Building a Strong Senior Leadership Team: A Conversation with Tony Morgan of The UnStuck Group

What separates a church that’s just getting by from one that’s thriving and making an impact in people’s lives? Strong leadership – and specifically, a strong senior leadership team. 

My guest on the podcast this week is Tony Morgan, founder of the Unstuck Group, an expert on team development and alignment. Tony consults with churches to help get them “unstuck” and move forward into their God-given potential and purpose. He’s worked with over 650 churches of all sizes. 

In this conversation, Tony and I discuss:

  • Why singular leadership falls short and senior teams are essential, especially as a church grows
  • Common questions churches ask that lead them astray in building their team  
  • The right criteria and questions to use in selecting senior team members
  • How a high-functioning senior team should operate and empower those “downstream”
  • Navigating transitions when a current team member may not be the right fit  

Modeling Team-Based Ministry

I start by asking why a senior team is important when many churches operate just fine with a solo pastor or leader. Tony points back to Scripture – the body of Christ is designed for many members with different gifts and strengths, not a single person. And there are practical weaknesses to having just one isolated leader without a supporting team.  

A senior team lives out “team-based ministry,” reflecting the diversity of gifts in the body of Christ. This then cascades to empower and equip volunteers and staff teams farther “downstream,” instead of centralizing all decisions and work at the top.  

Asking the Wrong Questions 

When building a leadership team, Tony cautions that churches often start off asking the wrong questions – focused on position titles rather than giftings, or longevity rather than capacity. Just because someone is a pastor or has been on staff for years does not automatically make them a good fit for the senior strategic leadership team, which requires some different wiring and perspective.

Seven Key Questions to Find the Right Team Members

The right starting point is ensuring anyone under consideration meets the biblical qualifications for spiritual leadership. Beyond that foundation, Tony outlines seven key questions to discern who should be part of the senior team:

  1. Do they have the spiritual gift of leadership and capability for high-capacity strategic leadership? We’re looking for “leaders of hundreds and thousands,” like Jethro described to Moses.
  2. Are they a big-picture thinker who can set aside their departmental focus to consider the overall health and direction of the church? 
  3. Are they a strategic thinker who can craft plans and systems to accomplish the vision?
  4. Have they demonstrated the ability to build teams, recruit volunteers, and develop leaders? This is especially important in a church context.
  5. Do they fully align with and embody the church’s vision and values? We want fully aligned team players, not devil’s advocates or dissenters.   
  6. Are they lifelong learners who know how to ask the right questions more than have all the right answers? Ministry is constantly changing and adapting.
  7. Do they bring diversity and reflect the people we are trying to reach? We need the body of Christ represented.

How an Effective Senior Team Lead

Once the senior leadership team is in place, how do they lead and connect with the rest of the staff and ministry teams? Tony focuses on empowerment through clarity and alignment of vision and values, enabling others to carry out strategies and accomplish outcomes. The senior team protects alignment on priorities rather than disjointed silos pulling in different directions according to personal passions.

He also stresses the importance of defining wins and giving leaders farther downstream ownership, accountability, and room to determine how to best achieve those wins. Clear communication channels in both directions are essential – staff to share challenges and opportunities, and leadership to provide vision, alignment, and empowerment.  

Transitions When the Current Team Doesn’t Fit

Many established churches realize they may have some misfits on their current senior staff team. Tony offers hope – often the person is not wrong for the church’s ministry as a whole, just not the right fit for this unique role, and they need to move to a place that better matches their talents and capacity. His team helps churches navigate these sensitive staffing transitions well.

The Unstuck Group provides invaluable guidance to churches of all sizes and stages to build strong, diverse, empowering leadership teams that align with God’s vision and purpose for their ministry. They offer practical tools and wisdom not just to start right, but to evaluate and adapt teams over time. I encourage you to check out Tony’s podcast The Unstuck Church for more on this topic!

Discussion Questions

  1. What stood out to you from the blog post about why a senior leadership team is important for a thriving church? Did anything surprise you or was there a new insight?
  2. Why do you think many churches struggle with asking the “wrong questions” when forming their senior leadership team? What could help them learn to ask the right questions?
  3. Of the 7 key questions Tony outlined for identifying the right senior team members, which one do you think is most important? Why? 
  4. Tony talked about the importance of diversity on a senior leadership team – not just demographics, but diversity of gifts, strengths, and wiring. Why do you think diverse perspectives are so crucial on a leadership team?
  5. The blog mentioned some common scenarios churches face regarding misfits on an existing senior team. If you were advising a pastor in this situation, what guidance would you offer about navigating a transition? What potential pitfalls would you warn them to avoid?
Strong teams are built by strong leaders. Find out how Ministry Insights’ tools can help you build a team that communicates with empathy, trusts each other, and executes like never before. Start by taking our Leading From Your Strengths (LFYS) today.