The Care and Feeding of Monkeys

Mark glanced at the phone on his desk when it rang. He had recently gotten caller ID and was now in the habit of looking at the name of who was calling before answering. The small screen on the phone said ‘V R Baker.’ He smiled and answered on the third ring.

“Greetings, Elder! What can I do for you?” he asked.

The caller on the other end paused before answering.

“Hey! How did you know it was me?” the elderly pastor demanded.

“Spiritual intuition. I just felt in the Holy Ghost you were going to call,” the younger pastor answered, his voice heavy with amusement.

“Spiritual intuition, my eye. You probably hid a web cam in my office or something. You spying on me, son?”

Mark laughed. “Caller ID. It helps me avoid all those sales calls. Your name came right up on the phone screen.”

“Humph! New age gadgets. I need to figure out how to block that stuff. It’s getting to where they can follow you everywhere. Anyway, I wanted to know if you would like to meet me for lunch. My treat.”

Mark paused before answering. “Elder, I would sure like to. But I have a ‘to-do’ list that’s two pages long. Ever since I set up my leadership organization, my leaders keep finding stuff for me to do. I’m going crazy trying to solve all their problems.”

“You are trying to fix their problems?” Elder Baker said with a note of surprise.

“Sure! They come to me with a problem, something they can’t seem to get solved themselves, and I try to help them with it. You know – it’s a servant leadership thing.”

“Wow. You do need to meet me for lunch – like now. You have this delegation stuff all backwards. They are supposed to lighten your work load, not the other way around.”

“But if I don’t help them, nothing will get done,” Mark objected.

“Like I said, meet me for lunch in fifteen minutes. The usual place. We need to talk.”

Weekly Tag-In

Mark slid into the booth across from the elderly, white-haired pastor. They were neighboring pastors with churches not twenty minutes apart. Elder Vernon Baker had helped Mark get started on a church growth plan that had more than doubled the size of his church.

“So, what’s for lunch?” he asked.

“I’m having the pot pie,” Brother Baker answered, glancing up from the menu. “But the special today is smoked turkey on rye.”

“Sounds good. Now, what’s so critical that you pulled me away from my all-important to-do list?”

“I just need to ask you a few questions. Tell me again how many department leaders you have.”

“Twelve, not counting my wife, who’s over music. So thirteen I guess.”

“All of them have up-to-date Job Descriptions?”

“Yep! I update them each year before we have the planning retreat.”

“And you had your Annual Planning Retreat last November, right?”

“Yes. Planning another one this coming November.”

“Each department handed in a Departmental One-Year Plan after the retreat, right?”

“Yep. Just like you recommend.”

“You are still having your Monthly Planning Council meetings the first Tuesday of each month?”

“Yes, yes. Where’s all this going?”

“Hang on – just checking on your management plan. Each department hands in a Monthly Report?”

“Usually. Sometimes I have to remind them at the monthly council and they email it to me a few days later.”

“On what church service time are you having your Weekly Tag-in’s?”

“Uhhh…we started having them, but then stopped. I used to have them before service in my office on Sunday evening. But then I started the 911 Prayer Teams during that time and so I temporarily postponed the weekly tag-ins. That was over a year ago and I have never started them back up.”

“Ah, I see. The Weekly Tag-ins were not productive for you?”

“Sure they were. I just need to get them going again. But one problem was they tended to go too long. They were turning into another planning meeting every week.”

The elderly pastor nodded. “Mark, let me quickly outline why the weekly tag-in is so important when you are working with an all-volunteer staff. You bring your notepad?”

The young pastor grinned. “I never come around you without it.”

Weekly Tag-in Benefits

“Okay. First, the weekly tag-in helps overcome procrastination. When you meet with your leaders at your Monthly Planning Council, you are discussing upcoming church plans and activities. So you inevitably are giving assignments and asking leaders to follow-through on things. Volunteer leaders will often put these assignments off until the last minute and then they are done poorly or not done at all. They will come back with some kind of excuse and usually ask for your help. I can assume, with your lengthy to-do list, that you are experiencing that particular problem?”

Mark nodded.

“Okay. Your weekly tag-in gives you the opportunity to encourage your leaders to be faithful to their assignments and keeps them on target. Procrastination is normally kept to a minimum. When you meet with them weekly on a regular church service time, you have your tag-in list – the list of assignments you asked your leaders to accomplish before the next monthly planning Council. They may tell you the first week, ‘I haven’t gotten to that yet.’ They may say the same the second week. But by the third week they tend to get it done or have at least made some progress.

“The Weekly Tag-in also improves the quality of work performed. Work, when done in a hurry and rushed through at the last minute, is rarely done well. The tag-in helps them start early and do the job right.

“The Tag-in also helps your Monthly Planning Council attendance. When a leader has not accomplished their tasks for the month, they can usually find an excuse for not showing up. But when they have all their tasks done, they are looking forward to being there and telling you about the great job they did and getting your positive feedback.

“But perhaps the most important benefit of the weekly tag-in is it gives you a chance to solve problems and answer questions. Invariably, during the month, the director is going to come up against a problem that will stall their progress. The tag-in gives them easy access to you to ask for help. But, like you mentioned, the tag-in can turn into another planning session unless you utilize the ‘three answer response.’ You remember what that was?

“Ah, not really. Refresh my memory,” Mark replied, still writing notes.

“When you ask your youth leader, “Did you get permission to hold the upcoming youth car wash at the corner gas station?’ they are supposed to only answer three ways: ‘Yes,’ ‘No,’ and ‘I need to see you about it.’ So if they need to see you about it, they stay after the tag-in is over and you discuss the problem one-on-one. This way everyone does not have to stand around listening to the two of you work through a problem. Therefore the entire tag-in in over in a few minutes, then you spend a few more minutes with those that have a problem or question, and then you are through. My tag-ins with my staff normally takes less than five minutes.

“And that’s the last reason for having a weekly tag-in. It utilizes my time most effectively. I don’t have to track my leaders down one-by-one to check on their progress. I have one quick group meeting for three to five minutes. I encourage them. I brag on them a bit. I pray with them, and I keep them motivated and faithful to assignments. By the time the next monthly planning session rolls around, everything is done, or at least I’m fully aware of the situation and we are ready to move on to our next month’s plans.”

Mark was writing and nodding slowly. Finally he looked up. “Okay, I got it. You are right. I’m having problems in just about every area you mentioned. But how will my tag-in help me with my to-do list?”

The Care and Feeding of Monkeys

The elderly pastor took a final bite of his pot pie. “Mark, a long time ago I read a management article entitled, ‘The Care and Feeding of Monkeys.’ The author likened problems to monkeys. Every leader has monkeys or problems. That goes with leadership. It’s how you deal with your monkeys that separate good leaders from bad ones.

“When a leader has a problem, they carry their monkey to you for you to examine. You take the monkey, look it over, and if you are not careful, you then reply, ‘yes, that certainly is a problem. I’ll take your monkey and get back to you with a solution soon.’ So now the monkey is on your back and not your leader’s back. Monkeys do not care whose back they ride on. They just like to ride. After a time, you have dozens of monkeys hanging off of you and you are ready to collapse under the load of problems you carry. Not good.”

Mark looked up, nodding. “Wow. You are exactly right. I thought it was my job to help all my leaders solve the problems they were having.”

“Exactly, and that is the wrong approach. What you should do, is take the monkey, examine it, and then had it back to the leader with a few suggestions on what they can do to help the monkey. But it’s their monkey. You have enough of your own monkeys without accepting everyone else’s problems as well.

“The author went on to explain that poor managers too often accumulate monkeys and then let them starve to death. They carry them around forever and they eventually die from neglect. The problem is the need was never addressed. Dead monkeys stink. They often become an even greater problem dead than alive. So ignoring problems is definitely not the answer.

“The manager, meaning the pastor, can also shoot the monkey. You may decide to remove the responsibility from leader altogether. That is your choice. For example, if you can’t get a good location for the car wash, perhaps you will cancel it completely. Problem solved. But only you can make that decision. Be on guard for leaders who try to shoot monkeys themselves because that is not their place to make those kind of decisions.”

Mark continued nodding, deep in thought.

The elderly pastor continued. “So, Mark. When leaders come to the weekly tag-in with monkeys (problems), you have three choices: starve ‘em, shoot ‘em, or feed ‘em. Never let problems accumulate and starve. Shoot them if you must. But usually the best solution is to feed it – offer suggestions and ideas on how to solve the problem – and then hand it back to your leader and let them fix the problem. The weekly tag-in is an excellent way to address these types of management problems, especially when you are working with an all-volunteers staff.

One Final Monkey

Mark set his pen down with a sigh. “No wonder I’m so tired all the time. I’ve got two dozen moneys riding on my back. I’ve got to get the weekly tag-ins going again and learn to deal properly with problems when they come up. Wow. This is a real game-changer for me. Thanks, Elder!”

“Glad to help. Now I need your help with a monkey of my own.”

“Eh? What’s that?”

“The check. I forgot my wallet on my desk.”

Mark grinned. “Hmmm…let see. Ignoring this monkey won’t work, and shooting it is not an option either, since we already ate lunch. Guess we will have to feed this monkey.”

Mark picked up the check, looked it over, and then handed it back to Elder Baker. ‘Might I suggest washing dishes? Or can you cook? After all, you invited me….”

“Alright, alright. I owe you one. A steak dinner. How about it?” the elder pastor growled. “Just pay the bill.”

Mark laughed. This was one monkey he as going to enjoy feeding.

Tim Massengale is an instructor at Indiana Bible College and the author of “Total Church Growth” and “Let My People Grow.” He is available for church growth seminars and church growth consulting work. Contact him at: tmassengale@apostolic.edu or call 1-800-800-0247.

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photo pin cc

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