Behind every church door are passionate men and women living out their call to build the local church. Some thrive under their leadership umbrella while others perform their duties in silent fear. From believing their contribution or input isn’t valued to wondering if the smallest mistake will lead to termination, many simply don’t feel safe. When employees don’t feel safe, it overflows into the culture and the church.
Simon Sinek, in his book Leaders Eat Last, explains the importance of creating a circle of safety. In essence, leaders have a commitment to protect their people. To draw a circle around their team and sacrifice themselves for the safety of the group.
The reality is, leaders are often focused on the dangers outside the circle and as a result, those under their care suffer. So much energy is cast beyond the perimeter that within, employees feel unsafe and productivity takes a hit.
According to Sinek, “When staff members do not feel safe at work, the ones who suffer the most are customer and company.” When the staff feels unsafe, the church will feel it.
As a pastor, you are responsible for the care of many and its no easy task. There’s no doubt that everyone in your church is important and your role as a pastor is to lead all well. However, sometimes too much focus is given to those sitting in the seats and the staff is overlooked. Volunteers’ opinions, attendee’s complaints, and outside threats become more important than the team. A staff member is cast into a negative light and fear sets in as the leader fails to protect them. That fear becomes an anchor to their worth.
You must protect your team. Certainly, those who attend your church are very important, but your team should be a priority. Here’s why. If you care for your staff and make them feel safe, they will then feel confident and empowered to do their job. Which only serves the church body well and edifies the church. You can’t do all things and care for all people, but if you create a safe environment for your team, they will feel empowered to use their gifts to collectively cover all aspects of the ministry and care for the people well. It serves the entire church when you pour into your team effectively.
In addition, Sinek said, “Real leaders are the very few willing to sacrifice themselves for their people. When they do, we will do anything to see that our leader’s visions are advanced.” If you will make your team feel valued and safe, then they will advance the mission with purpose and passion.
For a biblical example, you need not look long to find leaders who carried this leadership spirit. They were often the shepherds.
Abraham, Moses, and David all cared for a flock before leading people. It was in the task of looking after a flock–a literal circle of safety–they learned how to lead well. Obviously, God saw value in the shepherd’s role.
Even Jesus was referred to as the Good Shepherd more than once.
Here’s how shepherds led. They often went first. Placed themselves in danger for the safety of the flock. Found good pasture for the flock to abide in. Searched out the wandering and brought them back into the fold.
Very practically, a leader who creates a circle of safety goes first, leading by example. A leader places themselves between the flock and danger–ensuring the inner circle is protected. A leader cultivates a safe pasture, or culture, for their team to flourish in. And if a team member is struggling, a leader will find a way to help that person grow instead of casting them outside the circle.
You will likely have various levels, or circles, drawn within your church. But the inner circle–your team–should be of high importance to you. Remember, if they feel safe then it will have a ripple effect in the church that fosters love and unity.
According to research published by the Harvard Business Review, making sure that people feel safe on a deep level should be job #1 for leaders. Is it your priority? If so, how can you help nurture the same spirit among your staff so that they are drawing circles of safety around their teams? If not, in what practical ways can you start cultivating such safety? Here are 6 things you can start doing today to begin the journey.
- Set the tone. Sit down and give words to the kind of culture you would like to cultivate in your church. Defining a vision will lay a crucial foundation that everything else you do beyond will build upon.
- Draw the circle. Identify those who are on your team and make a commitment to look after them. Resolve to lead and care for them well. It might prove valuable for you to take some time to define their gifts and acknowledge their contribution to the team. This practice should cultivate gratitude for your team members and lend to your desire to create a safe environment for them to thrive in.
- Cultivate Trust. People follow those they trust. The tribe supports the leader because the leader is willing to stand in the gap and defend his or her people. They put the team first. When people believe their leader will go to bat for them and have their back, they will go above and beyond to advance the cause.
- Provide Coaching. We all go through difficult times. We all fail to do a job perfectly. If your staff feels like even the smallest mistake will lead to termination, that’s an unsafe environment. As a body, we must come around the members and provide care. As a leader, you’re in a unique position to coach that person and it must be done in love. Jesus didn’t kick disciples out of his inner circle. Time and again he exemplified leadership that was patient and understanding. If one failed, he would lovingly instruct. He saw who they could be and inspired each to walk in that calling.
- Build Up. Too often, we are quick to criticize and slow to appreciate. One of the number one ways you can extend safety to your team is by appreciating them. Express your gratitude for people and recognize a job well done. If you’re not affirming ideas (good or bad), or worse, undermining them with comments like “good luck getting everyone on board,” you undermine a trust culture that actually encourages people to stop providing input. This leads them to fear to express their thoughts, discourages them from contributing, and ultimately, slows accomplishing missional objectives.
- Inspire Creativity. Encourage your team to share ideas, test new ministries, and contribute their thoughts. Of course, as long as it aligns with the mission. But too often an idea has been shot down and someone lost the confidence to be creative and add value in new ways. Cultivating an environment that encourages creativity is a powerful way to show that there is a circle of safety to thrive in.
As a leader, you have a lot on your plate. There are seasons when it’s hard to cover all the bases. In fact, you can’t–and shouldn’t try to–make everyone happy. However, there is something incredibly special and valuable about a leader who will cultivate a culture where their team feels safe. If you can do this, it will overflow into the church and be felt further than your reach ever could have gone.