Led by the Spirit or Just Bad Business?

3dIt goes without saying that churches and ministries should plan well, yet hold loosely to those plans so they can depend more fully on the leading of the Holy Spirit. But we need to ensure we really are depending on His leading and not blaming God for poor planning, insensitive management, and just plain sloppy business practices.

God gets blamed for a lot of stuff He doesn’t do. You might expect that from people who don’t know Him, but it gets a little stranger when people who do know Him—including ministry leaders—blame Him for some of their own questionable decisions.

Personally, I am not of the mindset that God would never lead you to do something outside of best business practice. He is God and He does what He pleases. The Bible is filled with examples of God asking people to do some very strange things. As much as I believe it is critical for organizations to have solid, consistently enforceable policies and sound practices in place, I value the leading of the Holy Spirit far above these things. Principles are essential, but His Presence is more essential.

However, just as the Spirit of God would never lead you to do something immoral or that is clearly spoken against in Scripture, the Holy Spirit will also not “lead” you into organizational decisions that are unethical or that serve only to demean and demoralize your staff.

Hopefully, things that extreme do not happen too often in a ministry setting, but what does happen an awful lot are a whole lot of questionable decisions in the gray zone. These are the decisions where it is possible that God could have led in a particular way, but equally possible it was just poor management. When similar types of decisions happen consistently and the result is your staff being thrown into a frenzied state of chaos on a regular basis, the issue may be more on the part of the decision maker and less on the part of God.

Here are two contrasting examples:

Example 1:

Church A is launching a new youth ministry and they arrange a kick off concert with a popular local Christian band. All the arrangements are in place. Flyers and social media blasts have been sent out and all seems to be moving forward relatively smoothly. The staff has worked hard and they feel prepared.

Less than a week before the event, they get a call from a local Christian radio station wanting to promote the event. The staff get together to pray and agree together that this is the favor of God, so they welcome the station’s offer. In doing so, they realize they may end up with a bigger crowd than they originally bargained for, but since these kids desperately need Jesus, they want to reach as many as possible.

Within twenty-four hours of the station’s first mention of the event, the church is bombarded with requests for information. It becomes clear that the church sanctuary will not be large enough to host the event. This leaves them with two choices: pull the ads on the station and turn away any overflow for the event or keep promoting the event but look for a new, larger location.

It is now only a few days before the event. Changing the venue is “doable” but will require tons of extra leg work. The pastor believes God is behind the huge interest in the event, but since the bulk of the work in making the change will fall on his staff, he allows them to make the final decision.

All the staff are in agreement, and they move forward with the location change. It involves significant logistical gymnastics and a lot of hard work on the part of a lot of people, but with God’s help they pull it off and the event exceeds everyone’s expectations. Although all of the staff were physically tired after the event, they were also pumped up and amazingly energized after seeing God move in such a wonderful way.

Example 2:

Church Z is holding their annual VBS. The children’s director and her staff have settled on a theme that is approved by the head pastor. Z is a large church and hundreds of kids are expected, so arrangements begin months in advance.

Less than a month before the scheduled start date, the head pastor meets with the children’s director and says he has a “check” about this year’s theme. He shares a few reasons and then informs her that the Lord has shown him what the theme should be instead. The children’s director does not feel excited about the new theme and tries to share this with the pastor. She also explains the amount of work that has already gone into preparations and how difficult it will be for her and her staff to get all the necessary changes done in time. The pastor smiles and tells her that he has the utmost confidence in her abilities and knows she’ll manage with the Lord’s help. He tells her he will be praying for her and ends the meeting. This is the third time the pastor has made significant changes to the details of an event already in process in less than a year.

The children’s director and her staff work around the clock and manage to pull off a great VBS in spite of the changes, but it takes a toll on the staff and two employees resign shortly afterwards.

Both of these examples are reasonable representations of types of situations that occur with some regularity. I’m sure many will relate to having been thrust into the adrenaline rush of the first scenario. It’s both faith building and terrifying when God hijacks your plans and does something above and beyond anything you could have possibly hoped or imagined. It’s not at all convenient to follow Him into these types of adventures but so rewarding. While some staff may grumble about the extra work involved in such an endeavor, most will see the hand of God and willingly follow. In this case, the pastor was wise to get buy in from those who would be impacted before saying yes.

The second scenario is not quite so positive and exciting. I slanted the details to make a point, but sadly, I have personally been involved in several situations that were similar to the one I’ve described. Did the pastor hear God? Maybe. Who can say but him and the Lord? While he may have sincerely believed the changes he implemented were important and led by the Holy Spirit, his insensitivity to those profoundly impacted by his decision certainly indicate, at a minimum, a lack of compassion and effective leadership.

No matter how convinced we are that the Holy Spirit is leading, we can always do better than throwing our staff under the bus. God may lead us into some strange, unexpected, and even incredibly inconvenient adventures, but I believe He calls us into those adventures in partnership with our staff, rather than at their expense.

The post above is a slightly edited excerpt from Chapter 4: “Spiritualized Dysfunction” from my book HR Matters.  Click HERE to get your copy today!

Excellence, Not Perfection

Here is another brief excerpt from the first chapter of HR Matters that continues on with the theme of what it means to be “above reproach” as an employer:

Publication3To meet any goal, the goal itself needs to be clearly understood and defined. In light of this, what do we really mean when we use the expression “above reproach”? By definition, being above reproach means to be perfect and blameless. No one other that Jesus ever lived a life that was perfect and blameless, so certainly that can’t be the expectation for either our employees or ourselves! Instead, when considering 1 Timothy 3:1-13, I think what we are trying to say is that the expectation is for excellence of character—in both word and deed.

With this definition in mind, what does it mean to commit to excellence as an employer? As noted earlier, at a minimum, it must include a commitment to discovering and complying with the regulations and laws relevant to your organization (see Romans 13:1-7 for one example of our biblical mandate in this regard), but that is only the beginning. The dictionary defines excellence as “the quality of being outstanding or extremely good.”  Considering this definition, meeting the letter of the law does not even begin to demonstrate excellence since you are merely doing what is fundamentally required. Instead, for the Christian employer, I believe excellence is an inside job that begins when the leadership of an organization consciously regards all of its practices—not just the ones that are directly specific to your mission or finances—as being “unto the Lord.”

This would include:

  • Your hiring decisions
  • Your compensation practices
  • Your policies and procedures
  • The way you treat your staff
  • The way you practice what you preach
  • The openness and honesty of your communication
  • The way you consistently apply standards

Jesus doesn’t expect perfection from us as His followers, and He doesn’t expect it from us as employers. He understands our fallibility and weaknesses. He knows we’re not capable of perfection. But He does desire our best because that is what excellence looks like.

I believe that’s what your staff is looking for as well. They don’t expect perfection, but they do want to see a genuine effort demonstrated toward excellence. For most employees, this translates as consistency between your organization’s stated values and your actions—especially actions that affect their employment.

Again, no one does this perfectly. Most employees are capable of extending tons of grace if you display ownership, honesty, and humility when mistakes and inconsistencies inevitably occur. On the flip side, if you turn a blind eye toward the fact that inconsistencies are occurring (and believe me, they occur everywhere), your employees are not likely to be so gracious on an ongoing basis. While they may choose to continue forgiving even if things are never acknowledged or recognized, most won’t continue to subject themselves to an unhealthy environment indefinitely (nor should they!). When there is an ongoing failure to recognize and acknowledge where improvement is needed, it negatively impacts your staff and diminishes the overall witness and effectiveness of your organization. Even worse, it can keep your organization from fulfilling its highest potential.

The simple truth is that being above reproach as an employer—or even more accurately, demonstrating excellence—is an intentional choice. You will not wander into it by chance. You will never “find the time” to figure it out. You need to make the time and commit to investing in the process. It is not likely to happen unless you are willing to see and take ownership for the mixed messages some of your current practices may be sending to your staff and those in your sphere of influence. I believe this anonymous quote sums it up well:

Excellence is never accidental; it is the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, skillful execution, and the wisdom to see obstacles as opportunities.

There are easier paths, but if you are committed to excellence before God in all areas—including your employment practices—then allow the challenges to become opportunities that compel you to press on for His highest. Press on, and keep pressing on, until you can say in your heart that you know that you know—you are above reproach as an employer!


The whole first chapter of HR Matters is available to read online using the free “previewer” on Amazon. You can also purchase the whole book (either paperback or kindle) here.