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By its nature, vision is forward looking. It sees a potential future that captures the soul of the people. Vision is a unifying force that allows a large number of people to pull in a singular direction.

Imagining tomorrow

I love the story of the dedication of EPCOT at Disney World sometime after the death of Walt Disney. A visitor lamented, “It’s too bad Walt isn’t alive to see this”. An EPCOT employee responded, “he did see it. That’s why its here.”

(Disney’s original vision for E.P.C.O.T. starts at 5:12 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9M3pKsrcc8)

What unites our efforts?

That is the question that drives every effective VISION statement.

A great vision is transformational because it changes the people who work toward it even as it changes the future itself. People get on board with something they believe in so strongly they are motivated to help make it reality.

Good leadership brings people along in their own spiritual growth as they strive toward the fulfillment of a shared vision.

The big five in perspective

Vision does not stand alone.

In organizational terms, vision flows down from mission (why do we exist?). Vision is what the church actually does to fulfill its reason for being.

There are 5 key components to a healthy organization:
• the core (mission, vision, values, and strategy)
• the framework
• the systems
• the ministry team
• and the BTRN (Big Thing Right Now).

Vision lives in the core – the soul – of the organization. It drives action. Everything you do in ministry should relate to a clearly stated vision.

Seeing reality before it exists

Vision can and should be multi-dimensional to specifically address each of the major categories of ministry. The goal is to create a mental picture of what these ministries could accomplish that excites people to action and brings glory to God.

Timberline Church of Fort Collins, CO is a good example of a church that uses vision to define ministry functions: http://www.timberlinechurch.org/peaks

Question: can you clearly state what unites your efforts as a church?

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The mission statement of a church should be about how it can best serve the spiritual needs of its community.

It doesn’t need to be clever but it does need to be clear, simple, and inspiring.

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt

I have participated in long, sometimes fruitless, team meetings trying to hammer out a meaningful mission statement. Hours of effort. Mixed emotions of frustration and exhileration.

Then a breakthrough. We finally achieved agreement on a carefully crafted statement.

We joyfully put it out there for everyone to see: website, church sign, bulletin cover, coffee mugs, video announcements, sermon series.

Then we shrugged, yawned, and went back to business as usual.

Why do we exist?

That is the question behind every mission statement. Unfortunately, many of the church mission statements I have seen are bland, generic and well, long.

They tend to use biblical phrasing, which makes them appear sound but I think they miss a great opportunity.

Don’t make your mission statement a list of everything you do such as worship, discipleship, fellowship, etc.

Rather, bring your mission statement to a single focus that captures your distinguishing trait.

Move from generic to unique

The exciting thing is, each church – like everything else God has created – is unique.

Of course, every church should be committed to the Great Commission and the Great Commandments. That’s the starting point, the common ground we all share.

Your church consists of one-of-a-kind people in a one-of-a-kind location at a one-of-a-kind time in history.

Your mission statement should reflect that distinctive identity and embrace the special opportunities that come with it.

Three examples of the kind of mission statements I prefer are:

“We are a sanctuary of transformation.”

“We are a lab where everything is an experiment. There are ways of doing church that no one has thought of yet and we’re more afraid of missing opportunities than making mistakes.” (National Community Church)

“We exist so that people far from God will be raised to life in Christ.” (Elevation Church)

Examples from the Bible

Jesus declared his mission in a variety of ways: I came to seek and save the lost. I came to destroy the works of the devil. I came to give life, abundant life. I came for the lost sheep of Israel (all of which flow from Luke 4:18-19).

Paul had a clear sense of his mission: I was sent as an apostle to the Gentiles. I lay the foundation so others can build on it (1 Cor. 3:10).

Just answer one question

Mission is an “umbrella” statement; a summarization of what follows.

Stick to a single question: Why do we exist?

Don’t try to say everything here. There are 3 more pieces to the “core” so save something for later.

Bottom line

Go for uniqueness, focus, and clarity.

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In a healthy organization, everything is built upon a clear understanding of identity and purpose.

Stick with me here. I know that mission, vision, values, and strategy are common terms to most churches.

What’s uncommon is a useful understanding and application of them to the everyday life of the church.

Not how it used to be

When I started out in ministry I gave no conscious thought to the organizational side of church. I don’t recall anyone talking about it either. We just took it for granted.

Our organizational practices were so normalized we just figured they were the right way to do things.

Times have changed. As our world has grown more complex, organizations have become more sophisticated.

Churches have adjusted to keep pace. Or, at least some have.

Most of those that have not are in decline.

Let’s revisit the foundational questions

How well these questions are answered will determine whether the organizational life of your church is built upon rock or sand. They are the starting point of clarity.

You want to create compellingly simple and inspiring answers to four questions.
1. Why do we exist? (mission)
2. What unites our efforts? (vision)
3. What motivates our behaviors? (values)
4. How will we succeed? (strategy)

The goal is to base everything you do in ministry on these fundamental premises.

The CORE of the organization

A well-stated, accurate self-understanding positions you for the best possible influence in your ministry world.

It is the core – the heart and soul – of an effective church.

It is the primary factor for people buying in and it sets the direction for everything the church will do.

I know, it takes some focused concentration to achieve this.

However…

This is what people who are shopping for a church want to know about you. How easy or difficult is it for them to get a trustworthy understanding of what you are all about?

This is not image making, trying to create a good impression that masks reality. It’s your DNA, those features that identify the real you at your best.

When you can clearly state who you are and what you do, you will attract the people who are the best candidates to give and receive ministry in your church.

Bottom line

The more focused your self-understanding the more powerful it becomes.

Question: Does your church have compellingly simple and inspiring answers to the four foundational questions?

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Your Best Opportunity to Up Your Leadership Game

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Here’s a way to add rocket fuel to your church. Get your arms around the five key components of an organization.

They contain the potential to significantly increase your effectiveness as a leader and to improve the effectiveness of your church in your community.

Getting to above average

I live within easy driving distance of the Kennedy Space Center and Walt Disney World. I love spending time at those remarkable places. They are vastly different from each other but I see organizational similarities that have made them great.

They have mastered the basic organizational principles that create unforgettable experiences.

You can too. The principles are the same, just applied differently.

Would you like to know what your people want?

They want clarity about why, what, and how their church does ministry. They want to eliminate confusion and inconsistencies. They want to serve in a coherent and cohesive ministry environment based on a consistent message from the entire ministry team.

This is how you get there. Engage your ministry leaders in conversations about the five key organization components and what they look like for your church.

The Five Components

Here are the five key components and the questions that will help you create a coherent and cohesive ministry environment.

The core – who are we and what do we do?

The framework – what are the ministry roles, responsibilities, and functions?

The systems – what are our repeatable processes for getting things done?

The ministry team – who are the people that make things happen? How do we work together to turn the dream into reality?

The BTRN (Big-Thing-Right-Now) – how do we sustain unity, health and growth?

Just to be clear, perfection is not the goal.

If you already feel overwhelmed that may be because you haven’t thought much about some of these organization elements.

Don’t panic. Getting from where you are to organizational health is a process. Goal number one is clarity.

Bottom line

If you work with your team to gain understanding of these five components and to answer the critical questions with compellingly simple and inspiring statements you will be amazed at the results.

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Top 2 Things People Want In Their Leaders

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Clarity and confidence.

I believe those two things will energize your people to move mountains.

Clarity about why, what, and how you are doing ministry.

Confidence from knowing your sweet spot in leadership.

Not too much, not too little

One thing about me that drives Joan crazy is my love of precision in language. If she sends me to the store I like to know the exact brand, size, and location of the items she wants.

That’s a slight exaggeration but if she is too general in her description I often get it wrong. Then we’re both frustrated.

Life and ministry move too fast to complicate them more with excessive detail.

However, there are some basic organization pieces that require us to slow down, think carefully, and articulate clearly if we want to up our game.

Words matter!

Clarity is your best friend

Clarity about organizational purpose, values, priorities, and processes is one of the most powerful leadership tools available and yet seems to be a rare gem among churches.

For all the talk about things like mission, vision, and values, useful application of them seems frustratingly illusive.

If it’s any comfort, it’s not just a church problem; lack of clarity is common in all types of organizations, including businesses.

Patrick Lencioni nails this issue in his excellent book The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. He hails clarity as THE key to organizational health. I agree.

Clarity is essential for:
• alignment of organizational practices
• cohesiveness among the leadership team, and
• eliminating confusion and turf wars.

Organizational clarity is your best opportunity to improve ministry effectiveness.

Behind most of the churches that are successful today you will find clarity about the five key organization components (more about them in my next post).

Confidence follows personal clarity

I sat with some bright young church leaders to discuss organization effectiveness and was intrigued with their common motivation. The thing they most wanted was to achieve confidence in their own leadership.

They made the connection between organizational clarity and finding their sweet spot in leadership.

Confidence comes from seeing how what you do best as a leader contributes to the fulfillment of the ministry dream. When the dream is clear it’s easier to find your place in it.

Bottom line

There are two great benefits of organization health.
• You gain clarity about what should be happening in your church.
• As a leader, you experience a new level of confidence that comes from knowing where you fit in the big picture.

Question: How clear are you about the why, what, and how of ministry in your church?

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Before You Give Up on the Church, Read This

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I think many churches can be better than they are. They don’t look as much like Jesus as they could. They have an inward focus on self-preservation rather than being a life-giver to their community.

Imagine your church to be a place where stories of transformed lives are created every day.

One big lesson I have learned from life

Next to Jesus, Joan is the best gift that God ever gave me. In our 42 years together we’ve raised 4 children, welcomed 8 (soon 9) grandchildren, pastored 2 churches, and accumulated a ton of memories.

Life has been good but sometimes hard.

Just because you love someone doesn’t mean it’s easy living with him or her. We both have flaws. We’ve hurt each other. But we have pushed through the pain, made adjustments, and our love has grown stronger.

You lose when you quit

The same is true with the church. There are times we could have given up on it.

Twice we have stepped out of church leadership for a season to give our hearts, minds, and bodies a chance to heal. But even in those times we stayed engaged with the church as active members.

You can’t walk away from something that has given you life.

You can’t forget that we all bring brokenness that complicates relationships.

And you can’t reject the people of God without hurting the heart of Jesus who loves us all with an unfailing love.

3 guidelines for redesigning the church

1. Approach with prayer: We must remember that when we are tinkering with the church the eyes of Jesus are upon us. He clearly told us that he would build his church and nothing would be able to stand against it. Our efforts to redesign the church will either support or oppose God’s intentions in the world.

2. Life is messy: The church consists entirely of imperfect people. Eyes of grace see the beauty in the ashes. I have experienced the joys and the pain of encounters with imperfect people. Sadly, I have contributed to the joys and pain of others. But we are still in love. And there are others who need what we have to give.

3. Don’t lose the wonder: The church is an amazing, complex, mysterious, beautiful creation. And no wonder, for she was conceived in the mind of Jesus and is the bride he adores. To him we are a beautiful mess.

So, I come to the writing of this blog with reverence and gratitude. I want my words to honor my savior and build up his church.

This is my gift of gratitude to Jesus for all he and his church have done for my family and me.

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[This is my final blog post for 2014. After the first of the New Year I plan to write about the 5 key components of organization and why they are so important to the health of the church.]

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Why Do Visions Fail?

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Many church leaders have a great vision but fail in the execution of their vision. Why? Because their church lacks healthy and mature systems to accomplish what they believe God wants them to do.

Dreams without processes are unlikely to succeed.

It’s about making things happen

When we were living in Ohio we purchased a home with 2 acres of lawn. Beautiful, but a lot of work in the summer.

It was wearing me out. I needed a plan, a repeatable process.

We owned a riding lawn mower, a push mower, and a weed eater. At the time, three of our children were old enough to use power equipment and had time to spare.

So, we divided up the work.

Each of the kids was responsible for a third of the lawn. They could use the riding mower. I kept the equipment serviced. And I used the push mower and weed eater to trim the edges. If anyone waited until the grass was too long, they also had to rake up the piles of cut grass.

The process worked quite well because we all knew exactly what we were expected to do and when.

Systems are repeatable processes to accomplish specific objectives.

• Systems consist of multiple elements that interact with one another. All are necessary for the smooth operation of any organization.

• Systems are identifiable. They can be named, associated with a specific purpose, broken down into components, organized into a sequential process, and seen as a part of a larger system.

Don’t miss this: systems directly affect the attitudes and behaviors of those you lead as well as the quality of their work.

Essential for building momentum

Established processes and procedures are not optional; they are a must.

Without them you will experience constant frustration because everything requires your attention. People will keep coming to you for every decision since established procedures and empowering processes are missing.

Most pastors are gifted communicators that can inspire people to action. They motivate others with their words.

However, inspiration has a short shelf life. Motivation supported by adequate processes enables and facilitates dream-fulfilling action.

Bottom Line

Momentum is not sustainable without healthy systems in place.

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I’m convinced that many church problems are rooted in organization dysfunction. Bad situations can often be fixed, if not completely avoided, with good organizational systems.

Personal conflict often results from poor organization. Team harmony is much easier when there is an underlying organizational harmony.

Seems pretty obvious

So I’m in my chiropractor’s office laying face up on the bench while he is working on my neck. As he was pulling, stretching, and massaging my neck, my head was positioned to look at my feet. I noticed my toes moving involuntarily.

When I mentioned this, the chiropractor responded, “everything is connected”.

Literally, from head to toe our physical bodies have skeletal, muscle, and nervous systems that are so interrelated that a slight movement in one area of the body is detected and reciprocated by other parts of the body.

That’s the nature of systems

Systems have a cause and effect relationship.

“A system is a group of interacting, interrelated, interdependent components that form a complex and unified whole” (Anderson & Johnson, System Thinking Basics, 1997).

An action in one component of a system triggers a response in related components, which in turn stimulates responses in other components of the system like a ripple effect.

Smooth running churches have good systems

Fact 1: Churches rely on systems, whether they are intentionally developed or they organically evolve. Intentionality is usually better.

Fact 2: Because of the interconnectivity in systems, what happens in one part of the system has an effect on the other parts.

Fact 3: The best way to achieve and maintain organizational health is to work for alignment within and among the systems in your church organization.

Fact 4: Better systems will significantly increase your horsepower to accomplish more and better ministries.

Question: Isn’t it better to build good organization systems than deal with personal conflicts caused by bad or missing systems?

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All Systems Go!

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Last Friday was an amazing day. Joan and I experienced the historic launch of Orion at Cape Canaveral.

Incredible machine! Designed for deep space exploration. Proclaimed by NASA to be an engineers’ “magnum opus”.

The tension is palpable just moments before the rockets fire when the launch director polls all divisions for a go/no-go decision. It is critical that all the systems are monitored and working. What an adrenaline rush when the launch director finally says, “cleared for liftoff”!

For all its complexity, the liftoff, 4.5-hour test flight, and splashdown were flawless.

Because… NASA is good at designing and integrating systems.

Your systems can make you or break you

My friend, also named Steve, a successful businessman, is adamant about this.

Businesses with good systems in place succeed. Businesses without good systems fail. Good systems are the single most important factor in running a successful business.

Well-designed and smooth running churches also have good systems.

More than the latest fad

The word ‘systems’ is one of the current buzzwords in the church world, and for good reason. We are awakening to the necessity and power of well designed and executed systems.

Simply stated, systems are repeatable processes for accomplishing specific objectives.

An often used quote from Edward Deming, the American professor who is credited with architecting the almost miraculous economic recovery in Japan following WWII, goes something like “your systems are perfectly designed to get the results you are getting”. (Unfortunately, that’s not usually a compliment.)

Deming also said, “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing”. Too often that’s exactly the case in churches.

According to Tony Morgan, healthy church systems will benefit you in a number of ways including the following.

1. They empower your people to do ministry without always having to get permission.
2. They mobilize many people rather than leaning on a select handful of talented individuals.
3. They simplify the path, making it easier for people to get things done.

Bottom line

Well-designed systems are some of the greatest gifts you can give to your ministry team.

Question: What might happen if churches had better systems in place?

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Actually, comments are welcome!

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I became aware yesterday that the message “comments on this entry are closed” has been appearing on my blog posts. This was a surprise ‘gift’ from a software update.

The glitch is corrected and comments on previous posts are most welcome.

Thanks to all who have contributed so far. I would love to see an online community develop as participation grows.

That’s all for today. I’m at Cape Canaveral for the launch of Orion. Hopefully we will get to see it lift off successfully today.

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