Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The changing face of world missions

Missions is changing. Not in terms of the ultimate goal of bringing the Good News to every corner of the globe - but in many of the paradigms about how it is happening. Here are some of the poitive trends that are taking place today.

An emphasis on healthy personnel
Many mission agencies have historically measured their success by how many mission personnel they have. Because numbers was the measuring stick, the spiritual, relational, emotional and skill health of it's personnel was not always a high priority. This is changing dramatically today as agencies realize that "numbers" is not the measurement but "health." Only healthy personnel can train healthy national leaders and result in healthy churches.

Non-paternalistic attitudes
While mission agencies have a long ways to go in shedding paternalistic attitudes and practices, significant progress has been made in many places. Paternalism is the attitude that "we are the experts, we have the money, we have the education and thus we have the upper hand in the relationship with those we come to serve." While unspoken, this attitude has often been the reality and it is complicated by the fact that those who have the money have the power.

There is a growing sensitivity to this issue and its negative implications - and the necessity of a servant leadership model that "partners" with indigenous movements - where both parties come to the ministry table as equals and both have something to bring to the ministry effort. The truth is that missionaries should be there to develop, empower and release healthy national leaders. While an ongoing challenge, the development of healthy partnerships between missionaries and nationals is a growing and God honoring trend.

Multiplication rather than addition.
The move toward doing everything we can to do multiplication rather than addition in missions is directly related to the movement toward non-paternalistic attitudes and relationships. In the paternalistic world, the missionary needs to plant the church and pastor the church. In the non-paternalistic world, the missionary is there to develop, empower and release national workers as quickly as possible and they give ministry away to nationals. This allows mission personnel to multiply themselves and their ministries - an absolute necessity in a world where the world population has grown from 1.9 billion to 6.5 billion in the last 100 years.

Development of international mission movements
Missions today is all people reaching all people and one of the most encouraging trends is the growing commitment of those who have traditionally been on the receiving end of mission ministry becoming sending movements.

Strategic mission agencies encourage those they work with to become sending movements as quickly as possible. Not only does this plant a misssion's DNA from the start but no church movement is mature until it too is taking part in the great commission. This allows the mission agency and the indigenous movement they work with to partner together in the missions endeavor and to raise up large numbers of indigenous missionaries to impact that region of the world. This is huge leverage for missions.

A related development is the development of cross cultural missions teams working together to do cross cultural ministry.
This is a natural outcome of developing non-paternalistic attitudes and encouraging indigenous mission movements. Not only does our organization (ReachGlobal) partner with other western agencies but we partner with non-western mission movements from both the developed and the developing world.

This is resulting in cross cultural mission teams working together to do cross cultural ministry. I am convinced that this is the future picture of missions. While there are challenges for everyone in the process it is a beautiful thing to see people from different cultures working together to accomplish the great commission.

Holistic emphasis
Increasingly, evangelical missions is seeing the need of not only sharing the Good News and planting churches but in showing the love of Christ through holistic ministry - especially in the developing world and among the marginalized in the developed world. This trend is accelerated when we partner with partners in the "majority world" which is a poor world.

Believers in the majority world have always seen the necessity and understood the theology of holistic ministry. Remember that 54% of our world lives on $3.00 or less per day. Holistic ministry not only demonstrates the love of Christ but it opens amazing ministry doors to people who are desperately looking for hope in life.

Missions has become accessible to people with a wide variety of skills. No longer is missions reserved for those who have a theological degree, or are a doctor or teacher. With an emphasis on holistic ministry cutting edge mission agencies are building ministry teams of qualified individuals from many walks of life and with many skill sets. Ministry platforms include compassion, business, micro-development, formal theological training, informal theological training, education, community health, medical, and a variety of other platforms that can all contribute to church planting efforts and the raising up of healthy national leaders.

Informal theological training.
One of the most strategic leverage points in missions today is the training of either lay bi-vocational or full time ministry personnel with non-formal theological training. It does not take formal seminary training to plant or pastor a church. It does take training but it can be delivered through on going education. It is amazing for westerners to watch national workers who do not have the education we have do effective ministry with few resources and see far more spiritual fruit than we typically see in the developed world.

Local church involvement
The local church, around the world is reclaiming its role in the Great Commission. The vision and responsibility for missions was, after all, given to the local church, not to mission agencies. In fact, it is my conviction that the mission agencies that will thrive and survive in the coming years are those who will serve the global vision of the local church and those that do not will not. The globalization of our world has made it much easier for local churches to be involved in global ministry. It will take the involvement of the global church to fulfill the Great Commission.

All of these are positive developments in the changing face of world missions.

Money matters: four categories of giving

A significant issue in helping those in our congregations grow in their spiritual maturity is to help them understand the part that generosity with God plays into their discipleship. It was Martin Luther who said that true conversion is a conversion of the heart, the mind and the pocketbook. In other words, until God has our wallet, he does not have our full follower ship. This is the reason that Christ talked more about money and possessions than almost any other topic in the New Testament.

As we address this issue in the church it is not first about meeting our budgets or funding our ministries. It is first about helping people follow Christ more closely. Those who do not learn to be generous with God miss out on many of the blessings that he shares with those who are. I have often said to my sons, "most people believe that they cannot afford to tithe. I cannot afford not to tithe."

The truth is that only around 2% of those who call themselves Evangelicals tithe. Studies have shown that there is also an inverse relationship between giving and income. The higher the income the lower the percentage that is given to God's work. One study indicated that 20% of those who made $20,000 or less per year tithed while only 2% of those who made more than $100,000 tithed.

I believe that one can categorize giving habits of believers into four categories - which frankly also pretty directly mirror the maturity of the individual. As you talk about giving in your congregation, it can be helpful to talk about these four categories and encourage people to take the next step in their giving commitments by moving from the category they are in to the next one.

Sporadic giving
This is the individual who periodically puts something in the offering. Generally these are immature believers who are also sporadic in their worship attendance. There is no true commitment to giving here except from time to time.

Regular giving
These folks have moved beyond sporadic to regular giving. This is a significant step forward because it indicates a plan and intentionality in their giving. This often reflects those who are more regular in their attendance.

Percentage giving
This is yet another step toward financial maturity because there is a commitment to give a percentage of one's income. Often the goal here is to get to the place where 10% of one's income is being given to ministry.

Generous giving
This reflects the most mature attitude toward giving. As Christ has been incredibly generous with us, so we choose to be very generous with Him, knowing that there are only three things that cross the line from time to eternity: our own maturity; the people we have influenced for the gospel through our lives and those who have found Christ or grown in Christ because of financial investments we have made. You cannot take it with you, but you can send it ahead of you.

If in your teaching about financial stewardship, you talk about these four categories of giving, you will see heads nod in acknowledgement. You then have an opportunity to regularly encourage people to move from one category to the next - as a part of their followership of Christ.

Two great resources:

Crown Ministries - curriculum for small groups.
Money, Possessions and Eternity, by Randy Alcorn. One of the best books ever written on what the Scriptures have to say about money and possessions - and their relationship with eternity.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What missionaries should your church support?

The process for determining who a church will support as a missionary often leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, it is not unusual for a church to support someone that they would never hire themselves!

Here is something to consider: Just because someone is from your church, or feels called by God does not mean they are qualified to serve as a missionary. Or that you need to support them. We need to subject our missions budgets to the same scrutiny as we do the rest of our budgets. We need to subject the health and qualifications of the missionaries we support in the same way we would do with staff members we hire.

Dollars for missions are not unlimited. Just as we would not simply hire someone in our local church ministry who feels "called" we should not do so with our missions dollars. How we invest the limited dollars we have makes a difference.

Who then should we support? First, we need to know that the individual has relational, emotional and spiritual health. There is nothing more problematic in cross cultural ministry than to have unhealthy relational or emotional health. It goes without saying that spiritual health must be present.

Ask yourself the question. If there was a job available in your church, would you hire this person? If not, why not? If not, why would you send them internationally?

Second, we need to know that they possess a skill that will directly contribute to a missions endeavor. It is problematic to send an individual who has no track record in their own country. Ensure that there is a skill that is needed and that they possess the qualifications they need to do the job they are going to do.

Third, we need to know that the missions organization is healthy. Not all mission agencies are created equal. Some are simply support raising umbrellas for any who want to go into missions but they have no discernible strategy for missions, nor do they have a built in accountability structure or require staff to have well worked out plans. The effectiveness of those you send is directly impacted by the quality of the agency they are going with. Don't assume it is a good organization - find out.

Ask about the ministry philosophy and guiding principles of the organization that your prospective missionaries are going out under. Ask about strategy, accountability and intentionality. Find out what kind of support structure there is in place to ensure that your missionaries will be properly supported by the organization.

Fourth, we need to know whether the mission organization does multiplication or addition. Is the mission doing things that nationals could be doing or are they focused on raising up healthy national workers so that they are multiplying themselves.

The cost of missions is high. Once you factor in living expenses, travel, ministry expenses, health care and retirement, it is a significant bill. With limited resources, we need to be stewards of the funds and opportunity we have to reach our world.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Best practices that can help you leverage your missions strategy

World missions is often a large part of a local church's budget (as it should be). However, if a congregation is going to leverage that investment for maximum missional return it would do well to consider the following "Best Practices."

Move from missions as a list of missionaries that are supported at modest levels to a small group of missionaries supported at a high level
The traditional long list of supported missionaries at modest levels is just that - a list. Because the congregation does not have a significant amount of support for any one missionary, there is very little personal contact and most people in the congregation have no relationship, stake, or prayer commitment for those on the list. Raise the stake of support and you raise the relational commitment of both the missionary and the church. I am suggesting you go from a list to a group - with relationship.

Adopt a region or several regions of the world where you can connect long term for long term impact
The world is a big place. Missions becomes "real" and "personal" when a congregation determines that it is going to have a personal stake in bringing the gospel to a specific region or regions of the globe and then connects for long term involvement. This allows the church not simply to support missionaries in that region but to actually contribute something significant themselves over time. The deeper the relationship, the deeper the impact.

Make strategic short term missions a key component of your strategy
Many question the investment in short term missions. However, done well, short term mission trips are the single most strategic thing you can do to generate interest and long term missionaries. No one comes into ReachGlobal today who has not been on one or more short term trips. God uses those trips to capture hearts for long term missions. The key is to connect your short term strategy with your long term commitment to a region of the world and to ensure that the team is contributing to what long term missionaries are doing on the ground (if there are long term personnel there).

Take your people through the perspectives course
The Perspectives course, a ministry of the US Center for World Mission has been a phenomenal tool for mobilizing large numbers of local church members for missions - giving, praying, sending and going. The larger the number of people you can put through perspectives the more passion your congregation will have for missions. It changes peoples perspectives on world mission.

De-silo your missions "committee" if it is not a part of the overall leadership led ministry strategy of your church.
No group in many churches is more siloed than missions committees. This means that what is happening in missions is not part of the overall ministry philosophy of the church and often mission dollars (a significant part of the budget) are the least scrutinized of any part of the church budget. I know this is a political issue but it is also a stewardship issue. We need to ensure that our investments are well used.

Send your pastoral staff on regular missions trips.
When pastoral staff are energized with missions, the rest of the church will be energized by them. Ensure that your key staff have regular opportunities to see what God is doing internationally.

The bottom line is that local congregations far underestimate what they can do either by themselves or in partnership with others for the cause of the gospel globally. Any local congregation can be involved in hands on, strategic and significant ministry globally.

The wounds of ministry

Ministry is deeply painful at times. For those in full time ministry as well as for those who serve in leadership positions as volunteers. Any board member who has had to walk through difficult times in a local church knows. Every pastor bears scars, some that feel raw for years. Missionaries know the pain of cross cultural misunderstandings (as well as nationals working with missionaries) or even conflict on their own teams. At 52, I bear numerous scars from 27 years of full time ministry.

The pain experienced in ministry is often different than other pain. After all we do what we do for God, not ourselves, which makes the pain feel unfair. Further, believers can be even more unkind than unbelievers. How we treat one another is often unconscionable. But, too often the stakes are high so we put a stake in the ground and in our conviction, take the arrows or missiles of others.

How we deal with the pain of the past has a direct influence on our ministry in the present. It can either help and inform our present and future ministry or it can cause us to withdraw, live with bitterness, bring cynicism or cause us to approach relationships with distrust. How we deal with past pain matters to us today.

Here are some principles I have learned in dealing with the wounds of ministry.

First, treat your past wounds as what you see in your rear view mirror. We glance at the rear view mirror as we drive but we focus on what is in front of us. If you drive with your eyes on the rear view mirror you will crash. The same is true if we focus on our past wounds - we will crash.

Paul had as many or more wounds than any of us will ever have. Yet he was able to say, "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:13-14). His eyes were on the future, not the past.

Second, learn from the past. Pain is one of the greatest teachers. It teaches us to persevere. It teaches us how to deal with people. It forces us to examine our own motives. There is no question that our most significant growth comes through pain. So treat it as an unwelcome blessing that we can learn from.

Paul writes in Philippians 3:16, right after the above reference, "Only let us live up to what we have already attained." Live out, he says what we have learned. Live up to the growth we have experienced. Rather than seeing pain as our enemy, see it as a friend, learn from it but keep your eyes on the present, not on the past.

Third, remember that we do not ultimately serve men but our Father. People will always let us down (as we will let others down). People will take shots. People will be unkind at times and life isn't fair - especially in ministry.

Again, Paul, through his experience gives great perspective. "I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me (1 Corinthians 4:3-4)."

His point is that we worry too much about what others think of us when what should concern us is what God thinks. Not everyone will like us. Join the ministry club of Jesus, Paul, the apostles and everyone who serves in ministry. We often carry around the burden of knowing that there are those who not only don't like us but speak against us and some who actually try to do us harm.

But Paul reminds us that it is not about us, but about the call of God on our lives. Don't carry the burden. Let it go and remember that we ultimately answer to an audience of One.

Finally, where we have wounded those who have wounded us - it often happens in conflict, do what you can to make it right. You cannot control the response of others, but you can seek to make right relationships that are broken. Again, Paul tells us to live at peace with all men as far as we are able.

If we can gain Paul's perspective, pain becomes a friend that molds us, grows us and matures us. But we focus on the present and future, not on the wounds of the past. Keep those in the rear-view mirror.

It is not about trying to forget pain. It is about keeping our wounds in proper perspective.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

15 unfortunate things boards do

In the many years in which I have worked with church boards I have kept a mental list of unfortunate (dumb) things boards do. If we can avoid the “dumb tax” of others we can save ourselves a lot of pain. Here are some of the unfortunate or poor practices of boards – church or other.

Manage staff beyond the senior leader

Boards have one employee: the senior leader of the church and that leader is responsible for managing the rest of the staff – often through others – but ultimately they are responsible. When boards do not allow the senior leader to manage the rest of the staff, including letting staff go when necessary, or, when they try to meddle in the staff, they confuse the lines of authority. People cannot report to more than one person .

Cave to loud voices

It is not uncommon for boards to make a decision and then hear from a few loud voices in the church who don’t like the decision or direction. Poor board members are immediately intimidated by the voices and start to waver and question the decision. Wise boards count the cost before they make the decision and then hold fast when the loud voices complain.

Require unanimity

This sounds nice. In reality, a board that requires unanimity set themselves up for not being able to move forward at critical junctures because it only takes one person to hold up the decision making process. And, it puts tremendous pressure on those who might not agree. If Paul and Barnabas could not agree on everything, we certainly will not.

Avoid conflict

How often, people in a church or organization know that there is conflict but its leaders, the board try to ignore it not wanting to face it. Conflict avoidance comes back to bite you with even greater conflict. Unresolved conflict does not go away, it becomes more viral. Courageous boards deal with conflict, weak boards do not.

Spend most of their time managing the present

Boards are not designed to manage - they are designed to chart the future and deal with the large rocks of the organization – mission, vision, values, strategic initiatives and direction. Boards that are spending the majority of their time on the present are doing work that others ought to do, and it is not leadership.

Ignore the spiritual

Congregations will rarely rise above the spiritual commitments and level of their leadership. Healthy boards never ignore the word and prayer, in fact they ensure that it is central to everything they do. They lead on behalf of the Lord of the church and thus need to spend time in His presence, discerning His direction.

Work without a covenant

Healthy boards have a board covenant that spells out how they will relate to one another and the commitments to healthy relationships they will agree to. Never allow anyone to join a board who is unwilling to agree to Biblical rules of behavior that are spelled out and signed.

Don’t guard the gate

Every board is one new board member away from moving from healthy to unhealthy if the wrong person is placed on the board. Wise boards pay a huge amount of attention to who is selected to serve and a best practice is to have prospective board members serve for a year in a non official role to ensure a good fit.

Don’t make decisions

One of the frustrations of good board members is the inability of many boards to make decisive decisions and then stick to them. If a board has to revisit issues time after time or is unable to make decisive decisions they have the wrong board members. Boards lead and equivocation is not leadership.

Don’t require accountability

The ultimate result of our decisions must be ministry results. Healthy boards not only make decisions but require accountability for their own behavior and work and for the work and results of staff. Sometimes we are too “nice” and in our “niceness” we don’t require real ministry results – which God expects.

Allow a church boss to hold informal veto power

It is amazing how many congregations have an individual – whether on the board or off the board who holds informal veto power over decisions. In other words, unless they agree it does not happen. This is not only unbiblical but it hurts the church. No church should have a church boss which is what this is. Healthy boards are never held hostage by a church boss.

Lack transparency

Healthy boards let their congregation know what they are thinking and working on in appropriate ways. Secrecy breeds mistrust while transparency breeds trust. They don’t reveal those things which must be confidential but neither do they withhold what can be shared.

Don’t police problem members

Healthy boards never allow a rogue board member to continue with attitudes, words or behaviors which are counterproductive to spiritual and healthy leadership. This is why it is critical to have a board covenant that spells out acceptable behavior. Boards that will not confront unhealthy board members are displaying cowardice rather than leadership.

Listen to reports

Board meetings are not the place for long reports. Those should be sent out ahead of time and read prior to the meeting unless it is a sensitive subject. Board time is a time for all board members to engage in critical issues, prayer and thinking and learning together.

Don’t use an agenda

Healthy boards have an agenda and stick to the agenda including start and finish times. Board meetings should be very carefully thought out ahead of time and led by someone who can help the group move through the agenda in a timely fashion.

Want more information? Take a look at High Impact Church Boards.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

By the numbers: A snapshot of our globe

World literacy has risen to 74% globally.

In 2002, the amount of stored information produced globally was equivalent to 37,000 new Library of Congress book collections. It would take about 30 feet of books to store the amount of recorded information produced per person in the world each year.

In the UK more than 4 million closed-circuit TV cameras are trained on public spaces; a shopper in London can expect to be captured on video several hundred times a day.

The world's fastest supercomputer, Blue Gene/L, run by IBM and the Department of Energy, can now run an exponentially staggering 270 trillion calculations per second.

Percentage of Brits who claimed no religious affiliation in 2000: 44%.
That percentage in 1983: 31%.
Percentage of the British population that will be attending church services in 2040: 0.5%

In the US, incidence of depression in the year 2000 was 10 times what it was in 1900.

Yoido Full Gospel Church in South Korea had 780,000 members in 2003.

An estimated 4 million people are smuggled or trafficked across international borders each year.

In 2003, transactions in counterfeit products accounted for more than 7 percent of global trade, or $500 billion. 10% of all car parts sold in Europe and 10 percent of all pharmaceuticals sold worldwide are black-market counterfeits. Ninety percent of the software running on computers in China has been pirated.

New strains of staphylococcus kill 20,000 patients a year in U.S. hospitals.

Tuberculosis had been nearly eliminated by modern drugs. But now 2 billion people are estimated to have the disease, 60 million of them victims of fatal, drug resistant forms.

The last pandemic, in 1918, killed 50 million people. WHO estimated that a new pandemic, the first of this century, would affect between 20 and 30 percent of the world's population; in its best-case scenarios of the nest pandemic, up to 7 million people would die and tens of millions would get sick.

There are 80,000 computer viruses "alive" in the world today.

In 2003, Americans spent $991 million on liposuction, $667 million on nose jobs, and $54 million on chin augmentation.

Tourism is the world's largest employer, accounting for one in every 10 workers worldwide. In 2003, 691 million people traveled the world as tourists, spending an estimated $523 billion.

Spectator sports are estimated to have revenues of $102.5 billion in 2008.

China has 94 million Internet users.

A mere 0.2 percent of the world's inhabitants had a mobile phone in 1991; by the end of 2004, 1.5 billion were mobile phone users, close to one out of every four people on the planet. In July 2004, China had 310.2 million mobile phone subscribers - an increase of 40.3 million since January 2004.

in 2004, more than 8 million people in the U.S. created their own blogs. 32 million U.S. citizens were regular blog readers.

By 2009, the worldwide market for online games could reach $9.8 billion.

China still uses only 10 percent of the energy used by Americans.

More than one billion people today lack access to safe drinking water, and almost 2.5 billion lack adequate sanitation. Five million children die each year from illnesses associated with dirty water.

In the U.S., a coronary artery bypass costs about $98,000, but in India it costs just $8,000.

1 billion people globally are in need of corrective lenses but cannot afford them.

The number of people living in poverty (defined as living on less than a dollar a day) is still 1.3 billion people, roughly a quarter of the global population.

Between 2002 and 2020, 68 million people will die from AIDS in the developing world.

There are typically around 30 significant conflicts (those with over 1,000 casualties, military and civilian raging in the world, and the vast majority of them are being fought within nations rather than between them.

There have been more than 20 major civil wars in Africa since 1960.

Income per person in the 20 poorest countries was $267 in 2002. In contrast, the richest 20 nations had per person income of $32,339.

In 1700, Earth was home to around 600 million people. By 1800 it was 900 million, and by 1900 it had doubled to 1.9 billion. During the last century alone, the population has nearly quadrupled to the current 6.5 billion. Every year 78 million people are born onto the planet. The world population is expected to increase by 50 percent to 9 billion by 2050.

In 1960, one-third of the world's population lived in the developed world; today it is one-fifth.

Right now, Europe has 35 pensioners for every 100 people of productive working age; that ration is projected to shift to 75 pensioners for every 100 workers by 2050.

99% of all population growth between now and 2050 will occur in the developing world, predominantly in its poorest nations.

Today, the planet's 1 billion wealthiest people consume more than 50 percent of the world's energy supply, while the 1 billion poorest use only 4 percent.

Today, more than 175 million people on the planet reside in a country other than the one in which they were born.

In the year 2000, 174.9 million people migrated from one country to another.

In 1985, there were only nine cities in the world with more than 10 million inhabitants. By 2015, there will be more than 20 cities of this scale. A third of those cities will be home to more than 20 million people. Sao Paulo and Mumbai both have roughly 18 million inhabitants; Shanghai has about 14 million, and Lagos roughly 13 million. Projections for their 2015 populations are extraordinary: Mumbai to 22 million, Sao Paulo to 21 million, Lagos to 16 million.

India now has 32 cities with more than a million residents; by 2015 it will increase to 50 cities. China already has more than 160 cities with populations of more than 1 million.

Every 20 minutes, a species of animal or plant life disappears from the planet, with more than 26,000 species lost every year.

All information for this blog came from Powerful Times: rising to the challenge of our uncertain world, Eamonn Kelly. 2006, Pearson Education, Inc. ISBN 0-13-185520-4. The book is well worth the read.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Ordinary people

I am on a crusade to convince the church in America and a few other places where we have placed such a premium on education and thus suffer from the dysfunction of "professional ministry" that God can use ordinary people in extraordinary ways. Every time I read the Bible I find them and how God used them. Every time I travel I find them and am amazed at what God is doing through them.

Take John for example, pictured above (his name and exact location are not named here for security purposes). He is a Kurd, one of 40 or so million who live in the Middle East and whom no one really wants. He grew up in Kurdistan, Northern Iraq where his family was constantly under harassment by Saddam's security forces.

His father was killed by Saddam's police. Twice he had to flee with his family when his village was under attack. He grew up as a Muslim but never really thought that Islam had the answers to life.

Someone gave him a New Testament to read and from time to time he would pick it up and read it. He was intrigued. One day his brother in law saw the New Testament in his house and warned him to get rid of it - he was on the tribal council. John didn't think too much of it since it was his brother in law. But one night he got a knock on his door and his friends said, "You need to leave now! A death sentence has been passed on you because of your Bible."

John fled, finding his way across Syria and stumbling into Lebanon in the winter, his feet frost bit because of the cold - walking across stony fields because he didn't dare take the main road. Once in Lebanon he started to ask around for someone who could explain the Bible to him. Quickly he found a few other Kurdish refugees who he met with for a Bible study.

Soon, however, John was picked up by the security police in Lebanon for being in the country illegally. He was put in jail where because of his Bible (his only possession) he was tortured for 18 months. I asked John, "when did you place your faith in Christ?" He said, "in prison."

Inexplicably he was let out of prison and again started to look around for someone who could help him know God better. He was taken under the wing of a local Christian fellowship in Beirut who discipled him and almost immediately got him involved in doing evangelism among Kurdish refugees and others in the area.

He was so successful that the preachers in the local mosques took to preaching against John, warning people to stay away from him. Numerous times he has had threats on his life and it is not uncommon for him to sleep away from his apartment.

I sat with John one afternoon in his apartment. When he is there he keeps his door open and a steady stream of people walk in to talk with him and just be there. I asked a lady who was there, "Why are you all here?" She said, "Look at John's face. Do you see how peaceful and happy he is? That is why we are here."

Since that afternoon, John has actually started a church and I had the privilege on another trip to sit with 40 people crammed into his tiny apartment in three different rooms worshiping together. John's future in Lebanon is uncertain. He is a United Nation's refugee and is under pressure to leave the country. But he remains peaceful and radiant.

John has no higher education. He has only known Christ since 2005. Yet here he is, a gifted evangelist, a church planter, working among one of the hardest populations in the world and seeing significant fruit. John had the privilege of being mentored by a leader who believes in developing, empowering and releasing people into meaningful ministry and John is a product of that wonderful gift.

Our nation and our world are full of people like John who from a world standpoint are the most ordinary of people but from God's standpoint are His "workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10)."

The question is, will we look for and release ordinary people - most of us are just that - in significant work for His kingdom?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The gauges of our lives

I have a sports car. Unfortunately not one as cool as this picture but it is plenty cool and a six speed. As my son likes to remind me, "dad, both of us know independently how fast it will go." Hmm, that was not welcome news but to be expected. It seems it has an engine governor at the low speed of 120mph with plenty of power to spare judging from the tachometer. Yes, I did get a ticket (fortunately not at 120) which was to be expected. It was not a question of if but when. Only one in four years however.

The thing about a sports car is that you watch the gauges to make sure everything is in order and to keep the engine humming well for a long time. I have learned over the years that my life has gauges as well and if I can monitor them I keep myself from going south. If I don't, well it takes its toll. I have learned to respect the gauges of my life and when they head into the warning or red zone to realign life. I think it is a lesson that we continue to learn through life and with practice comes greater wisdom in choices we make.

I have about eight gauges that I pay attention to. All are necessary for me to live a healthy life, none are perfect (right now I am working hard on a number of them) but when they are in pretty good shape, I am doing well. When they get out of whack, I don't do as well. As you read these, think about the gauges in your life and consider jotting them down for future reference.

These are in no particular order.

I really don't like this one because it takes too much work to stay "light" but it is an indication of how well I am taking care of myself and how much time I can give to staying healthy. Oh, there is the discipline thing in there too which is really irritating. Tomorrow I start weight watchers on line (really!).

No question this one is up there because if my relationship with Mary Ann suffers all of life suffers. To know how I'm doing here, all I need to do is watch her happiness level because when we're good she's good and when we're not she's not.

My connection with Jesus is a critical gauge and one that is pretty easy to measure. When I'm too busy doing His work (ironic isn't it) I don't have the time for Him. For unhurried time with Him. For meditation or Scripture reading or listening prayer. Not hard to gauge, but not easy to be consistent.

I think, and am at my most creative mentally when I am either reading, writing or preparing to teach or preach. When this gets squeezed out of my schedule I know that my busyness is compromising my ability to stay fresh, to think creatively and to do the strategic planning and thinking I do for
ReachGlobal. Squeezed too much and my creative juices go stale.

Not one of my strong suits historically. Post the 42 day hospital stay it has become a regular part of my schedule. And, a critical part of my future - given the fact that life is not a sprint but a marathon. My best friends remind me of that regularly and get on my case when I become a slacker in this area.

Some would say I flunk this one because my schedule is too tight, too often. Since I don't like to flunk anything, I give it a B (just sounds better) and I am working hard on saying "no" more often and have given my staff permission to do it for me when I am too nice. What I know is that when I operate at too packed a schedule, some of the other of these gauges go into the red zone and the operative word is balance.

Life has blessed me with type two diabetes and kidneys that only cooperate on a low sodium diet. So, it means that I need to pay attention to how much I eat and what I eat which again is a matter of personal discipline. And I get to check my blood sugar every two hours during the day.

I do pretty good at paying attention to the big rocks in my life (except when some of the above go into the red zone which of course is never intentional - I would not want to be intentional about that). But using Key Result Ares and an Annual Ministry Plan I stay pretty focused.

OK, so there you have my gauges. What are yours and how are you doing in watching them and keeping them out of the red zone?

And yes, it is probably good that my car has a governor on it. Life should as well.

Leadership strength through humility

In my post of 6/16/08, titled
Humility and leadership: five practices to keep us leading from a posture of humility I wrote about the importance of both soliciting and graciously receiving feedback on our leadership so that we can grow, lead more effectively and model an attitude of "nothing to prove and nothing to lose."

The post received an insightful comment:
Thanks for this post! It is very "counter-cultural" to see leadership as servanthood, let alone to cultivate the practice of listening and looking for people who will be honest with their leader. When I have been asked for honest feedback by my leaders re: their leadership, and did so in what I thought was a sensitive way, it was not appreciated. It takes an exceptionally mature person to be able to handle honest feedback! In the future I need to realize that not all requests for honest input are really that, and to reflect on the maturity of the person asking for my input.

What the writer points out is the sad reality that many leaders neither listen well or truly want those they lead to be honest with them. As the writer says, "It takes an exceptionally mature person to be able to handle honest feedback!" He puts his finger on the critical issue. Maturity!

Immature leaders do not solicit feedback. The truth is they don't want it. They have something to prove and a lot to lose and when given unsolicited feedback they react defensively and take it personally. In addition, many immature leaders go further and "write off" or "demonize" those who they perceive to be "critical."

By writing off and choosing not to trust those who offer constructive feedback they isolate themselves from the very people who could help them lead more effectively. Their friendships revolve only around those who agree with them and they send a strong message that if you disagree you will no longer be in "my circle."

Immature leaders will end up as ineffective leaders if they cannot overcome their aversion to honest dialogue and feedback. The end result of this attitude is that staff don't feel able to be honest without running the risk of being marginalized. Once marginalized, they no longer feel part of the team and often will not stay. In far too many cases, staff live in fear of running "afoul" of their leader knowing that the result is not pleasant.

Here is an irony. Staff respect leaders who listen to them and who solicit and receive their feedback and foster honest dialogue. Openness and non-defensiveness build respect. Leaders who do not listen, who do not solicit or graciously receive feedback or foster honest dialogue are not respected.

They may be feared but they are not respected. The very thing they so desperately desire, respect, is secretly withheld from them. They live in a fantasy world, thinking they are wise, respected leaders while the opposite is true. They are neither wise nor respected.

We cannot change others, but we can ensure that we are mature in our leadership. Maturity requires humility and openness. It requires and attitude of "nothing to prove, nothing to lose." In fostering an open environment they build huge loyalty and respect. In being vulnerable they are strong.

Vision demystified - the last 20%

We indicated in the previous blog entry that 80% of vision for the local church has to do with what the people of God ought to be and crafting a mission, set of guiding principles, central ministry focus and culture of spiritual vitality to help God's people become transformed into His image. Getting clarity on those four areas is not easy but it is not complicated either. It simply takes the time and hard work of leaders to clarify, communicate and then be intentional in living these four areas out.

Then there is the other 20%. Here, leaders must make critical directional decisions that help the congregation maximize its spiritual influence in the community in which it is located - and in the world that it wants to reach. These directional decisions have significant opportunity to help the church expand its spiritual influence.

Directional decisions can include staffing, building, relocating, initiating ministry initiatives, killing no longer effective ministries, governance changes, community initiatives and other key decisions.

I think it is helpful to differentiate between two kinds of directional decisions. Global and local. I am not using these terms geographically.

By global, I mean directional decisions that actually change the game for a congregation. They are the kinds of decisions that are infrequent but significant - they are game changers. Take for instance, the game changer that Crystal Evangelical Free Church undertook in a suburb of Minneapolis. Historically the church had served an upper middle class congregation and community and was one of the larger churches in the

When the church outgrew its campus in Crystal, it relocated to New Hope several decades ago where it continued to expand. Over the last decade, however, the community of New Hope changed significantly from an upper white middle class community to an ethnically diverse, lower class community.

The typical response to churches in changing communities is to continue to do ministry as usual and either relocate to a community that reflects its constituency or stay and become a commuter church with its traditional constituency driving from further out neighborhoods.

As Steven
Goold, the senior pastor and his board pondered the changing landscape they chose a drastic, risky, prayerful and considered decision not only to stay but to intentionally change their ministry to minister to the multi-ethnic, lower class community. This was a global decision that changed the ministry game of the congregation.

It meant diversifying the staff. It meant accepting the fact that some who had called Crystal their church home would leave. It meant that the budget would probably go down. It meant learning new ways to do worship and doing the tough work of building love and unity in a multi-ethnic congregation rather than a white upper middle class congregation. It meant learning new ways to relate, to minister, to relate. It changed everything. It even meant changing the name of the church to reflect the community in which it was located "New Hope." It has not been easy but God is blessing the decision and God is at work in awesome ways.

Global decisions like this are the result of a huge amount of prayer, seeking God's direction, dialogue, discussion, planning and reflection. They are made by thoughtful leaders who have done the hard work of discerning the times, the opportunities, the right course of action and who have the courage to lead a deliberate process in order to make the transition from what is to what God is calling the church to. Such decisions should never be made quickly, should never be made without counting the cost - and there will be a cost - and should never be made without the leadership commitment to work the necessary process.

Most directional decisions are "local," in that they are key decisions but more limited in their scope. For instance, a decision to focus on compassion ministries within one's community in order to meet the commitment of the congregation to be the hands and feet of Jesus would fit this definition. Many local directional decisions are made on an annual basis in order to further the spiritual influence of the congregation and maximize its effectiveness.

The point here is that vision is a deliberate process on the part of leaders to maximize the opportunity and spiritual influence of the congregation. Most of these key directional decisions are limited in scope and a few are game changers. If leaders want to be "visionary," it is not necessary to have huge aspirations. It is necessary to be deliberate in figuring out how they can maximize the opportunity God has given them and then make the directional decisions to expand its effectiveness or influence.

You can be a leader in any community and any size church and be a leader and church of great vision. In fact, God has called you to do that. Vision is not the purview of the huge ministries around the world. It should be the vision of every congregation in every community.

One final thought. Wise leaders spend a lot of time praying, thinking and talking about how to maximize the opportunity God has given them. This means that they understand that their job is not to manage the present but to thoughtfully plan for the future. These kinds of discussions and times of prayer need to make up a large part of the time and work of church leaders. Vision is about the future and always pressing the
missional agenda of the church for the sake of Christ and His kingdom.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Vision demystified - the first 80%

In talking to pastors, one of the frustrations I often hear is - how do I determine vision for my church? We go to conferences and hear the importance of vision, we read the tomes of successful pastors who tell us how important vision is and we look at our church and say, "what do I do about that here?"

The good news is that all of us can have and communicate vision. But, we need to be clear about what vision is. Vision is primarily about what we want our church to be - missional, healthy, a place where we grow people into fully devoted followers of Jesus and where we are releasing people into active, meaningful ministry.
In fact, I would argue, that is 80% of what vision is all about. It is NOT the spectacular plans we have for the future - it IS about leading our church in a way that produces healthy Christ followers who are making an impact for Him in their neighborhoods, schools, places of work and community. The church is about transformation of lives into the image of Christ and when lives are transformed it starts to impact our communities.

How do we determine and put into practice this 80% of our vision for our congregations? There are four areas we need to define, articulate and constantly monitor. If you can clearly articulate these four areas, you can then work on annual plan to ensure that the congregation is growing in all four - and you will be moving intentionally toward greater health and spiritual vitality.

Mission - Why are we here?

We often underestimate the importance of a clear mission statement that articulates why we exist. It is critical because we often wrongly assume that the folks in our church are clear as to why the church exists. I can tell you with certainty that many are not. In fact, many church attenders have never even thought about it, they just enjoy being part of a good church. Yet everything about the church is missional if we take the great commission seriously.

If a mission statement cannot fit on the back of a t-shirt it is probably too long. 80% of your people ought to be able to tell you what the mission statement is and explain it. If they cannot, whatever you have as a mission statement is not going to make much difference in what actually happens.
Mission statements are not about a line to put into the bulletin but a commitment on the part of all of our people to be lived. Don't underestimate the power of a well crafted, constantly articulated and leader championed mission. It is a powerful tool to help point the whole congregation in the same direction of "more believers and better believers."

Guiding Principles - what are the core principles by which we will all live?
These are the principles by which we agree to do ministry, relate to one another and conduct ourselves as believers. These principles ought to actually guide behavior and in guiding behavior it actually shapes the kind of culture you want to create in your church . A carefully crafted set of guiding principles, if constantly championed by leaders and intentionally lived out allows you to intentionally create a healthy culture rather than simply settling for what is.
With guiding principles, one can intentionally create a culture of relationships, practices, spiritual dependency and commitments that are God honoring and designed to maximize the ministry opportunity your church has. They are powerful teaching opportunities to help your people understand how He wants us to relate to one another, to Him, to unbelievers and to the world. If we got that right in the church we would be an amazing transformational force in our communities.
Central Ministry Focus - what do we need to do all the time to maximize our spiritual impact as a church?

The central ministry focus is the one thing that your church needs to do day in and day out in order to maximize your ministry effectiveness. For the church I believe Scripture has already given us that focus - in Ephesians 4:12. The job of leaders is to equip people for works of ministry so that individuals become mature, the body is built up and the Kingdom is expanded.

The very reason the church has so little impact in our world is precisely because not enough believers are serious about using their spiritual gifts for the advancement of the kingdom. And not enough church leaders are truly serious in helping their people understand their God given gifting and then releasing them in meaningful ministry - not simply in the church but in the community at large that the church has been called to influence and transform.

Ephesians four is clear on three counts. One that the job of leaders is not simply to do the work of ministry but to equip everyone to be involved in meaningful ministry. Two, that no Christ follower is mature who is not actively using their gifting for the cause of Christ and three, that our congregations will only be mature to the extent that the whole body is involved in using their gifts. Those three truths explain why most churches have so little impact and why some churches have enormous impact. Our impact is directly related to the seriousness with which we develop, empower and release our people in meaningful ministry.

Culture - Developing a culture of spiritual vitality The culture we must grow in the church is a culture of spiritual vitality.

Wise leaders take the time to determine what a mature believer looks like and then they create intentional teaching, experiences and opportunities for people who want to grow into Christ's likeness to do so. Rather than simply hoping people mature they are deeply intentional about seeing transformation happen.

The church I attend identifies five marks of spiritual vitality:
Grace: Understanding God's grace to us and extending it to others
Growth: Having an intentional plan to grow our relationship with Christ
Gifts: Using our gifts for the advancement of His kingdom
Generosity: Being generous with God as he has been generous with us
Gathering: Growing and ministering in community with others

Those five marks of spiritual maturity or vitality become the target we have for all in the church. Lived out, these five practices will, through the work of the Holy Spirit bring transformation to our lives.

How does one communicate these four areas to the congregation and keep them in front of them all the time? I use a SANDBOX (hence the title of this blog site) to illustrate the four sides of our ministry - mission (top side), guiding principles (left side), central ministry focus (bottom side) and culture of spiritual vitality (left side). Thus in one picture I am able to illustrate these four areas which make up 80% of the vision for our churches or ministry organizations. Then we ask people to play inside the sandbox and use the sandbox as a teaching tool throughout the ministry.

If you are interested in more information on crafting these four key areas for your church or ministry organization - and therefore defining the key elements of your vision, the book, Leading from the Sandbox: Develop, Empower and Release High Impact Ministry Teams provides a road map for you. If you click on the book to the right of this posting you can order the book.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Leaders and followers

The first step to leadership is followership. Until we can follow well and respond well to those who are over us we will not be able to lead well. Followership demonstrates an appropriate willingness to place ourselves under the authority of others. If we are unwilling or unable to do that, what right do we have to expect others to do that to us?

Followership and leadership are not simply different phases of life: first I follow and then I lead. For the vast majority of us, leadership and followership are constant realities and to lead well we must continue to follow well. As a leader, I am responsible for a large organization. As a follower, I am, like those I lead, under authority. I am a follower and a leader and it is my responsibility to do both well.

I believe that ministry leaders must pay special attention to the discipline of following. I have watched leaders who followed well and those who have followed poorly. For those of us who lead others I think there are several temptations that we must resist if we are to lead and follow well.

The temptation to think we no longer need to listen to the authority above us

After all, we are leaders and leaders lead. There is a subtle difference between doing what our leaders ask us to do and truly honoring our leaders with respect, lifting them up and taking their advice and counsel seriously.

A pastor or ministry leader who does not respect his or her board - assuming that they know better - has chosen not to be a good follower. I have often watched ministry leaders simply ignore what the board has said. In one case I was a board member of a ministry and regardless of what the board decided, the leader simply did his own thing. I resigned. He did not need me,or the rest of the board. He did he want to follow his authority.

I am often amazed and saddened by the number of people in Christian ministry who call themselves leaders who really want no authority above them. At its worst it results in narcissism where leaders start to not only ignore the authority above them but to mistreat and violate those who report to them. There is a connection between respect for authority and respect for those for whom we are the authority.

The temptation to be cynical of those above us

OK, leaders have opinions. Some think their opinions are better than those of their leaders and develop an attitude of cynicism toward those above them. Even if their leaders make mistakes, and who does not, cynicism is a sign of poor followership, not great leadership. In fact, those who harbor cynical attitudes regarding their own authority are actually undermining their personal leadership because good team members do not trust leaders who distrust their own leaders. Why should they?

People do not want to follow those who cannot follow others. I will never elevate an individual to leadership in our organization who is a cynic of those above them. What it tells me is that we have someone who is a poor leader and an untrustworthy leader - regardless of how competent they are. cynicism is about followership - or lack of it, not leadership.

The temptation to develop loyalty to us as leaders but not to the organization as a whole

This happens all the time (see my post on "Leadership Default"). This is a subtle form of the first two temptations because what it communicates is that "I want you to be loyal and cooperative to me as a leader" while at the same time not communicating that "we are a part of a larger whole and together we must be loyal and cooperative to those above us."

Thus, pastors sometimes develop loyalty of the staff but don't insist that together they are loyal to the board - dividing staff and boards. Mission organizations see mid level leaders develop good teams but do not create an ethos where that team is cooperative with or in synergy with the larger organization. In these cases, leaders have not led well because they are not following well.

The "us/them" mentality that pervades so many ministries is actually nothing other than poor followership on the part of leaders.

Leaders are followers. As the Executive Director of ReachGlobal I am a leader. As a member of the senior team of the EFCA I am a follower. My ability to follow will directly impact my ability to lead. And, I will not follow someone who will not follow!

If you are a leader, what matters first is how well you can follow. How are you doing?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Should church staff serve on the elder/leadership board?

I am often asked in church consults, "Who other than the senior pastor should serve as a member of the elder board (or senior leadership board of the church)?

Some suggest that all pastors meet the qualifications of elders so they should be on the board. Others believe that only the senior pastor should serve on the board. And then there are those who have several but not all staff members on the board.

From a governance perspective I would argue that the senior pastor is the only member of the staff that should be a standing member of the board even though other staff members may attend board meetings on a regular or periodic basis. When other staff members are members of the board the church runs several risks.

First, the only "employee" of the board is the senior pastor. When other staff members are members of the board, there is often confusion as to who is responsible to whom. Do other staff members report to the board or to the senior pastor? It should be the senior pastor but when other staff sit on boards it is often the case the boards start to manage them as well. In good governance all staff report to the senior leader and the senior leader both sits as a board member and is accountable to the board.

I have seen a number of situations where staff were always at board meetings and the senior pastor was unable to deal with problematic issues of performance of these staff members because they were "members" of the board. This tied the hands of the senior leader to lead and caused significant pain. There are cases where staff will use their "proximity" to board members to do end runs around the senior leader and if they are board members this becomes very easy if they are so inclined.

Second, remember that the job of boards is to govern, set policy, direction and provide oversight. The job of staff is to deal with the day to day ministry issues and to ensure that the policies, direction and ministry initiatives of the board are carried out. These are two very different responsibilities. One does not want board members doing management and one does not want staff members doing the job of the board. When staff members are regularly at board meetings it often confuses the responsibilities of board and staff or policy and management.

Now in larger churches where there are positions like executive pastors, it makes sense for these individuals to be regular "attenders" of the board since they must carry out the directional decisions of the board with staff. However, they should not be members of the board and the board should reserve the right to meet without them. They are there by practice and invitation but not as members of the board.

I have encountered situations where because of an incompetent senior pastor a board has brought other members of the staff on the board so that its directives are actually carried out. This is a "work around" to good governance and the board should deal with the competency issue of its leader rather than to confuse roles and violate good governance.

You may say, your staff are an exception and they should be members of the board. Remember that the next senior leader may not agree with you and you may have saddled him with a situation where he cannot lead because of a structure you set up. Exceptions to good governance practice have a way of coming back to bite the organization in the future. It is a bad idea.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Connecting the compass with the clock

In my prior blogs, "What spells success for you," and "Your annual roadmap," I talked about the use of Key Result Areas and Annual Ministry Plans as a way to maximize our calling and live with great intentionality.

The world is filled with good intentions. And that is all that Key Result Areas and Annual Ministry Plans are unless they are intentionally connected to how we use our time. If KRAs and AMPs are our compass, our schedule is our clock. Once we have defined success, the most critical element in living intentionally is to actually connect our intentions with our schedules.

Apart from Scripture there is no document more important to us than our schedules. The one asset that we cannot get back is our time. How we spend our time (activity) has a direct impact on the results of our life and work (success). Wise individuals do not live by the seat of their pants, or on the fly. Many people do but wise people do not. They don't settle for accidental living.

It has been said that one can tell a lot about a person's priorities by their checkbook. The same can be said for schedules. I often ask my senior leaders to share their schedule with me. I can tell from looking at their schedule what their true priorities are. My own schedule is available to all my key leaders. They can look any time they choose. It is my way of setting an example of how I connect the compass to the clock and it makes me accountable to those I hold accountable. I cannot ask of others what I do not practice myself.

Schedule your priorities

Our priorities are our Key Result Areas, and the Annual Ministry Plans are the annual roadmapKRAs. Either we schedule time in our month to work on our AMPs or life and others will schedule us instead. Either we control our time or others will control our time.

A simple way to do this is to schedule your week with blocks of time carved out for your priorities. Blocks of time allow you to focus your attention on specific issues which are in line with your Annual Ministry Plan. Once you have scheduled your priorities you can fill in the rest of the schedule with the meetings, administration and other activities that are a part of your life.

Control your interruptions

Focused individuals develop tools to control interruptions to scheduled time. There are blocks of time when the phone should not be answered and when email should not be read, when we are not accessible to others except in case of emergencies. Most of us are good at keeping appointments that we have with other people. My approach is that an appointment on my calendar for focused work is as sacred as an appointment with a person. And I work hard to keep both of them.

Schedule thinking, reading and planning time

Strategic individuals set aside time in their schedule to think, read and plan. They put into their schedule specific days or even weeks during the year when they will be out of the office, away from distractions with time to let their minds connect the dots in ways that they never would have if they had not taken the time.

Don't do what others can do.

There are things that only you can do in your role. There are many things that others can do as well or better than you. Be ruthless in delegating to others those things that you do not need to do.

Identify your top three priorities each month.

None of us can concentrate on everything. On a monthly basis, identify the top three priorities that you are going to concentrate on. These should be directly connected to your KRAs and AMPs.

Foster a culture of execution and results

Execution, the discipline of getting things done, is a focus of strategic individuals. It is not about activity but about results. Many people and ministries do not have a culture of results.

Few things are more satisfying than knowing that we have accomplished the most that we can accomplish with the time, gifts and opportunities God has granted to us. Connecting the compass to the clock is a way to ensure this happens - not perfectly - but intentionally.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Friends for life

There is no greater joy than to have deep friendships that withstand the test of time - fellow pilgrims in life who walk with us, and we with them, through all the stuff that life serves up.

It was about ten years into our marriage, that Mary Ann and I reflected on the fact that so many 'friendships' are so shallow. There is a conflict in the church and people who have long been our 'friends' get mad and it's over. Some slight happens and what we thought was a solid relationship is finished. We grew tired of such shallow relationships and decided that we would cultivate what we call 'friends for life.'

A friend for life is a friendship that will withstand the test of time, withstand distance when circumstances move us away from one another, people who will be transparent and allow us to do the same, and fellow pilgrims who can provide mutual encouragement through the inevitable tough periods of life. We knew there would not be many but we knew we needed a few.

Relationships are perhaps the most important investments we can make in life. People who are in our corner, who know us best, who love us even though they know us well, who spur us on in our faith are more precious than gold. If you have a few of those you know exactly what I am talking about. I would give up all my material possessions before I would give those relationships up.

As investments, the quality of those relationships will depend on the time, care and intentionality that we put into them. Which is why time with our 'friends for life' is always a high priority for us. Apart from our relationship with Christ and our marriage and family, there are no more important investments for us. We know that we cannot do the journey of life well by ourselves. We need others and they need us. There is a deep satisfaction and richness to these relationships which nourishes the soul and encourages the heart.

There is a wonderful accountability in such friendships. Not the kind one has in an 'accountability group' which is often rather artificial but the accountability of deep friendships that will not let a friend stray and if they do will gently bring them back. It is the mutual modeling of followership of Christ that is a living encouragement to both parties to stay on the path and to finish the journey well.

There is also great security in knowing that the curves that life throws are not dealt with alone. When I was gravely sick and in the hospital for 42 days (35 of them in ICU) earlier this year, Grant and Carol dropped everything to be at the hospital supporting Mary Ann and the boys, Ken and Barb came each evening they were home, mom and dad nearly lived at the hospital, Arthur and Wayne flew in from Tennessee and Pennsylvania, my nine siblings each came from around the country. My prayer partner Naomi could not visit (99 years old) but prayed fervently for us. We were surrounded by unbelievable love and care that sustained our family through the darkest days of our lives.

Do not neglect your 'friends for life.' Treat them as a special blessing and your most special investment. Nurture them and they will nurture you. The cool thing is that they will sustain us in life and we will have all eternity to enjoy them. If you don't have the gift of 'friends for life,' ask God to grant you some. It will make all the difference.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Your annual roadmap

In my last post I talked about identifying those Key Result Areas that spell success for our lives. These KRAs do not necessarily change from year to year unless the focus of your job changes. KRAs are the broad definition of success. What does change is the Annual Ministry Plan (AM), which describes how one is going to fulfill each of the Key Result Areas in a given year.

Annal Ministry Plans (AMPs) are the specific steps one is going to take in any given year to fulfill one's KRAs. Before the beginning of a year all members of a team should have determined both their KRAs as well as the specific plan they intend to drive to fulfill those KRAs. These plans are developed by the individuals who must drive them and are then endorsed by their supervisor. They are specific enough to be measurable and form the basis of a monthly meeting with supervisors.

At the heart of intentionality is a commitment to thoughtfully and prayerfully think through what needs to be done and how one should do it. It is the difference between accidental and intentional living. This may be a stretch for those who are not used to planning, but they will get used to it and the results of their work will be measurably better.

Intentionality is about understanding what the end goal is (KRAs) and how one should best get there (AMPs). While the secular world has long stressed such planning, the ministry world has been significantly behind, especially when it comes to focusing on results. Good ministry is impossible without good planning.

Another advantage of AMPs is that supervisors and team members now have a way to measure progress. There is a plan and supervisors can use this plan to gauge progress. Because the team member developed the plan him or herself (with the supervisor sign off), they can be held accountable for its execution.

For individuals, the Annual Ministry Plan provides the roadmap for the year in terms of what they need to concentrate on. The hard part is done (knowing what to do) and now one can concentrate on executing the plan. This is a wonderfully helpful tool for self management. It puts the responsibility for ministry execution on individual team members rather than on the team leader. It empowers and provides for accountability.

There are people in the ministry world who believe that results do not really matter. I am told on occasion that "the only thing that matters is faithfulness." While faithfulness is a non-negotiable, results do matter because they matter to God. We are all about much fruit (John 15). Annual ministry Plans help us measure how much progress we are making according to the plans we have laid out.

The ministry world is notoriously lax in helping people know the success of their performance on an annual basis. With KRAs and AMPs, it is possible to have an objective annual performance review. How did the team member do in fulfilling their AMP and therefore fulfilling their KRAs? Even if it is not done perfectly (perfection is not the goal, intentionality is), the presence of an identifiable plan makes evaluation objective and easier and forms the basis of the next year's Annual Ministry Plan.

What spells success for you?

Fast-forward your life to the day of your funeral. Your family is there, as well as your friends and colleagues. What are they saying about your life? What are your children remembering? Your spouse! Those who knew you best? If there were a handful of things you would want to be known by, what would they be?

Assume that you have five years left in your current ministry. If you could accomplish three-to-five things that leave a lasting influence, what would they be?

What you have just identified are the big rocks of your life. They are the key results that you want your life and your work to have? Getting these big rocks right is one of the most important things we can do if we are going to live intentionally and focus on results. If we don't know the big rocks, we don't know where to focus our activity.

Now take another moment and answer this question for each of the big rocks above for your life and work. How strategically is my activity aligned with the few key results I want for my life and work? Be honest with yourself.

KRAs are Key Result Areas. Understanding of and commitment to KRAs is a major contributor in moving from activity to focused living (activity and results are two different things). Much of what we have been taught or seen modeled that is related to how we structure our lives, focuses around activity. For instance, most job descriptions are a description of the activities that the job entails. The message is that if one carries out the activities found in the job description they will have been successful in their work. But it is not true!

There is a major fallacy here because activity does not equal results. There are many people whose work lives are filled with activity but there is not much to show for it. All of us are busy with activity but activity is not the relevant issue.

Key Result Areas are the specific results that spell success for us in our job and life. KRAs do not spell out how we will achieve those results (activity) but describes the definition of success (results). KRAs define the critical areas of success that one must achieve if one is going to be successful in one's work.

Because KRAs define what success looks like, they cut through the clutter of activity and get to the heart of the matter - what our activity must lead to. They answer the question of success and are applicable in both our personal and professional lives. KRAs do not define activity, goals or methods. They define the end result of our work, the ultimate outcome that we want to see in any given year. Goals and methodology come after we have defined our KRA's.

Why KRAs? Key Result Areas allow us to focus on the critical rather than be driven by the urgent. They clarify the non-negotiable priorities and allow us to make decisions about our time and energy on the basis of a set of clear outcomes that will allow us to fulfill God's call on our lives.

Think of all the demands on your time. Some of those demands come from others who love to tell you what is important for you and how you should spend your time. All of us have options and opportunities as to what we could do with our time and we face regular pressures to fulfill the expectations of others. We face the challenges:
  • How do we prioritize?
  • How do we schedule?
  • What gives us the confidence to say yes or no?
  • Where do we focus?
  • How do we deal with competing voices?
  • How do we free ourselves from the tyranny of the urgent?
The answer is to identify your Key result Areas. They become your key focus and priorities and the grid from which you can answer these questions.

My Key result areas are these:

1. Personal Development: Ensuring that I live an intentional life in my spiritual, family, emotional, relational and professional life.

2. Strategic leadership: Providing strategic leadership to the organization or the part of the organization that I lead.

3. Strong team: Building a healthy, unified, aligned, strategic and results oriented team.

4. Leadership Development: Develop current and future leaders.

5. Mobilizing Resources: Mobilize key resources necessary for the ministry of the team to flourish.

Have you identified what spells success for you?