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Three Answers for Residency

Three Answers for Residency

Senior and Executive Pastors tend to say one of three things when the topic of residency comes up:

1.) “We tried that once. It worked for a season, but then went in to decline. One of our staff was tasked to do the recruiting and it overwhelmed them. We didn’t find good candidates.”
You need to fish in different ponds. Did you know Leadership Pathway can do a nationwide residency search for about as cheaply as you can send a couple of staff on a Seminary tour over one weekend? You believe you have a good program, but you can’t find good candidates…we can help with that!

#2.) “My staff tells me it's too much work. They’re not sure what to do."
A full engagement with Leadership Pathway gives you access to their Guidebook. This coaching material is designed to walk with your staff and their resident over the coming two years. It provides monthly reading suggestions, and coaching helps to have developmental conversations

3.) “We already have a killer internship program.”
We’d simply ask, have the last few interns gone on to have fruitful ministry careers? If you, or another dynamic church, have hired them on to a ministry all means just keep doing what you’re doing! Normally it’s here that we ask if we can steal what you have to use in our program!

 If the first two sound a little familiar, we'd love to talk more with you at Leadership Pathway.

A Lead Pastor's Take on Residency

A Lead Pastor's Take on Residency

Discovery Christian Church in Broomfield, Colorado (Denver) is several years into building a residency program.  Recently, I *sat down with the Lead Pastor of Discovery, Steve Cuss, to talk about the unique view a senior pastor brings to such an endeavor.  Discovery averages about 900 people on a typical week and is about fourteen-years-old.

Can we begin with an overview of where Discovery has been in terms of residency? We started residency in 2015 with one resident from Nebraska Christian College in Omaha. She began mid-year in January in our Worship Arts Department, and we added a second resident that summer onto our Children’s team. In 2016, we expanded by adding residents to our Youth and Discipleship departments. Currently, we have a total of 5 residents, and there is always an overlap between who is new and who is doing a second year. I can’t really keep up with it, and that’s why I’m glad we have Renae Loring, who serves as our Pastor of Global Ministries and Leadership Development.

You’ve mentioned that you view Discovery as a teaching church. What do you mean by that?Yeah, we see ourselves as a development church. I came to Christ as a teenager from a complete blank slate—an unchurched home. When I went to a Bible College, I got a 22% on my Bible Entrance Exam! I couldn’t put Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the correct order, for example. But, I did have a youth pastor that very quickly put us on the front lines of ministry; we had high ownership of the church service as teenagers. I’m sure we were pretty bad at it, but we really believed the weight of the church was on our shoulders.

Almost three decades later, I can draw a straight line from that leadership development to my skills today. So just like my youth pastor did for me, I want to make sure we don’t set the bar of excellence too high so that a residency cannot be involved. In order to be a teaching church you have to ensure they have the opportunity.

So, this model is much like a teaching hospital, right? For example, one doctor doesn’t walk into the room alone; rather, there’s a line of younger people in lab coats learning alongside him.Yes! The other added bonus of being a development culture is how well it develops our current leaders. Leaders don’t grow if they are not developing people, so I see two sides to the development coin.

What do you hope are the outputs? What are your expectations upon a student completing this program? I guess we have a few goals. One is to add to what they learn in college. Some pastors are quick to say things like, “I wish they taught me ____ in college,” but honestly, that has never made sense to me as there are some skills and experiences that can only be learned in the trenches of ministry.

I hope our residents learn to fail well, to build a resilience for what is a very tough role, to learn to engage with actual unchurched people, to understand themselves better, like what makes them tick or what ticks them off—just some base level self-awareness, and to learn some significant skill and craft in the process.

What does that look like? Well, yesterday, I took two of my residents to a lunch with a local Muslim imam and an urban African-American pastor to talk about racial injustice and systemic poverty. I’m constantly asking people I schedule meetings with, “Can I bring my residents along?” The week before we were teaching those same residents how to walk onto a stage after a worship song and lead what is next.

So, I expect our residents to come away with a broad range of skills for ministry. Most of all, I expect our residents to be brave and to continually step significantly out of their comfort zones and depend on God in their ministry.

From where does your motivation to do this come? After college, I served as a hospital chaplain for a year and did 4 units of “Clinical Pastoral Education.” The basic premise is to put a ministry student in a trauma-filled environment for a year in order for him or her to learn who he or she really is. I discovered a great deal about myself and how I perceive the world—what I am afraid of, etc. I come from a tradition that didn’t know what to do with a shadow or dark side. This experience really opened my eyes to the power of God which is available when I offer him my dark side, temptations, fear, etc. This experience motivates me to broaden our students’ experiences in becoming more self-aware.

It takes a commitment to fail positively, especially publicly (on stage, etc.) for residents. How have you determined where the line is for acceptability? Oh man, this one is very difficult. It helps that we have communicated to our congregation that “we hold excellence and development in tension,” and also that “everyone of us is in development.” I am better at preaching than our residents partly because of gifting, but mainly because I’ve done it more often. My first years at Discovery I had some really cringe-worthy sermons. Ha! So, will we have some uncomfortable moments from our residents? Yes. But, someone has to let them do this in a safe environment.

Surely you follow these “fails” with evaluation and coaching, right? Yes. I don’t think we have a handle yet on the “acceptable line,” but I look for courage and vulnerability. If a resident is courageous, willing to put himself or herself out there and give it everything, I’ll generally go to bat for them every time. If the resident is moving toward comfort, I’ll turn the heat up a good bit instead.

If a church your size is considering residency, what would you say to their senior pastor? Well, first I’d say, don’t do it to get cheap labor. You will have to truly invest in people, not extract from people.

Secondly, I’d say that you need residents to keep you young and open to new thoughts. Be open to their ideas that they share in meetings and in other settings. The energy our residents bring is fantastic!

Thirdly, if you want to grow as a leader, bring on a resident. If one of your key leaders needs to grow, make him lead a resident.

What are the ingredients required that go into making a successful residency? Logistically, you need money, housing arrangements, and a firm commitment from your staff to develop students. Then, you need a bit of time to figure it out. Assess your situation and realize what does your team and church intuitively do that is worth passing on, and then turn that into some sort of training path. It does not have to be formal, but it must be intentional.

For us, it is a 9-month class that meets every other week for 2 hours, and also a monthly lunch and a monthly meeting on spiritual health. That’s a purposeful commitment that is real. Lots of man-hours and personnel dollars go into this.

It helps a great deal, too, if you enjoy your residents’ company. I always look forward to time spent with my two residents; they are both outstanding, quality people.

 For a church your size to have a potentially deep bench seems like an added blessing to the process, yes? Yes! When I hire from within, I get excellent people who inherently get the culture but don’t have outside training. When I bring someone from outside, I get great fresh perspective and high adaptability, but cultural fit challenges.

With a resident, I get both.

 To learn more about Discovery’s residency program email Renae Loring, Director of Leadership Development.


*By this, I mean I emailed him questions, and he answered them…but you already knew that.

Six Comments to the College/Seminary Grad Looking for a Ministry Role

Six Comments to the College/Seminary Grad Looking for a Ministry Role

In my work with both Slingshot and Leadership Pathway I get to talk to college seniors and seminary grads a lot. Here are six comments I tend to talk about over and over.

// YOU ARE NEEDED. Church leaders at advancing churches (those where the Gospel is being advanced - they’re not just getting bigger in size) They are looking for a version of you 6 years from now. Seems like every day I hear a version of,  “We are looking for someone who is 29-32 with 6 or 7 years of experience having built a ministry and led some stuff…”

This could be you someday!

// YOU NEED A VISION for what your contribution might be in the Kingdom in six or seven years. What do you guess that your life will look like once you get to the point where you are the rare leader who is twenty nine with six or seven years of experience?

// HOW CAN YOU GET THERE FROM HERE? Let’s work backward from your vision of you at age 29 or 30. My sense is you are going to do something out of the ordinary the next couple of years.

// YOUR BEST/NEXT STEP is a two-year experience on staff at a church that is advancing.  

No matter the denomination, theological viewpoint, or area of the country, you need to be serving in and around the type of ministry that interests you. You need to be barely in over your head, but within arms-reach of a gifted leader who is willing to coach you and/or has a track record of developing leaders. I don’t mean a gap-year program where you are figuring out what you want to do. I mean a developmental plan to land you full time in ministry when your two years is up.

// AT THE END OF THOSE TWO YEARS you will be hirable and potentially will be employed by that same church.  It’s vital to choose wisely where you’d want to do this two-year experience. More than likely, this church won’t let you walk if they can avoid it. You are one of them; they’ve already deeply invested in you. 

// SPEND 4-5 YEARS in full-time ministry.  So, whether you stay at the church where you did your residency, or you choose to move on with a great reference from people who wish you weren’t leaving them, it is your decision. At this point you are approximately 6 years in. You have become the rare leader who is very difficult to find.

There are not many, and The Kingdom needs you to do this.

I really hope you could give God a  couple of decades of servant leadership in the local church. That seems like stewarding back the gift of the amazing education, mentoring, prayer, coaching, and counseling that you’ve received from the Kingdom.  We’re all in this. We’re all rooting for you.

You may begin this as an undergraduate, online college student, post-seminary graduate, or one with no education at all. I’m less and less confident that it matters. What does matter is that you submit to someone who can develop leaders, and who wants to see you become this for the Kingdom. And give it two years.

My experience has been that anyone who wants to do this with his or her life is going to have opportunities if he/she walks this road. There are thousands of churches looking right now for a version of you six years from now.  They could be big, small, urban, rural, plants, mega-churches, progressive, stuck, reformed, charismatic, uptight—but if they are advancing…they are looking for you.

From what we read, there are about 20,000 churches that are advancing amongst the other quarter million that are in decline.  I sure hope you choose to give a couple decades to one that is advancing.  That’s where we need the best leaders we can find in the Kingdom.

I’ve also seen many allow student debt, life experiences, hardheadedness, parental pressure, zip code, and poor advice from those that don’t fully understand this scenario drive potential church leaders toward a different path. These are the ones who leak out of the pipeline on their way to becoming a church leader with 6 to 7 years of experience.

They went to the wrong place and quit, or they got fired, hate the church, and think it’s useless. I have friends like this, and I’ll bet you already do, as well. Just last week a pastor told me he was the only one left from his class of 60+ in 2005. No wonder seasoned leaders are as rare as an endangered species.

Might your phone ring in the next 37 seconds with the perfect God-ordained opportunity? Yes. And might he choose to do all sorts of things to guide your path in a miraculous way?  Yes. From where I sit that is exactly what He’s doing, because the journey of my last 25 years around this stuff is a miracle, and I’d love to help in any way I can..

If this resonates with you,  hit our website and complete the application, and let’s see where it takes us together.





Where Are the 29 Year Olds? (In one of 3 places)

Where Are the 29 Year Olds? (In one of 3 places)

Over the last eleven years I’ve been in a church leadership conversation that sounds something like, “We’re looking for someone who is probably 29 – 32 years of age, and has built a ministry and ready to take their next step. Know anyone like that?”

No matter the role in a church, this seems to be the center of the target when it comes to looking outside for the next team member. When churches have depleted their internal pipelines, and connections, it’s time to go out and hunt.

I was asked just this week: Where are the 29 year olds who could join our church staff?

From my first-hand accounts, they are in one of three places:

1. Locked Down. They are doing great in their ministry role. They are challenged, they are moving “up” organizationally, and have a clear path ahead of them for the next several years. They’re the Worship Pastor who might be an executive pastor someday.  They were the  middle school, and now high school, pastor who desires to be a teaching pastor someday.  They were the 4th/5th grade director, now they’re over all elementary and they can see the day when they could become a Family Ministry Pastor.

You get the idea.

2. They quit 6 years ago.  Unfortunately, this 29 year old took the wrong path at age 23. I’ve written before here on four dangerous paths to begin. Early in ministry they had limited exposure, and therefore, limited understanding, of what the future could be. I’m not talking about size of church, or pay scale. I’m talking about ministry effectiveness. They took the role they could find. They listened to a voice they shouldn’t have. They wake up a year in and they began to thnk if this is ministry I’m not doing it…

I pitch vision every day for those beginning in ministry to start in a place that is obsessed with advancing the Kingdom. These are the types of places that shape a future vision.

We expect young leaders to have a vision for their ministry. How about those of us who are older start having vision for what the young leader could be someday, too?

I’m convinced those that get through the first three years of ministry have the emotional intelligence, and pain tolerance, to do this the next fifteen or twenty years. Some will do this for a lifetime. This is what the Kingdom is crying out for…a leader with just a little experience, to go to the next level.

A friend recently said, “The wrong time for a new mom to evaluate her parenting skills is in the first weeks after delivering her first child.” The same is true in ministry. We must coach young leaders through these early years. 

We are losing too many this way, and this is on those of us who are twenty years ahead of them.

3. They were never there in the first place.  The local church needs leaders who could have done anything with their one and only life. The college Junior & Senior awakening to a call of ministry has a couple of options before them:  1.) Seminary or 2.) Para-church.

Number one leaves them deeper in debt than they already are, and some may argue too much of this too early will only make them that much more irrelevant to their peers. Option number two puts them on a path that will take them someplace other than your church staff.

We need another path for them.  This path can be you and your church.

I would challenge that we must create option #1 above on your team. We have to find those with the most potential, and begin them early on your team in residency. Lay out a developmental path that will help fill in their gaps so they can continue to grow and raise their lid of knowledge, heart, and skill.

Someone on your team must champion this. They have to take on the role of coach, and not just supervisor. Young leaders need both. Having a vision for the youngest on the team, with the most potential, will help answer your question in a few years: where are the 29 year olds? They will be right there with you.

Core Competencies

Core Competencies

About five years ago I did a series of roundtable lunches with senior leaders of churches. I asked them two questions:

What are you looking for in your next hire?
Why did you, or your executive pastor, have to fire someone on your staff?

After speaking with about 80 leaders across denominations, and from churches of all sizes we landed at about 150 general answers. I took this spreadsheet and had it printed at Fed Ex Kinkos (it was quite large) and hung one copy on a co-worker’s wall, and hung one copy on my office wall.

The goal was to boil down this list in to a common set of core competencies or soft-skills. I wanted to boil this off to five. I think we got it down to twenty something.

There are probably a thousand competencies to doing ministry this is not meant to be exhaustive (so please no hate mail about Biblical training and discipleship) keep in mind that this list assumes a lot.

For one, it assumes theological education is handled elsewhere for those that want to preach and teach. It also assumes that most of the core issues of personal spiritual growth are handled as well.

We were assuming a lot, but we landed on this list for a few reasons:

First, this is what church leaders told us. After all, what is needed in the field is a question that the Church owns. Not colleges or seminaries. This is theirs to answer.

Secondly, the landfills are full of discipleship materials. There are plenty of people on that topic.

At the end of the day, the Kingdom is spending billions on education and discipleship, and I’ve always tried to get at the core issue of why aren’t there enough leaders, and why are we still under-preparing the ones we do have?

Third, we were seeking to answer the question: Why do people get fired? And what ends ministry careers early at churches? In other words, where are the gaps in the skill preparation of how we are preparing people for ministry.

The gap does not appear to be in theological education.  We're good there. Our seminaries are full, and there's a ton of content on line.

The gap does not appear to be in discipleship. You may argue that there aren't many disciples and that's fine, but I'll point you to this week's list of books and resources, and last year's landfills. 

So where is the gap?

My co-worker Andy Dykhouse boiled this list down (below), and we’ve been tweaking/running on this list for four years. They are broken into thirds and build upon one another. It's a big list, and this is why we need two years of residency just to address the topics and coach through them.

This is the list that eventually led us to launch 

I’m curious what do you see that we are missing? Email me let’s talk about it.


Self Care


Time Management


Taking Initiative

Fail Forward



Work Ethic


Decision Making

Managing Details

Courageous Influence

Personal Finances

Gospel Presentation


Passion for Personal Growth

Bible Application

Lead a Meeting


Think Strategically

Developer of Others

Team leadership

Conflict Management




Culturally Proficient

Four Dangerous Paths for Those Entering Ministry

Four Dangerous Paths for Those Entering Ministry

Four Dangerous Paths

 A Christian College senior sat down in my office in February of his last year of undergrad studies in ministry, and was perplexed. Like most of the good ones, he’d spent the better part of the last two years on a developmental path of part-time ministry under the guidance of a great youth pastor.

“I don’t know which of these opportunities I should pursue,” he said.  He’d had several different churches approach him about his post-grad plans. He had narrowed down to the final two. I knew of both churches. Church A had the right zip code, and the right salary for a college grad who was married with a child at home already. Church B was less attractive on the surface with a not so great address, and substantially less of a salary package.

I knew Church A well and I knew that the last five staff people who had finished their time there left on bad terms, damaged, and dropping out of ministry. My knowledge of Church B was that most staff members were put on a developmental path, and the ones who left had gone on to plant churches supported by the home church. 

This is a very real snap shot of what some 20 to 25 year olds face when making a first ministry decision. I get asked daily “where are all of the talented 30 year olds who’ve been in ministry for seven years and built something?” Many (most) chose the wrong path and they didn’t make it to the check point. 

I’ve seen four reoccurring paths that I’d call “dangerous:”

1. THE ROCKY PATH.  This one I’ve already described above as Church A. We’re not sure what’s wrong, but there sure are a lot of dead bodies of former staff people littered on that road. It leads nowhere, and is full of quick sand, and toxic waste dumps. Most do not survive. Meet someone who began on this path, and they barely like Jesus three years later, let alone the church.

2. THE WORLD IS FLAT PATH. Best practices from conferences and leadership resources are suspect at best. This church is not necessarily “old” but can be. If you meet a leader who joined this team and stayed a decade they can be a pretty angry individual. They’ve learned how to blame everyone around them for where they find themselves. They know what’s wrong with that big church across town. It hasn’t “really happened” for them yet, and they are stuck. On the surface, they appear to be “faithfully sticking it out,” but internally it’s a mess. In moments of tearful-honesty they will admit they wish they could do something else with their life. I typically am thinking and you want me to send you a youth pastor candidate?

I’ve heard one or two retired pastors tell of how they started in ministry. They started on this path.  I drove four hours each way and preached for 19 people every Sunday and they could only pay me in fried chicken and sweetened tea. For every one of these stories I’ve heard dozens/hundreds who never made it beyond the World is Flat Path. They did two or three years and switched professions.

3. THE RED-BULL-GO-PRO-PATH. We’ve all seen the exciting video of the skier going straight down a cliff with no path at all. Are they skiing or just falling? We can’t tell.

This church staff is making the news because of their amazing growth and sexy innovations. They are young, they are fun, they are cool, and if their new hire can make it down that mountain with no helmet they will have a great story to tell. A new green hire into this path MUST go in with an outside coach and someone to help them stay sane. These young bucks are the ones who get asked back to speak at Seminary because of their marque employer. But beware this path is marked with stories of divorce, cancer, and burnout.

They typically tell me that there is amazing stuff going on around them, but when they get honest they have burned it at both ends for so long they can barely remember their name, let alone why they got in to ministry in the first place.  We must come alongside these high potential leaders before they kill themselves. These are the ones who need a developmental path more than anyone. Three years of development, then go jump off that mountain with a Go-Pro and they might survive it!

4. THE "NO GUIDE" PATH. This is very similar to number 3, but it looks safer from the outset. Many have gone down this path, there’s a map, and there are even clear markers. It doesn’t appear to be dangerous, but the missteps early on are many. Those on this path make the same mistakes that others have made over and over. That’s why this path can also be called the Path of the Stupid Tax. Those on this path are often wondering if they are going the right way.

Those that were LUCKY ENOUGH to live this path and continue on think it’s fine, and actually almost a good thing, that those younger on their team are paying the stupid tax. Many are casualties of this path. With no plan, and no developmental help, these young leaders try, fail, and are eventually kicked off the path. We all know that pain is a great teacher, but let’s face it, there’s plenty of opportunity for pain on down the road.

We must help these young leaders avoid the dumb mistakes we made. We were lucky. Let’s admit that.

I’ve heard many who I’d call ministry veterans recount a conversation with a young leader trying to make a vocational ministry decision. They pray with them, they do a great job listening to them, and then they say well intentioned things that are not helpful like “Well give it all to Jesus and I’m sure you’ll make the best decision.”

 We need to guide, coach, beg, even push the youngest and most talented to the best developmental path before them. It could be less money (or no money), or a less desirable place to live, but it might keep them moving forward longer than what the average is currently.

Full circle back to my story above…I told this college senior to go find where the last four or five staff people were and come back and report to me. Sure enough, he’d looked far enough under the hood to realize that something was not quite right. I asked him, “What do you ultimately want to do some day?” He replied with, “Advance the gospel, preach, and plant churches.” I told him his choice appeared obvious. He had to go to some place with a track record of that with its young staff.  Two years later he’s still on his way to doing just that.







Stuck on Residency? Here Are Three Guiding Principles

Stuck on Residency? Here Are Three Guiding Principles

The title for this post could be “You Should Start a Residency Program at Your Church Even if You Aren’t Ready” because I know some great churches who keep putting off pulling the trigger.

I blogged here before about the importance of residency, and why churches should move beyond short internships. Recently, I’ve had a few conversations with church leaders that I know would be great providing oversight to a resident leader, but they simply couldn’t get approval from their executive teams. “We’re not quite ready,” is the typical response.

If you answer yes to the following questions I think you church is the type of church that should jump in:

Is our church advancing?
Is our church a place where I believe someone could learn best practices for ministry?
Do I have a staff member who has proven they are a developer of people?

Let’s face it, you can talk about it, write some sort of curriculum, and try and engineer out all of the issues. But guess what you’ll be doing at the end of the first year of residency? You can guess that you'll be changing and tweaking it! So don’t spend too much time on isolated development because you will have gaps.

Church Leadership Residency is a journey. It’s one leader coaching a younger leader on how to navigate ministry. Education is linear…experience is fluid and will be forever changing based on temperament and personality of those involved.  


Since “activator” is in my top five of Strength Finders, allow me to help push the topic by offering simple concepts of how to do get a residency going:

1. Start Small. I think one idea that keeps churches locked up on this topic is that they study marque residency programs at massive churches (there are a couple out there & we need dozens more) that have been running for a decade or more, and they know they can’t do that.

Here’s my encouragement: start with ONE resident. See if you can form best practices and take great notes for the future.

2. Find Partnerships, Coaches, and Models. They’re out there. I’m personally working on Leadership Pathway. We will have coaching helps, and a program available by fall based on the learning of the last four years.

3. Choose the Developer & Avoid the Need. If your average church attendance is around 1250 (give or take 500 people) you probably have somewhere around ten to thirteen FTE on the team. Some of these teammates are killing it, and some probably need help in their week-to-week ministry.

My advice is to identify the staff member who has proven to be a developer of people and start there. This may be the strongest/best looking department on the team, which may cause questions.

Remember: you must want more for the resident than from the resident. This is not about helping out a weak ministry.

Here’s the reality: all day everyday folks like me are in conversations with churches of 150 to 15,000 who cannot find what they are looking for in their next hire. Disruptive change in how we prepare next leaders is a critical need in the Kingdom with no short fixes.

Don’t put this off another year. Like a lot of leadership moves you’ve made…you’ll never actually be “ready.” This will take a small risk with a lot of vision.

Bill & Ted's Excellent Christian University Adventure

Bill & Ted's Excellent Christian University Adventure

Many days I’m looking at resumes of 18 – 25 year olds who want to be in ministry. I’m typically doing this for Slingshot for a full-time placement at a church or for some sort of residency consideration. Some are still enrolled at undergraduate institutions or seminary, while others are graduates.

A typical story of two such candidates (I’ll call them Bill and Ted) I encounter from two different Christian universities looks much like this:

These guys are pretty rare. Both felt a call to ministry that was affirmed from their youth pastors in high school.

Both are very passionate, called, driven, love Jesus, say “yes, sir” a lot, return emails within an hour, and have had above average interactions with me.

Both are graduating in May with undergraduate Christian ministry degrees from respectable Christian universities.

The first student, “Bill" is studying online at a well-known Christian university and is graduating in May.  He has been online for virtually all of his education and will actually complete his degree on a traditional timeline of 4 years in May at age 22.

The second student, “Ted” will have had four straight years at a prominent brick and mortar Christian university. He, too, will graduate in 8 semesters at the age of 22.

Both will have massive student debt that neither really want to talk about, but that’s for a different article. People much more important than me are working to address that very topic.

But, I’d like to evaluate how ready each are to serve a local church after completing their respective programs:

For the past four years, Bill has served at three different churches. All three times he began as a volunteer and was then asked to intern. He was on his own for housing and living expenses, which means getting part-time jobs, having to “figure it out.” He has stories of being given more responsibility, leading middle and high school students, growing a ministry, and being asked to stay at each location. He told stories of being led, coached, developed, and managed well by leaders at each of those churches.

Ted has been a favorite of the administration at his brick and mortar school. He traveled 2.5 years for the college as the front man for their premiere worship band. He had a good opportunity, and he did an outstanding job. He has great references from his college. They are so proud of him.

I would call both candidates above average. Both have enough "talent" to believe they are worthy of the position at a local church.

One church jumped at Bill’s resume. They are saying things like, “He has experience—he’s done this! He’s been to staff meetings, working through those relationships. He’s led a couple hundred middle/high school students every week for two years at a prevailing church. He’s done difficult things, stuck it out, and he keeps showing up.”

Unfortunately, even after four years of private Christian Education, it is difficult for a church to get excited about the prospects of hiring Ted. He’s actually just now ready for a residency that Bill was doing during his sophomore year of college.

Both sets of parents would be thrilled for their 22-year-old kids to land this ministry position.  It’s a great “starter ministry job” with 44k salary and benefits. Bill or Ted could probably spend a long time at this church. There is a proven developmental path, a commitment to hiring millennials, and long-run staff leaders ready to turn this over to the next generation.

I don’t tell this story to pick on the brick and mortar institution, nor to promote the national Christian university online program. I don’t think either school is better than the other. You’ve heard of both. Both are nationally recognized major Christian universities.

There’s no one size fits all when it comes to developmental paths for 18 – 25-year-olds. They are as unique as snowflakes and thumbprints.


There are trends we simply cannot ignore. Those of us who are guiding, coaching, leading 18 – 25-year-olds who desire ministry must realize a few things, in particular.

- Accelerated experiences, sooner, rather than later, that mimic and mirror eventual reality are best every time. In other words, embed freshman into servant/leadership roles on church staffs. Do this early, in a culture of feedback and evaluation with a trusted and developer leader on that church staff.

- Opportunities are not enough. An “opportunity" used to be "enough to prepare. It (sorta kinda) worked for me in the late 80’s / early 90’s, but we now have to elevate this beyond just an opportunity into developmental activity. And there’s a huge difference between the two. Playing football at the park is an opportunity. Joining a team and having a coach make you better is developmental activity.

- It's about deeds done. Churches that are the ideal places to begin in ministry are hiring “deeds done.” Without real, developmental experience and good references, a college nor seminary graduate is NOT hirable at the right local church where development will continue.

Bill and Ted are both awesome people, and I believe they both could have a long run of ministry ahead of them. But only one is ready today at graduation, and it’s because of his prior experiences.

These two stories are quite common, and this reality drives me to serve 18 – 25-year-olds and the local church, in a continued and evolving way.

Churches probably won’t ask about GPA, but they will always inquire about:

- Skill level (building teams, discipling others, doing ministry, showing up on time, work ethic, and other character traits)

- How much practical experience did this student have on a healthy and growing church staff, and what does that “intern boss” say about him?

The Lord has had me embedded for the last 11 years helping churches in one way or another. From this perspective, great churches cannot find the “Bills,” and the gap between preparation and “highly desired and hirable” is broadening. It’s getting worse, not better.

Finally, I don’t own this conversation; a consultant group doesn’t own it, and neither does higher education, seminaries, or a favorite residency program.  The Church owns it. It’s Hers. Sometimes she takes enough time to verbalize it, but mainly for the last few decades the Church has told us through whom she hires, fires, develops, and advances.

So if you are investing in 18 - 25-year-olds who are preparing for ministry, please keep investing. The innovation of how we prepare students cannot stop and if anything, needs to accelerate. And when we notice little wins, we need to share them with others who don’t understand why their version of a Christian college graduate cannot seem to find a ministry job.  I know “disruption” is a buzzword, but I encourage all of us in positions of influence to be as disruptive as possible on this topic. Those of us in influential positions around 18 - 25-year-olds must continue to serve them in such a way they can someday actually serve the Church by leading more effectively in ministry long-term.







Moving from Summer Internships to Residency

Moving from Summer Internships to Residency

(this is part one of a two part post)
When I began in ministry there was this thing that churches did called, “summer internships.” I started in ministry the year Bill Clinton began his first term. Many of you reading this are too young to remember Bill Clinton as President, and yet, churches are still doing summer internships.

Ways in which summer internships work:

- Cheap (yet questionable) labor
- Keeps the college student out of his parents’ basement

 Now, occasionally I’ll meet someone who is awesome and in his tenth year of ministry or something, and he’ll tell me that it worked for him. But looking more closely at the cause/effect, I would suspect that this person would have been great anyway. Did the 8-11 weeks working at that church actually help develop this individual?  I’d vote no.

We need to continue to find better ways to actually develop future leaders, and in so doing, I’d like to offer up reasons why summer internships no longer work:

 - Ministry Schedule. Summer is about camp, vacation, conferences, retreats, and some more vacation. A future leader never gets to the regular rhythm of meetings, ministry, and normal programming.

- Conflict Avoidance. Both the future leader and the supervisor are more likely to avoid difficult conversations that lead to development because, “she’s going to be gone in a few weeks.” This is probably the biggest issue. Future leaders need safe, healthy, and difficult conflict in order to grow and learn.

- Supervising. I’ve had countless Student Pastors tell me that they felt the “pressure to find something for him or her to do” every week. This is a bit tied to point one, but it puts ministry leaders (and especially youth pastors!) in a difficult spot because they tend to rely on a summer intern to help with camp. But what about the week after camp? This leads to busy work for both parties.

- Investment. Any of us can do anything for a short season. Go to Haiti for 3 weeks, exercise for two days, or be an intern for a summer.  However, when a future leader is going some place, and it’s going to be a one or two-year (even better) commitment, then it begins to feel a bit more like a tour of duty.  And we need more of that level of commitment by both parties.

So, if all you can do is summer internships, and that’s all the budget you have, then go for it.  But I’d consult you to reserve internships for people who are in-house to your church already. Consider changing it to be a leadership development next step to those with whom you are already working. Who knows, maybe an internship will open her eyes to vocational ministry. This would be a good thing, but we need something more to actually address the question of preparing the next leader.

We need thousands of churches embracing the developmental path of residency. We'll address how in the next post.





Athletics & Residency

Athletics & Residency

The NCAA and Gallup partnered together for a study that came to the conclusion that those who participate in competitive athletics generally do better in life than those who do not. 

Those of us who played sports certainly would agree.

Before you go there….YES, I played high school basketball at a very, very, very, small high school, although it was in the basketball-crazed state of Kentucky!

I learned a lot through my involvement in athletics, as did my children. Athletics can teach us endurance, discipline, playing through pain, leadership, and taking direction from an authority figure (sometimes a very loud authority figure!).

This is not a rant about the idolatry of athletics in America or the overindulgent parents living vicariously through their own kids. Nor am I here to dispute the findings of the study. I actually agree, and it makes total sense.

I am here to call us to consider applying just a little bit about what we know about athletic training to the development of our future church leaders.  Consider these six qualities we see in athletics:

1. Culture – It’s cool to be on the team. Teams have their our own lingo, handshakes, and their own nicknames for one other.

2. Exclusivity – Many try out, but only a certain number get selected.

3. Difficulty – Many quit during conditioning – the price is very high.

4. Belonging – If you do make the team, and the team is really good, it’s still a privilege to just sit on the bench. Just watch March Madness. Those guys belong.

5. Coaching – I’ve blogged on coaching before here. I recall my team despising our coach during conditioning, but in March, we overwhelmingly loved him. Continual evaluation, correction, and feedback are necessary.

6. Encouragement – High school gymnasiums, and huge arenas are filled to capacity with raving fans cheering their team on to victory. With this level of encouragement comes great accountability to succeed!

Something to Consider…
As I said earlier, I grew up in Kentucky, the home of the Big Blue Nation, Coach Cal, and the winningest team ever in Division I NCAA basketball. I would argue those dozen or so individuals should be some of the best humans on the planet after they grow up. We put millions of dollars into them, obsess over their every move, hold them to the highest level of accountability, and place them in an arena full of 24,000 people cheering them on to do their best!

Follow me around, and you’ll learn how to be a youth pastor is a mind set that is no longer effective; it would make about as much sense as a University of Kentucky basketball team with no leader, no budget, and no plan.

Developing a great athlete or team takes great intentionality. 

Kuddos to those who know it takes this same ingredient in developing a future church leader. 

Six Core Principles of Residency

Six Core Principles of Residency

I recently sat down with Andy Dykhouse for yet another cup off coffee in Omaha to pick his brain on what makes residency work well at some churches. Andy coaches youth pastors, is on the leadership team of the Youth Leader Network in Omaha, and oversees the residency program at Nebraska Christian College.

Here is the first half of our conversation:

Me: You and I have both seen churches begin residency programs in the last couple of years. Some do well, and some struggle. What do you think are two or three core elements a church must commit to doing in order to do residency well?

Andy: Residency is a hot topic. Churches are seeing this need to own the conversation in terms of leadership development. This is a good thing.

I tell churches often, though, that if they don’t have some simple things in place, they will struggle in developing an effective residency program. 

First, your lead pastor must champion residency in order for a residency program to be well worth the time, energy, and resources. This may be an obvious statement, but reality is that a resident is going to cost more than the cash he is paid. There will be times, too, when a staff member is moving more slowly on a project or an action item, because he or she is in a coaching moment with a resident. A lead pastor (or an executive pastor, if one’s in place) has to be committed to this.  They have to see that this is an investment in that student. Will the church get pay off? Maybe. Maybe not.

Me: What happens when this is not in place?

Andy: Well, if a church doesn’t begin with endorsement from senior leadership, getting to the next level is nearly impossible. It’s essential to move forward with the second core principle, which is you want more for them than from them.

Me: This isn’t just cheap labor.

Andy: Absolutely! When churches can’t afford a “real worship leader” but instead want to sign up for residency, I have to lovingly tell them that what they actually need is either a high capacity volunteer or a part-time employee.  There is a huge difference between a developmental process –- a residency. And an opportunity.

Thirdly, this one gets a little controversial at times for me, but your church must be healthy. A healthy church is one that has meaningful evangelism, discipleship, and good staff relationships all in place.

Me: Will residents see best practices at healthy churches?

Andy: Exactly. They have to begin some place in their ministry lives with a church that is doing this. We want to start them on the right footing. This leads to a better shot at longevity in ministry.  Where you start in ministry matters. 

Read the 2nd Half of this conversation here.

Six Core Principles of Residency (part two)

Six Core Principles of Residency (part two)

This is part two of a conversation with Andy Dykhouse from Nebraska Christian College on six core principles of residency at a local church.

Andy: The fourth marker I’m looking for at a residency location is a commitment from the actual staff supervisor. Can this ministry leader develop a resident? If he has never done it, then I need to know if he or she is committed to leaning in for coaching and conversations.

Me: “Just follow me around, and you’ll get it,” doesn’t work anymore.

Andy: Correct. It’s not 1978, right? This is complex. Most of the students I’m pushing on are just juniors or seniors in college. We are accelerating their experiences. So there has to be some willingness there, and this brings me to number five—a commitment for a weekly one-on-one.

For staff members who’ve never had a resident or managed paid staff, a weekly one-on-one sounds easy, until you do it. We ask for an hour of developmental conversations weekly.

Me: Beyond the work.

Andy: Correct. Beyond evaluation of events, to-do lists, what’s coming up next week, etc. This is about that student—character issues, work issues, competency learning and coaching. It’s not easy, and it takes solid commitment.

Finally, the sixth element I’m looking for is for some sort of compensation and housing. Churches are all over the map on this one, but there has to be something there that demonstrates value.  The housing piece is tricky. So far, it’s all worked out and students wind up in good places with supportive families who view this similarly to having an exchange student living with them.  This becomes another coaching opportunity and growth edge for the resident, the staff member, and even the family.

Me: Hey, where you going? Am I buying again?

Andy: Umm...yeh I forgot my wallet again.

Two Powerful Questions to Ask Your Boss

Two Powerful Questions to Ask Your Boss

I was recently asked to come present to one of my favorite church staffs in the city where I live. I could talk on any topic and I had 30 minutes.  This is a multi-layered staff with many in their first ministry. There are also several who are in their first management/leadership role.

Hmmm…what should I have heard if I had been listening when I was first beginning on a church staff?

Well one complaint I’ve heard recently from other young leaders is that they just “don’t have a supervisor who is a developer.”  So I thought I’d take a crack at that and I presented two questions they needed to ask their boss.

1. “What are my gaps?”

Draw a continuum with two points. Point one is “where you are now” and at the other end of the line is the point “where you want to be” in a particular amount of time.  Maybe it’s the job offer after the residency is completed, or maybe it’s the move up to the next level of responsibility. 

Of course, be prepared to hear the tough stuff, and then go act on it! Your development is on you. No matter what it is, ask the boss what she needs to see from you to be able to achieve this.

After you get a short list of action items, then pause and ask....

2. “What are you not telling me?”

I firmly believe that most of us want to be liked. Especially in the local church leadership circle, and even more so when we are first beginning in overseeing staff. I remember it was really hard to say the thing that was going to sting or hurt someone I was leading even if it was for this person’s good. 

How many one-on-ones did I spend trying to say something and failing to do so? Those of us who are pastoral-leaders will especially struggle. So in recent years I’ve been coaching residents, and those new in ministry, to ask their supervisor this question at the end of a good one on one meeting (please choose a good day!).



Pipelines and Pathways

Pipelines and Pathways

Much is being written and talked about concerning pipelines in church leadership circles. I hear it in my staffing consulting work from senior leaders, “One of the things we need is someone who could join our team and build pipelines of leaders for the future.”  I see it tweeted, posted, pinned,  I talk about it often, and there was even an entire conference recently about the topic of Pipelines.

Yet the words of a friend who has spent much of their adult life working with college students, and is now an Executive Pastor at a large church out east, keep ringing in my mind. At a recent strategy meeting he said:

“The next generation isn’t looking for a pipe to slide through.
They are looking for a path on which to start a journey”

So convicting. Who wants to be someone else’s commodity?

Three ways a journey into ministry is like a path…

1. We need a guide. We need someone who has walked this path before, and knows how to navigate it. They know where the great views are, and they know where the fallen tree is we can sit down on to rest. They’ve taken others down this path, and while some have turned back in years past, no one has ever died (not yet anyway).

2. It’s hard work the first time. For those of us who are not avid hikers, the first time out on a trail with an experienced person will take your breath away (and I’m not talking about just the views!). Paths get steep, the soil gets loose, and we have to work harder than we thought.

3. It’s a path for a good reason. What sometimes looks like a short cut to the newbie, winds up being a dead end. Many have come through here before and that’s why this path is worn, and its obvious. A great guide will make sure you stay on the path. Just walking the path is hard enough.

A pipeline implies that there’s pressure, and we are all moving at the same speed (hopefully fast). Reality in leadership development is that no one size fits all, and there’s very little that is predictable in the development of the skills that really matter.

While the path is the same tried and true, the time it takes to get to the destination will vary.