Why "Just Turn Down His Microphone" is A (Really) Bad Leadership Strategy

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When I began in ministry, the churches I served were small and traditional. So small in fact, that I actually sang in a choir.

Some Sundays there were as many people in the choir as there were in attendance.

The truth is (and there’s hardly anyone who would disagree with this)…few of us could really sing. (Ever been to a church/event like that?)

But being able to didn’t really seem to be a qualification for being in the choir.

It seemed that the only criteria for being in the choir was wanting to sing.

The choir didn’t last long. Within a few years we had a band.

But again we struggled with the question of qualification.

So here’s the issue everyone who has ever handled volunteers struggles with.

How do you determine who gets to sing, serve, or volunteer, when it’s pretty clear to everyone except them they don’t possess the gifts for it?

That’s a tough leadership question.

The Mess This Gets Us Into

It’s just too easy to find yourself in a situation as a leader in which people who:

Can’t sing are singing

Can’t play are playing

Can’t communicate are preaching

Can’t really lead are leading

What do you do in a situation like that?

Usually, you feel paralyzed.

How do I tell them?

How do I ask them to step aside?  

After all, they love doing it. And they really can’t see that few people share their enthusiasm for what they’re doing.

In the case of the band, usually you end up pulling the sound guy aside and saying, as discreetly as possible, “just turn down his mic.”

Instinctively you know you’ve caved in to cowardice, but you just can’t muster up the nerve to have the hard conversation.

So we come up with justifications for allowing people to serve significantly outside of their skill set:

But she loves doing it.

He’s been doing it for years. 

He asked…so what was I going to tell him?

Well, maybe for starters, you maybe you could have told him no.

What’s Wrong with This Picture?

Too much actually. There are at least three long term implications of not confronting the issue of people serving where they are gifted:

1. You never have honest conversations

When you avoid the truth, conversations rarely happen with people. Instead, they happen about people. Think about it. Because nobody will talk to the person people end up talking about the person. The exact opposite of what should happen.

And then you feel forced to lie or duck issues when you talk to the person themselves. Not cool.

2. Everyone sidesteps the real issue

Even in the rare moment when the person in question comes to you to ask for feedback, you’ll be tempted not to tell the truth because you’ve already decided to sidestep the issue of their competency.

So when they ask you how it’s going, you shade the truth.

3. People never end up leading in the area of their gifting

As bad as lying is, this is probably the greatest tragedy: the person in question never ends up serving in the area of their greatest giftedness.

I believe everyone has a gift and has a ‘fit’ that works. Often people are a bit blind to that and need friends to help them find their fit. When you won’t have an honest conversation, someone might go through their entire life without discovering what they were created to do.

You Wouldn’t Settle for This Anywhere Else

Imagine going to a restaurant where people who were terrible cooks prepared the meal and where people with few social skills served your table.

Or imagine working in a business that was led by non-leaders, where project management was led by disorganized people and where the accounting was done by people who struggled with math.

Well actually, come to think of it, some of you have eaten at that restaurant and have worked at that business. And you left, didn’t you?

So if you’re trying to lead your organization well and with all diligence, why would you settle for something inside the organization you care about most that you would never settle for anywhere else?

3 Reasons It Makes Sense to Have the Hard Conversation

As difficult as telling the truth in these areas might be, there are some great reasons for pushing through with the hard conversations that need to happen.

In fact, if you do it regularly, everybody wins. Especially the person who needs to change what they’re doing. Here’s why:

1. Everybody is gifted at something

Serving in an area in which you’re not gifted may be what’s keeping you from discovering your true gifting. Grandma Moses, the famous folk artist, didn’t discover her gift for painting arthritis forced her to give up embroidery at age 76, and that after a life of working on farms. She didn’t want to waste the rest of her life, so she picked up a paint brush and painted until she died at age 101.

2. People who serve in an area that fits them always feel better about themselves

When you finally serve in an area in which you are gifted, you feel better about yourself. You discover what God designed you to do.

3. People who serve in an area that fits them always serve others better

The impact you have on the lives of others rises significantly when you operate out of your strengths.

The conversation still won’t be easy, but when you realize you’re helping, not hurting, it become much easier to have.  And if you have the conversation from a place of humility and seek the best interest of the person involved, they’ll often thank you for it down the road.

Inclusiveness or Effectiveness?

A final word about what’s at stake.

Every leader makes a choice between inclusiveness and effectiveness.

If your chief value is inclusiveness (everybody gets to play however they want), it may well compromise your effectiveness.

If you want to be effective, you need to be strategic about how you include people. Everybody will get to play in some way; it just might not be where they first think they fit.

On the other side of hard choices is freedom for everyone and effectiveness for your organization.

It sure beats always turning down someone’s mic.

And you know what? I don’t miss the choir.

And I’m not sure anyone misses my singing.

Lead With Confidence and Clarity. Grow Your Church.

As leaders, we tend to see the challenges and roadblocks before other people do.

We've all been there before...

  • You need to refresh your vision for the future but know that change will be an issue for that person.
  • You're overstaffed (or missing a key role) and can't find the right person to fill the role.
  • You aren't reaching enough new people even though you've tried everything that's working for other churches.
  • You can see the issue but aren't confident in what to do about it.

And with another Sunday morning coming up, it'll just have to wait until next week when you have a few minutes to figure it out.

Now ask yourself this:

What would it feel like to have those answers at your fingertips 24/7?

Whether it's reaching new people, improving your preaching, increasing volunteers, refreshing your vision, engaging your staff, or any of the countless challenges we face as church leaders, The Art of Leadership Academy will equip you to lead your church with confidence and clarity.

Between comprehensive church leadership courses, live coaching calls, staff and volunteer training resources, and direct access to a private online community of senior-level church leaders, you'll get the exact insights and answers that fuel your church for growth.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.