, you’ll make better decisions! Even the best leaders have blind spots and are partial to their own ideas. Giving permission to disagree will help you make better decisions. 

Second, mining for conflict gives people a voice which makes them feel valued. The key is that you as the leader have to first mine for the conflict and then give permission for people to voice it.

This will take some work and patience because it is a process. People will initially feel nervous and possibly even threatened. But, in my opinion, the process is worth it.  


Wrap Up 

If there is one thing you can do to help the people under your care feel valued, it is listening. Give them a voice by listening to them through weekly one-on-ones, occasional skip-level meetings, and by carefully mining for conflict.  

I hope this has been helpful.  Have a great week! 

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