categories: swerve lab
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April 18th, 2008

by Bobby Gruenewald

10 comments (+ Add)

swerve lab: Leading Up

Thanks to everybody who continues to respond and help those who have submitted questions to the swerve lab. If you have a question that you would like for the readers of this blog to respond to, please send it to and put “Swerve Lab” in the subject line.

This week’s question comes from an anonymous writer…

How about some practical tips for “leading up” and even surviving as your leadership is going through what is clearly a tough season.  What strategies work when your senior leadership has pretty well checked out?  I don’t think it’s time to leave, just yet.  But how do you stay on track, stay supportive, and not go nuts in this situation?

What’s your advice?

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  1. Apr 18, 2008 at 9:39 am

    I sort of know what you are going through. My situation has been tough for the past couple of years because the leadership above me didn’t seem to have a desire to do certain things that needed to be done. It’s been a rough couple of years but thankfully its getting better! Here are some things I’ve learned through trial and error:

    1) Pray.

    2) Be open and honest. I hope that the situation you are in allows this but you’ve got to be open with the leader. One of the biggest things I saw was when people thought the leadership was “checking out” but they didn’t have the guts to say anything. You’ve got to be willing to help them see areas that they need to improve on. This also means you’ve got to be humble enough to listen when they give you advice.

    3) Tackle the key opportunities. If your leadership sees you doing something that is outside of your job description it should help them realize that its their job to be doing that. As much as I hate to say this but they won’t want to be shown up by someone underneath them. They will step up and join the game. You’ve got to find what opportunties will work for this and what ones are too far outside your boundaries. Don’t do too much!

  2. Apr 18, 2008 at 10:05 am

    I was in a situation prior to my current church where I was having to do a lot of leading up. The Senior pastor hadn’t checked out, rather was just incompetent. I used the principles from John Maxwell’s book “The 360 Degree Leader.” I highly recommend it.

    My biggest piece of advice is to only lead up as much as your influence with the leader above you will allow. As soon as you step outside of that influence it becomes personal and offensive. So lead up as much as you can, but do it with caution.

  3. Apr 18, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    One of the most important things that I think we have to remember when we are not sitting in the senior leader’s chair is that even senior leaders don’t always have it all together. Sometimes they need a break. Sometimes they are not doing well and aren’t leading effectively.

    It’s important as followers of that leader and yet leaders of others that you recognize the importance of your influence. If you get frustrated and shut down as well, you create a chain reaction that can ultimately infiltrate the entire organization. You have to define what you can do and then do that to the best of your ability rather than focusing on what is not getting done.

    Obviously you need to be praying for the leader(s) and seeking God’s direction for what you can do and how you can help them get through this season.

  4. 4Craig Sloan
    Apr 18, 2008 at 12:08 pm

    When you are under a leader that is not growing, learning, and moving forward.

    * Pray for him that God would awaken him to the greatness of God in him, that he would experience a personal revival.

    * Don’t speak negatively of him to those under you, cover him in prayer and encourage him. It is never your responsibility to expose, correct, or judge him.

    * If you don’t feel a connection to your senior leader and you feel that your own personal destiny is at stake, pray to see if it is time to move on.

    * If you can’t rally around your leader it is time to move on. If you can’t honor and celebrate your leader it is time to move on. If your heart is not for him it is time to move on.

    * I understand what it is like to be connected to a leader that you just don’t fit with. If you can’t be a blessing to your leader and you know that you are in the wrong place leave. Neither of you are bad people, it is just not the right place.

    * When you leave, leave! Some leave and continue to speak to members of the previous church. Touch not God’s annointed.

    * Seek outside counsel. There is safety in the multitude of councel.

  5. 5Dwight Weber
    Apr 18, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    Woo, Craig Sloan’s suggestions are right on target. I have served as both the Senior Leader as well as an Associate and based on my experience I can’t add anything to what Craig has said. There is nothing more destructive to a church and the kingdom that staff that can not submit biblically to Senior leadership. A book that has been a help to me in this same situation is the book “Tale of Three Kings” by Gene Edwards published by Tyndale House.

  6. Apr 18, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    Great stuff. We’re right in the middle of this type of situation. Because we’re with a mission agency it’s a little harder to “move on” but we’re in that process. It’ll be about 2 years until we can make a transition but in the meantime…
    We’ll honor our leadership.
    Avoid speaking ill of them.
    Pray for them.
    Continue to live, serve and lead like we would like to be led.
    Stay focused on our work and our people.

    It’s hard because the environment is hostile and threatening but Jesus said we would share in His sufferings…He dealt with the same kind of junk….so we’re in good company.

  7. Apr 19, 2008 at 12:32 am

    While I generally concur with everything that has been said to this point, as a senior pastor who understands something about checking out, let me offer a few suggestions for what I would want from my staff if one of those seasons ever returned for me:

    1. Maintain a trustworthy relationship and character. Talk to him about the problems, talk to others about solutions. But never be something to the “public” you aren’t to your senior leadership.

    2. Clearly define your loyalties. First to Christ, then to the well-being of the church/ministry. Burned out pastors are notoriously insecure. Pour yourself into the success of the church’s witness to Christ WITHOUT appearing to undermine his success.

    3. Look for ways to help, and be clear about your intention to do so.

    4. Love him. Anybody can criticize.

    5. Be a solution, not a problem. If he is checked out, he may or may not realize it. And there are myriads of possible causes. Regardless of that, either by decisive action (careful there), encouraging words, personal service, or thoughtful behind-the-scenes detail work, help deliever solutions to the church.

    6. Pray. Pray specifically that his vision returns or that he leaves.

    7. LABOR to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

  8. 8Daniel Harding
    Apr 19, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    #1 Don’t make comments on a blog about your innadequate senior leadership with your name and surname at the top :)

  9. Apr 21, 2008 at 8:09 am

    Check out Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson’s book - Leading from the Second Chair -

  10. Apr 25, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Greg, I actually had Roger Patterson conduct a seminar at our church and collaborated with Roger for my dissertation. They definitely have some insights and have developed somewhat of an online community for ideas and support.