In high school I watched a movie about a company going through a consultation process that led to a downsizing. During an interview, the consultants (both named Bob) asked the employee "What is it you say you do here?" And the employee can't give an answer. He had no idea exactly what it was he did, why it mattered, and how his work benefited the company.
Truth be told, his dream was to create a mat you could jump to conclusions on, so maybe it wasn't much of a loss. But his bumbling raises a greater issue - so many times we just do things because we do them, without exploring why. Earlier today I saw a great post on social media from Micah Fries on how important mission is for the "established church."
In established churches, you have in place a lot more layers of organization and structure than in an entrepreneurial church plant or campus (no matter how cluttered your church feels, any established body has its own systems). Unfortunately, in many established churches, the conversation during discussions comes back around to bylaws, policy, and procedure. We need those things in place so we operate consistently and in good stewardship and faithfulness, but when bureaucracy becomes the focal point rather than mission, inevitably will come the inward spiral.
At the core are maintenance and preference, which are the enemies of mission. In maintenance and preference, leaders spend their time making sure things are kept up and people's preferences are met. The reality is though, when you try to please everyone, you please no one. The inward spiral ends up happening because all the energy and attention of not only leaders but also the people is turned in towards themselves, rather than the community around them.
As leaders, we have the ability to focus on mission through steering the narrative. Leaders are the primary storytellers for the church, which means we can speak and share about emphasizing the mission.
1. Communicate Consistently - Just when you think you can't say one more thing about the mission, keep talking. It's only when you're tired of it that people are hearing it and absorbing it. And it has to be a message that's shared across platforms, in multiple publications, in small groups and large groups, with leadership teams and with new members. If you're communicating it effectively, you won't find a way around it. A church I was part of before was committed to an outreach strategy called REACH, and it was literally on every sign in the building.
2. Celebrate Mission Wins - Whenever something happens that reflects a win for the mission, make sure it's celebrated. If your mission is to engage young families and impact the community, then make it a big deal when people get baptized, when they do a community service project, when you get feedback from visitors.
3. Invest in Other People - If you're familiar with Kotter's book Leading Change, he calls it "the guiding coalition," and Jim Collins refers to it as "getting the right people on the bus in the right seats." As a leader, it's important to get other people on board with the mission. Start with those closest to you: staff and other leaders. Invest in them, help them see the vision and why it's important, answer questions, and genuinely listen to them. From there spend time with people. Mission focus doesn't happen overnight, especially in ministry. It happens through the currency of relationships.
4. Make Risk a Value - The reason why maintenance and preference are the enemies of mission is that they will yield predictable results. They won't cost you much (so you think), they keep things afloat, and there's little pressing of people outside their comfort zone. Risk, on the other hand, requires people being willing to sacrifice for the sake of a greater good. Too many times churches become risk-aversive because they're scared of the failure. I get it. Sometimes failure means brushing your resume. But the cost of idleness is too great. Risk is good. Risk trusts God. Risk grows faith. Risk leads to faithfulness.
How do you see mission emphasized in your church through steering the narrative?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.