What I am not saying is that these 8 years have been easy. I just painted a beautiful picture of fulfilled dreams and celebration, but when an organization grows as rapidly as NLC has, there are a lot of growing pains that accompany that story. They are the things you rarely talk about and the things you would never post on social media. As NLC has grown, the skills required to keep the organization have grown dramatically. The type of people you look to hire changes drastically. The measures of success are not the same. I want to quickly share with you a little bit of what I have learned about growing with a growing organization.
Stage One: People Who Do Things
In the early days of a church or any organization, you need to find people who can simply accomplish anything. If someone has a skill, you take them. They don’t have to be the best, they just have to be willing. When my wife and I moved here, that was us. We didn’t have kids and we could live on the cheap and work a lot, so we were welcomed with open arms. It’s not that we were not good at anything, it’s just that even if we weren’t it wouldn’t have mattered. The biggest struggle of this stage is sheer exhaustion. This is a stage crammed with hard work, endless hours, and always more to do, with few of the typical “rewards” found in praise, growth, or income. But the beauty of this stage is the incredible camaraderie found in shared sweat and tears. Those endless hours can form bonds that are hard to break.
Stage Two: People Who Do Things Well
These bonds make the next couple of stages increasingly difficult. As a church begins to grow, roles have to become more defined and the standards of what is acceptable begin to change. As NLC grew, excellence began to matter a lot more. An ability to not simply do, but to do well, became increasingly important. There was more to do for more people, but the resources and manpower still had not caught up, so I had to become both better and more efficient in my work. The hardest part of this season was discovering that not everyone could make this shift in mindset. In many ministries, the friendships outweigh the performance standards, and the result is that growth stagnates. Pastor Josh and our team had to make some hard choices in this season with people who based on effort absolutely deserved a place on the team, but based on performance could not keep up with the growth and skills required for the next season.
Stage Three: People Who Can Lead Others to do Things Well
This is another spot where many churches get stuck. For most of our childhood, we are valued for accomplishment (at least in America). You get good grades because you study hard or score well. You make the traveling sports team because you are the best. We have honor roll in school and all-star teams in sports. All of this is built to reward achievement. When any organization reaches a certain size, there are so many tasks to be done, that there now has to be “managers” of some sort. These are people who can show others how to accomplish a task the way it should be done, make final decisions, and set priorities for the people who “do” the tasks.
This all might sound obvious to you, but for me this was an incredibly hard transition. I had subconsciously trained myself to find my value in what I did. I loved taking a project to completion and feeling that sense of accomplishment at the end. Pastor Josh told me these words one day and my life as a leader has never been the same: “You do not get paid for what you do. You get paid for what you know.” I loved doing because it got me recognition and made feel good about myself. But a growing organization needs leaders who know the culture and the vision so well that they can be trusted to make those critical decisions. After an organization grows larger than a handful of staff members, it is no longer possible for the CEO, the founder, the Lead Pastor, or any single individual to answer every question and know everything that is happening for every staff member.
Up until this point, I would have told you that I was in leadership any day you asked me, but this was the stage where I finally became a leader. Thankfully, I worked for a pastor who had enough foresight and humility to trust me with making decisions and to encourage me even in failure for trying things. I never could have survived this stage without that trust.
Stage Four: People Who Can Lead Others to Lead Others to Do Things Well
This is where Next Level Church sits today. We have reached a point where we are seeking out leaders over leaders. The greatest skill you can bring to the table is to be able to identify a potential leader, make a convincing ask to get them on board, and to develop them to reach their potential. Every location of NLC is primarily run by volunteers. In this stage, the biggest challenge is found in communication. So many moving pieces and so much trust is being placed in so many directions. Making sure that every department and team member knows what they need to know while avoiding bogging them down in excessive information, becomes incredibly difficult.
For 8 years now, I have had the privilege of growing within a rapidly growing organization. Thanks to a trusting, forgiving, and gracious boss, I have learned a lot along the way. I pray my lessons are a blessing to you as you grow with the growth that surrounds you.