Anthony Miller on Church Leadership

Anthony Miller on Church Leadership

July 31, 2017 by

Leadership can be a challenging topic for communicators. We don’t always think of ourselves as leaders, but it’s part of the job. We’ve been exploring leadership on our Courageous Storytellers Membership Site this month, and we’ve been going deeper here on Church Marketing Sucks as we talk to leaders, including Lucinda Rojas Ross and David Hansen.

Today we talk with Anthony Miller. He’s the pastor of communications at Saddleback Church, which has nearly 40,000 members at 18 campuses throughout Southern California, Hong Kong, Manila, Berlin, and Buenos Aires. Before that he served as the director of marketing and communication for The Rock in San Diego. Anthony is a third-generation pastor who serves the local church and empowers church leaders around the world with biblical marketing principles that lead to sustainable health and growth.

Designers, writers, strategists, and storytellers are sitting in your church waiting to be mobilized.

What’s the most helpful thing you’ve learned about leading a team?

First, let me say I’m not going to pretend that I have leadership figured out, because I don’t. I just bought five books on leadership last month alone. To me, leaders never stop learning.

So over the years I’ve learned a few things leading dozens of strategic and creative minds far more talented than myself. I learned that people need three things from their leader to be successful: vision, autonomy, and appreciation.

The first responsibility of the leader is to cast vision. You must paint the picture of the preferred future as frequently as you can. People can’t go to a place they can’t see. Every time you cast vision, you are making that future clearer and the destination easier to find. Good leaders must find creative ways to recast vision often! Remember: When you get tired of saying it, they are just starting to get it.

People need vision to go, but they need autonomy to grow. A smothering leader will suffocate growth for the team and individual. Unfortunately, an absent leader will have a similar effect. A good leader must find the right balance that gives their team the room to take risks, make mistakes, try new things, gain confidence from successes and wisdom from failures. Vision and autonomy work together like sun and water. You need both for a seed to grow.

A good leader casts vision, defines the parameters, and gets out the way. A great leader learns how to celebrate and appreciate the success of others. Far too often leaders forget the importance of appreciation and the power of these two words: thank you. Most likely, this is an issue of pride. Leaders, whether they admit it or not, feel the need to protect their status and subconsciously horde success. For some, this is how we maintain our position of leader. Well, Jesus flipped that thinking upside down when he said, “I didn’t come to be served, but to serve.” Appreciation requires a humble and servant-minded leader who realizes that their success is found in the success of others. I love this quote from Peter Drucker, “The fruit of our work grows on someone else’s tree.” Leaders must possess the patience to develop others and the humility to celebrate their accomplishments.

If someone comes up and complains about something that needs to be changed, then we say, “You’re it!”

It seems like not doing everything yourself is an important part of leadership. So how do you delegate and successfully recruit volunteers?

This is a great question, because most people underestimate the importance of developing the skill of delegation. And I call it a skill, because I think delegation is something learned. When exercising the skill of delegation, I try to use two rules.

The first one is promote passion. Here at Saddleback Church we have this principle called “You’re it.” If someone, staff or volunteer, comes up and complains about something that needs to be changed, then we say, “You’re it!” Often times complaints reveal passion, and a passionate person is the right person to delegate responsibility to. But most make the mistake of giving responsibility without authority. When you give responsibility without authority you are not creating a leader, you are creating a manager. You are asking them to manage the tasks of the organization. You will find little innovation in a management culture.

So if you are going to promote passion, then you have to follow the second rule and give away authority!

When it comes to volunteers, the communications team is one of the best places to assemble an army of skilled servants; designers, writers, strategists, and storytellers are sitting in your church waiting to be mobilized. Not only is this a great way to increase capacity on our team, it’s a biblical requirement! Ephesians 4:12 tells us that the leaders of the church were given “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” If you are paid staff at your church, then you are a leader and it’s your responsibility to give your job away. If you aren’t spending a good portion of your time creating ways for your members to serve their church, then you are helping the enemy rob people of their purpose, kill the joy of serving, and destroy their relationship and connection to the church. People are not a distraction to your ministry, people are your ministry.

People need three things from their leader to be successful: vision, autonomy, and appreciation.

Conflict inevitably comes up between church staff/volunteers and church leadership. As someone in the middle of that dynamic, what advice do you have for communicators who may find themselves clashing with their pastors?

Conflict has a negative connotation, especially in a room full of Christians. Let’s be clear: Conflict is good, and tension is healthy. I think we forget about all the conflict in the early church; Peter and Paul, Paul and Barnabas, even Jesus and his disciples experienced a great deal of conflict. Conflict that isn’t marked by truth and love is sign of immaturity and will lead to disunity (Ephesians 4:15). But healthy conflict will strengthen unity and lead to higher understanding, new perspective, and sharper convictions.

When leading up to your senior/lead pastor, I like using the model that Jesus gave us in the Garden of Gethsemane when he confronted his “boss.” There Jesus asked (not told) God if there was another way to achieve the task at hand. Then he says, “Not my will, but your will be done,” (Luke 22:42). This shows us one of the most important attributes to leading, when leading up, it should look like surrender. There are other tactics to confronting senior leadership (like privately never publicly and ask not tell), but the most important is surrendering your desires to the direction of your leader when presenting new ideas. You should never cower away from presenting them, but when you do, do it with open hands.

Remember: When you get tired of saying it, they are just starting to get it.

What’s the biggest challenge in church leadership today?

The trend I’m seeing here at Saddleback and in dozens of churches that I work with throughout the year is energy management. Energy management is more important than time management, because time is a fixed commodity. There are a lot of “good things” that churches are doing and somewhere along the way priority stopped having a singular meaning and churches now have five, 10, 20 priorities. Mix this with an ever-growing list of personal passions and now we have perfect conditions for people burning out with compassion fatigue! I have several friends who have left the church and some are so bitter that they no longer attend church and question their faith. This is sad! And although, we as comm leaders are limited in what we can do to lead change throughout the staff culture, there are some things we can do to minimize burnout on our team.

Here are a few:

  • Don’t expect everyone to work at the same energy level.
  • Be aware of external energy drains (your church is not the only energy drain).
  • Plan your calendar and projects in energy cycles.
  • Focus on the long haul (staying power and pacing growth).
  • Activity doesn’t mean productivity (busyness is not the goal).
  • Work smarter not harder.
  • Make work fun (work is not the antithesis of play, they are not mutually exclusive).
When you give responsibility without authority you are not creating a leader, you are creating a manager.


Check out our Courageous Storytellers Membership Site for more help with leadership. Seriously, the site is packed with resources to help you step up and become a better leader. Join today!

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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