I have had the privilege of spending most of my ministry career with Converge, a movement of 1300+ churches in the US and many others around the world that exists to help people meet, know and follow Jesus by starting and strengthening churches together worldwide.
Over the years, God has blessed me with a front-row view of successful movements in the local church, regional networks and at the national movement and denominational level. My observation is that regardless of the size of the movement, there are several questions that must be effectively addressed to maintain health, growth and momentum. Addressing these issues is a constant filter in the minds of movement leaders. My hope in sharing these questions with you is that God will use this information to foster greater effectiveness in fulfilling the Great Commission.
The ministry of Jesus began with him calling his disciples to “follow me” (Mk. 1:17). Paul continued this trend in many of the cities where he planted churches (1 Co. 11:1, Ph. 4:9, 1 Th. 2:10). Ministry has always been best led by leaders who had moral authority – those who could, with integrity, say “Follow me” rather than “You should”. The spiritual vitality and vibrancy of leadership is an essential part of ministry health. If leaders are unhealthy, eventually that ill-health will trickle down into the rest of the organization.
Every organization has a vision, whether implicit or written down and consistently shared. Intentional organizations share the vision in clear, concise and compelling ways.
On the clarity side, great vision addresses the questions in the mind of every listener:
Why can’t we stay here?
Why go there?
How will we get there?
What is my role?
If any one of these questions is not sufficiently addressed, a lack of clarity might exist in the mind of those hearing the vision. A lack of clarity often results in a lack of “buy-in” and a lack of action.
Great vision is not only clear, it must be compelling. Vision casting must address not only the “head and hands” of those listening, but also their hearts. Great vision casting ties the passion of the leader with the heart of God. It addresses a crisis that the organization is uniquely position to address and invites others into the angst of its negative impact on the world around us.
Meaningful vision instills courage and invites people to experience the conviction of the Holy Spirit that this must be remedied regardless of the cost. Powerful vision instills hope by telling stories showing that God is already on the move and he is leading us this direction. Great vision moves ordinary people from the problem side to the solution side of the issue.
We are a people of the Book. Wise people ask, “What is the biblical basis for this?” Movements that succeed long term are rooted in eternal motivations, not temporal emotions. While stories are great temporary motivators, scripture is the only source of lasting motivation. When people can see it in scripture they are more likely to apply it in life. When people see their efforts in the context of the Bible when they can connect what they are doing to the character of Christ, the priorities of God or the work of the Holy Spirit. When they can see it in the ministry of Paul or Peter, or the actions of the early church, they are much more motivated to endure difficulty, persecution, and pain because they are convinced that the church exists to do God’s will in this world, regardless of the cost.
There are many great theologians in small organizations that have little traction in ministry expansion. And while solid theology is essential, theology alone “will not a movement make.” Every organization that wants to develop a movement must motivate, but they must also organize.
A mediocre plan with great implementation will always have greater results than a great plan with mediocre implementation. I have seen many organizations that are great at motivation, but poor at implementation and evaluation. A culture of training, coaching, follow through, evaluation and adjustment will continue to improve the organization and make it nimble in a very fast-changing world. However, organizations that are stuck in their ways or trying to accomplish today’s priorities by using the previous generation’s methods have forgotten that every innovation has an expiration date.
Implementation without evaluation and innovation will eventually lead to frustration and ultimately death. And if the horse is dead, it might be time to dismount.
While visionaries wax eloquent about things at the 50,000-foot level, the ordinary person stands on the ground and says “What does this mean for me?”
Leaders like it big, but followers need it small. They need to know what their role should be…step by step. While many leaders are intuitive and live much of life in the splendor of ambiguity, ordinary people are prescriptive and need steps that are spelled out. In other words “Clear beats clever every time.”
Organizations that can communicate steps that are personal, repeatable and transferable will see their vision spread much more easily than those that communicate concepts that are complex, obscure and unactionable by the ordinary person.
Most visions are built on three pillars – theology, philosophy, and relationship. We have addressed theology and philosophy (methods) in previous questions, however, I believe relationship is another very strong support of movement vision.
Strong leadership and strong relationship are not the same. I have observed many strong ministries with solid theology and great strategies falter because of relational tension. I have come to surmise that the reason is this – ministry movements are often voluntary and, as such, are susceptible to failure because ministry is built on trust.
Trust is the currency of leadership. Without trust, people are hesitant to invest. Teams with strong relational trust are more likely to weather the inevitable storms of ministry and less likely to falter with fallen people operating in a fallen world. Establishing the relational connection between team members gives leadership a currency of grace (change in their pockets) to make mistakes and admit fault. They will also benefit from more time to correct course. Relationship also provides a supportive environment for teams that desire to take the hill yet to take it together.
Every movement has its share of influential leaders. When leaders lead, follows follow. Knowing this, it is so essential for every movement to engage the influencers early in the process. Bring them in before you go public. Surface their opinions, get their insights and ask for their input and involvement. Find them meaningful places of service in the mission and ask them to leverage their influence for the mission.
Vision can be global but leadership is always local. If you can’t get their buy-in immediately, at least settle for their permission and make the effort share ministry wins in order to move them along in the journey toward total buy-in. Eventually, though, you will need their support to accomplish things in the long haul.
Whether we like it or not, every person is a consumer at some level. Though it may sound strange to think about Christian leaders who have read where Jesus said “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me”(Lk 9:23) as consumers, we are. For example, everyone one of us has a favorite brand of clothing or style of music or preferred sports team. So we are consumers. And that consumer mindset subtly meanders its way into our decision to be a part of a movement.
Jesus knew that his disciples needed to know the benefits of following him. We see him address this with the disciples in Mark 10. After a surprising encounter with a rich young ruler Peter was perplexed,
Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. Mk. 10:28-30
In this passage Jesus a great challenge to give up everything for him and the gospel and yet he also speaks of the benefits of following him.
It would be wise for leaders to answer this question, “When it comes to our vision, what do we want FOR our people?”
Personal benefit is a high-level motivation. When you explain the benefits of being involve in the mission in the context of helping people fulfill their calling, the sense of joy from following God, the impact of their actions in changing lives, personal spiritual growth or the ability to improve as a leader, while not ultimate motivations, these things help people buy in to involvement in the movement. And when people know you want something FOR them, when the time comes that you need to ask something FROM them, there is a context for the request. However, if we don’t talk about the benefits and instead stay in lower level motivations of guilt, shame, fear, duty, and need, we will reduce people’s ability to buy in.
What gets celebrated gets repeated. I’ve seen this over and over again in ministry because celebration means “We are winning!” – and people love to win! People join winning organizations and the organizations that have figured out how to best celebrate are often more popular than organizations that do a great work but don’t celebrate. Celebration comes in the form of stories, newsletters, illustrations, announcements, tweets, posts, promotions, messages and more. Celebration also comes in the form of evaluation and metrics. We measure what matters. We evaluate what is essential.
I have also noticed the significant impact of a nuanced focus of celebration in my time in ministry. Very often organizations that do a great job celebrating results still lack the increased involvement necessary to accomplish the mission. These reason they lack buy-in is not a lack of effectiveness, it is a lack of understanding of how ordinary people interpret celebration. Celebration rarely goes past where the expressed words have taken them. People want to join winning organizations, but the celebration of results must include an “on ramp” for involvement. In other words, don’t just celebrate the result, learn how to celebrate the actions that led to the result. Use your words to create worlds.
For example, let’s say a church gets involved in a mission field by supporting a missionary. On a Sunday morning, the pastor may read a letter or use an illustration of the impact the missionaries is making. The result is everyone claps and praises God for his work. Who would argue with this happening in their church? No one. Yet, while it is not incorrect, it is certainly incomplete.
In scenarios like this one, we not only want the congregation to celebrate the missionary’s actions, we want them to repeat their actions that led to that result. The missionary went to the field and the people prayed, gave and served. Don’t we want those repeated too? The wise leader would share the missionaries impact, but then would add, “Listen, this missionary is making a huge difference in the lives of many…and he is able to do this because you prayed, gave and served him. So on his behalf, can I say “Thank you” to all of you who are doing these things…Not just for the missionary, but those of you who are praying for our church and community and God’s work everywhere in the world? Thank you for how you serve in ministry here in the church and how you serve our community. Jesus gave and served and it changed the world…well, God is doing the same thing through those of you who understand this is how we mature…giving, serving, praying…this is how we follow Jesus…this is what the church is supposed to do. People are in heaven because you allowed God to use you! So let’s keep doing this!”
By celebrating the actions that led to the result you have focused in on repeatable behaviors. Don’t just celebrate the results, celebrate the repeatable actions that led to the result. Because…what gets celebrated gets repeated.
While these are not the only questions that growing movements ask, these are ones I have found essential in my leadership in the Converge movement. As Paul wrote in Romans 12:8, we must lead diligently. Time is short. Hell is real. God is good.
My prayer is that all of us will lead with greater clarity and conviction. I pray that God will give you the grace to lead with a compelling vision rooted in great theology, simple steps and effective methods. I pray that he will surround you with competent leaders who are bought into the vision and dependent on the Holy Spirit’s power. I pray that this generation will see that the task at hand is essential and that through God’s strength we are able. May God give you the wisdom to know the right things to do and the courage to do it. To God be the glory.