John Stumbo Video Blog No. 58

May 12, 2018


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This month, John addresses eight of the most common leadership mistakes made in meetings. He offers a challenge to take seriously the key moments meetings offer to shape the culture of our teams, which often reflect the leaders they’re under. We have a model in Jesus, whose message and method—the content and tone—came from the Father (see John 12:49). “May all we do move us forward together with greater effectiveness and unity,” John concludes, “because we’re truly moving forward under the direction of our Lord.”


Hey, team!

I realize you never know what to expect when you open one of these video blogs. I might be coming to you from some faraway field, talking to you about personal soul care, casting vision for The Alliance, encouraging you to come to Council . . . or, sharing something from the Scripture that I’ve been reflecting on lately. I like variety. Thanks for continuing to follow along.

You could put today’s blog under the theme of leadership—more specifically, the wonderful world of meetings.  [Video clip]

I’m taking an entire 12-minute video to talk about meetings? Yes. Now before you pause the video to “watch later,” let me tell you why this is a legitimate topic worthy of our serious consideration:

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  • First, a chunk of my life is spent in meetings, and yours probably is as well.
  • Some of the best moments of leadership and greatest advances of the Kingdom have happened because of meetings. The seeds of this thing known as The Christian and Missionary Alliance started in a meeting of seven saints gathered around a wood stove in a dance hall and later at a conference grounds with large crowds in attendance. Kingdom advances have resulted from good meetings.
  • [Video clip] And, some of our worst train wrecks [Video clip] have happened at meetings—attacking words, poorly reasoned decisions, carnal behaviors, relationships damaged, churches split, people wounded.

Meetings. Maybe the topic doesn’t sound very biblical, but I don’t have to take you any further into the life of the Early Church than Acts 1, where we find the remaining disciples holding a meeting. Someone needs to be chosen to replace Judas, and they come together. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit overwhelms the event . . . we call that moment “Pentecost.” We get the closest look at the meeting described in Acts 15 as key Church leaders resolve a delicate issue of tension. I love the concluding statement: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us . . .”

Meetings. I’ve handled them well; I’ve handled them poorly. Out of my own experience, I’m giving us eight of the most common leadership mistakes made in meetings, whether they be in churches, schools, businesses, or wherever. So, here we go.

  1. Meeting mistake number 1. [Video clip] Not having a reason for meeting. “We meet on the first Tuesday of every month.” That’s not a reason for meeting. If you don’t have a solid agenda, don’t waste people’s time. Good meetings have a purpose and a clear agenda that can answer the simple question, “Why have I gathered you here at this moment?”
  2. [Video clip] Surprising team members with big topics or not knowing your team well enough to know which topics may be full of tension. Not many people like to be caught unprepared for an important conversation. As a leader, if you are wrestling with something of major consequence, give your teams time enough to wrestle with it too. A good author understands foreshadowing; so does a good leader.
  3. [Video clip] Forcing a decision in a single meeting. In the thousands of meetings for which I’ve had responsibility, I can’t think of more than a handful of major decisions we’ve had to make in a single setting. Some things are simple enough they don’t need extended debate over multiple sessions. Just make a decision. However, many issues leaders face have major consequences, significant emotion, or long history. You know what I’m talking about.

Why would we press a team to handle something so volatile in a single session? Frankly, the answer is usually the leader’s impatience or poor planning . . . and in so doing, we unnecessarily cause undue tension. Instead, I suggest that we plan far enough ahead so that we can let our teams know that we don’t have to reach a decision tonight. This leads to better discussion, better decisions, and happier teams. We may be able to walk out of the meeting with a couple of practical action steps so that the next time we meet we’ve made progress, but spare your team from the undue pressure of the immediate decision.

  1. [Video clip] Failing to frame the question. When we meet, we’re often grappling with an issue, right? If we had all the answers and clear consensus, we wouldn’t need to meet. But there are unresolved issues that need to be addressed, so we gather the team together. How we frame the question often dictates the tone and quality of the conversation. For example, “We need to talk about the church’s children’s ministry. Who has anything to say?” Bad start!

What is the conversation you really want them to have? Frame your question around that. Is it a facilities conversation? Is it about personnel? (Those need to be handled with special care.) Does it have more to do with program elements or curriculum? Is the challenge in the children’s ministry actually a symptom of a greater issue that needs to be addressed in the church? Leader, a majority of your thought-planning should be given to framing well the question you want discussed.

  1. [Video clip] Failing to build trust among the team. Good teams make good meetings. Good meetings produce good outcomes. But there has never been a good team without trust. How do you build trust among team members? Some leaders use the “pray, play, plan” strategy. They’ve concluded that if a team can pray freely and have playful moments that they will likely do well at planning/ decision making as well.

One of my team-highlight moments of the last five years was playing water polo in a shallow pool with members of the President’s Cabinet! No, we don’t have video footage and wouldn’t show it if we did, but we laughed, we competed, we gasped for air, and we laughed some more. Frankly, I don’t find enough of those group-event opportunities. But I do look for every opportunity for our teams to laugh, to enjoy a moment.

As a pastor friend of mine says, “Sick churches can’t laugh.” I’d say the same about sick teams. Laughter is a good sign of team health. Praying and playing together can be components of building trust. There are many more trust-building strategies that I don’t have time to address, but let me say one more word on this topic. At the National Office, trust is one of our staff values. One way that we describe trust is simply “Assuming good intent.” I may not understand what you said, agree with what you said, or even like what you said, but I’m going to assume that you meant well by it.

[Video clip] “What did she mean by that?!” . . . should never be a post-meeting, parking lot conversation.

Good teams have come to trust that each member has the best interest of the organization in mind. I might disagree with her view, but I believe that she believes she is helping us. And I’m going to keep leaning into that relationship until I understand the perspective she brings.

  1. Allowing people to attack an individual rather than address the issue. [Video clip] People who can’t differentiate between the topic being addressed and the person addressing it aren’t mature enough to be in significant leadership. I love it when teams are able to go head-to-head with each other in disagreement on an issue and then walk out of the room even better friends. Gary Friesen from our staff and I had one of those conversations this week . . . and we love each other all the more for it. For a team to be a good team, we must be able to disagree with each other, and mature teams know that I can disagree with your statement while loving your heart and valuing you as a person. If there is never disagreement on your teams, I wonder if you have the right team! In contrast, good teams can come at subjects very differently but always value the person over the dispute.

 Closely related, mistake number 7 . . . [Video clip]

  1. Fearing conflict: Avoiding conflict. [Video clip] Seeing conflict as evil. Conflict can become evil or can be used by the evil one, but as Peacemaker teaching informs us, “Conflict is actually an opportunity.” Good things can arise from healthy conflict: We get to know each other better, understand the nuances of the issue more deeply, build trust, improve communication, strengthen the team, and glorify God. Perhaps one of your top priorities for the next 12 months should be to get Peacemaker training into your church. [Contact information on screen]
  2. I must mention this one. Prayerlessness. [Video clip] A spirit of human control can dominate some groups. “We’ve got this figured out. We know what to do.” In contrast, serious prayer is an expression of our serious need for God. We are doing His work. Right?

It’s not your church, your ministry, your kingdom—it’s not even your life! It’s all His. We’re His. Heartfelt and frequent moments or seasons of prayer should be naturally woven into the fabric of any team serving the Church of Jesus. I think that Early Church leaders would tell us that it’s not a meeting of the Church if it’s not a meeting that incorporates prayer. Before the Acts 1 meeting was a decision-making meeting, it was a prayer meeting.

Eight common mistakes leaders make . . . There’s obviously more we could say on all of these points and more points we could add, such as some leaders devalue these moments, need to control every conversation, see the team as an obstacle. My goal today wasn’t comprehensiveness but rather to offer a challenge to take seriously these key leadership moments. [Video clip]

One of the metaphors that shapes my view of leadership is that of “cultural architect.” It’s not original to me, but I like the perspective that I have the responsibility and privilege to help shape the culture of the team I lead. I’m not responsible for what I inherited when I entered the role, but I am responsible for what and who we become.

Good architects know that they have the opportunity to create something fresh, new, meaningful, and take this opportunity seriously. May we as cultural architects do the same.

Every team, every community of people, has a culture to it. Some of these are toxic—marked by suspicion, gossip, infighting, pettiness, turf-protecting, self-serving, power-brokering carnality. Other teams and communities are marked by a better spirit—evidencing the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Who are we helping our teams become?

Of course, the harsh reality is that our teams will often become a reflection of the leadership that they’ve been under. I have to admit this and take responsibility for it . . . and I ask you to do so as well.

And this throws me right back to where I should be in the first place, coming to the Father saying, “I need You to shape who I’m becoming. I need Your Spirit arising within me with the kinds of characteristics that only can be fully produced in life because of Your involvement. I need You to live through me so that my influence on others is truly a godly influence.”

In some translations of John 12:49 Jesus says that the Father has told Him what to say and how to say it. The message and the method—the content and the tone—came from the Father. Why would we attempt to live and lead any differently?

Alliance family, I’m honored to be teamed with you. May all that we do move us forward together with greater effectiveness and unity—because we’re truly moving forward under the direction of our Lord.

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