Leadership Reflections: Church vs. Kitchen

05 Oct

I first learned and developed as a leader in the kitchen.

Managing Black Tie Pizza and then running the kitchen at Saranac with Vince… it was in this context that I first discovered my leadership gifts and began developing as a leader.

These skills became honed as an Area Director in Young Life… campus minister… interim pastor… pastoral associate… church planter… and lead pastor.

Over the past 15 years, my leadership style has changed and developed. Part of this is maturity. Part experience. A lot due to mentors and professional development… people like Bill Hybels and Nelson Searcy and Marcus Buickingham and Jim Collins… But I think part of it is context too.

In some ways, leadership is leadership — whether in a kitchen, church, classroom, sports team, military, or business. But in other ways, leadership is radically different. Spiritual leadership is fundamentally different in many ways… and learning the differences is pretty important.

As I am once again transitioning in my own leadership — now from the ministry world back into kitchens — it is interesting to reflect on the differences that result from context more than change or maturity.

When I first started leading in the kitchen (Black Tie Pizza, Saranac Village), I was often a hard-ass. I used strong authority, was strongly into details (often to the point of micro-management), and was very demanding. I carried that approach into my earliest ministry positions, but quickly realized that spiritual leadership and the leadership of spiritual organizations requires a different approach.

Over the years, my leadership style changed pretty radically.

Over 10+ years of full time ministry, my leadership style became increasingly relational, process-oriented, consensus-building, team-focused, and much less detail oriented. I delegated… trusted… and made community/relationships/process more important than strategy/results. And I think all of that was appropriate. My leadership style in ministry became much more about equipping and developing others… giving away as much as possible… serving… doing the admin so others could do the ministry…

Increasingly over the years, my tools changed. Instead of authority and centralized decision-making, my primary tools became vision-casting and empowering a decentralized web of leaders. In some ways it worked well, in other ways not as well. The only thing I regret in terms of leadership style (I will leave for another time a discussion of leadership failures in terms of decisions and strategies… as well as leaving for later a discussion of my personal failures as a leader) is that I think I let go of details too much. And in letting go details, some things got missed and that hurt the organization. But it is a balancing act, a dance… and not an easy one to figure out. Anyone who thinks leadership is easy has never really led… So now back to the kitchen… I’m not really leading in a kitchen at the moment, but I am imagining what it will look like when I do.

And do you know what is interesting? I can see that I will shift back again… clearer lines of authority, clearer job descriptions, greater accountability to excellence and details, less focus on consensus and process. I think I will be much more demanding on people in the kitchen than the church in terms of performance, execution, excellence, and details.

Is this because kitchen/restaurant work is more important than church work? NO!!!! (Not even close, btw!) But the metric is different. In a restaurant, quality production is the metric; in church, the true metric is relationships. That makes a big difference. Why? Because context matters a lot… that is one of the things I am learning.

But… I will bring with me into the kitchen some aspects of leadership from the ministry world that i think will make me a better kitchen leader. While not nearly as relational and consensus-oriented, I will spend time on team-building and vision-casting. While being demanding on details, I will also show a lot of grace and spend both time and resources on developing people’s strengths. Anyway, those are some of my random thoughts on leadership today… would love to hear your thoughts.


I actually wrote this a few weeks ago on Facebook, and am now posting it on this blog as well as my food and cooking blog called at

1 Comment

Posted by on October 5, 2009 in Uncategorized


One response to “Leadership Reflections: Church vs. Kitchen

  1. Katie

    October 5, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    <p>my apologies… demi glace does sound more fancy than gravy doesn’t it? 🙂 that was also the month we dropped your homemade strawberry jam . i would have totally been pissed either way. that was also i think the last summer of the work crew girls living in those crazy storage sheds turned ‘cabins’ and i woke up to find a squirrel in my bed. i forgot all about the cutting boards- aaa the memories!</p>



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