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Creating a climate for growth

By Steve R. Mills

An often overlooked key to growth in the church and Sunday school is the climate, environment, or morale that encourages and perpetuates growth. What can a leader do to create a climate for growth in the church and Sunday school? Leaders create a climate for growth when they build people and not just manage programs. There are at least seven ways that a leader can become a people builder and thus create a climate for growth in the church and Sunday school.

Believe and trust people

What basic assumptions about people do you hold? Do you believe they are basically lazy, noncommitted, irresponsible, and merely resources you use to accomplish your goals?

We may argue we do not hold people in such low esteem, but what do our actions state? We build people when we believe:

  1. They will do what makes sense to them.
  2. They want to make a difference.
  3. They don't want to fail.
  4. They want to grow personally and spiritually.
  5. They need and respond to encouragement and appreciation.

Growth Climate Activity:
List the people under your leadership and ask yourself honestly how you feel about each person. You may find that you see the person in a negative not a positive light if your thoughts about the person are: "He's always trying to undermine everything," or, "She's hopeless and will never change," or, "She doesn't commit to anything," or, "He's lazy and doesn't care about his responsibilities."

Begin to change your assumptions about people. Believe in them. Trust them. They may be lacking in some areas, but if you will show that you believe in them you'll be building a climate for growth.

Understand people's personality needs

You build people when you understand their personality and needs, strengths and weaknesses. Florence Littauer in her book, Personality Plus, discusses four types of people.

The sanguine is an outgoing, people-oriented person. You can influence him or her by giving incentives and testimonials. Sanguines are supportive when they have a part in the dreams and plans of the group.

The choleric is an outgoing, task-oriented person. Be efficient as a leader, and give these people options and probabilities to influence them when working together. They are supportive when they are given choices and allowed to make decisions.

The melancholy is an introverted task-oriented person. As a leader you need to be correct, decisive, and organized. Give data and facts to influence melancholy persons when working together. They support when they have facts and logic.

The phlegmatic is an introverted people-oriented person. As a leader you need to be sincere and give assurances and support to influence the phlegmatic personalities when working together. They are supportive when people and emotions are valued.

Growth Climate Activity:
Identify and write down three strengths for each person on your staff. Discover each one's three major personal goals and the obstacles he or she faces in accomplishing these goals. What are this person's fears? What are his or her dreams? What could this person become if he or she really had unlimited opportunity? How can you help this person become everything that God created him or her to be?

Invest in people's spiritual growth and development

This means regularly and fervently praying for them. Lift them up like Hur and Aaron lifted up Moses' arms in the battle. Not only are they part of your team, you are a part of their team.

Each person has a unique God-given purpose with God-given abilities and talents to accomplish it. As a leader you build people when you help them to discover, develop, and use their God-given abilities for His glory.

You invest in people when you give your best to them. This means being a living example and model of spiritual discipline, spiritual growth, and balanced living before them. Are you growing spiritually? What has God been doing in your life in the last month? Are you developing your skills as a leader or are you in a rut?

John Maxwell has written, "A person must soon forget himself to be long remembered. He must empty himself in order to discover a fuller self. He must lose himself to find himself. Forget yourself into greatness. Empty yourself into adventure. Lose yourself into immortality."

Growth Climate Activity:
Inspire your people to dream big and envision what God has created them to become. Challenge them never to allow good to rob them of the best. Ask each one this question, "If you had anything you wanted----unlimited time, money, information, all the resources you could ask for----what would you do?" Each person's response is his or her dream. Then ask yourself what you can do to help them accomplish it.

Listen carefully and compassionately to them

Leaders have a passionate heart and want to understand the struggles, frustration, and hurts of those they serve. Robert Greenleaf in "Servant Leadership" expresses the power of and need for listening.

"True listening builds strength in other people....The best test of whether we are communicating at this depth is to ask ourselves first: Are we really listening to the one we want to talk to? Is our basic attitude as we approach the confrontation one of wanting to understand?"

Growth Climate Activity:
Ask yourself these questions to check your listening attitude. Do I like to listen? Do I encourage other people to talk? Do I listen even if I do not like the person talking? Do I listen equally well whether the person is a man or woman, boy or girl?

Now check you listening action. Do I look at the person who is talking? Do I smile and respond to the person who is talking? Do I really think about and hear what the person is saying? Do I interrupt or dominate the conversation? Would people say that I am a good listener?

Remember the great line from the prayer of St. Francis, "O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be understood as to understand."

Develop people's skills and ministry

The tendency is to invest in a program rather than in people. We work at getting the ministry to run smoothly and efficiently when we really need to focus our time and resources on equipping and helping the people who minister. Programs will rise and fall, but any investment in people will last for eternity. Programs only produce; people reproduce. Don't concentrate on making your program the best it can be. Invest in people so they can be everything they can be and your program naturally will be the best it can be.

Growth Climate Activity:
As a leader you build people by helping them develop their skills and ministry. You can do this by providing training. Subscribe to the Christian Education Counselor as a monthly resource for them. Take them to Sunday school conventions. Do an annual training course for them.

The leader who helps those he serves to develop their skills and ministry will have far greater influence than the leader who does not. Focus your efforts upon key leaders to train, equip, and help them develop their skills and ministry. Like Jesus with the disciples, pour yourself into them. They in turn will be better equipped to minister to others.

Encourage people regularly and intentionally

It is rough in the trenches. People need to be encouraged. In his book, Feeding and Leading, Kenneth Gangel lists 10 reasons why lay leaders get discouraged and leave their ministry posts:

  1. Because willing people become overworked and burned out.
  2. Because volunteers don't receive much-needed help.
  3. Because lay people have personal and spiritual needs of their own which aren't being met in the framework of their ministries.
  4. Because we do not adequately show appreciation.
  5. Because they have not been provided proper equipment and materials.
  6. Because they have not been trained adequately for the ministries they have been asked to carry out.
  7. Because friction has developed between or among workers in a given ministry area.
  8. Because they have lost interest, enthusiasm, and commitment for the ministry.
  9. Because supervision is inadequate or perhaps even abrasive.
  10. Because evaluation has not been carried out or results have not been identified as a positive thrust for ministry improvement.

Growth Climate Activity:
The following list of questions will help you evaluate yourself in this area:

  1. Have I written a personal note of appreciation to a staff member this week?
  2. Have I discussed a personal problem with a staff member?
  3. Have I had lunch or another meal with a member of my staff?
  4. Am I aware of my staff member's problems and do I help where I can?
  5. Do I usually remember people's birthdays?
  6. Do I know how long each person has served in his or her area of ministry and recognize the anniversary date with a card or other form of appreciation?
  7. Do I discuss personal performances with each of my staff members at least once a year?
  8. Have I thought about and identified goals for the personal growth of those I serve as a leader?
  9. Do I pray regularly for my staff members?

Take action to work on areas in which you may be weak.

Recognize people's worth and contribution

Sydney J. Harris says, People want to be appreciated, not impressed. They want to be regarded as human beings, not as sounding boards for other people's egos. They want to be treated as an end in themselves, not as a means toward the gratification of another."

Public recognition goes a long way in building morale. Plaques, certificates, and regular statements of appreciation all help people to know and feel that they are invaluable to the church and ministry.

Growth Climate Activity:
Any time you appreciate something it increases in value. Plan to honor the people you serve publicly. Build the ministry they are in and recognize their service. Appreciation will elevate the morale of your workers and help to create a growth climate in your church and Sunday school.

By giving serious thought and taking intentional action we can elevate the morale and create a climate for growth. Be a people builder, and you will create a climate for healthy growth to occur in your church and Sunday school.

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