Pastor Steve (not real name) felt baffled. After ministering just over a year at his new church, things seemed to be slowly unraveling. He and his family had been excited to accept this call; the move and early transition had gone smoothly. And at first, the ministry seemed to be thriving, too.
But with several months as lead pastor under his belt, Steve had a growing list of small problems that just didn’t add up. Volunteer turnover across ministry areas was increasing. A revolving door of disgruntled children’s workers didn’t seem to view the ministry as worthwhile anymore; whispered gossip from the worship team kept rising to the surface, indicating hurting members without a clear complaint or source.
Now that Steve had the lay of the land, he was determined to get to the bottom of these problems. He invested time meeting with ministry leaders one on one to understand the underlying problems—which resulted in Steve feeling more confused than ever. All the complaints felt petty and surface level, nothing worth disabling discipleship and evangelism over.
Yet that is exactly what was happening. The seemingly petty complaints had evolved into a more serious problem that was difficult to identity. What was going wrong?
Scenarios like these—nothing major out of place, yet minor trouble and petty complaints brewing all around—can point to an alignment issue. In a church, misalignment simply means that you as pastor are pointing in a slightly different direction than your staff, leaders, or volunteers—possibly even your congregation—and you haven’t had the discussions, listening sessions, feedback opportunities, and vision setting necessary to get everyone enthusiastically pointed in the same direction.
It’s highly likely you’ve experienced something similar, or will sometime during your ministry. When you do, it’s worth investing the time to figure things out and get back into alignment; even a degree or two off-center will eventually create pain and damage to your ministry.
Have you tried driving a car that was out of alignment? One wheel or axle may be just slightly off; it’s a small problem, really. But no matter how persistently you keep your hands on the wheel, the vehicle veers to the right or the left. This real-time annoyance isn’t the only danger: over the course of months the wheels and brakes will wear unevenly, the steering and suspension systems will suffer. The entire car works less efficiently when it is out of alignment—and will begin to break down over time.
You simply cannot go very far if you have an alignment issue.
Something similar happens in organizations—including churches. If key leaders in the church or even volunteers are out of sync with the vision and culture you wish to create, this will create daily annoyances that build over time. And like a car, this won’t just impact the daily drive; misalignment will bring wear and tear to every department, partner, and volunteer. Ultimately even the congregation you’re serving will feel the impact.
It took months of digging, building trust, and listening before Pastor Steve discovered the first real clue: he had chosen and rolled out some of the programs and curriculums without fully getting buy-in from the primary ministry partners in the church. Yes, the children’s programming was state-of-the-art, easy to use for the volunteers, and affordable—but the directors had not been part of the decision or felt that their voices were heard. As a result, their ongoing discouragement and disempowerment sent a louder message to the volunteers and families involved than the programming itself. The otherwise good and exciting new ministries couldn’t get off the ground, simply because the relational process of alignment was not prioritized.
Changes had been mishandled in other ministry areas as well, and the feelings of mistrust and disrespect had ample room to thrive. New ideas generated more suspicion than energy or enthusiasm. The growing attitude of “Forget it, we have no say here” began to undermine the mission of evangelism and discipleship throughout the church.
Disgruntlement spread from person to person like a virus. An air of distrust could be felt throughout the church—though few could name exactly why everyone was unhappy or what could be done about it. Even the congregation in the pews could feel it and began to consider attending elsewhere.
What Pastor Steve began to realize was that the seemingly petty complaints pointed to a bigger problem below the surface: a misalignment between his leadership and key staff that was spreading across the organization.
If this sounds familiar to you, it’s likely you have a similar misalignment in your church or workplace. I invite you to click the link below and download our free e-book that will help you ask the right questions to find out if you have an alignment issue in your church.
Reach out to Robert Wachter, global marketing director with Best Christian Workplaces, for more information about our employee engagement survey. Schedule a meeting today.