February 20, 2016

Only 4 Types of Pastors Excel at Vision – Are You One of Them?

Pastors that Excel at Vision

I was having a conversation with Bryan Rose on the Auxano team recently. We broached the topic of “pastors who get it.” That is, we discussed the kinds of pastors who really press through the vision process to gain great clarity. These pastors lead with humility and tenacity. These pastors build great churches. These pastors see the kingdom grow right in front of their eyes. These are the true visionaries.

We believe these leaders fit almost perfectly into one of four categories or four types of pastors.

These are four types of pastors that are willing to learn, discern and do the hard work of visionary leadership. Another way to say it is that these pastors are leading today what will be the great churches ten and twenty years from now.


#1 – The relevant rookie pastor: “I don’t know what I don’t know”

These pastors are sharp younger leaders (20s and 30s) who are in tune with their personal calling and dialed in to the prevailing issues of popular culture. They are probably in a new role that brings new responsibility; or they may be launching out on their own as a church planter. jason webbThey are naturally hungry to learn. They are culture savvy and they are connected to the people they are leading. 

They understand that they don’t know everything about organizational leadership. They are humble enough to invite a coach to the table. But their humility does not dilute their tenacity. They are the new breed of visionaries. They are tired of the old scorecards and will do whatever it takes to communicate the substance of the culture and vision of the church. 

Client profile: Jason Webb at ElmBrook Church recently completed a 9-month vision framing process.  “Rookie” doesn’t reflect Jason’s stellar church planting track record. But as a 30-something leader walking into a 5,000 plus attendance church, others might assign that adjective. (Especially when following in the footsteps of Stuart Briscoe and Mel Lawrenz, two former senior pastors.) Jason did an amazing job stewarding a vision process with a highly tenured team. They are 8 months into their vision roll-out. The completely new sense of team is felt and focus on the future is extraordinarily clear. Their passion is to help spiritually adrift people become rooted and released in Jesus Christ.

#2 – The legacy minded pastor: “I want to leave something valuable”

On the opposite end of the “rookie” spectrum is the legacy minded pastor. These pastors have likely led for decades in the same church. They have a lifetime of trust building and faithful service creating solid and influential ministries.

But they know that times are changing. They are now aware of the generational pattern of failed successions of senior pastors.  They are not quite ready to pass the baton or even make any long-term succession announcements, but they want to start putting the house in order. They are probably 3-7 years away from leaving their position.  They want to be more relevant. They want to re-clarify what their church can do best and re-align ministries to strengthen impact. They are tired of just doing more and want to prune ineffective ministries. They want to leave a strong and self-aware church to their eventual successor.

Client Profile: Pastor Clint has been leading his church for 25 years. At age 62, he feels that he has at least five more years left. He has built one of the best megachurches in North America. The church is getting older than people want to admit. Even though younger leaders are present, they are not present with serious responsibility yet. Pastor Clint has raised the money to do a 12-month vision process and it has reinvigorated his life and ministry like nothing before. As each month brings increasingly clarity, he is leading better, allowing others to lead better and is gaining confidence toward the long-range future.

#3 – The newly stuck pastor: “I have barrier that I now realize is not going away and I am not exactly sure how to fix it.”

The newly stuck pastor has a very simple story. You keep growing until you don’t. After five or 10 years of year-over-year growth, the church just stops growing. Giving is not going up; or at least not as much. By the way, you know you are in this place when you push really hard to “feel like you are growing” even though, deep inside, you know you are not. For example, attendance may be flat, but you put your hope in the fact that the church had slightly more attendance at Easter. Or you keep focusing on a few months where giving is slightly higher. You take momentary relief in the trend that your most faithful members attend church less. 

To make matters worse, if you look around the church, everything is going fine. All cylinders are hitting. Buildings are great, staff is relatively healthy. It’s hard to know why the growth is not just happening any longer.

The truth is that the organization is perfectly designed to get the results that it’s getting. Something about the structure, the culture, or the complexity of the church is holding it back. But because all of the successful years, the answer is not obvious or automatic. Finally something happens: you realize you need some perspective from the outside. You’ll do whatever it takes to break that glass ceiling.

Client Profile: Pastor Dan is 55 and has been leading a church for 10 years. Five years ago the attendance plateaued at around 1,600 in weekend services. He has kept hoping for the best and has become increasing bothered by their lack of growth. In fact, they built seating capacity to handle double their current attendance.  Every Sunday, Dan feels the pain of the empty seats   On Sabbatical two summers ago, he read Church Unique and began to think about both his vision and his organization dynamics. Recently he finished a 12-month vision framing process. He is more excited than ever to be in ministry. He is seeing people excited as he creates and models a culture of mission. He is leading with vision like never before. Attendance is already on the rise and giving has dramatically picked up.

#4 – The rapid growth pastor: “I don’t want to grow bigger, unless bigger is better.”

There are two types of rapid-growth pastors: those who fixate on attendance only and those with a passion for disciple-making in a growing church context. I work primarily with the latter and that is the profile I am now describing. David SaathoffThese pastors understand that all growth is not good growth. They understand that growth out of alignment in the human body is called cancer. What then, do you call growth in the body of Christ that is out of alignment with the DNA of Jesus?

The rapid growth pastor sees a growing attendance as a critical stewardship. It’s a starting point not an end point. Are there clear next steps not just to “get involved but” to really grow as disciple-making disciples? Is leadership development and people development taking place? Is growing attendance happening under the banner of a vivid sense of the church’s impact for the next 5-10 years? Are we sending as well as we are attracting? Are we managing our culture or letting the growth manage us? 

Client Profile: David Saathoff leads City Church in San Antonio. Dave has engaged the Vision Framing process several times since he launched the church 20 years ago. He continually manages clarity in the complexity of growth and the messiness of reaching people far from God. He has literally reached thousands with the passion to become catalysts of spiritual and social change in the city. He has one of my favorite mission measures which codifies the practices of “how we live” across a large church community. Even if new people are added at a fast rate, the expectation of disciple-making is delivered at concurrent speed. How do they articulate it? How we live: We listen to God, be the church, share a meal, downsize to maximize, peel the onion, keep our passport current and lean towards green.

These are the four types of pastors that excel at vision. Which one are you?

February 12, 2016

How Jon Tyson at Trinity Grace Church Masterfully Models a Vision Sunday Message

Trinity Grace Church Vision SundayI’ve enjoyed a few interactions with Jon Tyson over the years, who I met for the first time at Discovery Church in Orlando. Ten years ago he planted Trinity Grace Church in New York City. He tweeted a quote from Church Unique today which led to an audio I discovered of his recent vision Sunday message. If you want to improve your vision casting or plan your own vision Sunday this year, it’s worth the time to listen.

Vision Sunday is not Jon’s term, but it is the most common way church leaders talk about a special preaching weekend dedicated to addressing the identity and direction of the church. It always signals a pivotal moment: the turning  page in the church’s history, the re-invogorating of a core ideal or value, an assessment of recent ministry efforts or the dramatic unveiling of a new initiative or dream. For Jon and the people of Trinity Grace, this vision Sunday was a gathering of several multisites or missional community “parishes” to celebrate and recalibrate at the 10-year mark.

Why is it a masterful model of preaching vision on a vision Sunday? 

In Church Unique, published in 2008, I teach the six elements of a compelling vision casting moment with a tool called the Vision Casting Spider Diagram. Two of the six the elements are consistently missing when church leaders cast vision: the “burning platform” and the “mind stretch.” And, it just so happens, that these two elements are the most critical to achieving the powerful influence of the vision itself.

It’s worth listing to the message, to see how Jon injects burning platform content and mind stretching perspective for his congregation at the 10-year mark. Below, you will find a few nuggets. For a full training experience, I suggest that you download the Vision Casting Spider Diagram and listen to Jon’s message with your team.

Element #1: Burning Platform – Do I frame the larger need and speak to the fear of loss?

My favorite part of the message is when Jon shares that they have uncovered 49 true conversion stories in a church of 2400 attenders. He boldly declares that a 2% conversion does not reveal the full measure of what the Holy Spirit can do. He says that he is “amazed but not satisfied.” Here are some phrases that help paint a picture of need. He could have easily celebrated their success only, but uses the the strong results of a 10-year run to set up the need for revival.

“It’s too hard and too much work to do programs for more Christians.”

“We have dribs, drabs and a slow grind. We need more of the Spirit not less.”

“Our dreams can’t be determined by the plausibility structures of our culture but by the purposes of God in our time.”

“What is our response at 10 years in? Repentance. We spend our lives in busy activism, we need to repent of this, we need to repent of the typical New York Christian life.”

“We are not satisfied with success in evangelical Christianity.”

Element #2: Mind Stretch –  Do I enlarge faith and challenge the imagination with audacious God-size goals?

As Jon looks into the future he uses the primary template of what I call  “Presence Manifestation” in God Dreams, my most recent book on visionary planning. This is a classic reformed vision of renewal and revival. Jon expresses this beautifully, with power and impact for his time and place. He uses Scripture to paint a picture of the Spirit’s role in unifying the body to give us a shared heartbeat (aligning our desires) and a shared mindset (aligning our vision). He uses history to help our minds stretch to see the possible impossibility of “the acceleration of the Spirit’s natural work.”  Specifically, he recounts the Moravian stories as “historical mentors of the church.” Listen to some of his mind-stretching ideas (quotes are not exact):

“The motivation for our founding was a longing to see the fame and deeds of God renewed and known in our time.”

“When I read my Bible, I realized that this is not the Lord of the Rings, this is TRUE.”

“It’s the Spirit’s role to keep us together, to unify us. The Spirit melts us together. It’s the Spirit’s role to convict the world. The Spirit has a capacity to internally convince us.”

“The Spirit glorifies Jesus who shows us an alternative way and alternative world. He confounds our understanding of who God is and what he wants to do.”

“God wants to do something so spiritually provocative in our time that others will grab the hem of our garments in order to be a part.”

I hope you take the time to listen to the message. Remember: most pastors spend more time on preaching in one month than they do on visionary planning in 5 years. Your calling and your people, deserve more.

>> Download the Vision Casting Spider Diagram >>>

>>> Listen to Jon’s message with your team >>>

November 2, 2015

5 Ways Your Church Mission Loses Power

church mission is powerfulThe mission of the church is powerful. It guided the everyday ministry of Jesus on planet earth.  It guides Jesus as he build his church today, through us. It’s recorded variously in all of the gospels but most commonly referenced in Matthew chapter 28:

 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20)

Yet, while the mission of the church was given to every church by Jesus, the culture of every church doesn’t always take its cue from our Savior’s command. Somehow in the mechanics of ministry the church mission may unintentionally lose steam. 

How does this happen?

Church leaders never willingly or knowingly turn their back on the mission of making disciples and taking the gospel to the four corners of the earth. The big idea of the church is preached and taught over and over again.

In the end, the problem is not that the Savior’s intent is found missing; it is found diminished. It is present but but not bright, having been eclipsed by something more important.

What could be more important? How does your church mission lose its power over time?

#1 The church’s mission is disabled

Sometimes the mission of the organized church does not transmit to the individual. Rather it stays compartmentalized to the clergy. That is, individual attenders never embrace the mission as their own.

Think of the mission as a steam engine on a train. What happens if the engine decouples from the entirety of the train cars behind it? The train goes nowhere! In the church, the people are the train cars. Every individual is supposed to be empowered by and moving on mission with Jesus. But pastors can easily uncouple their people from the mission—the steam engine— without knowing it.

Do a quick scan of your church’s mission again. Does it sound like something the staff does or the big church building does? How accessible is your language to the everyday member? Can they get out of bed each day and “put on” the mission?

#2 The church’s mission is relegated

Sometimes the work of evangelism or missional living or global responsibility is limited to one ministry area. Jesus didn’t command the the church to have a missions department, he commanded it to be on mission. He didn’t ask us to preach the mission as much as he modeled for us the life-on-life transmission of it. If only one part of your ministry is focused on those outside of the church, the entire church will drift over time and the mission will loose it’s power.

How does each leader and ministry area in your church convey the importance of mission in their area? One example is modeled by Pat Conner, when she led the children’s ministry at Sagemont Church. She translated the church’s mission for the kids. Sagemont’s mission is “to be living proof of God’s love to watching world.” Knowing that kids wouldn’t get this poetic phrase, she trained them “to be a real life picture of Jesus love to my family and friends.

#3 The church’s mission is depreciated

You have heard it said that what gets rewarded gets repeated. Every church culture rewards some behavior. Stories are told, celebrations are made—formal and informal; planned or unplanned. Everyone on the team has some mental scorecard of success.

In many church’s the unspoken script of success is not based on the mission. Staff count “butts in seats in my ministry area.” People talk about feeling cared for or not. Pastors are commended for the style of their teaching not the effectiveness of their training. 

When is the last time you really celebrated the mission? How would your people know that it was the mission that was celebrated?

#4 The church’s mission is negated

The church is a group of forgiven people not a collection of perfect ones. In fact, a mission that involves life transformation is going to be messy. There will be plenty of problems, hurts and arguments to go around. Fortunately, Jesus showed the way to forgive, to restore and to heal. 

Nevertheless, some church cultures empower divisiveness in a way that cancels the ability of reaching those outside of the church. Scripture reminds us that the unity of brothers and sisters in Christ a powerful part of demonstrating the mission of Jesus. John 13:35 says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

A church that is not continually restoring the unity of the faith will not be reaching new people for the faith. By allowing unresolved conflict to live in the church, spiritual leaders short-circuit the mission without knowing it.

#5 The church’s mission is abbreviated

One dramatic irony when handling the sacred text, is that our assent to the words of Scripture can sometimes inhibit a breakthrough of understanding it. To say it another way, sometimes leaders acknowledge the Great Commission without personally experiencing it.  When this happens, a  leader may continually reinterpret the activity of ministry to fit his or her own paradigm of mission. The idea of the mission itself is abbreviated; that is, it becomes a shorter, smaller version of the real thing.

For example, imagine someone during the worship service professes faith for the first time, because they wandered in after driving by the church. That would be a special moment for sure. However, that would not be an example of a church attender personally investing in disciple-making because the mission has been personally translated to them. Even if the pastor has not personally been investing in the mission of Jesus, he may consider this “freebie” salvation as “the church on mission.” The church’s ministry continues as a faint shadow of a people of God on mission, without sensing that the mission has been redefined. In essence the church’s mission become truncated, it is only partially experienced because it is only partially understood.

How then can a church leader avoid abbreviating the mission?

Vince Lombardi was considered a legendary football coach. He challenged his players to master the basics as he symbolically asserted “Gentlemen, this is a football” at the beginning of every season.

Pastors can do the same. Don’t take the basics for granted for yourself or your members. When was the last time you said to your church, “Brothers and sisters, this is the mission Jesus gave us!

October 13, 2015

12 Fun Facts About the Vision Frame for Church Leaders

Vision Frame in action by church leaderWhat is the Vision Frame? I’m glad you asked. It is a simple napkin sketch or whiteboard drawing that is used to represent the five irreducible questions of any ministry. It pictures mission, values, strategy, measures and vision and relates them in a way that is more meaningful and memorable. Read the complete overview.

For now here are some fun facts about the Vision Frame which debuted in print in the book Church Unique: How Missional Leaders Cast Vision Capture Culture and Create Movement.

1- BIRTHPLACE: The Vision Frame was born on a napkin sketch in 2001, in Clear Lake, Texas when I was playing and doodling at my desk. It is now 14 years old and sometimes wakes up with pimples.

2- CHEAP LABOR: When the Vision Frame first hit the road consulting, I was simply begging my seminary buddies to bring me in for staff retreats. I would come as long as they paid my airfare and bought lunch.

3- BILINGUAL: The Vision Frame speaks two languages— it can enter a meeting on classic planning and hangout in the missional conversation. This language roughly corresponds to leaders over 40 years of age (classic lingo) and leaders under 40 (missional lingo). In other words, the Vision Frame is proud to be multigenerational tool.

4- PERSONALITY: The Vision Frame is notoriously hard to get to know and even comes across square at first. But once you get to know it, it becomes a best friend that you will always want around.

5- NO FAVORITES: Since the Vision Frame is truly model neutral, its works for any faith tribe, ministry model or philosophy. It loves church planters, turnaround leaders, and megachurch pastors just the same. It truly has no favorites!

6- HAPPIEST DAY: Anytime a church leaders go up to a white board and shares the five irreducible questions of clarity around a box, square or anything that remotely looks like a Vision Frame.

7- SADDEST DAY: When the Vision Frame read Tim Keller’s Center Church and it was never mentioned.  It’s feelings were hurt since so many books in the missional conversation where mentioned both good and bad. After all, how can you talk about “theological vision” without a Vision Frame?

8- TRACK RECORD: Church leaders search for “Vision Frame” 400 times per month on the internet; it sells the same number of books per month after 8 years.

9- TRAVEL: The Vision Frame has spent the most of its travel time all over South America, Korea, Germany and Switzerland. The Spanish version is Iglessia Unica. The Korean version of Church Unique is literally translated, “Your Church in 10 Years.”

10- SECRETS: The Vision Frame secretly believes that when Jesus was drawing something in the sand, it was probably looked like a frame.

11- STYLE: The Vision Frame is the only organizational approach to clarity that actually uses a picture to transmit the key ideas. Patrick Lencioni, Jim Collins and Peter Drucker have similar irreducible questions but never made them visual or fashionable. Further more the Vision Frame has icons decorating it and a 52-page gorgeously designed visual overview dedicated to it. Get it here—requires e-mail.

12- KISSIN COUSIN: The Vision Frame has a related tool, the Horizon Storyline, which debuts on January 1st of 2016:  God Dreams: 12 Vision Templates to Find and Focus Your Church’s Future. While the Vision Frame will be a little jealous there are many shout outs to it in the book.

September 22, 2015

Stop “Making Disciples:” 10 Ways Church Mission Statements Backfire

Church Mission Statements BackfireThe idea of mission is simple: Do you and those who you lead know what you are ultimately supposed to be doing? While most pastors think they are clear on mission, most church attenders are not. And in some ways, how we use the default language of “making disciples” is to blame, even though these words represent a very important biblical passage.

To say it a different way, how church leaders cut and paste Matthew 28:19-20 as a crown-jewel text of the Great Commission is actually working against their accomplishment of it. Our church mission statements backfire on us!

Here are ten quirky realities about church mission statements that illuminate how they backfire. Which one is most applicable to your current situation?

Quirky Reality #1: No Process

Even though the Bible records many examples of leaders articulating the mission of God’s people, we fixate on Matthew’s version of it. Rather than going through a process to articulate the Jesus-given mission for our specific time and place, we parrot the words of one particular gospel over the others.

Quirky Reality #2: No Definition

By photocopying Matthew’s version of the church’s mission, we traffic in words like “make disciples” with little to no definition or context and in some cases very little actual experience. Because we get it from the Bible and preach with biblical intent, we don’t think we need to.

Quirky Reality #3: Anything Goes

It is easy for church attenders  to reinterpret their experience of church—whatever it may be—as a “making disciples” experience because there is little to no definition or context for these words. This creates a vicious cycle within the church of assuming we know what we mean as the church continues to make decisions, spend money and add ministries. A church can be anything it wants to anybody. It can do anything it wants to do with perfect justification underneath its undefined mission statement.

Quirky Reality #4: Missing Scorecard

Pastors validate the mission of “make disciples” with a scorecard that has nothing to do with whether or not a disciple has been made; that is with the scorecard of attendance and giving only. Concerts and circuses have great attendance and giving too.

Quirky Reality #5: Incomplete Competence

Because we can name “make disciples” as the “right answer” for the mission of the church, we think we know how to lead with mission. When it fact, we are substituting “a knowledge about” mission with the lifelong competency development of “leading from” mission.

Quirky Reality #6: False Assurance 

Because of the notion of “mission as statement,” the written statement in our membership class or website creates a false sense of completion. Stating the mission one time becomes a “been there, done that” step.” Since it is stated somewhere, we think the work of leading with mission is done, when it has hardly begun.

Quirky Reality #7: Reinforced Consumerism

In the process of articulating a “make disciples” mission, 95% of churches reinforce consumerism without knowing it. This happens because most statements imply to the church attender that they, as the disciple, are the beneficiaries of services and groups provided by the fulltime pastors. The pastors and staff, they assume, do “the making.”

Why does this occur? Simply put, the language of “making a disciple” is not accessible enough to the mindset of our culture. People don’t get out of bed and think to themselves, “I get to make disciples today.” They leave that to “the professionals” and to the “place they go” to attend church.

Quirky Reality #8: Misdirected Energy

The primary growth challenge of any church is having culture of mission. By focusing on a thousand things to grow our church, we miss the first and most important step to healthy multiplication and dynamic growth. All growth and renewal in a church comes from the process of re-founding the mission with the leadership core, which is hopefully a growing leadership core.

Quirky Reality #9: Little Transference

When a church is in its most entrepreneurial form, a culture of mission is “in the atmosphere” and little intention is necessary for people to “feel it.” The start and the big bang of the church itself substantiates the mission whether it is thoughtfully articulated or not. But once the church grows past 75 people, how you articulate the mission is critical to its transference.

Quirky Reality #10: Shadow Mission

In addition to your stated mission, every organization has a functional mission or “shadow mission.” Think of the functional mission as the unstated driver or notion of “success” that most naturally tempts us to drift off the Jesus-given mission of the church. For example a functional mission of many churches would be something like to “have more people attend worship services” or “to sustain enough giving to keep our current staff” or “to not make anyone unhappy.”

One Application: Your Own Words

Perhaps the best way to summarize this post is to recall one of the fundamental exercises of learning: “putting it in your own words.” Your second grade English teacher asked you to read something. And when she wanted to know if you understood what you were reading, she asked you to restate it in your own words.

Likewise, our people won’t understand the mission of Jesus until they can put in in their own words.