I love peanut butter. The kind that makes a quick sandwich into an ooey, gooey delight.
I also like this creamy childhood favorite on a spoon right out of the jar (but that’s my secret). But folks, there are imposters out there—jars with so many added ingredients and preservatives that they can’t claim the name peanut butter and have to be labeled “peanut spread.” No thanks.
Without those highly processed additives and stabilizers, the peanut butter separates (a natural process called syneresis), and we open the jar to find a pool of oil at the top. This more natural peanut butter is delicious, but dealing with the separation can make a mess.
The COVID-19 pandemic has separated us more than we want to be apart. Our ministry teams have hunkered down to wait it out, and now most of us have Zoom fatigue and a sense of detachment from the team, the ministry, the goals, and the community of a team.
What can leaders do to move into the future?
Stir it Up
When the peanut butter separates you can mix it with a spoon or fork, but it will make a mess. If you try to reignite the team using the same tools you’ve tried before, you may not succeed. One team member said she felt so isolated from the ministry she wasn’t sure she wanted to go back to work with the team, especially when she heard the same old jargon from the leader. She wanted some fresh new approaches and ideas.
Your message to your team should not be going back to normal. Instead, use language and challenges for moving forward into a new world of ministry. Build enthusiasm for what is to come not going back to the old ways.
Develop a survey or conduct interviews to discover how the people you serve have changed in attitudes, activities, and expectations.
What techie tools do they use now that they never used before? What part of the isolation has been unsatisfying to them? What kind of interactions do they long for now? Do they desire small groups with intimate connections or large gatherings with big energy or something else entirely?
As you learn more about how the people you serve have changed, you will be able to make plans that will serve in new and unexpected ways.
Mix it Up
When you stir peanut butter in the jar, it never seems to fully incorporate all the parts of the jar. Later when you get to the bottom, you find hard clumps that never fully integrated. The same is true of your team members. Some will never again be able to fully join into the team, and some may even rebel against your leadership style. They will become hard clumps which become harder and harder to deal with over time.
As the leader, this return-from-the-pandemic time may be the perfect opportunity to either help a team member become fully engaged with the team or remove them. Your goal should be to encourage and include each team member, but some people may need some gentle nudging.
Schedule a meeting or lunch with each team member alone. Talk to the person about his or her life and how the pandemic restrictions have affected finances, relationships, work, home, children, and extended family. Pray with the person and help them set achievable goals. Determine what the person contributes or could contribute to your team and ministry goals. Ask God for discernment about the future of the person’s role on the team.
Turn it Up
One hack I discovered about peanut butter that separates is to turn the jar upside down periodically. Maybe your team needs to be turned upside down too. Perhaps you could ask team members to switch jobs for a period of time—they will learn the difficulties their other team members face and develop empathy.
Perhaps they will have some fresh new ideas. You could pair team members for jobs instead of asking one to take on a role alone.
Give prizes to those team pairs who meet often and come up with a joint plan. Flipping the team over might just be the hack you need for the new world we face.
With grit and flexibility, you can lead your team to success in a post-pandemic world. As Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success,” especially if you add a spoonful of peanut butter.