April 6, 2014

Why Your Church is Probably Operating at Less than 50% Effectiveness

Church Mission StatementMost of you will disagree with what I am about to suggest. Nevertheless, I will try my best to share with you what I’ve learned over the last 13 years. Keep in mind that this post title is not a theory; it comes from a front row seat watching real transformation of senior pastors, their staff, their lay leaders, and eventually their entire congregation.

First, I’ll share the problem and give some quick illustrations of churches in the transformation process. Secondly, I will give two analogies to reinforce my point.

THE PROBLEM

The problem is that most churches have a general sense of their mission rather than clearly defined and contextually crafted mission.  What does it mean to be working with a general sense of mission? Let’s illustrate. I just surveyed the top 10 staff at a large church (and by most standards a successful church) running over 1,000 in weekend attendance. When asked to state their mission, the answers included:

  • Extending the joy of following Christ to all people
  • To make disciples and serve the community
  • Reach people and growing disciples
  • Being God’s agent in world to make a difference in the world, everywhere we go.
  • To provide worship, small group and service opportunities

These statements of mission illustrate “leading from a general sense” for two reasons. First, they are not articulating the same words. Second, they are general re-articulations of the great commission. Any nuance among them is due to the bias and experience of the individual. One sounds operational while another sounds missional. One is a follower of John Piper, and one just read, “The Externally Focused Church.” You get the idea.

Now, some may object and suggest that these generic restatements aren’t a problem at all. Isn’t having a general orientation toward a disciple-making mission enough? I don’t think so.

REAL MISSION

In the last 4 years, I have worked with three churches all within a 10 minutes drive from one another in Dallas, Texas. All of these churches run over 1,000 in weekend attendance. Below is the new articulated mission of each church. Keep in mind that when I started working with them, the key leaders only had a general sense of mission.

Church #1: Inviting people into the unexpected joy of desperate dependence on Jesus.

Church #2: Rescuing one another from cultural Christianity to follow Jesus every day.

Church #3: Calling the Christian-ish to become passionate servants of Christ.

Each one of these churches has a mission that reflects:

  • Aspects of denominational heritage (Bible, Baptist & Methodist, respectively)
  • Clues to their corporate strengths and passion as a congregation
  • Nuances guided by their location and facility assets within Dallas
  • An outward posture based on engaging the Dallas culture

Last week I had a follow-up visit with two of the churches. Here are exact quotes from their staff:

  • “We are not the same church we used to be.”
  • “Everyone in our church ‘gets it.’  They know who we are and what we are about, and this creates powerful synergy.
  • “As a result of our focus with leaders in the body, we gave $550,000 more than we ever have to a one-time missions offering (50% increase in giving).”
  • “Our greatest challenge is a willing readiness of our people to do more!”

More energy. Greater resources. Better synergy.  Would you like to have that right now at your church? Sure you would. Would you have guessed that the first step toward this “more” is defining for the first time what your specific mission is as a church? Probably not. And that’s my point. As a result of your generic mission you are most likely operating at less than 50% of what you could be. If you don’t know your mission, you certainly don’t have a culture of mission. And if you don’t have a culture of mission, than what are people in your church really doing? Why are they there?

TWO ANALOGIES

The first analogy is a restaurant start-up. Imagine that we were excited to start a new restaurant and believed it had the potential to be a successful franchise. To get off the ground we want to attract investors and a few talented people to join our ambitious dream. How successful do you think we would be if our mission were to “make food and serve the community?” You guessed it— not very. Why? The language of mission does nothing to differentiate us from the thousands of restaurants that already exist. Nor does it guide our thinking, synergy, planning and communication for practical next steps. We really need to decide whether we are a fast-casual Italian or fine-dining seafood? Right!?

Consider another very different example. My wife Romy is a very talented artist. Sometimes she paints a random scene or an image that inspired her. Sometime she paints with a purpose, selecting a pre-determined location for a painting with a specific objective that guides the content, color and emotion of the work. What might look like the same act to an unknowing observer—Romy painting two similar paintings—is actually very different. One painting requires no pre-thought or preparation. The other work of art is very calculated; she paints with a completely intensity and focus. Purpose changes everything!

So now it’s up to you. If this post means anything to you, conduct a litmus test: do your people know your mission? Is it meaningfully articulated based on your understanding of what your church can do better than 10,000 others? If not, then I think you are operating at a capacity less than 50% of what you should be. And that’s not an exaggeration. And, if you want to talk about it just let me know in the comments below.

If you already do run with a clear, concise, compelling and contextual mission, I would love to know about it and share it with the world. Let me know your mission in the comments section below.

Life if short and ministry is hard. So let’s lead with stunning clarity!

March 25, 2014

The Vision Statements of 13 Great Leaders in the Bible

Spiritual Vision

In a previous post, I introduced the powerful concept call the Future Perfect Paradigm. I am continuing this series by looking at the vision statements or the future perfect of 13 biblical leaders. What is the future perfect paradigm?

The Future Perfect Paradigm is simply looking at everything today through the lens of a powerful future perspective. The more clear and powerful the future perspective, the greater the impact it can have on the way you look at today. 

The summary chart below is taken from work by Robert Clinton and only slightly tweaked and expanded.

Vision Statements of Biblical Leaders and Future Perfect Paradigm

We will continue to explore how the idea of a future perfect paradigm add value to the typical notion of a vision statement in the next post.

March 10, 2014

What’s Your Future Perfect Paradigm? Exploring a Powerful Ministry Tool

The future of the church

What if there was a simple way of thinking about your day today, that could radically transform it?

The term “future perfect paradigm” originates from the work of Stanley Davis in the eighties. He used the term as a framework in strategic planning. Even though the term may sound like just another cool way to talk about vision, Davis brought some unique and helpful thoughts to the study of vision and planning.

I will explore a few key ideas from Davis in a series of posts. In addition, I want to expose you to some of Robert Clinton’s adaptation of Davis’s work as the maven of Christian leadership “stages” and timeline thinking.

Awesome stuff- I promise.

But let’s get started right now with a definition:

Paradigm: a controlling perspective which allows one to perceive and understand reality.

The Future Perfect Paradigm is simply looking at everything today through the lens of a powerful future perspective. The more clear and powerful the future perspective, the greater the impact it can have on the way you look at today. 

Let’s unpack that a bit more. Put on your grammatical hat from Greek class and think of the future-perfect tense. From a time perspective, the present is the past of the future. So imagine having such a powerful image of the future that the present is transformed. It is transformed because the present must lead to that future.

One illustration is the world-class athlete that will fully envision the final performance before the event. Clinton explains, “They will actually go through the event twice, once in their mind—a future perfect way of thinking, and then when it actually happens.” It’s not that hard to image how decisions, priorities, practice and discipline are all shaped by a the substance of a necessary future that has been well defined. Now read Hebrews 11 and consider the biblical concept of faith—”the assurance of things hoped for, the convictions of things not seen.”  Pretty strong connect to the future perfect paradigm, wouldn’t you say?

Stay tuned and we will take a look at how this adds some new meaning to the work of vision planning and vision casting.

What are some of the very cool things you can look forward to?

  • How about a summary table of the “future perfect” vision of thirteen biblical leaders to get us started.
  • Then I want to take a look at one of my favorite ideas for the visionary- “beforemath.” Beforemath is the kissin cousin to a term you already know- “aftermath.”
  • Finally we will look at Clinton’s five stages toward developing a future perfect paradigm.
February 16, 2014

Three Sources of Original Ministry Vision in a Cut-n-Paste Church World

Church Vision and Santa Fe

I spent yesterday afternoon with my wife, Romina on Canyon Road in Santa Fe. It is one of the most concentrated art gallery areas in the world with over one hundred and fifty galleries in a mile stretch.

At one of the galleries, named the Gaugy Gallery, I met Michelle Gaugy who runs a nice shop and consults with artists. She caught our attention with one of her statements:

Most artists are just tweaking someone else’s work.

It became clear that  aspires to help artists to move toward originality of expression (in a similar way that I do with church leaders and church vision). And her gallery was a clear testimony to her life pursuit. As her robust intellectual style drew me in, I knew I could learn something on behalf of church leaders. What follows is my simple question and her responses. I will let you make the connection to ministry.

I asked, “So how does an artist develop originality?”

Michele replied with three answers:

#1: You must have a deep inner life. 

She emphasized the role of reflection for the artist emphasizing the ideas of personal surrender. She explained that the role of visual art is to be a conduit or language of the things that are most valuable to human beings, like the stuff that matters on your death bed. If the artist is not aware on that level, its easy to be tempted by technique and duplicating the style of others. 

#2: You must have a vibrant outer life.

The idea Michele unpacked here is that visual expression is most dynamic when the artist is not just focused on art. She explained how many great artists have occupations that defined their life that gave uniqueness and grounding to their work. The more that an artist can cross different life spheres including vocation, hobbies, and relationships, the better and more original the art will become.

#3 You must have a kindling mechanism

Finally Michele emphasizes the great artists must define and perfect a what she called a kindling mechanism; a way to jumpstart their best creative energy. She explained that for some it might be as simple as starting first thing in the morning to stay closer to a dream state. One famous artist would begin by putting his feet in cold water, while another would stay in prayer and meditation before painting.

It reminded me of why I love coming to Santa Fe to begin with as visiting here is a kindling mechanism for my writing. In fact, I wrote most of Church Unique while visiting Santa Fe.

So, what else would you add?

February 8, 2014

What is Break-Thru Clarity in Ministry?

Vision and Clarity in Ministry

Break-thru clarity is a simple thing that makes a huge impact in your life.  It’s a powerful thing that will dramatically change your ministry.

Most of our days are filled with the daily stuff. And the daily stuff is always pushing you here and pulling you there.  Sunday is coming. People are needy. There’s never enough time. Church life goes on.

Amidst this daily rhythm—sometimes flow and sometimes grind—we find the beauty and blessing of break-thru clarity. Maybe it’s easiest to describe what it feels like when you have it.

  • It’s the power of seeing the same things in a whole new way.
  • It’s the surge of energy that rushes through you and doesn’t seem to stop.
  • It’s the freedom of perspective that suddenly makes prioritization easy.
  • It’s the satisfaction that comes when the staffing puzzle finally make sense.
  • It’s the confidence of a much more vivid 3-year vision.
  • It’s the thrill of a team that wins, again and again.

When God brings you break-thru clarity, nothing feels better.

But for most of us, too much time has passed since our last break-thru. The funny thing about break-thru is that we forget what it feels like; we forget how bad we need it.

How does this happen? Once we taste a little bit of success in ministry, which is always nice, there is plenty to work on. Something is going well and that is good enough. We stay busy. We start something new. We grow. We start another thing. We hire another staff person.

Or maybe you inherit a church with a legacy or we attain a position with prior influence. There’s a lot to protect, a budget to steward. There are expectations from the past and assumptions about the future built into every conversation.

The end result is the same. While you read this there are a hundred other things to read and a thousand other things to do. And you aren’t the only one person in the equation. Your church has other leaders, lots of volunteers and other staff.  They too have thousand things to do to.

 This collective activity becomes the enemy of break-thru clarity. Just imagine…

  • When a potential member asks a question like “Who are we as a church?” or  “Where is God taking us?” what do you say?
  • If someone throws a curveball into the conversation like,  “Are we really making disciples?”  how do you respond?
  • When an elder asks, with a hint of sarcasm “What is our priority for this year?” What’s the next word out of your mouth?

Break-thru clarity is about living and leading with answers to questions like these.  Break-thru clarity is both something you experience and something you have as a team.

What is break-thru clarity?

It is a God-given idea, well understood and skillfully articulated, that brings notable and immediate progress toward realizing your vision.

A simple conviction drives us on the Auxano team: Life is short enough and ministry is hard enough not to have break-thru clarity.  We exist because break-thru does not; or at least not often enough.

When’s the last time your team experienced break-thru clarity?  Where in your ministry could you use break-thru today?

To connect with me and the team at Auxano about break-thru clarity, fill out this short form below.

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