Vision

Sparrows and Stakeholders

Every nonprofit organization or church has one or more stakeholders. These stakeholders may be wealthy individuals, major funding sources, or the charitable group’s home office. They are often the ones who contributed the lion’s share of the group’s start-up capital. They may be the distant foundations who provide grants or an ever-present Daddy Warbucks who shows up unannounced and demands things be run his way. Often the vision of these stakeholders is in conflict with either the cultural heart of the members, or the organization’s current reality, or both.

Reaping What You Sow

Ask yourself, “Why am I in ministry?” Most of us are here, not because of a single mind-blowing worship experience, but because our hearts were quietly, over time, nurtured by the Holy Spirit. There is a Way of the spirit which we simply desire more of. There is a Way that is more compelling than riches, or the fleeting entertainments of this world. How many of in our church or place of service might be compelled by the same motivation? If the number is as low as a dozen, from out of the hundreds that we break bread with, are these people too few to be considered?

Outward with the Light

How do we know if our ministry, is on the right track? Jesus says, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” - Matthew 6:22 This is one of many places where he speaks about the binary simplicity of Christian life. Our eyes are either actively attuned to the nuances of the light around us, or we are visually challenged. A local church is either discerning each day its role as a partner of God, or it is lacking in vision. Individual Christians are either prayerfully open to what the spirit is leading them to do today, or they are blind.

Vectors not Smart Goals

In long range planing with churches, I have begun to use the word vector instead of goal or objective. The Goals/Objective language is borrowed from the business world which thinks in terms of profit being the underlying greatest good that all things serve. I cringe every time I hear a guru tell church people to adopt SMART goals. We have Christ to serve, and our driving long-range vision is the great commission, that we make disciples in all contexts and among all peoples for the transformation of the world. All of this is done with an attitude of authentic love for those outside the church, never treating them as objects to be manipulated for our own ends.

Alignment

Rarely is there a greater gap between expectation and actuality than what is found in a local church the year after a new mission statement has been adopted or a serious goal setting process performed. In vision casting there s a rule: the more time and consultant costs expended, the less the person in the pew cares. In the business world there is a word for this, Alignment. Where alignment exists, the objectives of the management are well known and the company’s mission statement has been adopted by the employees, so that folk are pulling together.

Competing Visions

What is the one thing your local church is uniquely called and equipped to do in your context? You may expect a variety of answers to this question, but they all boil down to four visions or unique callings:

    1) A church may be called to care for its members and buildings

    2) A church may be called to share Christ with the next generation

The Effective Disciples Vector

I believe that John Wesley’s vision for the Methodist movement can be boiled down to two foci, or what I like to call vectors. When he sent his preachers out, he said, “You have nothing to do but to save souls.” This is the New People Vector that I dealt with in last week’s blog. It’s an exclusive priority.

The New People Vector

“You say that we should always lead our people outward, that our vision has to be to constantly bringing new people into the congregation. Shouldn’t we balance this with our inward need to grow spiritually?” It was a good question. A woman on the staff of a large church asked me this after I had presented the Spiral Rule: Churches that face outward go upward, congregations that focus inward, shrink downward until they become a selfish singularity.

 

Familiar Story

This week in Illinois, I had a lay person complain to me about his church. The church had been one of those success stories. A small congregation in the 1980s, receives a dynamic and gifted pastor who stays for over 20 years. In that time, the church grew. It became a large church with staff. When that pastor left, however, a rapid decline set in. They went through a series of pastors and now they are a small congregation again. “Wow,” I said. “I have just heard the same story from a church in Pennsylvania.”

Where are the kids?

About once a year, I attend the contemporary worship service at a church adjacent to the University of New Mexico. I like this church and enjoy the informal, but well organized, youth-oriented service. The praise band is lively, but punctual. The pastor knows how to give an appropriate message for that setting. The church has invested heavily in lighting and sound, so that the fellowship hall is ideal for contemporary worship. But, where are the college kids? I didn’t see any.

 

Economic Culture

On two occasions, I have pastored congregations whose people and leadership had less expendable income than the average resident of the the state. I noticed that when I went to meetings, I was the only person with a calendar. It was part of the culture of both of these congregations, to focus only on the present. I had a hard to time drumming up interest in planning programs that occurred in the future. A Zen master might praise these people for being mindful and living in the moment. Imagine how frustrating I found it.

 

The B-17 & the 8:15 Service

In WWII, allied airplane manufacturers used to send their design engineers to the runways to examine the wounded planes which limped back after action. Often a bomber would have a gapping hole in its wing or fuselage or even an entire section of its tail missing. The engineers would carefully note where each of these damages were, and then go back and design reinforcements for future aircraft. This is similar to the process that good church leaders use when evaluating programs and designing the church for change.

 

The Planning Retreat

Give a people ownership over their own land, some basic tools, and the fruits of their labor, and most communities will build homes, educate their children, and peacefully meet their basic needs. I guess that I am optimistic about human nature. Give a congregation some sense of control over their own destiny, a few basic tools, and a process for guiding group decision making, and even the most pathetic local church leadership will chart a path towards parish fruitfulness. I guess I am optimistic about the power of God’s Spirit to speak to people gathered in biblically centered discernment, prayerful fellowship, and weekly worship.

Imitating Apple

In my workshops, I often show a slide of Steve Jobs introducing us to the first iPad. Then I ask the question, “How should we design our life together, as a congregation, so that we become what Christ has in mind?” The analogy is simple. The success of Apple Computer stems from the vision that Steve Jobs had for insanely great products. He was a tyrant, constantly berating people who were content to make “pretty good” computers and cell phones. The corporate culture that grew at One Infinity Drive, Cupertino California, is exactly the same culture as we desire for the church, only with Jesus at the helm.

Visioning gets Personal

Last April, I brought out Reality Check 101 as a vision and discernment process for local churches (available through Amazon). While I was working on the book, I kept thinking that I should write a complimentary book to help people gain insight about personal discernment and career planning. Initially, I thought, church leaders who participated in a Reality Check vision for their church, would like to apply the same principles to their individual lives.

What do you see?

Take your kids or youth group into McDonald's. When they pile back into the car, have each person tell what they saw. Phrase it: “What’s one thing did you see that you didn’t expect to see?” or  “What is something you saw that no one else saw?” The punchline of the story of the stoning of Stephen is found in what he saw. Stephen says, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” This wasn’t what others expected Stephen to see. It wasn’t what they saw. The young pharisee named Saul, for one, saw to it that no one stole anyone’s coats. He saw an execution go according to plan.

Easter 5
Sunday, May 18, 2014

Seeing

The story of Jesus and the Blind Man in John 9, is very ‘John.’ It’s funny and deep. Like the stories of the Cana Wedding (expectations), Nicodemus (rebirth), the Woman at the Well (understanding), it plays with a one word spiritual theme, in this case blindness. Like some super-Socrates, John crafts the dialogue so that we come to see that we don’t really see what we think we see about the spiritual theme. I remember reading this passage in seminary and for the first time, I got John. I had read his gospel many times without noticing that each thing Jesus says is misinterpreted and that leads to someone asking a stupid question.

Lent 4
Sunday, March 30, 2014

Beginner's Eyes

I heard a story recently about a young man from Ohio who got amnesia while working on a study fellowship in India. He had an unexpected reaction to an anti-malarial drug and woke up not knowing who he was. He wandered down to the train station where he was eventually taken in by the local authorities. They thought he was drug addled and it was some time before his parents from Ohio were contacted. You may be wondering what all this has to do with fixing your church or transition. In time, the young man considered what had happened to him to be a gift. He was for a brief time able to see new things with new eyes, unencumbered by preconceptions and prejudice.

Don't Trust the Rodent

This week, a ground hog will be pulled out of his hole and see, or not see, his shadow. People from as far south as Atlanta, will want to know if Phil predicts an early spring or six more weeks of winter. The ground hog’s statistics were in the paper today and they were dismal. Over the last ten years, you could spit on a rock and toss it in the air and have a better predictor of the upcoming weather. Fortunately, ground hogs are only good eating when they are young, so there isn’t much interest in shooting old Punxsutawney Phil. I have come to believe that most pastors are equally lousy at predicting the particular  missional calling of the church they serve.

Asset Management

Church members in too many cases are like deep sea divers, encased in the suits designed for many fathoms deep, marching bravely to pull out plugs in bath tubs - Peter Marshal.  When Marshal wrote these words he was addressing the problem of do-nothing-pew-sitting Christians. Now, six decades later, the time has come to apply the overdressed deep sea diver concept to whole congregations. Maybe a third of the churches in America have developed protective policies and resource management skills to the point that they fail to do much good. They have, quite simply, forgotten why Christianity matters. The reason Jesus wants us to make disciples is so that the church can transform the world.

Does the Cat's Litter Box Smell?

Sometimes when I’m away from the house all day, I’ll come through the door and think, “Boy, does that cat stink.” The problem isn’t with the cat. The problem is with me needing to change the litter box. Yet if I’m home all day, I don’t notice it. What is it about going away that makes the cat’s box stink more. No matter how bad something is, we get used to it if we live with it. Things can be pretty bad in a local church, and often are, and the regular attenders won’t notice. 

 

Tightrope Walking

You may have noticed that problems in the church have a tendency to cascade. An idea that someone has seen working elsewhere is tried here. It falls flat. The initiator(s) is then criticized for wasting church resources. The initiator(s) comes away from this experience wounded and more hesitant about sticking their neck out in the future. The council and/or clergy leadership also wants to prevent future failures and protect church resources. So, they renew their commitment to micromanaging and the rigid enforcement of standing policies. Without realizing it, they stifle creativity. This leads to less enthusiasm in the church. Young people depart. Stewardship falls and budgets go unmet.

Subscribe to RSS - Vision