The following is my collection of well-known quips, quotes and sayings of leadership. They formulate for me a doctrine of leadership — a collection of what I tend to believe about leadership, work, people and myself. In that sense they are “proverbs” I have adopted as my own-I believe them.
Most leaders collect such statement and “models” because they provide a handy way to remember their doctrine. Many leaders collect these models because they become a kind of pidgin language for leaders. When several leaders in one church or organization know a score or a hundred such quips it becomes a shorthand communications device referencing the longer more complex concepts. One leader might summarize a major concept or value by simply stating “Small Sprocket” or “Oil can” with the other person nodding knowingly while immediately capturing the meaning of the situation. In some cases the quotes become verbs as leaders in their planning say, “We need to bell sheep Mike on that,” or “Motivation file that thought” saving time and effort in communication (and totally confusing anyone who doesn’t know the language!)
I started the following collection of quips, quotes and models in 1980-1982 as a leadership training program for a cadre of ministers in their 20’s. Every time I heard somebody utter a truism about leadership I wrote it down. As I read and researched I found some were gobbdegook-they were cute saying but they represented no truth. Others were often true, or almost-always true (I have found few that are always true). The collection has expanded and contracted a dozen times sine using dozens of books and seminars. Essentially what you see here is the boiled down version of 25 years of reading and note-taking at leadership seminars. It is the way I take notes now-trying to find a model or quote when I read or listen to others speak-something I can turn into a simple statement I can hang the larger truth on.
This presentation has three parts:
1) A short summaries of my best quips and models appears first. This is most helpful to those already familiar with the ideas, as a means of review.
2) Detailed explanation and application to the church for some of the quotes or models. If you “don’t get it” from reading a short summary these are longer descriptions. If you already understand these, skip section two.
3) A larger collection of short and favorite quotes. This is always changing for me-some have been my favorites since the 1960’s and others are recent additions from recent reading. What I’ve found is recent additions get dropped in future revisions -only a few get elevated over tie to become lasting models or “doctrine.”
I teach the church leadership class to emerging ministers at Indiana Wesleyan University. While I cover academic leadership theory in that course I also include this more popular approach to leadership in the two-week segment on “Leadership theory.” But I’ve found that students with limited local church context and limited experience often “can’t get it.” When you say, “Committees usually pick beige” to a pastor with a dozen years experience he or she immediately grins and knows what this means. College students wrinkle up their foreheads and ask, “So, does this mean committees are good are bad?” Like the proverbs in the Bible, it takes a certain amount of life experience to “get them.” I still introduce the following quips and ask students to select those that most seem true and helpful to them, but every time I’ve done it I discover a massive difference in what a pastor selects and what a student picks.
So, here I offer some of my best collection of quips, quotes and models to you as a local church pastor, knowing that in some way you’ll appreciate it far more than one of my twenty year old students might. (Like most of what I teach them, they’ll see its relevance later on 😉
Selected Quips, Quotes and Models
1) Complexity Theory -leadership is a complicated mixture of scores of factors not easily isolated to one factor like the leader, the trait of a leader, the situation, etc.
2) Trait theory of leadership. (e.g. Hinge Pin Leadership) – A leader practices certain traits-a leader is someone who acts a certain way, and one might develop these characteristics and become a leader.
3) Pareto’s Principle – Effort and results are disproportionate. Generally 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. Otherwise known as the 80-20 principle.
4) Extended Preparation – College doesn’t end my preparation-it continues through the rest of life, especially so the first decade of ministry.
5) Hawthorne Effect – The study itself might affect the outcome. From a study conducted in the early part of the 20th century with General Electric line workers that deduced the attention of those doing the study increased productivity, not just the supposed item (the affect of lighting on production workers). Practically, leaders can give attention through encouragement and visitation.
6) High Jump Rule – To jump a high jump it take one jumper who can jump ten feet, not ten jumpers who can jump one foot. Some jobs can only be done by one person.
7) Life Sentence – People will summarize your whole ministry when you leave in one sentence. Try to pick that sentence now.
8) Critical Mass – To get something big start with something small. The longest-lasting influence comes from bombarding a small group (“critical mass”) with the goal then letting them explode in a chain reaction. “More time with fewer people brings greater results.”
9) #3 Pencil Principle – A thrifty accountant found a great way to save money – buy #3 pencils-the really hard ones that should last longer. The employees hated the harder pencils and simply brought their own pencils from home. Point: make something hard for people and they usually won’t do it. (Held in tension with other models-like all sayings.)
10) Fortune Tide – There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune; omitted all the voyages of life are bound in shallows and miseries (Shakespeare). Principle of right timing. When the “surf’s up-strike!
11) Solvitur Ambulando – (Latin) “The thing will solve itself as you goalong.” You can’t solve all of the problems before starting-some have to be worked out as you go.
12) Today’s problems – Yesterday’s solutions. The problems of today are the solutions implemented yesterday. Before addressing a problem investigate how the solution might create a problem for tomorrow that someone will later have to solve. Be humble.
13) Bit Market – Sell your holes, not the bits; your goal not the means. Never confuse the means with the end. A vice president of a drill bit factory gave a long and laborious presentation on the drill bit market. After it concluded the new CEO succinctly stated “…there is no market for bits… the market is for holes.” Leaders need to sell the effects, the results, the goals, not the methods and means.
14) Committee Color – Beige. Committees usually settle on beige. Committees are great for brainstorming, safety, and participation. They are not particularly good at dreaming up the notion of painting the walls of the church orange.
15) Motivation File – See a problem? See people doing something stupid? If you merely grumble about it you’ll become demotivated and will sideline yourself from future leadership. Rather write it down (starting with “I would…”) and file it in your “motivation file” then forget it. If you ever actually get the responsibility for whatever it was you saw then take out your file and implement the solution. If not, forget it-you’ll still retain your motivation. This is a great secret for maintaining motivation and avoiding sourness for creative people who can see :”how things ought to be.”
16) Ringing Phone – Don’t answer calls that aren’t for you. Ignore problems that aren’t your extension. Don’t waste energy on things you can’t fix.
17) Traditions – Yesterday’s innovations. Point: be humble.
18) Grenade Effect – Some things “go off” after a long wait. In leading you sometimes pull the pin, toss the grenade and have to wait. The effect of an action is often delayed from the cause.
19) Change Valley – Depression in production and attitude after a change. When there is a change, the morale and effectiveness of the people tend to drop. This drop is usually temporary (if it is a good change) therefore, leaders should not evaluate the change too soon.
20) Tomato Plant Problem – Don’ plant more tomato plants than you can care for. Tomato plants are easier to plant than maintain. Same with church programs.
21) Duck Hunting – You don’t have to get all the ducks to have a good hunt. Keep eyes on those who did come, did respond, not those whom didn’t. If you don’t you’ll wind up a negative whining minister who despises the very people you are called to serve.
22) Tradeoffs – “Everything is a trade off.” Doing one thing means you can’t do another. You can’t do everything, so you’ve got to decide which things to do. In deciding which ones to do you are also deciding which ones not to do. That’s the trade-off.
23) Competence Failure – Work gravitates toward competence until the competent one fails. Only you can determine what you can handle-nobody else. The better you are the more they’ll ask you to do…until finally you’ll get spread so thin you’ll start failing at the very things you are good at. Learn to say no.
24) 1X100 > 100X90 – One person committed 100% is more effective than 100 people who are only 90% committed – in theory, at least.
25) 20% per year – People cannot handle more than 20% change in a year. A leader must introduce change gradually. Indeed, if you are a new leader, that alone may be about 20% change for your first year.
26) Action – The best antidote to fear.
27) Afterglow Phase – A stage of life rarely achieved. Bobby Clinton’s period in “Leadership Emergence Theory” where retirement years of leadership influence greater than the active years.
28) Army Idea – Leaders serve the front lines-the battlefield soldiers, not the reverse.
29) Bell Sheep – People follow the one who has the bell. What is the bell? Affirmation of people already doing the right thing-the thing you want others to do.
30) Boundary Event – In Bobby Clinton’s period in “Leadership Emergence Theory” an event that marks the boundary between one stage of life development into another.
31) Can? Will? – Two questions need to be answered before recruiting a person… Can they do it is a question of competence. Will they? Is the question of motivation. Both are required.
32) Carnal Corral – A leader can’t please everyone. What to do with the “clergy killers” or habitual naysayers? Mentally assign them to the “carnal corral” and ride other horses. If you fight a skunk you’re likely to get smelly. Choose your battles wisely.
33) Comfort Zone – Each of has our limits of comfort-where we’re comfortable and feel we are risking when we get above it. This is our comfort zone. However, growth requires stretching. Stretching myself and others beyond the normal limits and out of the comfort zone. A leader monitors others’ comfort zones carefully and pushes, but not too much.
34) Convergence – In Bobby Clinton’s period in “Leadership Emergence Theory a stage of leadership development when “everything comes together” and the leader’s entire life of preparation now converges into the current job.
35) Corporate Culture – The culture of a group. Groups tend to develop a culture of their own. A church can have a “corporate culture” that is a success culture, an outward-oriented culture, a selfish-culture, an insider’s culture and a thousand other titles. The leader’s job is to learn the corporate culture of a church, discern where it needs changes, and manage the improvement of the corporate culture.
36) Crab Bucket – A bucketful of crabs blocks the escape of any one crab. As one tries to craw out the others grab the climber and try to use that crab to climb out. The result-no crab gets higher. Te observation that in the church leaders/pastors sometimes act like crabs: in their own attempt to succeed they pull down others climbing higher.
37) Critical incident – The notion that you can evaluate a person by critical incidents where they did the right thing, or didn’t. When a leader’s back is to the wall, it is fourth and ten with the game on the line, the leader’s action can sometimes tell you more about them than a thousand daily evaluations.
38) Dissatisfaction – One word definition of motivation.
39) Enemy Accumulation – Friends come and go through life; enemies accumulate. Don’t make enemies, they can often get you years later.
40) Flyspeck Management – An obsessive type of management that focuses on the minute details.
41) Gift Cluster – Each person has a set of gifts, often with one major and several minor, supportive gifts.
42) Giftedness Drift – People tend to migrate to duties that match their gifts. It is one of the ways to discover your giftedness.
43) Goodwin’s Expectation Principle – A rising leader tends to rise to the expectations of an established leader/mentor they respect. Find someone you respect and find out what they see for you. As a leader express your expectations of others in mentoring.
44) Greatest Resource – People.
45) Haircut – Some things can’t be delegated. You have to get your own haircut. (raise your own children, be the spouse).
46) Idea Farm – Everyone who ever took a shower had a great idea. The trick is to implement good ideas. the secret to this is to write them down and put them somewhere-and “idea farm.” You are twice as likely to get things done you write down.
47) Improvement = Change – All improvement requires change.
48) Integrity Check – In Bobby Clinton’s Leadership Emergence Theory a process event that God uses to test an individual’s intentions before opening up a new opportunity for leadership.
49) Joshua Problem – the problem that results when an effective leader has trained no obvious successor.
50) Little-Big principle – Be faithful in doing little jobs to later get larger jobs. Luke 16:10.
51) Life Wedge – The wedge with the narrowest angle drives the deepest. A focused life has a greater chance for success.
52) Next Steps – The only important outcome of a meeting is agreement on next steps. The question is not what we think, or even agree upon-it is what will we do next.
53) Obedience Check – In Bobby Clinton’s Leadership Emergence Theory a process item where God tests our willingness to obey Him, usually before opening new opportunities to us.
54) Oil Can – “The oil can is mightier than the sword.” Get along with people to accomplish things instead of hammering away at them with arguments. Use a bit of oil-glug, glug, glug, and watch things smooth out.
55) Paris in the Spring – People get what they expect-they “see” what they expect to see. Leaders create anticipation.
56) Person-Job match – A leader should place people in jobs a little bit bigger than their abilities… matching the person and the job.
57) Plan & Power – The person with the plan is the person with the power. Bring a plan to a meeting and watch how your plan (though revised by the committee) will largely affect the outcome of the decision.
58) Prophet-Priest-King – The three responsibilities of a pastor; the prophetic side deals with preaching and teaching Biblical truth, the priestly function is pastoral care & worship, and the kingly work is administration. Be good in all three, but be great on one.
59) Risk – “All leadership is risk, but not all risk is leadership.” Want to be a leader? Learn to take risks.
60) Slot Machine Leadership – A style of leadership typified by constant change in search of easy-come jackpot dividends.
61) Small Sprocket – You are always the small sprocket or gear in effecting change. In a church, a leader must spin dozens of time before they see one revolution of the larger sprocket. (On the other hand, once the large sprocket is moving, the torque is powerful, like a flywheel). Lesson: spin like crazy long before you expect the entire church to take one revolution of change.
62) Span of Control – A leader can usually only supervise seven other people, and seldom more than ten.
63) Strategy/Tactics – Strategy = win the war; tactics=win the day’s battle. The “higher” you are in leadership the better you must be at strategy.
64) Taxi Principle – Find out the cost before you get in. do a budget study before all new programs.
65) Team Ball – The church need no more solo ball-hoggers. Leadership is not being a star, it is coaching a team to win the playoffs.
66) Unintended Consequences – “For every action there are unintended consequences… often the Unintended consequences are longer-lasting than those intended.” Leaders should think through the actions and look for long-term unintended consequences. Be humble.
67) Walk-Thru – A mental exercise thinking through an event as a means of planning. Visualization in order to “see” what still needs to be done.
68) Water Barrel Principle – The water level in a barrel drops to the lowest hole. The strength of a band often sinks to the weakest member. Adding more does not always increase the quality.
Part Two: Detailed Explanations—for some quips, quotes and models
“There’s no market for drill bits — the market is for holes.”
In management circles the story is often told of the new CEO who took over a 100 year old company manufacturing drill bits which was floundering for a decade. The vice president for marketing, wanting to impress the new, chief brought to their first meeting elaborate color charts illustrating the “bit Market” — detailing the total market for bits, the company’s market share to date and potential for increasing market share of the “bit market.”
When the laborious presentation finally ended, all eyes turned to the new CEO who changed the mind set of the company with one dismissive comment: “Sorry, there is no market for bits… the market is for holes.” Pausing a few moments for the thought to sink in, the CEO then stood to his feet and dismissed the meeting.
As a result of that single meeting, and the dramatic way the new CEO introduced a different style of thinking. From then on the company would look for “ways to make holes” not for how to better manufacture drill bits. The customer needs drill bits only so long as bits are the best way to make holes. The moment a laser device arrives which makes a hole better, cleaner, safer, and cheaper, drills bits will go the way of the horse and carriage. It is focusing on the ends not the means.
“The market is for holes” applies to churches too, (which sometimes think like 100 year old companies). Face it, there’s absolutely no “market” for Sunday school, morning services, Sunday night carry-in dinners, Tuesday evening calling programs, or Habitat for Humanity. The market is for the holes: discipleship, worship, fellowship, evangelism, service. As soon as something makes a better “hole” than Sunday school we should unleash it to accomplish discipleship. When someone invents a better way to have collective worship we can dump the Sunday morning service. Same with fellowship, evangelism and service.
But what is instructive about this model is how it causes us to ask of everything we do, “What is the hole?” And, “Is there a better way to make it?” “Bit market” calls us to examine everything we do to state its purpose, and ask if there is a better way to do it.
: So what about “pastoral calling?” Church offices? Church bulletins? Midweek mailers? Sunday night service? Pulpits? Overhead-screens-in-worship? Pioneer clubs? Praise bands? Youth groups? Youth conventions? Choirs? Camps and retreats? Altar calls? And a hundred other “bits” of the church?
So what do you think? What “bits” are we still trying to sell where there are better ways to make the holes?
Make something hard enough for people and they usually won’t do it
A great story is told in industry circles about the 1950’s accountant bent on saving money for his accounting firm. He commanded all pencils purchased by the firm henceforth would be #3 pencils instead of #2 pencils, arguing that the harder lead in the #3 pencils would last almost three times as long.
The results? Instead of the #3 pencils lasting three times as long, they lasted twenty times as long and pencil purchases dropped almost to zero! What had happened? Sensible accountants simply refused to use #3 pencils and brought from home their own soft and easily erasable #2 pencils.
The point? Make something hard enough for people and they usually won’t do it. Policies and practices which account for this human trait are smarter than those which ignore it. Want people to sign up for bringing VBS cookies? Then don’t say, “If you’d be willing to bring cookies for VBS see Vivian Jones after the service this morning.” That’s a pure #3 pencil statement. If I’m willing to bring cookies I have to (a) know which woman is Vivian ; (b) remember to see her after church; (c) find Vivian; (d) offer to bake cookies; (e)and arrange to deliver them wherever. Why make it so hard for me to make cookies for VBS? Don’t you want me to make cookies?
Which is the other side of the issue. The #3 Pencil Principle works both ways. It teaches us to make things easier for people if we really want them to do something — removing the barriers. But it also teaches us how to discourage people from doing something without issuing an outright ban. (Parents of teens understand this.) Policies seldom have to forbid a thing outright – just observe the #3 Pencil Principle: make it difficult and most people won’t do it. This, after all is what rebates are all about. Sure, you can get a dollar back, but will you? Most don’t.
When did Jesus observe the #3 pencil principle? When did He ignore it? And, how far do you apply the #3 Pencil Principle in the church? It is obviously a sociological principle leaders need to know. But how far would you take it? For instance, which principle would you apply to membership requirements? #3 Pencil Principle? Or the Narrow Way?
Unless redirected, creativity leads to habitual criticism and eventual de-motivation
It’s an irony of leadership. Leaders are often highly creative people but this very trait can ultimately reduce a leader’s motivation. How?
A creative person sees what isn’t there — they sit in a service and see a dozen things that should have been done — things overlooked by ordinary people, things done poorly. The pastor took too long giving announcements. The song leader scolded the people for not singing loud enough. The ushers weren’t ready. The sound technicians kept playing catch-upon on the mics. Creative people see a dozen mistakes for every one an ordinary person sees.
A creative leader goes to the same conferences as ordinary people, but in the first hour sees twenty ways the registration could have been done better, the speaker could have presented more effectively, or the doughnuts could have been distributed more efficiently. This trait can even eventually produce a professional cynic — a expert criticizer who knows what everyone else is doing wrong, but does little personally. Such a person may be smart and right, but they are no longer a leader.
But even low-grade criticism reduces personal motivation. You don’t feel more motivated after you’ve chewed up another leader. You might feel superior, or appear more arrogant, but not more motivated. Criticism is de-motivating. A habit of criticism will create a leak in a leader’s motivation reservoir. Eventually a motivated creative leader no longer even has the motivation for doing their own work — all they can do is pass judgment on others. Their personal motivation has all leaked away.
So, how can you correct the creativity-criticism-demotivation cycle? Suppress your creativity? Certainly not. Suppressed creativity will shut off future creativity. Dismiss or ignore the errors and omissions of others and refuse to see a “better way?” Not smart — it will close off creative energies you need for your own work. So, what to do?
The answer: create a “Motivation File.” It’s the secret for preserving personal motivation and redirecting creativity. Here’s how: Each time you see another person — a pastor, denominational leader, educator, missionary, anyone — doing something dumb or omitting something important write it down starting with “I would…”
That’s it! It’s that simple. Just scribble out what you would do if you were running this service, conference, class, denomination, or institution. Then stick that scrap of paper in your pocket and forget it. Presto! You redirected negative energy into a positive force. Shifted from outward-directed criticism about things you can’t change, to inward-directed ideas where you might do something some day. You have shifted the “tense” of your thought pattern from the “negative present” to the “positive future.” It is the great secret of motivated-creative people — especially those required sit under the leadership, teaching, or ministry of less qualified people. You stay motivated as your “motivation file” grows.
Though writing down your criticism as an “I would…” statement solves the motivation leak, there is still another step which can multiply your future effectiveness for the Kingdom even more. It is this: actually make a literal physical “motivation file.” Some lazy afternoon after you’ve already yawned twice, gather all those scraps of paper you’ve been tossing in a drawer and organize them into literal file folders — one for “pastor” another for “conference leader” still others for “denominational leader” “educator” or whatever titles fits your collection. Then watch what happens. I’ll bet you a Hershey bar that in the next twelve months you’ll see one of the following happen:
1) You actually get a job for which you have a “Motivation file.”
After all, every time you wrote down “I would…” you were advertising your platform to God. You told Him, “This is what I’d do if you let me have that role.” Perhaps He will take you up on your offer. If he does, pull out your motivation File and you can start doing what you said you’d do.
2) Your friend gets one of your “Motivation File” jobs.
Your friend comes to you asking for your ideas and input. You scan your file, tuck it away and give organized, lucid, thought-through advice to your friend. Your friend succeeds partially because of your discipline to actually collect your criticisms and turn them into positive ideas.
3) You get to hire a new staff member.
You have the opportunity to hire a worship leader or youth pastor. You pull out the “motivation file” for that category and use it to prepare for a frank discussion about expectations and standards. It saves you both plenty of grief.
4) Someone else comes to “Pick your brain” and get your advice.
You just happened to have a “Motivation File” for their work. You read it over, file it away, and speak with such articulate advice they are amazed at your perception. They probably come back. People are more likely to ask advice from those who’ve have advice to give.
A Motivation File turns negative criticism into a positive reservoir of future ideas. And of course, it keeps you from becoming de-motivated.
But, of course, most people who’ve heard this idea never actually do it. Perhaps maybe they do it mentally — assigning their criticisms to a mental motivation file. But they never make an actual file. Sure, they save themselves from de-motivation. But they rob the Kingdom of future great ideas they could have offered if they’d just written them down and stored their criticism as “I would…” statements.
An idea is a terrible thing to waste. And the best ideas often arrive disguised as criticism.
“You don’t have to get all the ducks to have a good hunt.
It’s obvious to anyone who ever spent a day crouched in a duck blind to collect a bagful of ducks for dinner: You don’t have to get all the ducks to have a good hunt.
A returning hunter focuses on what he got, not what he missed. A good duck hunter might miss dozens of ducks and still bag “the limit.” Any duck hunter who keeps whining about those he missed won’t last long in this sport. Face it, with just one shotgun, and hundreds of ducks flying away, you are bound to miss plenty.
Leaders don’t focus on the “missed ducks” either. No leader gets all the ducks. Perhaps you don’t have enough resources. Or, the flock is elusive, flying too fast, your aim is lousy or your gun is dirty. Or some other reason. Leaders don’t let their mind dwell long on the ducks they’ve missed. Neither do golfers, or quarterbacks, or ministers.
Do you ever come home from church and join your spouse in the depressing game of tallying who was missing that morning? If so, you are focusing on “missed ducks.” Ever get all bent out of shape when one woman calls to ask the time of the meeting you’ve announced ten times already? If so, you’re worrying about “missed ducks.” Or, do you use up valuable energy brooding about those who didn’t pledge to the capital campaign, didn’t vote for your call as pastor, didn’t sign up for the small groups, or refused to respond to today’s altar call? If so, your focus is on the wrong collection of ducks.
Leaders focus on the ducks they get, not those they miss. Jesus was such a leader. He missed prize specimens like the rich young ruler. He missed most of the people in his home town where they dismissed Him as too ordinary. Even after three years together He wasn’t able to make a true convert out of Judas. In fact Jesus once watched more than 5,000 missed ducks fly away in a single day. But he didn’t focus on them. Rather he kept His eyes on those he did have. He seemed to consider missed ducks an “overhead cost” of leadership.
His disciples were the ones who worried about missed ducks. So much so that Jesus told them a story to correct their perspective. It wasn’t about hunting ducks… but about a sower, seeds, and different kinds of soil. Different story, same truth.
Leaders learn not to focus on “missed ducks.” Because they know, “You don’t have to get all the ducks to have a good hunt.”
“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.” –Julius Caesar 4.3.217
Leaders not only know what to do but when to do it. Shakespeare recognized a tide in life which leads to “fortune.” Missed, it could banish one to the backwaters of “shallows and miseries.” Fortune Tide is about the principle of right timing in leadership. Grab it and go on; miss it and you may never see this window of opportunity again.
OK, I recognize that God sometimes calls us to the backwaters, and every “fortune tide” is not from God. But many are. What of the moments when God has pulled together all the elements to move forward? What should we do? Act! Move forward! Napoleon supposedly said, “There is in the midst of every great battle a 10-15 minute period that is the crucial point. Take this period and you win the battle; lose it and you will be defeated.” When opportunity knocks… be ready to answer!
When such a “Kairos opportunity” arrives the effective leader gets the people to move forward. “Make hay while the sun shines.” “Strike while the iron is hot.” “Carpe deim!” “Seize the day!” In these unusual Kairos moments ten times as much progress occurs with 10% of the effort.
Have you see such a “fortune tide?” Ever been in a church where the right thing to do was build a new building, and you knew the right way to do it, but the timing wasn’t right? Result: no building (or a new building with great division). But have you ever seen a “Kairos opportunity” arrive for a building? The “Fortune tide” comes along and the congregation hops on and PRESTO! a new church goes up with less effort and almost no opposition. Wise leaders consider right timing along with right goals and right means.
But Fortune Tide is a double edged sword. The second half of Shakespeare’s quote issues a warning. A fortune tide can be missed. Such a window of opportunity may not return again for many years. Or ever. You can miss the opportunity to “cross over.” And wander in the desert for 40 years. Ever seen a church face such a Kairos/Kadish moment and pass it up? Often they whither into dissipation over the next decade or so. The stakes are high — for the leader and the people. A wise leader waits for the right time, then leads the people to seize the opportunity. Wise leadership neither attempts to cross the Jordan before they get there, or after it’s too late. Good leadership searches for God’s Fortune Tide .
Knowing the right thing to do comes easy for leaders. Same with knowing how to do a thing right. But, what takes perception is figuring out right timing. The ability to perceive Karios comes only from God.
So, have you ever witnessed a Fortune Tide in a church? Was it taken or passed by?
One more question, to switch directions. Is there such a thing as a Fortune Tide in personal spiritual walk? Have you ever taken one? Missed one? Do you face one now?
The Grenade Effect
Apparent failures are often really just a delayed effect.
People who influence change often think they’ve failed. It is true in local churches where a pastor pushes heroically for change then moves on, thinking of failure only to watch things break loose for the successor. People without patience seldom get to see the effects of their work. Sometimes called the “Grenade Effect” leaders sometimes pull the pin but nothing happens for months or even years. Then the change they were working toward happens, sometimes on another leader’s watch. Sure, church grenades have longer fuses, but they still go off eventually. Sometimes two decades later.
Consider how long Robert Webber and 44 other evangelicals waited. They gathered near Chicago more than twenty years ago when they issued the “Chicago Call” to other evangelicals. It was an impassioned appeal for evangelicals to lay down their independence from the past and return to a continuity with the historic faith. They confessed that we Evangelicals were theologically shallow and languishing in a doctrinal vacuum. These 45 leaders confessed for us all that we were spiritually weak, and had gotten married to the culture. Woven into the fabric of the Chicago Call was a fresh urgency for sacramental integrity, authentic spirituality, acceptance of church tradition, authority and a new trans-denominational unity. The star-studded cast who signed the Call was a virtual Who’s Who among evangelicals in the late 1970’s. They probably left with great hopes of changing the direction of the Evangelical movement.
Nobody noticed. Well, hardly anybody. The Chicago Call was a gigantic belly flopper as movements go. It was a collection of leaders speaking to themselves. For the next two decades evangelicals totally ignored the call, and continued tobogganing down the hill of modernity.
Yet a bit more than 20 years after the “Chicago Call” fizzled its central ideas are now rapidly spreading.
Consider, for instance, Convergence Worship movement representing an alloy of order and freedom, the historical and contemporary, the verbal and symbolic. Convergence worship bonds modern choruses, semi-circular seating, and overhead projection with ancient forms of worship like the kiss of peace, the Psalms, rich symbolic actions and a weekly Eucharist of mystery.
Or, reflect on the new Charismatic Episcopal Church denomination and its archbishop Randolph Sly. A former Wesleyan, Sly leads a movement bent on recovering three streams: the catholic stream of liturgy, sacraments, plus the creeds and councils, the evangelical stream of evangelism and preaching and the charismatic stream of the ongoing power of the Holy Spirit in the church. Sly’s denomination is often listed as one of the fastest growing in the world.
Or, consider the independent and charismatic churches now converting to orthodoxy. What Bud Bence calls the PacMan Effect — churches on the right disappearing off the screen, only to resurface on the left. It’s a phenomenon of increasing frequency among Evangelicals today. Take Grace Community Church, an independent, conservative, evangelical, Bible-based congregation near Seattle. They have abandoned their choruses and modern methods of reaching seekers, exchanging them for a smoking censer complete with jangling chain, and liturgical chants, a cappella, in a minor key. Pastor Dave is now Father David and the entire church converted to the Orthodox faith renaming themselves St. Andrew Antiochian Orthodox Church. They have dropped their modern modes in exchange for a 2000 year old form of worship complete with ancient Eastern tradition and mystery.
Or how about an example from the “holiness movement” — more than 50 Nazarene churches now offer a formal “Word and Table” service, some as the only service, and others as one option among other styles of worship. All across the evangelical movement (if it can be called a “movement”) there is emerging a quest to rediscover the mystery and power of the Eucharist.
But this is not about worship, but the delayed effect of a leader or leaders — the “grenade effect.” Sometimes you “pull the pin” and nothing happens… yet..
It took Jesus three years to pull the pin. Fifty days after he left the scene it went off. Leaders are pin-pullers. But leaders also learn to wait.
High Jump Rule
To do a high jump you need one person who can jump seven feet, not seven people who can jump one foot.”
Some jobs won’t get done by throwing more people at them. These tasks require talent more than numbers. While most leaders understand the principles of ownership, spreading the work, committee governance, and delegation, there are simply some things a group can’t do better than an individual. Often a leader accomplishes a great task by divided up the labor into little pieces coordinating the whole project so that many people can accomplish more than one person ever could have dreamed. Consider Egypt’s Pyramids. Or your last Christmas play.
But there are some jobs where adding more cooks will not improve the stew. Like high jumping, they require the extraordinary talent of one person, not the mediocre talent of many.
So what are those tasks? That’s the question. Which jobs are best done by individuals with exceptional talent? Are there such jobs in the church? Or should everything be done by groups?
The contribution of a leader will ultimately be summed up in a single sentence
Claire Booth Luce popularized the “Life Sentence” idea. She observed that ultimately history usually summarized the contribution of a leader in a single sentence. Who was Andrew Johnson? The only (rather, first) President to be impeached. Dwight Eisenhower? “Commander of the Allied forces invading Europe in the World War II.” Or maybe “Warned us about the Military-industrial complex.” Usually historians will sum an entire life up with a single sentence — a headline or sorts.
We see Life Sentence in the Bible too. Old Testament kings are dismissed up as either a good or bad king– even though their actual career often reflects a mixture of both good and bad. What Life Sentence comes to mind when you think of King Saul? David? Moses? Solomon? Mark?
It works for (or against) pastors too. Think of the previous pastors at your church. How do the people now sum up their ministry? And, what will they say of you? Some evening 15 years from now your congregation will be gathered at a carry-in dinner and they’ll get talking about former pastors. They will come to you and someone will pipe up with, “Oh yeah! He’s the one who____________.”
What will your __ be? With a single sentence they will summarize your entire ministry at this church. With what sentence? This is your life sentence.
Claire Booth Luce’s point? If they’re going to summarize your entire life (or ministry, in this case) in a single sentence, try to influence that sentence. Each man or woman has the opportunity to affect their legacy. We are the author of our own “life sentence.”
So what about you? What would your life sentence be if you left today? Are you satisfied with this? If not, what must change to earn a different life sentence? What must you do to write a different one?
The more competent you are, the greater your chance of failing.
Are you a competent person? If so, the chances you’ll crash and burn are greater. Why? Because in organizations and institutions, (the church included), “work gravitates to competence until failure.” When there is more to be done who gets asked to do it? The incompetents? Not likely. The most competent people get all the new work — those already burdened down with more than they can already handle. Unless controlled work piles up on the competent person’s back until he or she finally can’t get everything done — and they start habitually failing. Or they burn out, spin out, or crash. Everyone wags their head and murmurs, “Gee, and they were so promising — they are really slipping, aren’t they?”
Perhaps this is why life seems so much easier for incompetents. (“Incompetent” professionally, that is.) Incompetents seldom burn out. They rarely get extra assignments. They get to go home early, take evenings off, and always seem to have extra time to pursue their interesting hobbies and leisure time activities. Indeed, (professional) incompetents are often excellent parents! (And sometimes produce very competent children.)
So, are you an especially competent person? Do you seem to be a magnet for new assignments, new jobs, additional responsibilities, extra work? Then beware. You may be lining up for a big failure in the future. The very excellence with which you do things now may eventually be the benchmark against which your downfall will be measured. When you get spread thin enough you’ll start letting your usual quality slip. At first nobody will notice. Only you will know it. Your reputation will carry you for a while. But eventually others will see it. You will be slipping. Your excellence quotient will slide. As you get spread thinner you’ll start compromising preparation and sacrificing quality. People will start being disappointed. They will back off. You’ll get asked less often. Others will get the assignments. Some new rising star will come along and get the extra work you used to get. You’ll have more time to yourself, but you may regret your tarnished reputation for quality and excellence. But the only way to have maintained excellence was to keep from getting overloaded. And you didn’t do that. Now the (sometimes happier) life of the incompetent has come your way. And you regret it. Because you can still do many things with excellence. Just not everything.
So, how can you avoid “Competence failure?” Learn to say no. You can’t count on the church, or your district, or your institution to control the amount of work coming your way. They’ll load you up straw-by-straw until the “final straw” breaks your back. Only you can guard against this overload. If not controlled work will come your way until you fail. Somewhere along the line you’ve got to do the controlling. By learning to say no. Saying no to a good thing is hard. But it is the only way. Everyone should learn to say no of course, but competent people have to. Especially competent ministers. Better to disappoint people a little now, than a whole lot later.
“Only the camel knows how much straw he can carry.”
So, what stories can you tell about “Competence failure.”
Today’s traditions are yesterday’s innovations.
Most of the “traditions” cramping innovative-minded leaders were once innovations themselves. Want to supplant that old fashioned organ with a keyboard? The organ itself was once an innovation resisted by “traditionalists.”
Or how about dumping the “traditional” hymnal? Sorry, hymnals are a relatively recent innovation in the Christian church. Same with pews, pulpits, Sunday school and altar calls. Face it, most of the “traditions” innovators try to replace were once radical innovations. In their day, these innovations were opposed by conservatives and promoted by yesterday’s radical innovators. Then they became traditions.
Or, how about the silly term, “traditional service?” Which tradition? 50 years ago? 200? 1000? Indeed, some of today’s most radical innovations reintroduce 500 year old traditions. Which are these: traditions or innovations?
Face it, today’s traditions were yesterday’s innovations. It is thus that “tradition” is, by and large, an effect of innovation. (That’s worth a thinking-pause.)
But there is a corollary here. This model can be read both frontward and backward. Frontward it reads, “Today’s traditions were yesterday’s innovations.” Backward: “Today’s innovations are tomorrow’s traditions.”
It seldom occurs to innovator-types that the innovations they introduce will be the traditions the next generation will fight against. This is why younger people will be increasingly frustrated with the “traditional praise team” approach or “old fashioned praise band” methods. They will try to dump minute-by-minute schedules, one-hour-in-and-out worship, and move worship from the “stage” out to the people. They will fight against “traditional” styles of worship which were our 80’s-90’s innovations. They’ll do the same with church architecture, seating patterns, church offices, leadership styles, and a host of other “innovations” and “improvements” we middle aged people introduced.
Because our innovations have now become “traditions.” It should make us a bit more humble. And should moderate our reckless labeling of change-resistors as “stuck-in-the-mud-conservatives.” Actually they are likely yesterday’s innovators — old warriors who won the innovation battle, and got tired of change. What we too will soon be. Already are? Have baby boomers become: gray-headed conservatives, singing our innovative 1980’s choruses off a screen arrogantly believing we’ve finally “got it right?”
Old wineskins seldom can handle the new wine. Except for a few pliable ones.
Just because the phone rings doesn’t mean you have to answer it.
Leaders see what ought to be done quicker than ordinary people. A leader can survey a situation, analyze all elements and prescribe a solution before most ordinary people have even defined the problem. It is a blessing and a curse for leaders.
It’s a blessing when the leader is in charge and can do something about implementing their solutions. It’s a curse when the leader has neither the position nor the responsibility to make the changes needed. This ability sometimes gets a leader in trouble — they suggest “obvious solutions” to other people’s problems and get the reputation of being meddlesome and intrusive into “areas which are none of your business.” It’s like leaders have some sort of acute hearing — they can hear problems and solutions others can’t pick up on.
Ever heard a distant phone ringing and felt the impulse to answer it? Leaders often live by the ten-two-letter word motto — “if it is to be it is up to me.” They figure somebody’s got to answer it! So they get up and answer the phone… or propose solutions to problems for which they have no responsibility.
It’s what gets a leader “spread too thin.” Solving problems out of their territory. It sets the leader up for “competence failure” and dilutes the leader’s problem-solving capacity in his or her own area.
The point is — hearing a problem and seeing the solution doesn’t mean you have to do something about it. There are others to “answer the phone.” Just because the phone rings doesn’t mean you have to answer it. Let it ring. Someone else will get it.
Perhaps this why Jesus appeared to ignore great social injustice of His day — things like infant-exposure, the repression of women, or slavery. Certainly He could hear the anguish. Yet he “let it ring.” The call was for us.
A leader’s preparation extends about 15 years beyond the schooling years
Those of us who teach ministerial students see it often. A bright student leaves college or seminary and “enters the ministry,” launching their life’s work, assuming their preparation is over.
Then they hit the wall. Things don’t go as well as they expected. Their great ideas are harder to implement than they imagined. People don’t flock to hear them speak. The church is not as impressed with this guy or gal as the professors were. Michael launched a community outreach program during college reaching 300 high school students in his Junior year. Now he pastors a church of 32 people which has hovered around 32 for the last two years. Christine delivered a senior message in her college’s chapel and “blew the socks off” more than 1,000 students. Now her high point of ministry is leading a women’s Bible study where a dozen women attend thinking they are “encouraging her.” Or, consider Andy. Always standing out in college and seminary, he was constantly told he was the “most promising” student of all. Andy is in his third year carving out a new church plant in Denver with about 40 people attending — on a good week, that is.
What happens when these bright talented young ministers “hit the wall,” coming up against the hard realities of ministry? Some begin to doubt their abilities. Some wonder if the problem is this church which simply doesn’t recognize their gifts. Or, they question their ability or God’s call on their life. Others give up and drop out, deciding they “failed in the ministry, or “weren’t cut out for it.”
But those who survive hunt up a wise mentor and ask, “what’s going on?” The answer surprises them. These older mentors (usually in their 50’s or 60’s) tell them the secret. The mentor says something like this:
Sure you feel like a failure – because you have your head screwed on wrong. You think you’ve “entered the ministry” and things should explode for you, as if it is all downhill from graduation. You’re acting like you’ve finished preparing for the ministry. But you’ve just started. You’re out of school, but not out of preparation.
C’mon, face it: you’re still a student. Act like it! Keep learning. Keep growing. Keep developing. That’s your job for the next ten years. Learn to minister. For all practical purposes, you are still in college – just the college of life. You’re a freshman again. If you see life from God’s perspective, from the end of your life backward, (instead of from now forward) you’ll recognize you are only in the second stage of what “leadership Emergence Theory” (see note 1) calls “Inner Life Growth.” You thought you were finished training when you left school. But you were just starting – college introduced the: “Inner Life Growth” stage. Now you are in the second half of that stage: the in-ministry half. Schooling just got you started – it represents only about 25% of all your training years.
When you look back on your life at 70, you’ll categorize all of your 20’s (and probably much of the 30’s) as “preparation.” From that perspective (and also from God’s point of view) this 15 year period you are in right now will be when God developed you into the servant He needed for your “Big Task” which will come later. You’ll remember two parts to this preparation stage: the schooling years, and the early-ministry years. You’ll tend to see them both as training.
So how to respond to this idea of an extended training stage? I say, quit trying to succeed so much and start trying to develop more. Stop acting like your whole life’s ministry is going to be judged on what you do in your 20’s. (That very thought will some day make you laugh out loud.) Realize this decade of extended training is common among leaders: Moses spent 40 years in the desert; Paul spent a decade in Arabia and Cilicia long before his emergence in Antioch; Jesus “wasted” a decade of adulthood in Nazareth. Worry less about success and more about growing. You’re still in school.
So, what should happen in this next decade?” Three things:
So, are you thinking, “Give me the Big Task now Lord, and I’ll catch up – I’ll develop the character, skills and content right away.” Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. God develops character, skills and the content of your message over years, and through experience including failures and perceived failures. You got a good start in your schooling. But it is only a start. 75% of the “Inner Life Development” stage is still ahead of you.
So quit trying so hard to succeed… and start trying harder to develop. You see, your career is not in your own hands, but God’s.
Note 1. Robert J. Clinton, professor of leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary is a pioneer of the field, “leadership Emergence Theory” which demonstrates there are predictable patterns through which God develops a leader, usually bringing the emerging leader through four stages: (I) Sovereign Foundations; (II) Inner Life Growth; (III) Ministry Maturing; (IV) Life maturing; which is sometimes followed (for some) with two other stages: (V) Convergence and (VI) Afterglow. For most ministers the second stage of Inner Life development extends long beyond college and seminary, though few in their 20’s and early 30’s understand it. Leaders in the later stages who have experienced these unfolding stages of life are better equipped to guide younger leaders toward understanding how leadership development takes time and can easily be retarded, but only occasionally can the process be accelerated. See Robert J. Clinton, Leadership Emergence Theory (Barnabas Resources) or for a popular book outlining an introduction to Leadership Emergence Theory see his The Making of a Leader by Nav Press ISBN 08910-91920
Tomato Plant Problem
Don’t put out more tomato plants than you can carry water to.
If you ever planted a garden you probably know the old saying, “Don’t put out more tomato plants than you can carry water to.” Tomato plants are easier to plant than take care of. Besides watering there is weeding to do, snipping off the “suckers” and putting up the harvest.
I confess I’m a tomato-lover with sometimes-grandiose ideas. One Spring I actually planted 500 tomato plants. Of course they got away from me and I wound up with a bumper crop of weeds, a meager harvest of tomatoes, and an I-told-you-so remark or two from my wife.
Leaders love to plant new things. Perhaps it is an occupational hazard of leaders to be “hooked” on innovation. Leaders love the novel and are frankly not impressed with “maintenance ministries.” We want something new, something exciting, something to launch, something to found and leave behind as a legacy. Talk to most leaders about the need for “adequate infrastructure” for their new idea and they’ll dismiss you as a foot-dragger. Leaders get no kick out of watering, clipping off suckers, or weeding the garden – they prefer to put out more new tomato plants!
Of course our boards and peers are part of the problem. What gets a leader credit with a board or peer group? Reporting that things are running smoothly and all the weeds are pulled? Not likely. The applause comes from new programs we’ve launched or “new initiatives” we introduced. Our peers, boards, sponsors, and the big givers seldom care much about smooth-running “maintenance matters.”
Thus, many successful leaders become innovation junkies. If planting tomatoes is what gets the most credit, then tomato-planting is what they do. The problem: with all the focus on planting new plants, and the energy invested in expansion, sooner or later the maintenance infrastructures start to break down — eventually even the harvest is threatened — and even the leader. Such a leader (or church or organization) finally gets “spread too thin” or “over their heads” in launching more programs than they can maintain. This is a “Tomato Plant Problem.”
So what’s the leadership lesson? Back off innovation and quit expanding? Hardly. Just “count the cost” before launching that next tower. Make sure you provide plenty of the long-term infrastructure under every new program launched. Money, people, time. If you’re not willing to water it, don’t plant it.
So what do you think? What thoughts or examples come to your mind which might help young ministerial students understand the “Tomato Plant Problem” better?
Pareto’s Principle — “the 80:20 rule”
“A minority of input produces the majority of results. “
The 80:20 rule was originated by Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist who studies the distribution of wealth in a variety of countries around 1900. He discovered a common phenomenon: about 80% of the wealth in most countries was controlled by a consistent minority — about 20% of the people. Pareto called this a “predictable imbalance.” His observation eventually became known as either the “80:20 rule” or “Pareto’s Principle.”
The 80:20 rule has been expanded far since its first economic use. While one might quibble about the 80% or 20% (it is sometimes 60:40 or 90:10) the insight is broadly applied to leadership and management. The “80:20 rule” has become one of the best known “leadership shorthand terms” reflecting the notion that most of the results (of a life, of a program, of a financial campaign) come from a minority of effort (or people, or input).
To what does 80:20 apply in church leadership or voluntary organizations? Try these for starters:
80% of the work is usually done by 20% of the people .
80% of the problems are usually caused by 20% of the people.
80% of the value of my day is often produced by 20% of the activity .
80% of my mentoring multiplication will likely come from 20% of the mentors .
80% of our new converts will probably come from 20% of the programs.
80% of the quality can be gotten in 20% of the time — perfection takes 5 times longer.
80% of the giving in a capital campaign often comes from 20% of the gifts .
So, now to the questions:
REFERENCE: For an excellent treatment of Pareto’s Principle applied to management see The 80/20 Principle : The Secret of Achieving More With Less by Richard Koch (ISBN=0385491700). IN this 1998 book, Koch argues this 80:20 observation is found in almost every part of modern life from stock investment to time management. He argues for finding the highly leveraged 20% elements and pouring all your energy into these highly-productive activities.
Committees usually pick beige
Why is it most churches paint their walls beige? Or off-white? Probably because a committee picked the color. Committees are like that. They seldom pick orange. They’re far more reasonable than that. Committees usually pick beige. They’re safe. They search for the lowest common denominator and usually make the decision which alienates the least number of people.
Committees are more about safety than passion. Want something passionate or creative? Ask one person to do it. Want something safe and non-irritating — get a committee. An individual might really get creative and passionate about the idea of putting your new baptistery in the narthex where it will double as a fountain. Maybe even add some goldfish. But a committee will probably bury the baptistery under the platform and cover it with carpet. Less passionate or creative, but far safer.
Committees provide a governor of sort on the fast-driving creative people. Especially speeding pastors. They moderate extreme ideas, calm down passion, tally the mean score of all ideas. They protect against excesses. Their decisions seek the least-criticizable middle ground. And, of course, they also provide ownership (at least for those on the committee), participatory democracy, and someone to blame for the decision. But most of all, they are safe.
If you want safety, get a committee. But if you want some things orange, assign it to an individual.
We get what we inspect, not just what we expect.
In an early (1927-1933) productivity study in Western Electric’s Hawthorne plant near Chicago researchers discovered that their own presence affected to outcome of the study. In this case, so long as the study was in progress productivity increased. The term “Hawthorne Effect” was thus coined to define the influence of the researcher’s presence on the outcome of the study. Or, put another way, attention increases productivity.
Put yourself in the shoes of one of these weary, ignored and neglected workers. A collection of smart-looking researchers show up and constantly check on how well you’re doing. They nod, click their stop watches, and scribble on their clipboards regularly recording your productivity. You get attention. Someone actually cares about how well you are doing. What happens? Productivity goes up. If the researchers give more breaks, you produce more. When they give less breaks ( or even no breaks at all) you produce still more. Why? Because you feel special, important and that your job is important.
It’s a Christian leadership skill — making people feel important, and that their service, no matter how small, is noticed and appreciated. Good leaders learn to keep in touch with their workers. They show up unexpectedly. They MBWA. They write hand-written notes periodically, even if they do it on a schedule produced by a computer spreadsheet. Church workers sense their leader knows about their service. Such a leader has a favorable impact on productivity and morale. Their presence boosts both morale and productivity. Effective leaders aren’t really omnipresent — they just seem to be. The bottom line: We leaders get what we inspect, not just what we expect.
The Hawthorne Effect may not be actually proved. Gina Kolata de-bunked the effect in the New York Times article titled “Scientific Myths that are too good to die”(12/6/98). Apparently only five workers took part in the original study, and two were replaced before the study was finished. Adair, Sharpe, and Huynh (1989) examined 86 studies they believed are the studies involving use of control groups to counteract the Hawthorne Effect and concluded that there is no such artifact, and if there is it is too small to be of importance, since 86 studies did not find it. A psychology professor at the University of Michigan, Dr. Richard Nisbett has called the Hawthorne effect “a glorified anecdote” going on to say, “Once you’ve got the anecdote, you can throw away the data.” However, the Hawthorne Effect is one of those “facts” which certainly ought to be true, even if it isn’t. Indeed, if the Hawthorne Effect is disproved, the application may be even better for preachers — a believable illustration takes on a life(and a truth) of its own.
(Latin) “The thing will solve itself as your go on.”
The person who waits for perfect conditions before deciding, never decides. Same for gathering all the facts. One never gathers all the facts. You gather enough to make a reasonable decision, “waiting until all the facts are in” guarantees nothing at all will be decided. Leaders start before they have all the information and before they have solved all the anticipated problems. They live by, Solvitur Ambulando. “the thing will solve itself as you go on.”
It sure applies to starting new programs in the church — for sure a building program. (Know any church who solved all the problems before launching a new building?) In fact, most great enterprises are launched before all the details are worked out. And things solve themselves as you move along.
Take church planting for instance. Face it, pastors who are waiting until the timing is perfect to launch their private dream to plant a church never will actually plant a church. Who plants churches? People who step out and work things out as they move along.
Or how about marriage? Did you solve all the wrinkles in your relationship before the wedding day? (Yeah, me too, I just thought I had.) Married people work things out as they go along. They don’t have to settle every problem and answer every question before the wedding.
How about theology? When did you work out the fine details of your theology? The day before your graduation from college or seminary? The morning before your ordination? I doubt it. You have been working it out as you moved along. Solvitur Ambulando in some ways even applies to personal faith. Most of us “work out our salvation” as we go along. Because faith sometimes springs from action. We take a step first, then come to understanding as we go along (John 1:17). Understanding can spring from action. Faith from works. Love from deeds. Orthodoxy from orthopraxis. We humans can not only think our way into a new way of acting, but act ourselves into a new way of thinking.
So, what about you? Is there something you need to get going? Have you been waiting too long to figure out all the details or answer all the questions? Well, jump in! Get started! Start moving. Initiate! Step out before all the problems are solved, or even anticipated. Solvitur Ambulando — things will work themselves out as you move along.
“Expect a temporary depression in morale and production after a significant change.”
Groups don’t like change. Especially churches. And, when you force them to change the entire group will often face a “Change Valley” — a drop in morale and effectiveness. It is (usually) temporary, but leaders learn to expect this dip and work with it.
For instance, try changing from a single service at 11:00 AM to a service at nine, Sunday school at ten, and a second service at eleven. Then sneak around and listen to the private comments the next three weeks. You’ll hear, “I don’t like not seeing the teens;” “We’re so fragmented now;” “We’ve lost a sense of unity;” and much more. The church is in the “Change valley.”
But give it some time and what happens? Morale and productivity gradually return to the original level — often even higher if the change was a good one. If you diagramed the “Change valley” it would look something like the “Square Root” symbol, with a temporary dip in morale and productivity then things would return to a (often higher) level than before the change.
So what’s the leadership lesson in “Change Valley?”
Leaders understand changing things often brings a temporary depression called the “Change Valley.” But they lead their people through that valley and back up again to greater heights. It’s the sort of thing which happened between Good Friday and Pentecost. Some Change Valley.
So, what leadership lessons would you add to “Change Valley?”
Everything’s a trade off.
It’s true. To get something I want in life almost always requires me to give up something else. To be a good dad and go to your son’s soccer game you may have to trade off ten telephone calls which might have produced a new attendee (or even a newly saved soul). To preach well prepared deep messages you may have to trade off better programming or relationship building with your people. To save up for future retirement you’ll have to trade off money you could have used for a nicer life this week. To write a first rate paper for class you may have to trade off a fun night out.
Jesus did tradeoffs too. Sometimes He traded off crowds to get time with His core group. Later He’d trade off core group time to spend time alone and with His Father. He traded off popularity in order to tell his followers hard truths. He traded off a throne for the cross.
Jesus had to. You do too. Indeed, all of life is a trade off. Especially so for busy ministers… and students. There just is not enough time to do everything we ought to do. Or should do. And for sure, to do everything we are expected to do. But tradeoffs must be made. Every hour. Because everything I choose to do is a choice NOT to do something else. In fact, you are trading off something right now as you read these words (was it worth it?).
That’s the point, of course. As John Maxwell says, “Some tradeoffs are worth making.” So the question is, “What are the tradeoffs worth making?” What did you trade off this week for something else and you believe it was worth it?
Today’s Problems come from yesterday’s solutions
In the widely acclaimed 1990 book Fifth Discipline Peter Senge outlines the path to becoming a “Learning organization,” surely a worthy goal for the church. In his “Eleven Laws” of the fifth discipline Senge offers an organizational law especially applicable to the church: Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions.
He argues most problem-solving is like the rug merchant who stepped on a bump in his expensive carpet only to discover the bump reappeared again in a new place. Solving one problem created another elsewhere. We dam up wild rivers to generate cheap power and save water thus vitalizing empty desert regions. But we create a new set of problems: the dam silts up and the power falls short of the needs of the millions who moved in to use the cheap power and water. We get tough on crime, intercepting vast amounts of drugs at the border announcing we are “solving” the problem. But our get-though policy drives up prices of drugs on the streets causing even more crime by desperate drug users needing more cash to support their habits. Most problem-solving merely shifts problems from one part of the system to another, creating a new (sometimes worse) bump in the carpet. Hence the need for the Fifth Discipline: systems thinking.
In the church we know all about carpet bumps. Face it, most of the problems we are trying to solve today were “yesterday’s solutions.” Yesterday “solved” the problem of second-rate audience participation by moving worship to the chancel (OK platform… no, “stage”). Yesterday solved the problem of stretched-thin boomer family life by reducing expectations of attendance. Yesterday solved the problem of “seekers” not knowing the church’s songs by printing them in books so every single individual could have one. Yesterday fixed the remote-distant “Reverend” by replacing it with “Pastor Bill,” and eventually “Bill.” Yesterday rejected the fire-and-brimstone sin-condemning preaching elevating the angry side of God, replacing it with a warmer more user-friendly portrait of God-as-friend thus “solving” God’s PR problem. Yesterday solved the seldom-used “repentance-altar” at the end of the service by introducing an “open altar” earlier in the service where people came to receive “help” not repent of sins. Yesterday… well, you get the idea. Most of yesterday’s solutions merely created another bump in the carpet elsewhere: for Today’s Problems come from yesterday’s solutions
So what is the lesson? There are at least two. First, we ought to forecast the potential effect of our changes on the whole. This is a “systems approach” Senge calls for and it is seldom practiced by church leaders. We are so bent on the change itself (dumping hymnals for projectors, or whatever else) that we obliterate all arguments of bad-effects. A systems approach to change confesses the down-side, then gets about addressing these new bumps in the carpet. Thus, change-resistors who think can be our best friends — they point out where the new bumps might emerge, and give us a chance to address these beforehand.
Second, we should recognize that most of today’s solutions we are introducing will likely become the next generation’s problems to solve. Whaaaaat? You mean someone will eventually see our wonderful solutions as problems? Exactly. We should see them that way too. For the corollary of Today’s Problems come from yesterday’s solutions is “Today’s solutions will be the cause of tomorrow’s problems. Remembering this about our solutions should make us a bit more humble.
Which is the right attitude to have when introducing change.
Part Three: Leadership Wisdom and Sayings
Some people collect quotes. What kind of people. First of all, pastors collect quotes—they use them in sermons. Besides pastors, philosophers also collect quotes, for they can capture in a few words great ideas. For some funny reason leadership types collect quotes too. Why? Who knows? Perhaps because most leaders are essentially practicing philosophers when it comes to people. For whatever reason, when you find a leader, they are usually brimming with pithy quotes that capture deeper truth about people. The following is your learning coach’s collection of quotes. Some are about leaders, others about life in general and attitude, and some are simply funny quotes that make you say, “I wish I’d said that” or even “I think I’ve said that actually.”
If you are going to be a leader—and working in the church will require you to be one—go through this list and gather 10-15 of the quotes that you’d like to use as the basis of your own starter quote. Some high-achiever type students even type a sentence of “exposition” for each quote if it isn’t as obvious as the nose on one’s face.
211.When the best leader’s work is done the people say, We did it ourselves. –Lao-Tsu
212.When you come to a fork in the road, take it. –Yogi Berra
213.When you have accomplished all that you can, lie down and go to sleep, God is awake. –Victor Hugo
214.Where there is no faith in the future, there is no power in the present.
215.Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right. –Henry Ford
216.You can get more with a kind word and a gun than you can with a kind word alone. –Al Capone
217.You can observe a lot just by watchin’. –Yogi Berra
218.You can tell when you’re on the right track — it’s usually uphill.
219.You can’t be passionate about something that you does not lead to action; Passion is about doing, not feeling. –Keith Drury
220.You cannot push anyone up the ladder unless he is willing to climb. –Andrew Carnegie
221.You can’t accomplish what you don’t choose to accomplish.
222.You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do. –Henry Ford
223.You can’t discover new lands without losing sight of shore.
224.You got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.–Yogi Berra
225.You got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there. –Yogi Berra
226.You manage things; you lead people. –Grace Murray Hopper
227.Your attitude determines altitude. –John Maxwell
228. 640K ought to be enough for anybody. –Bill Gates, in 1981
229. Never wrestle with a pig. You get dirty and the pig likes it.
230. Never fight with a skunk—even if you win you come out smelling
231. The oil can is mightier than the sword.” -Everett Dirkson
©2003 Keith Drury
Keith Drury served The Wesleyan Church headquarters in Christian Education and Youth leadership for 24 years before becoming a professor of religion at Indiana Wesleyan University. He is the author of more than a dozen books of practical spirituality, including Holiness for Ordinary People, Common Ground and Ageless Faith. Keith Drury wrote the Tuesday Column for 17 years (1995-2012), and many articles can be found on his blog “Drury Writing.”
Keith Drury retired from full time teaching in 2012. Keith is married to Sharon and has two adult sons and several grandchildren. He is retired in Florida with Sharon and enjoys cycling.