We’re working our way through Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business.
Lencioni consults with businesses, nonprofits, and churches, and he frequently explains how the lessons apply especially to churches, because the work churches do is so much more important than the work done by anyone else.
Intentional decision making
In most churches — and most organizations of any kind — we tend to let decisions happen. We don’t typically make the decisions.
In a typical Church of Christ, no one asks what the goals of the adult Bible curriculum should be. Rather, we just make sure something interesting is taught — even if experience shows that the teaching produces self-indulgence, even arrogance. At least no one complained about the class!
You see, most of what we do is conflict avoidance. We no more decide where we’re headed than a river decides which direction to flow. It just flows downhill. And so we run our churches downhill — down the path of least resistance — because, well, resistance is not any fun at all. In fact, it’s pretty awful.
But Lencioni counsels us to think carefully about what God wants us to accomplish and to measure everything by that. By now, we should’ve figured out what our church does, what our values are, and what values we aspire to have. And by now, our leaders should have learned to be honest with each other — honest enough to have conversations where the hard questions are asked and honest answers are given and discussed openly and freely.
Now, would that be a good thing? To actually talk seriously about our values and who we are and what we’re here for — and to do it openly and with vulnerability — that is, willing to be disagreed with because, well, we might be wrong or not right enough. Maybe we need to go deeper. Maybe we need to pushed to think harder and truer. Maybe.
Lencioni recommends that the leaders get into a room and make a list of everything their organization does. It should be a huge, somewhat chaotic array of just all sorts of things. The idea is to visualize all that the church does in its countless components. For some churches, you would need the entire wall!
Next, the leaders should sort through the list looking for patterns, attempting to reduce the mass of data into a handful of key components. These key components should reveal the organization’s strategic direction — what is about all these things that makes us who we are?
For example, one church might discover that it has a real passion for the poor. Service to the needy may pop up in dozens of ministries and activities. Another church might discover a passion for evangelism, because half the things it does are pointed to saving the lost.
But then, another church might discover that it cares mainly about itself, because nearly everything it does is self-serving. It might discover that it has great worship, serving its own sensibilities, great classes that serve its own needs, and great programs that care for its own members — and next to nothing for anyone else.
The theologians like to say that we should to see where God is moving — and join him. Well, if he’s moving in your church, you may just need to identify God’s work among you and catch the wave. But if he’s not, if the Spirit has seemingly chosen not to do too much among you, well, you’re like an arm that no longer has blood circulating through it! It’s time for some emergency help because the arm dies.
Lencioni urges the leaders to find three “strategic anchors” that define how you plan to accomplish what God wants out of you.
Remember, this process will always be a little messy and organic. It requires judgment, reflection, and, at times, intuitive synthesis on the part of the members of a leadership team. Nonetheless, it is a reliable process that should lead to an outcome that will resonate with the team and inspire confidence in how decisions can be made in an intentional, strategic way.
Now, optimally, the anchors should already be present. But many churches will realize that they are missing anchors that they need. They may greatly value evangelism (and should) and yet find that they’re doing nothing evangelistic. In such a case, the exercise will alert the leadership to serious problems and force the leaders to consider how to change the church’s direction.
The result will be something quite different from the usual insipid mission statement. Rather than “We are a community of Jesus followers who worship, serve, love, read our Bibles, blabbity blah blah” — i.e., a church — the leadership will produce three key emphases — something like —
* We’ll develop worship services that appeal to the lost in the community and invite friends and neighbors to attend.
* We’ll serve the least of society — AIDS victims, crack babies, and addicts.
* We’ll participate in accountability groups and give each other permission to push us away from materialism and self-indulgence and toward a submissive walk with Jesus.
Do you see the difference? We normally settle for something that tells we are who we are. What we need is something more aspirational — some concrete goals that uniquely define our community. We’re not just a church. We’re a church committed to certain ways of living for Jesus.
There are, of course, other way to live for Jesus. You don’t have to have accountability groups. You don’t have use your worship services as an evangelistic outreach. You don’t have to reach out to AIDS victims especially.
But you have to be something more meaningful than vaguely Christian words strung together into a slogan. You have to reach beyond mere mission statements to, you know, mission.
Finally, when you’ve finished this part of the process, you have to commit to your anchors. If one anchor is as seeker-sensitive service, then really and truly do it — and let nothing get in the way. After all, if you announce that you’re going to be seeker sensitive, and then start a series on consubstantiation, you’ve lost all credibility, even if the members really love sermons on consubstantiation.