How One Question Transformed How I Lead Ministry

Posted by Aaron Buer on February 21, 2019

One question has taken over how I lead.

It’s a question that seems to apply everywhere I ask it and it’s a question that helps me lead more thoughtfully, empathetically, carefully and personally.

The question is,

What’s it like to be you?

Believe it or not, I’m finding that this question helps solve the riddles of just about any organizational puzzle and brings clarity and unity to tension points in relationships and churches.

Let me give you a few examples of how I’m using this question and the impact it’s having.

Silos

One of the challenges of church growth is the silo effect of teams and departments.

This is especially true in large multi-site churches like mine.

A good example is my student ministry team’s relationship with our facilities team.

So, for context, I lead a staff team of twelve people spread over four different campuses.

And like I said, we are a student ministry and the funny thing about teenagers is they make messes and break stuff.

A few years ago, we discovered that the facilities team at our church was just about ready to kill us because of all the obnoxious messes.

And we were like,

“Well, it’s kind of our job to make messes and kind of your job to clean them.”

Ok, I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the point.

We had our values and they had theirs and there was tension.

This is the nature of silos.

Thankfully, someone on my team had the wisdom to realize that we really should have a great relationship with every team and department in our church.

So, we scheduled a field trip to the facilities team, bought them donuts and asked them this question:

What’s it like to be you?

What we heard changed the way we felt about the facilities team and how we functioned as a ministry.

We heard about their heart to serve the church and how their desire as a team is to provide great experiences to our guests through inviting spaces, clean bathrooms, and well-kept furniture.

They were running into time management problems with their staff because of how we were functioning as a student ministry team.

The time it was taking to restore our buildings after Wednesday night was problematic.

Here’s the deal: When we stopped to listen to the heart of the facilities team, what they care about and how our actions were making their lives difficult—not because they are cranky people, but because they are trying to serve Jesus and the church as best as they can with the limited resources they have available, it changed everything for us.

This is just one example of how listening—how asking, “What’s it like to be you” can be a game changer when it comes to breaking down silos.

The Missing

Listening is also transforming how I interact with what I’ll call “the missing generations” in church.

It’s no secret that the church in America is perplexed on how to attract and keep Millennials and Gen Z (the generation after Millennials).

The typical response is making fun of their perceived lack of work ethic and entitlement.

We tend to criticize what we don’t understand.

Something that has helped me immensely in understanding the missing generations is to ask them,
“What’s it like to be you?”

Basically, any chance I get, I sit down with people younger than me and try to understand how they experience life, what they care about and what it feels like to be in their shoes.

I’m currently hosting a series of listening conversations with just about any young person in our church.

I take them out for lunch or coffee, three or four at a time and ask them a bunch of questions.

Two of my favorites are:

“What are you most excited about? What are your hopes and dreams?”

and

“What keeps you up at night?”

If you’re wondering, I stole these questions from a Fuller Seminary Professor named Scott Cormode.

Now, here’s why this is important.

Asking these questions and getting at the big question of “What’s it like to be you” is transforming my understanding of the missing generations.

And when I understand them, I begin to care about what they care about and instead of making fun of Millennials, I begin to feel their experience.

I can empathize and when the church in America begins to care and empathize with these missing generations, they will come back to church.

My People

Listening is transforming how I lead people too.

I’m currently walking through a season of skip-level meetings in which I meet one-on-one with the people that my direct reports manage and lead.

My primary purpose in these meetings has been, by now you shouldn’t be shocked...to ask,

“What’s it like to be you?”

I ask them questions like,

“What’s your experience with our team and our church been like from your seat?”

And

“What would you like our leadership to know about what life is like in your role?”

Again, these questions help me see what I’m not seeing and empathize with the challenges of each particular role.

I also use these questions as development question for the people I directly manage.

When I understand what my people care about and what their career dreams and aspirations are, I can help them put together a plan to develop missing skills and experiences.

Bottom line: Asking, “What’s it like to be you” can help you become a better manager and leader.

Care and Crisis

Recently I found myself in a conversation with a couple experiencing a family crisis.

Helping them to really listen transformed the situation.

Their teenager was off the rails—partying, sneaking out, saying terrible things to the parents, etc.

The parents were ready to drop the hammer of justice!

And, of course, there are times when this needs to happen.

But, first, I advised them to really try to understand what was going on their teenager’s heart and life, to find ways to ask,

“What’s it like to be you?”

They thought they understood the situation.

They thought they knew everything about their teenager.

They didn’t.

Their eyes were opened to the root causes of the behavior when they took the time to listen.

Now, I’m not saying that listening is the miracle cure for every crisis situation but it definitely won’t hurt!

In many cases, listening can help dig into the underlying causes of dysfunction and conflict.

Wrap Up

Let me wrap this up. Learning to listen is transforming how I lead, in all kinds of environments.

I challenge you to give “What’s it like to be you” a spin.

Find ways to ask the question creatively.

Learning to empathize with the people around us and under our care really does change everything.

Topics: Advice

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