After a three month hiatus, we are back on-line with this blog.  Chuck Lawless outlines the tough conversations pastors face.  I’d be interested in your feedback as I am preparing a series about tough conversations for my main blog DR.STEVEDUNN.COM.

I would also strongly suggest you subscribe to his posts.


I’m thinking today about tough conversations as a pastor – many I’ve had, and some I probably need to have. Without my giving too many details, here are some of the most difficult conversations I’ve had as a pastor. I’m listing them in no particular order.
Telling a church member we were recommending removing him from membership. He was unrepentant, and we needed to take a stand.

Asking a staff member to step down. He wasn’t ready to leave, but it just wasn’t working.

Informing a church member I would not officiate at her wedding. I was certain the marriage wouldn’t work, and I couldn’t put my stamp of approval on it. I was right….

Trying to answer a young couple who asked, “Why did God give us a baby and then take him away so quickly?” I couldn’t answer the question, and my attempts to comfort weren’t working.

Listening as an irate church leader screamed at me for a decision I’d made. Actually, the conversation was only one-sided, because I was shocked by this brother’s emotional outburst.

Informing a family that their loved one had died. The death was unexpected and tragic, and I had no idea what to expect when I informed her family.

Answering the question, “Do you think he’s in heaven?” when “he” gave no evidence of a Christian conversion. Nothing would allow me to say, “yes.” Nor did I know, though, if he had turned to Christ as he approached death. The best I could say with integrity was, “I don’t know.”

Confronting a young man about stealing from the church. I was sure I was right, but I don’t like confrontation in general.

Telling a congregation that I was leaving. The Lord was calling me to go elsewhere, but that truth didn’t erase the grief of leaving.
Pastors, what are some tough conversations you’ve had?


I have come to greatly respect the insights of Ron Edmondson.  This is one of his best posts. – STEVE



Here are 25 nuggets of leadership I’ve learned over the years – many of them the hard way:

Very few things have to be done today. When we rush too fast we make needless mistakes.

The more a leader says “I”, the less the team will feel “we”. Equally, if it’s “my” team then it will always be dependent on “me”. When you’re a new leader there are two ways to approach the initial days. Handle your biggest problem first, while you have energy behind you. Or, build up trust capital through getting small wins before tackling the biggest problem. Either way, get wise counsel, but never try to do both.

The words of a leader carry great weight. Choose them carefully. Don’t release them without thinking about them. Listen more than you talk.

If the building is on fire, panic. Get people out as quick as you can. Everyone is going to look to the leader to see how he or she responds. But, remember, if you panic others will panic. Therefore, panic should be rare.

Make sure what you control is vision critical. You limit what (and who) you control .
Leaders of character don’t build themselves up by tearing others down. They intentionally build up others.



Ron Edmondson posted an excellent post “10 Defining Words of a Stellar Leader.”  I invite you to read it and share your thoughts with me. – STEVE

Leadership is abuzz these days. Everyone is talking about it. I’m not the only blog – and certainly not the best blog, which primarily addresses leadership.

Yet, as much as it’s in our conversations and thought process, it appears most organizations and churches are consistently looking for new leaders. In my conversations with churches, people want to know how to find, attract, and train leaders.

Apparently it is far easier to talk about it, even perhaps easier to call oneself a leader, then it is to actually be a leader.

Perhaps we need to do a better job distinguishing what leadership actually means. Defining leadership.

Even with an advanced degree in leadership, I can tell you experts who “schooled” me didn’t always agree on the definition of leadership. Perhaps, even more, we need to better understand what makes up great leadership even more than add a definition in which we may not all agree.
Additionally, I almost wonder if one reason we have such a hard time defining leadership is because there are actually levels of leadership. There could be the kind anyone can do. Everyone is a leader at some level. If leadership is truly “influence” then all of us are leaders in some area of life.

But, maybe there are ways to help us understand what leadership really is – the kind of leadership the truly great leaders provide. I hope to share some thoughts.

Here are some words to define Stellar Leadership

Stellar means: Pertaining to a preeminent performer or outstanding or immense.
Isn’t this the kind of leadership we are all seeking?

Stellar leadership?

I am still a leader in training. Not sure when I’ll “get there”, but I know I’m not looking to be an average leader. I want to be a stellar leader someday – one who is outstanding or immense in my profession.

With that in mind, here are 10 definitions I think we find in stellar leadership:
(These words are mine, but I got the definition of each from dictionary.com)

Cognizance – awareness, realization, or knowledge; notice; perception:
Stellar leaders have a keen sense of what’s ahead. They study. They learn. They listen. They remain aware of what others are saying, writing and thinking.



Are you experiencing a leadership shortage?  Ron Edmondson has some important suggestions. – Steve


I talk with so many younger people, and some my age, who want to be in leadership. They may feel they’ve been passed up, haven’t been given their chance (or second chance) or they are patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for a place to lead.

I understand. If you are prone to leadership, or have your eye on being a leader, nothing quite satisfies you until you get to do what you think you’re ready to do. And, even what you feel God has called you to do.

If this is your story, in my observation, there are some common reasons you aren’t yet leading. Perhaps understanding them can help you in this season, so I’ll follow each potential reason with some advice.

Here are the 5 reasons I have observed of why people aren’t yet leading:

They don’t have anything or anyone to lead. – They might even say you would lead if someone gave them an opportunity. My advice: Find something to lead! The world is full of problems. Choose one of them you are most passionate about and start leading. Motivate people towards finding or working a solution. Lead strong in an area of need with vision and passion and others will follow. We need you.

They are afraid. – They really want to lead, but they fear they may not have what it takes. That’s a common emotion for all leaders. My advice: Press into the fear. Pray hard, lean strong on God, but lead. This is what leaders do. Leading takes people into the unknown. Remember it’s natural to be afraid. Be willing to walk by faith. No one needs a leader if the path is clearly defined and risk-free.

Read more


One of my roles is to serve as a member of my conference’s Church Health Commission and also as one of its Intentional Interim Transition Specialists.  As such, I frequently come into contact with church and pastors that need to be involved in a “turnaround process.”  Brain Dodd  has an excellent article for those persons in the leadership role. – Steve

by Brian Dodd

One of the most difficult things a pastor can do is transition an existing church. It is important to know right questions to ask before embarking on this challenging assignment.
The following are 20 Questions Pastors Must Ask When Transitioning An Established Church:
What are their traditions?
What are their preferences?
What are the agendas of the existing leaders?
Do the leaders want to transition and move into the future?
Are you prepared to change the existing leaders? They likely took the church from 500 to 100 in attendance, not 100 to 500.
Do the facilities need a facelift? A leaking roof is a sign something else is leaking. Also, outdated facilities do not attract young families.
Do you have a funding plan?
Do you have quality childcare and student ministries?
What and who are we here for? Questions 9-17 are vision questions.
What is needed to impact our community?
Where did we come from?
Where are we now?
Where are we going?
What are the critical success factors?
How do we message this?
What is our timeline?
How do we establish mile markers and measure success?
Am I spiritually and physically prepared for transition?
Have I prayed a hedge of protection around my family?
Am I in this for the long haul? Has God called me to this?
These questions will help you.



Charles Stone has an excellent post for pastoral leaders who are trying to stay on mission, lead well, and keep a healthy balance in their lives. – Steve

by Charles Stone

Five years ago I began a new adventure…leading a new church in a new country. I accepted the lead pastor role at a great church in Canada, West Park Church in London, Ontario. This church is filled with great people committed to God and the cause of Christ. I’ve loved my time here and although I faced some challenges the first year, it has been a great experience. Before I even started, I spent three weeks preparing for my new ministry and I learned these 4 keys necessary to start well and sustain healthy ministry. I’ve also included 13 questions that help us determine how well we are leading.

I use the acronym PALM to illustrate these 4 simple keys. It describes four practices that not only make a new transition go smoother, but represent leadership priorities I recommend every good leader embrace whether or not he or she is new to a ministry role. I’ll briefly explain them and then pose some questions to help you evaluate how well you are embodying these principles.

Prioritize family and self care. This concept simply means that to lead well, we must lead ourselves and our families well. I once heard Chuck Swindoll say that a healthy ministry flows out of a healthy marriage.

  • Key questions to ask.
  1. How would your spouse or kids say you are doing in keeping family a priority?
  2. How often do you take a day off when you truly disconnect from your leadership role?
  3. Are you getting enough sleep and exercise?
  4. Are you saying ‘no’ enough to demands people try to place on your time that you know if you said ‘yes’ would not further your mission?

Avidly over-communicate. This concept implies that leaders must intentionally use multiple means to keep theirs churches and teams informed of what’s happening.

  • Key questions to ask.
  1. Do you have an intentional process you use to communicate to others progress in achieving your goals and key initiatives?
  2. How many tools do you use to communicate? Or, do you count on one method and hope it’s successful?
  3. How often do you repeat your church’s overall purpose and objectives?

Listen and learn. This idea embodies the principle that good leaders are learners and learning happens when we assume a listening posture.








Dan Reiland shares this seasoned counsel on a vital leadership process in the church. – STEVE

Hiring someone to join your staff is one of the coolest things ever, and simultaneously can scare you spitless.

Especially if you’ve ever had a newly hired staff person go from a dream come true to your worst nightmare.

I always love the privilege to get to add someone to the team. It represents newness, progress and taking new territory. But it’s far better to have an unfilled position, no matter how long it takes, rather than hire the wrong person.

The hiring process is complicated, it’s honestly a study in human nature. Even done well, you never remove all the risks. But there are certain things you can watch for.

Over the course of three decades of hiring experience, I have observed definite patterns and behaviors that either draw me in or drive me away from a potential staff member.

Snap judgments and quick opinions are never wise, but there are specific caution flags that I’ve learned that should not be ignored.

Sometimes a caution flag turns out to be no big deal. It’s just a small piece of the candidate’s story, and in context of their larger story, it’s not something that defines who they are as a person.

In order to grasp and fully understand this kind of nuance in a person’s story it requires that you:

  • Pay close attention during the interview process.
  • Ask open ended questions, ask for stories, and ask more questions directly from their answers.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask tough questions.
  • Involve a team, and never have only one person make the hiring decision.
  • Never rush the process.

I’m sure you could add a warning flag or two, but here are seven you should not ignore.

7 Major Warning Signs:

1) It seems like a job more than a calling.

I’m not suggesting that you over spiritualize or even romanticize the hiring process. The position receives a paycheck, but it’s also a church and a sense of calling needs to be evident to some degree.

It’s a delicate balance I know; you don’t want to have someone play the God card.

For example, “God told me He wants me here.” There must be room for God to speak to both parties. But a genuine sense from the candidate that God is in the process is vital.

2) Their spouse is not fully supportive of the idea.

If the spouse isn’t enthusiastic, you need to proceed with great caution.

If the candidate says, “My husband or wife will get happy when we get here,” no they won’t. If they aren’t happy about the decision before they join the team, it only gets worse after. Don’t force it no matter how much you like the person.

It’s not that you are “interviewing” the spouse, but you do want to get to know them. It’s also important that they attend worship at your church at least once and love it.

They need to want to attend your church, not just work there.

3) Spiritual life and community appear to take a back seat to advancement.

It’s good to know the potential staff member has aspirations to rise in responsibility within the organization. Ambition is good. But there’s more to this idea.

It’s true that you are hiring a person to fulfill a specific responsibility. Be very clear on your expectations. However, in the local church, spiritual life and community cannot be separated from the job.

It’s critical that your candidate expresses a genuine longing to grow as a Christian, be part of your community, and develop in their spiritual maturity.



From Dan Rockwell comes this excellent post about failure, frustration, disappointment, real power and relationships.  One of the best leadership posts I have read recently-Steve


Spotted on a tee shirt in a book store – “When I drink, I know things.”

I turned to my wife and said, “I don’t even need to drink.”

I know things:

#1. I know fear of failure has helped me succeed.

Concern for loss of reputation or respect motivates when things are going wrong.

Ego is useful when used in service of others.

Ego harms when it devalues others.

#2. I know frustration is a good thing when it ignites solution-finding, but exhausting when you snuggle up with it.

Frustration is your response to ‘evil’. No one gets red-faced when you finish ahead of time and under budget.

Four questions drain poison from anger.

  1. What do you want?
  2. What’s important about that?
  3. How might you include others?
  4. What’s the most reasonable step forward?

#3. I know character waits on the other side of disappointment and pain.

You find character digging ditches, not lounging on the beach.

Grit expresses and develops character.

The only way to develop grit is to use it. When you give up on meaningful work because it’s hard, you lose some of yourself.

Grit tip: Hang with people who have grit if you want to develop grit.



Dan Rockwell tackles a topic that so many leaders face daily and struggle with constantly. – Steve

Uncertainty finds comfort in nostalgia.

Those who run from ambiguity and uncertainty are bound to repeat the past.

Uncertainty and humility:

The higher you go in organizational life, the lower your tolerance for uncertainty.

Arrogance ties itself to status, position, and admiration.

Humility enables leaders to navigate uncertainty and ambiguity, but uncertainty repels arrogance.

Humility knows itself and tolerates ambiguity and uncertainty.

Identity blurs into performance for arrogant leaders. Performance isn’t identity for humility.

Failure, learning and personal development fall by the wayside when arrogance controls leaders.

Humility and arrogance:

  1. Humility doesn’t need status. Arrogance compares, stands aloof, and puts others down.
  2. Humility is FOR others. Arrogance is FOR itself. Arrogance is stressed. It worries that it won’t get it’s due and fears losing status.
  3. Humility stands WITH. Arrogance stands above and against. Standing WITH creates freedom and gratitude. Standing above and against creates stress, anger, envy, contempt, and insecurity.

Read more at ROCKWELL



by Dr. Steve Dunn

As we were created by the Master Designer, we are hard-wired for change.  But sin has rewired us to see change us something to be feared and resisted.  This rewiring is often disguised by a desire to be comfortable or a belief that practicality is the supreme value in any situation.  The need for change is often ignored because we are busy maintaining life as it has been handed to us.  We even believe the theological lie that good is good enough and so change often doesn’t occur even when there is mounting evidence that without change we will die.

Many persons see their role in the leadership in the church is to help the people go where they want to go.  That is a dangerous fallacy.  The role of leadership in the church is to help the people go where God wants them to go.

Leading the way is not easy.  It requires three things:

  1. It requires vision on the part of the leader.
  2. It requires prayer to insure that the leader’s vision is truly God’s vision.
  3. It requires relational work to help others share that vision.
  4. It requires courage because sooner or leader has to get out front and lead the way.

And that courage must be grounded in the faith that trusts that God will be at work in and through the leader and the process.

A wise leader does his or homework.  You must look before you leap.  But sooner or later you have to leap.

© 2018  by Stephen L. Dunn.  You have permission to reprint this provided it is unchanged, proper authorship is cited, it is in a publication not for sale, and a link is provided to this site or to www.drstevedunn.com. For all other uses, contact Steve at sdunnpastor@gmail.com