Leading a Cutting Edge Church


What will make the critical difference if churches and ministries are to remain on the cutting edge during these early years of the 21st century?


When churches learn from both their mistakes and successes, they can improve their processes to meet cultural challenges and changing standards for ministry. Learning helps organizations adapt to change, avoid repeating past mistakes, and retain critical knowledge. If church leaders do not learn, they lose their ability to provide relevant, biblically sound ministry. Churches that learn fastest introduce a range of ministries and services to their members and community and adjust them quickly based on results and feedback.

How Do You Create a Cutting Edge Church?

1. Identify and articulate shared purposes, values, and vision.

This is a must. Values and vision provide the direction and energy to keep the church on course and moving forward. As people are more empowered, a clear understanding of the purposes, values, and vision keeps everyone moving in the same direction. Biblical purposes and mandates distinguish the church. By clear understanding of and strong personal and corporate commitment to biblical purposes, the church becomes more than just another business or organization.

2. Become entrepreneurial.

Churches on the cutting edge adapt entrepreneurial strategies to Christian ministry. This means leaders are unafraid to take risks and stimulate vision among those who minister with them. Part of this process involves empowering others. All members are encouraged to be entrepreneurs. Many members can take independent initiatives rather than having to submit every idea for approval. This does not ignore accountability and commitment to the church's shared values and vision. It acknowledges each believer is called, gifted, and empowered by the Holy Spirit and can discern God's will.

3. Learn to thrive on change and uncertainty.

Al Flood, chairman and CEO of CIBC Bank stated, "In a fast-paced, continually shifting environment, resilience to change is often the single most important factor that distinguishes those who succeed from those who fail."

The church can thrive in change and uncertainty when leaders and members are clear about their biblical purposes. Problems come when a church confuses its true biblical purposes with preferences for ministry methods. A church that is clear about God's unchanging purposes, can exploit change and uncertainty as opportunities. The question is, "How can we use these changes in the process of achieving our goals?"

Flood identified five basic characteristics of what he calls Type-O (Opportunity-oriented) people. When these same characteristics are present in the church and its leaders, that church can thrive in change and uncertainty.

* Positive: Display a sense of security and self-assurance based on a view of life as complex and challenging but filled with all kinds of opportunity.
* Focused: Have a clear vision of what they want to achieve.
* Flexible: Demonstrate a special pliability when responding to uncertainty.
* Organized: Develop structured approaches to managing ambiguity.
* Proactive: Engage change, rather than defend against it or evade it.

(Taken from Flood, Al, chairman and CEO of CIBC Bank. "The Learning Organization." Address at the 62nd Annual Coaching Conference on the Challenge of Lifelong Learning in an Era of Global Change, Geneva Park, Ontario: August 1993).

4. Encourage experimentation in ministry.

Every change requires a new experiment. A change in culture forces everyone to adjust. Honestly evaluate what was accomplished and achieved, taking nothing for granted. Promote a learning lab experimental mentality. People who are encouraged to participate in experimentation are more motivated, engaged, and productive. This is not reckless experimentation but a system of trying, learning, and adapting to become more effective in ministry.

You can capture the learning opportunities by asking your team weekly and monthly what is working and what is not concerning achieving purposes and goals. Use this feedback to correct mistakes and make adjustments. Accept a mistake as a breakdown on the path to accomplishment rather than a personal failure. Robert Hargrove in Masterful Coaching (San Diego, CA: Pfeiffer & Company, 1995) says that "breakdown" triggers creative and effective thinking, new ways of being, and the invention of new tools. The questions to ask when you make mistakes are not the psychological ones like "What is wrong with me?" "What is wrong with what I did?" "What is wrong with the others?" Rather, you should ask, "What was the breakdown?" "What correction do we need to make to eliminate the breakdown in the future?" "What is missing that would make a difference?"(http://www.smartbiz.com/ (c) 1995 by Pfeiffer & Company, and is excerpted from Masterful Coaching by Robert Hargrove, published by Pfeiffer & Company, San Diego, CA)

5. Become more risk taking.

Fully empowered equipping leaders and ministering leaders must be allowed to learn the hard way, by making mistakes. This means developing a more risk-orientated culture within the church. Those in ministry must be encouraged to experiment and feel the freedom to fail and learn. Ask your group, "Do people in the group generally look at mistakes as learning opportunities or as a reason to get discouraged and give up?" Tom Peters' book, Search for Excellence, is about Howard Head, inventor of the fiberglass ski. Head would go to his workshop, mix up a batch of black plastic goop, and mold it into a pair of skis. He would then take them to Mount Washington, New Hampshire, to have the ski instructors try them. Repeatedly the skis broke on the rugged terrain. After 33 trips to the shed, Head's thirty-fourth pair of skis worked. If he had been afraid to make a mistake, he would not have invented fiberglass skis.

The reason for continued experimentation, risk-taking, and learning is to take action and minister more effectively.

6. Facilitate cross- pollination.

A primary value to be cultivated in the church is to honor different views and perspectives. This can lead to new ideas, methods, and tools for ministry. Do all you can to avoid inbreeding, exclusiveness, and groupthink. Mix team members around in ministry as much as possible so they can develop new perspectives and new skills.

It is also essential to involve new members in ministries appropriate to their spiritual development and giftedness. Most thriving ministries today involve people who come from different ministry specialties with different views and perspectives. They have taken the time to understand one another's positions and ideas. They learn to dream together with a willingness to give and take, so great things begin to happen.

7. Become and recruit cutting edge leaders.

Today's organization requires leaders who are more flexible and responsive. They must:

* Have high personal and professional standards. (Adapted from an article entitled, "How Organizations are Changing: What People Want from Work and the Workplace Today" (http://www.coachinc.com/CCU/default.asp?s=1#How%20Fear)

Christ is our model for staying on the cutting edge. Although He walked counter to the religious and institutional norms of His day, His ministry was based solidly on God's principles and purposes and contextualized to the culture and the people to whom He was ministering.

W. Edward Deming said, "Nothing happens without personal transformation." Jesus said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds" (John 12:24, NIV). This truly is the secret of being a cutting edge church.

Clancy Hayes is training coordinator and district liaison for the Sunday School Department, Springfield, Missouri. Sunday School. All rights reserved. Used with permission.