Twenty years ago, being off course was like missing your exit on the freeway. You drove to the next exit, swung around and got back on course. Today, being off course is like boarding the space shuttle and launching into the wrong orbit. You may survive, but you'll not achieve your mission. All the effort and energy you have will be devoted to your survival.
This is true because society lacks stability. Things are changing faster than ever without a backdrop of security. Values are blurred and the culture is shifting. Interest rates are low, but debt is high. Society is hesitating, but nothing has slowed down. Patriotism is high, but trust is low. People are searching (this is good news), but leery to commit. They want truth, but it's been so long they are not sure what it looks like.
Now is our time, church leaders, and we must be clear. There is no room for being off course, sloppy in leadership, or lacking in confidence. If you are, the "seekers" who visit your church will quickly be off to try something or someone else. Another church is fine, but that may not be their choice.
This is the start of a new year and now is a great opportunity to evaluate how you're doing.
Are you on course? Are you on mission? Or are you just surviving - doing church from Sunday to Sunday?
What did you attempt to achieve last year? Did you achieve it? Do you have clear initiatives and a strategy in mind for this year, or are you basically geared up for another year of doing Sunday?
Right about now, these questions are either encouraging and possibly motivating you or they are annoying you. I hope it's the former because your response makes a huge difference. It's not about whether you work hard, love God, or are called to ministry; it's about your leadership in a time when your leadership, your spiritual leadership, is needed.
I'm not a great student of political science, war, or military strategy, but it's clear to me that the United States is on a mission. We are on a mission to put an end to terrorism. And it seems to me that there are a number of similarities between our battle with Afghanistan and our mission as a church.
We are fighting an enemy that is hard to locate. We are fighting a battle that is not likely to soon be over. We are fighting a battle with complicated overtones and much at stake. We are fighting a battle that requires high intelligence, cooperation beyond our own troops, and nerves of steel. We are fighting a battle in which both sides believe they are right. We are fighting a battle that requires enormous resources. We are fighting a battle in which if we fall asleep at the wheel - we lose. We are fighting a battle that if we get sidetracked in "politics" we lose. No doubt the list could go on.
One thing I know for certain.
If we lose sight of our mission - we're toast. Clarity is essential and distraction is lethal.
You may be thinking about now, "Would somebody please give this boy some pulpit time before he explodes!" Rest assured that's not my need. As a matter of fact, I had the opportunity to "preach" just recently (December 23). Three of us on staff preached one sermon. No kidding. Each of us took one of the three points. We light-heartedly made reference to the "Three Wise Men" and the congregation blurted out something about the Three Stooges. Oh well, the sermon was good but I'll long be known as "Curly."
No, it's not a need to preach at you, but my passion for the mission. And I know this year we have a huge opportunity to make a difference. So do you.
This year you are likely to have more visitors than ever before (assuming you have a culturally-relevant ministry). People are searching and returning to the church for answers. Are you ready?
Have you asked the tough questions like: Why would people choose us? Do we know what we're doing? Are we as good Monday through Saturday as we are on Sunday? Are we fresh on Sundays? And how about our mission? Is our course clearly charted? Are our members on board? Do we have the leaders we need to move forward? Are we lean and focused in our ministries?
Of the leaders I've connected with that are on mission, and getting the job done, there seems to be a few characteristics that run similar. Let me share them with you.
The Energy to Drive Passion.
This one runs 100% true. I've seen no exceptions. I know of no leader in a local church who is successfully on mission who does not have the energy to drive his or her passion. Don't miss the connection between energy and passion. There are many leaders who have passion, but like those who dream big but do little, their passion is inconsequential. It takes energy to translate your passion to reality.
It could be asked and argued, what comes first - energy or passion? The answer is probably passion, but let's let the philosophers handle that one and simply acknowledge that without energy to drive our passion into reality, our passion fades and the mission stalls. Energy isn't about personality - you can be a relatively quiet and even somewhat introverted leader, but if you have drive, if you have energy within your soul to accomplish the mission before you, no one can extinguish the passion.
What is your energy level these days? What is your passion? Are the two connected?
The Humility That Recognizes an Utter Dependence Upon God.
Of all five characteristics, this one will receive the quickest acknowledgment and support. So before you skip over this one too swiftly, take a moment to reflect on your humility in action. The reason I say humility in action is because it's when we take action that often our humility fades, and we actually believe that we are capable of doing things (that matter for eternity) ourselves.
The best test of your humility is how often you run to God and declare how desperately dependent you are upon His grace and guidance. Leaders on mission understand that it's impossible to do it themselves. The very nature of a partnership with God insists that you seek His help.
The Courage to Say No.
The key to this characteristic is focus. Leaders on mission recognize that they personally can't do everything, and neither can the church they serve, as an organization, accomplish everything. Since this is true, a few ministry options will receive a yes, but many will receive a no. Leaders who can't say no to the good options will forfeit the great options (dare I say - the God options).
You and I both know that there is a great deal of politics as well as a number of other complicated pressures contained within church leadership. Your ability to navigate those pressures - rather than giving in and becoming distracted - will help you stay on mission. How courageous are you feeling these days?
The Security to be Honest.
I love how us "preachers" count to achieve our Sunday morning attendance. Man, if it breathes and it just slows down in front of the church it's fair game. One of my favorites is a church who does several nursing homes on Sunday morning. Don't misunderstand - I think ministry to the aging is wonderful and pleasing to God. But counting people who don't even know you're there just doesn't seem right.
Boasting salvations for your church but then being unable to name their names or tell their spiritual status six months later lacks integrity. Whether it's the number of people in small groups or in new believer's class, be honest about what you really have. What is your mission? How do you measure it? How are you doing?
The Maturity to Stick With the Plan.
I'm a fan of INJOY conferences and seminars. I love how John Maxwell helps pastors. The one thing in that whole process that saddens me is that pastors hop from plan to plan. I think that's why I appreciate John's teaching on leadership so much. He doesn't focus on a plan, but on leadership skills to help you achieve your plan.
We need plans, but we need to stick with them. There is no perfect ministry plan. And I'll let you in on a little church leadership wisdom. A good plan with good leadership will produce better results than a great plan and great leadership if the good stick with it and the great do not. OK, you're thinking a great leader wouldn't keep changing the plan. Not so fast with that thought! Many of the most highly gifted leaders jump from new ideas to new plans and vice-versa...sometimes because they're bored, and sometimes 'cause they just can't help themselves.
So what's this got to do with maturity? Glad you asked. Immature leaders panic quicker than mature leaders. And when they panic they jump to the next sure bet to bring success. Immature leaders are driven for quick results to look good and will therefore abandon the long-term, more disciplined approach. Immature leaders don't understand that once they have identified a sound (not perfect) plan, their potential of success (achieving mission) is 80% dependent upon leadership and following God's prompting, not on the plan itself. Don't use this fact as an excuse to bag the plan or the discipline to design the plan in the first place. This formula is true only when a plan exists!!
Well, now that I've finished this article, maybe I did need to preach just a little. I'm feeling pretty good now! OK...I promise, the next article will be plum full of 5 points for this and 7 points for that on the topic of mission and vision.
This article is used by permission from Dr. Dan Reiland's free monthly e-newsletter 'The Pastor's Coach' available at www.injoy.com.