David Sandler created rules for salespeople to be more effective and to get the right product to the right customer.

I refer to the Sandler Training method as a healthy way of creating effective sales leaders and managers.

One of the tools in Sandler is called an “Up-Front Contract,” or UFC – a mutual agreement between the salesperson and potential client before a meeting is scheduled, establishing exactly what will take place during the meeting.

There are five elements to an up-front contract: purpose of the meeting, prospect’s agenda and expectations, salesperson’s agenda and expectations, time, and outcome.

As I went through the Sandler training program, I began to wonder if this might be something pastors could adapt in their congregational settings to help prevent burnout, reduce anxiety, keep conflict from becoming confrontation, and avoid unnecessary meetings.

Pastors, and churches in general, struggle with changing their response to their congregation’s system.

Dysfunctional church systems provide space for people to behave and react in unhealthy and unhelpful ways that they would not elsewhere. Pastors often sacrifice themselves to appease others, allowing others to dictate and control their energy and time.

Mike Crandall, a Sandler trainer in Oklahoma City, shared a phrase with my cohort that pastors should consider adopting it: “The process is mine; the decision is theirs.”

I recall being in the pastoral role and lay leadership forcing me to change a vision, a sermon, a mission, an event or an outreach because they felt no one would attend, buy it, understand it, or would be offended.

I know I am not the only pastor to encounter situations where lay leadership oversteps its role. So, let’s look at the UFC elements and consider how we can adapt it into pastoral leadership.

  1. Establish the purpose of the meeting.

If a congregant asks to meet but won’t explain the purpose or reason for the meeting, then do not agree to meet with them. Remember: “the process is mine; the decision is theirs.”

A congregant should not withhold the reason for a meeting. If the meeting is to resolve a conflict, then the pastor needs to be aware so they can prepare to transform the conflict. If the meeting is to catch up, knowing ahead of time will reduce the pastor’s anxiety and stress.

  1. Clarify the agenda and expectations.

You should help draw out the member’s agenda and expectations prior to the meeting. These expectations include resolution, next steps or what they expect from you during the meeting.

You have permission to explicitly ask, “What are you hoping to get out of our meeting?” Or “What information will you need from me?”

  1. Share your agenda and expectations.

This is an opportunity for the pastor to state clearly what they will be doing during the meeting, such as listening, taking notes or asking questions. Also include what information you will need from the congregant as well.

  1. Agree on a date, time and duration for the meeting.

Be sure to settle on each of these elements. Put an end time on the meeting.

When a congregant asks to meet with you “sometime soon,” ask them for details to clarify how timely the topic is they wish to discuss.

If they suggest you have lunch to discuss the matter, ask if they think an average lunch break would cover what they want to talk about, or whether it could be done in less time or would require more time.

  1. Discuss the desired outcome.

Asking if the person’s concerns have been met as you conclude the meeting will help everyone decide whether or not there are next steps to be taken. If you feel there is no need for a second meeting but the congregant does, then explore why they feel this way.

The elements of an up-front contract are simple and helpful to conserve both energy and time for everyone involved. Remember that both you and the congregant will need to agree to each part of the contract.

An upfront contract is not unbiblical. In fact, God sets an up-front contract with God’s people. From the establishment of the commandments to the prophets, God is constantly setting up-front contracts.

Jesus also sets up-front contracts with his disciples. One of the most famous up-front contracts is found in Luke 18:18-30 where Jesus shares his agenda and expectations with a rich, young man. Even though the man chooses to walk away, Jesus does not waiver from his process and expectations.

Pastors have a difficult and demanding job. It’s uneasy right now being a pastor, leading a congregation full of vast personality types – some of whom have unhealthy expectations.

If I could go back in time, I would use these elements of an up-front contract in every meeting I had with a congregant – particularly those involving conflict.

The UFC elements can help pastors navigate the harsh terrain of the 2020s, but it will require an adjustment in the mindset many pastors have toward engaging congregants.

Remember, “the process is mine; the decision is theirs.” And also remember that you are a beloved, beautiful child of God, and no one can take that away.

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