Friday, May 29, 2009

Board members and intellectual capacity

Serving on a board, church or otherwise, requires a special intellectual capacity or ability. This is not about education - many educated people have limited intellectual capacity and many who lack higher education have it.

It is the ability to think conceptually, to visualize what could be rather than simply what is, to be able to focus on the big picture and concepts rather than on the small picture and details and enough personal flexibility to be open to new ideas, and work constructively with other board members. It is also the ability to trust staff to do what they must do and to always be pushing forward the missional agenda of the church or organization. It includes the ability to problem solve in creative ways rather than simply to fall back on what they have seen before in another church and organization.

Not everyone can do that and too often we bring well meaning, even Godly individuals onto our boards who actually hinder ministry progress by their narrow views, inability to think conceptually and who believe that board work is guarding the status quo and controlling staff. Those who have worked on boards with people who do not have the intellectual skills enumerated above know how frustrating that can be.

So in choosing effective board members it is helpful to ask the kinds of questions below:

  • Do they think big picture or small picture? (think big)

  • Can they engage the future of the organization or simply deal with status quo? (think future)

  • Do they exhibit personal flexibility or are they inflexible in their thinking? (think flexibly)

  • When problem solving do they see all the pieces or just some of the pieces? (think all)

  • Do they like to micromanage or empower? (think empowerment)

  • Can they trust staff or do they need to know everything before staff can act? (think trust)

  • Do they work synergistically with others or need things their way? (think synergistically)

  • Do they think missionally or like to deal with inconsequential issues? (think missionally)

  • Are they articulate and thoughtful or confusing and quick to make judgements? (think articulate and thoughtful)

Intellectual capacity matters in any church or organization that wants to go anywhere and which is governed by a board. Again, it is not about education level. It is about the ability to think well and understand the big picture of the organization - in order to help it get there.

Think about the board members you know who do that well and those who lack the skill. There is the difference!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

An Essential Biblical Vocabulary

How many Christ followers could adequately explain the following words and theological concepts?

  • Incarnation

  • Grace

  • Salvation

  • Redemption

  • Righteousness

  • Faith

  • Repentance

  • Atonement

  • Justification

  • Condemnation

  • Sin

  • Love

  • Obedience
Every generation is only one generation away from Biblical illiteracy, heresy and lifestyles that do not please God. I fear that the church is not doing enough to educate its people in the basic doctrines of the Christian faith - and minus the foundation of those doctrines, we may end up with a semblance of Christianity without the core of Christianity.

There is a therapeutic gospel at large in our world today. But it is often therapy wrapped in Biblical teaching without the very foundation of the gospel robbing people of the core foundational truths of what the Scriptures teach.

Is it possible to develop a Christian world view or a truly Christian lifestyle without a good understanding of theology, the study of God which is wrapped up in the grand doctrines of Scripture? Many seem to think the answer is yes - if one judges by the content of the teaching and preaching that one encounters in the church today. Paul obviously disagreed as the book of Romans and his other epistles demonstrate.

In fact, the relevance we pursue in our exposition of the Scriptures is rooted in and derived from the very doctrines that we often ignore in our attempt to make our message relevant!

Consider doing an informal survey of the words from Romans above and see what you discover! We might start with church leaders and see what we discover! If you get good results I applaud you. If you don't...

Friday, May 22, 2009

When Life Comes Undone

Many who read this blog prayed for me over the last fifteen months as I was hospitalized with life threatening illnesses. Recently I shared the story of God's faithfulness in my life at my home church in a message entitled, When Life Comes Undone.

I would like to share that story with those of you who are interested. God is good - all the time.

When Life Comes Undone - The testimony of God's grace in my recent illnesses
To those of you who prayed....thank you!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

It only takes one!

I have recently written on the issues of alignment and healthy teams and boards. What are the implications of having a member of your team who is not in alignment? This can happen when a team member:
  • Is not in agreement with the direction of the team or organization
  • Does not pull their own weight in terms of productivity and results
  • Have attitudes that are counterproductive to healthy team: cynicism, sarcasm, untrusting, etc.
  • Does their own thing and are not committed to working as a productive team member
  • Has Emotional Intelligence (EQ) issues that disrupt the health of the team
  • Are not teachable or coachable
Here is the reality: it takes only one member of the team to pull down the rest of the team, and to take a huge emotional toll on the other team members and the team leader. And, to hurt the overall missional effectiveness of the organization.

Because ministries are about "grace" we often do not handle these situations, hoping they will resolve themselves or go away. They rarely do without intentional and direct intervention. Where we do not resolve we unfairly punish the rest of the team who must live with the unhealth of one member, and we hurt the missional effectiveness of the organization.

Here are some suggestions for dealing with this kind of situation:
  1. Provide very direct feedback in person and followed up in writing indicating the problems and the necessary changes that are necessary if they are to continue to play a role on the team and in the ministry. Be direct, be honest and be defining.
  2. Establish time parameters in which the issues must be resolved or they will be placed on a probationary status. If they need additional coaching during this time, provide it and always give honest direct feedback verbally and in writing.
  3. If there is not adequate progress, place the individual on a probationary status (in writing - always document) with the understanding that if there is not appropriate resolution that they will not be able to continue on the team or with the organization.
  4. Be willing to let them go and transition them out of the organization if they do not meet the requirements of the probationary period.
Your willingness as a leader to take appropriate steps in cases like this sends a powerful message to the rest of your team that you care about their health and the health of the organization. When one does not take these steps the opposite message is sent - and clearly read that we are an organization that does not take health seriously.

The emotional and energy toll that is paid for an unhealthy team member is higher than we realize until the issue has been resolved and we realize the price we paid. Ministry is tough enough. We make it easier when we deal with those individuals who pull the rest of the team down.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Ministry and Team Alignment

How aligned or in sync is the team you lead or the team you are a part of? Many ministry teams look like the picture above with everyone doing their own thing or going in their own direction. Or, various teams going in different directions. While it may be convenient that way - one can do their own thing - it is not a prescription for maximum ministry impact.

Many ministry leaders believe that they are aligned if people have collegial relationships. It is alignment around relationship. One ministry leader I worked with believed that if only people prayed together, their hearts would come into alignment and therefor all would be well. It was alignment around spirituality. Many church staffs believe that alignment is about communication - making sure everyone else knows what each ministry is doing. Now collegial relationships, spiritual fellowship and communication are are great for a team but they are not the true basis of alignment.

In fact, the first two alignment strategies above, an emphasis on close relationship and fellowship, actually complicate true alignment because it takes the emphasis off of missional success and puts it on everyone feeling good about each other. Frank, honest, robust dialogue around missional issues rarely happens where the highest priority is that we are "best friends."

Real alignment means that the directional, value, and missional arrows are all pointed in one direction. That is, we operate by the same values or guiding principles, we are passionate about the same mission, we understand the central ministry focus of our organization and we are committed to the same outcomes. Very few ministry organizations can claim that kind of alignment but it is the key to maximizing our ministry's potential.

In order to get that kind of alignment it is first necessary to clarify the core principles by which one is going to operate, the mission one has and the outcomes one desires. Without clarity on those issues alignment is not really possible.

It is precisely because most ministries have not defined these that they end up trying to align around relationship, fellowship or communication. But these will not get the arrows all pointed in the right direction. It may give an illusion of alignment but it is not true alignment.

Once one has clarified what we call the "sides of our ministry sandbox" one can then ask every individual and each team to align themselves around those core commitments or in our terminology, play inside the same sandbox. The larger a ministry is the more critical it is that everyone is working off the same play sheet. The phrase in the book of Judges that "everyone did what was right in their own eyes," was not a commendation but a criticism.

If you were to ask the team you lead or the team you are a part of, "What really aligns us and keeps us in sync what would they say? You might want to ask the question. At best, lack of alignment causes leaks in ministry impact. At worst, it causes misunderstanding, lack of clarity and lack of objective ways to measure success.

If you need help in getting to alignment, the book, Leading from the Sandbox can help. It is all about how to build and maintain an aligned team or organization.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Dumb things Church Boards do!

Fail to clarify what is critical for the congregation

Good leaders clarify and communicate mission, guiding principles, central ministry focus and what spiritual vitality looks like. Without clarity, there is not direction and without direction there is no focus. It is accidental rather than intentional ministry.

Focus on the small stuff

The small details of church life do not move the ministry forward. It is certainly not the task of church boards to deal with the small rocks. It is easy to be deceived that the small day to day details are important. They are for someone - but not for the board which is responsible for clarifying and driving the large important issues of mission.

Don't resolve conflict

Unresolved conflict either on the board or within the congregation kills missional effectiveness and hijacks needed energy for ministry. Wise boards never allow unresolved conflict to fester - they deal with it.

Don't police themselves

Many boards allow behavior that is sinful, counterproductive or simply poor leadership. Wise boards ensure that their behavior is a model for the congregation and that their time is wisely spent on the important issues - including coming to decisions in a timely fashion. Wise boards have leadership covenants that each member signs that spells out how they work together.

Are intimidated by the few loud voices

Too many boards acquiesce to loud voices in the congregation and surrender to those voices even when they know that God is calling them to action. Wise leaders are not intimidated by loud voices who usually represent far less influence than they think they have.

Allow someone in the church to have informal veto power over church decisions

No one person has the authority to decide what the congregation does or does not do. In fact, no leader by themselves have that authority but only the board together and the congregation as it follows. Wise leaders do not allow any individual to control the direction of the church. And when necessary, they face them down.

Don't guard the gate

Who gets into leadership matters. Not guarding the leadership gate is one of the most foolish things boards and congregations do. Poor leaders will give you poor leadership and one bad apple can ruin the whole bunch. Whoever chooses leaders actually has the most power for good or ill in the church. Ensure you have a way to ensure the right leaders are chosen. In this matter, churches get what they deserve.

Allow elephants in the room

Elephants are those issues that everyone knows are there but no one is willing to name or deal with. Unfortunately those elephants are usually the very issues that MUST be resolved if the congregation is to move forward. Ignoring the elephants is not only dumb but deeply harmful.

Don't use an agenda and stay on task

Agendas may seem pedestrian but they are not. Agendas force boards to prioritize their work and stay on task - dealing with the big rocks rather than the pebbles and sand. Board meetings without agendas are a sign of accidental and non-prioritized leadership.

Don't empower staff

Boards that do not empower their staff to design and manage day to day ministry are doing management by committee. It has never worked and never will work but church boards try to do it all the time. Staff designs, board refines! Boards determine policy and direction, staff manage day to day ministry and ensure that the policy and direction are carried out. Boards do governance and staff ensures day to day ministry happens.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Game of Chess and Decision Making

The game of chess can provide us with some lessons for decision making. Chess is all about understanding and predicting how your move will be met by your opponent. Great chess players run through an analysis of the potential ramifications of their move and what the consequences might be.

Good decision making does the same thing. Every decision has ramifications for others and, if we are not careful, unintended consequences. Wisdom is to try to understand and predict how our decision will be met by others and the potential ramifications of that decision. Decisions impact people so wise leaders try to understand that impact before they announce their decision.

Some of the questions to consider when one is making a decision are:
  • Who will be impacted?
  • What are the potential downsides?
  • Why might it be resisted and by whom?
  • What is your strategy for dealing with that resistance?
  • What kind of preparation or explanation will alleviate resistance and even garner support?
  • If someone made this decision for you what would you want to know?
  • Have you run the decision by trusted colleagues who can give you a read on potential "unintended consequences?"
  • Do you need to prepare people by letting them know what you are thinking and allow for input?

The goal is to be aware of both consequences and response so that you can be strategic in rolling out a decision that has impact on others and minimize the downsides. The larger the decision the more critical it is to take the time to think through how it will be received.

Where it is possible a best practice is to tell staff or your board what you are thinking of doing and why so that they can give you any feedback before you pull the trigger. Giving them the opportunity to dialogue with you beforehand helps them process what is coming and may give you valuable information that might either cause you to tweak the decision or know how to sell the decision.

Another best practice is to talk with a colleague outside your organization who has not skin in the game and let them ask you the questions you may not have thought of.

The key is not to be surprised - in chess and in decision making.