The Advantage: Create Clarity

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.

Lencioni writes,

Within the context of making an organization healthy, alignment is about creating so much clarity that there is as little room as possible for confusion, disorder, and infighting to set in. Of course, the responsibility for creating that clarity lies squarely with the leadership team.

That’s hard in any organization. For some reason, it seems to be especially hard in church. After all, the elders, staff, deacons, and members will often have very different opinions about what the church should be about — and some of those opinions will be deeply embedded in an emotional and doctrinal matrix.

That is, in a business, the owners and the board of directors can set the priorities of the business without fear of running into doctrinal or deeply felt emotional barriers. After all, it really is just a business.

But in church, it’s not just a church. It’s a community. It’s a commitment to a way of thinking, to a way of being, to a way of relating to other denominations and the rest of the world. Traditions and deeply held beliefs (some quite legitimately deeply held) create barriers to what direction the leadership can go. Some of those barriers are legitimate, of course. (But some barriers aren’t legitimate at all.)

Lencioni poses “six critical questions” that the leaders must be prepared to answer –

1. Why do we exist?
2. How do we behave?
3. What do we do?
4. How will we succeed?
5. What is most important, right now?
6. Who must do what?

They seem simple enough, but in the context of the modern church, they are devilishly hard to answer. Doubt me? Answer in the comments below, as to your own congregation, how the elders would answer each question. Is it clear?

Answering these questions, like everything else in this book, is as difficult as it is theoretically simple. It’s simple in that it doesn’t require great intellectual capacity or cleverness; every leadership team has more than enough information and experience to achieve clarity. It can be difficult, however, for a variety of reasons.

Lencioni warns against these temptations –

* To hide disagreement in bland language. The team has to be absolutely on the same page, and that requires plain, unambiguous language — which in “church speak” is very hard to come by.

For example, if you were to meet with your elders or staff and ask these questions, inevitably someone would say, “We need to about making disciples!” Good. Right. But what’s a “disciple”? Someone who practices the Willard/Foster individual disciplines? An evangelist? Someone who obeys the elders without question? A daily Bible reader? A regular attender?

It’s not good enough to say “disciple” or even “like Jesus” — because such language, while certainly true and valid — means so many different things to different people. Push past the jargon.

* Avoid marketing language and easy sloganeering. If you check out the mission statement of most churches, you’ll find something like the following real statement from a Tuscaloosa-area church –

To reach out, offer help and hope, and share the message of salvation with the unsaved and unchurched, daily along our Christian journey. The four focus areas that [our church] has chosen to travel on this journey is Worship, Education, Mission and Service. Each has equal importance and priority.

And so it’s a church. That’s really all you get from all those words (and there are many, many more words on their website). I wonder just what the difference is between “Mission” and “Service” and why they’re capitalized.

The statement offers no reason why this church exists in contrast to every other church in town. After all, every other congregation would agree with having worship, education, and mission/service. And all want to share the message of salvation. And so … it’s a church.

Oh, and please, please, please don’t use “journey” in your mission statement. It’s not sin, I guess, but anything that sounds like reality TV is just so very uncomfortable for some of us. Yes, life is a “journey,” which any middle-school girl would be glad to tell you.

* Take enough time to get it right. It should take weeks for a business. In the church, it could take much longer. Don’t just delegate to a committee and approve whatever slogan comes along. The elders have to take ownership of the answers — which means they have to be a part of the process of answering them.

* Don’t let the very natural drive for perfection keep you from getting done.

And it was General Patton who once said, “A good plan violently executed today is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” [There is] something I’ve seen among too many leadership teams: a simple failure to achieve clarity because executives are waiting for perfection. In the meantime, confusion reigns, leaders lose credibility, and the organization suffers.

My dad is a WWII veteran. He calls it “the rule of do.” When you’re at war, doing something is better than doing nothing — if it’s the wrong thing, because doing nothing is death.

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2 Responses to The Advantage: Create Clarity

  1. David Himes says:

    This series has set out an important set of principles for leading congregations. I can only hope many read it.

  2. IMO, mission statements are passe. Not mission, just mission statements. Most mission statements are statements of general ideals, not marching orders. Frankly, most organizations have a variety of valid objectives, and a couple of sentences won’t do them all justice. So, the mission statement winds up being so generic as to only give a hint of the group’s flavor, not really what they are up and doing every day. Besides, brutal honesty about our priorities might make for some pretty tacky mission statements: “Our mission is to hold services every Sunday and to maintain enough attendance and offerings to stay in operation indefinitely.”

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