William Jennings Bryan delivered what is considered to be one of the greatest orations of all time at the 1896 Democratic National Convention. It is referred to as the “Cross of Gold” speech and is best known for the line “you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” I recently came across a reference to the speech and was interested enough to read a transcript. I was impressed with the phrasing and powerful use of language, eloquent prose, and frequent use of alliteration. However, something seemed…off. At first, I couldn’t discern what was odd and why I was having a hard time following along. Then it hit me…while the language was eloquent, I literally had no idea what he was talking about! Almost the entire speech is dedicated to the concept of bimetallism (making both gold and silver legal currency). Not surprisingly, I have never given that issue much thought, but apparently, it was quite the issue in the late 1800’s. It is not an issue for me today, it is not something that I think about or care about.
I have observed many churches, and church leaders invest a lot in communication efforts that fail because what they are communicating means nothing to the people who are hearing it.
As a church, the method you use to communicate your message is irrelevant if you do not know who your audience is. What does your audience care about? What problems are they facing? What matters to them day in and day out? You must know your audience before you communicate your message.
Many church leaders and churches are simply out of touch with the community and people they are called to serve.
If you are a church leader who spends all of your time talking with churchy people, I’m willing to bet that you do not have a firm handle on the hopes, wants, and dreams of people in your community. The same can be said for a church member who spends all of their time doing churchy things with churchy people. You end up focusing your communication efforts almost exclusively on existing church people who think similarly to you. This has always been the case but is being exacerbated today by three factors.
The United States is becoming more racially and culturally diverse. Given the fact that churches tend to be racially homogenous, the more likely it is that church leaders are walled off from the quickening racial diversity of America and the potential implications it has for the church. Assuming a homogeneous culture assures that your message will fall only on the ears of people like you.
2. The Widening Gap Between Church and Culture
It is no secret that the gap between the values of our culture and the church is widening. The more that gap grows, the more out of touch the church seems to people living in our culture. For years, the church has assumed a set of shared values and morals when communicating with people. Assuming the same today assures that your message will fall on uninterested ears.
3. The Decline of the Denominational Church
It is also no secret that almost every denominational church has experienced a significant decline in the past decade (or more). As the “greatest generation” passes away, the pace of that decline seems to be increasing. As institutions are looked at with greater suspicion, the institutional church faces a greater difficulty in sharing its message. Being institutional is a barrier to communication. Assuming that people know and value your institution/denomination assures that your message will be either ignored or derided.
Most church leaders spend their time on church things and churchy people. They do not live in the same circles as those in the community around them. As Christians, we are called to be in the world (although not of the world). If we are honest with ourselves, most of us are guilty of distancing ourselves and our ministries from our culture. We fear our culture and want to protect our church, so we build walls between the two. Communicating through a wall is difficult.
You can have the slickest website or the most impressive social media campaign, but if it isn’t real for your intended audience, it will fail to resonate.
Before determining HOW you are communicating, you must first know whom you are communicating with.
Before determining WHAT you are communicating, you must first know whom you are communicating with.
I am often accused (rightfully so) of mumbling.
My wife asks what the plan is for the first day of vacation.
I think I respond with: “After we get off of our flight to Denver, we drive to our condo in the mountains with no stopping because I want to get there before it gets dark.”
What she hears is: “Aff we giff fight to dinner, we dive our dough mountains with no stopping bis I want together four its ark.”
My brain often thinks faster than my mouth can move to communicate what I want to say. That is a problem if I want to communicate something.
Most ministries have the opposite problem. Their mouth moves faster than their brain. They communicate without having a clear idea of what they want to say. Their mission and vision are unclear. As a result, they communicate events, initiatives, and weekly news without considering how it fits into the big picture. For many churches, this is unintentional. It is the result of just “doing church” and not taking the time and energy to clearly define what their mission is to their community. With no central message to serve as a communications filter, a “shotgun” approach to communications develops.
Fire - Aim - Ready is a poor approach to communications.
You need to clearly define your mission (Ready) and your message to your community (Aim) before you attempt to communicate your message (Fire).
You know from experience that bombarding people with numerous unrelated announcements is not effective. People tune you out. Our brains are wired to tune out random, irrelevant information. We need context for things to make sense and our brains to make them a priority. It is an effective survival skill, but a challenge for communicators.
In January 2017 Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to the world. His presentation lasted over an hour and a half and was full of technical information about a product no one had seen. A difficult task. He was able to introduce the product effectively by anchoring all that he said around one simple message: "Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone," Jobs proclaimed. That was the message of the day. It was the headline that anchored all of the information that he communicated. He repeated that exact phrase five times during his presentation. Apple’s press releases that day contained the same headline. The banner on their website displayed that same text. Their subsequent commercials focus on how Apple was reinventing the phone.
The message mattered, not just the product.
What is the one message that you want people to hear and know about your church?
What does your ministry want to be known for?
Our church connects people in our community to Jesus.
Our church helps the poor.
Our church cares.
Our church is focused on young people.
Our church is focused on old people.
We are a traditional church.
We are a modern church.
We wear skinny jeans here. :)
Our Christian school has excellent academics
Our Christian school will teach your kid about Jesus.
Our Christian school is a place to belong.
Our Christian school is safe.
Before you decide what gets communicated and how you are going to communicate, you need to determine what you are going to communicate. Read that last sentence again. It is important.
What are you communicating?
You should be communicating things that advance your core message.
Need help figuring all this out? Let’s talk about it.
In my last post, I mentioned that impracticality and people are the two big problems with Policy-based governance in churches.
As it turns out, I overlooked another serious problem: a lack of resources.
Most pastors and board members struggle to find resources that apply policy-based governance to their local church.
Where can I find good policies?
Where do I look for sample agendas or reports?
You know that most of the stuff you find the web is meant for large corporations, not a local church.
I can help with practical resources!
I’ve created a simple ready to use pack of documents that integrate policy based-governance and the local church.
And I’m launching it today!
This resource pack includes both PDF and Editable versions of
- a full policy manual
- a ready to go monthly compliance report
- a monthly meeting agenda template
- an annual policy review calendar
You can download it today!
Perhaps you are an experienced leader in a ministry that (at least on paper) practices policy-based governance. Maybe your context is a more traditional model of leadership and you are curious about policy-based governance.
At its heart, the policy-based governance provides a framework for leadership for most mid to large-sized churches. Trust your leaders to lead - and make sure they are accountable.
In my experience with the policy-based governance model, I’ve come to realize that there are two major problems implementing it in a church.
1. It is often too rigid.
Most ministries copy and paste their model and specific policies from a non-profit corporation or a larger church who has existing policies in place. The problem? They are not your policies! The policies do not fit the context of your church and your people. They are likely “corporate” and are more than you need to lead your ministry effectively. Over complex policies lead to disengaged board members and leaders. If the real world purpose of each policy is not clear, your leaders will simply ignore it and it will remain buried in a binder. Rigid policies do not help your ministry grow.
You likely have well-intentioned servants who volunteer their time to serve on your leadership board. The local church would suffer if it were not for people like them. Your kind-hearted people also represent a barrier to effective policy-based governance. It is likely that they do not have the expertise, time, or motivation to immerse themselves in the theory or best practices of policy-based governance. As a result, they either revert to micro-managing the ministry or they become unengaged and serve as a “rubber stamp” for their senior leader. Your ministry needs more from them. Your lay leaders need to function as an effective policy-based board for the health of your ministry. They need help.
I have a passion for the mission of the local church and feel that most churches benefit from a policy-based approach to governance. I have developed a simple, budget-friendly training process for policy-based boards and leaders. Whether you are just starting out with policy-based governance or need a refresher, some outside help might be beneficial for you and your ministry.
In my training, your board members will learn the basics of policy-based governance in the church, their role as a board member, and we will construct your policy manual!
Interested in learning more? You have three options:
Accountability is about ownership. That's the bottom line.
Do you own the mission and vision of your church or are you a consumer of it?
Here are 5 practical ways to increase your sense of ownership & accountability.
1. Be aware of victim conversations.
Look for people (maybe you) who tend to focus on past failures. Human nature leads us to blame external forces for those failures. You need to be accountable in your conversations - you need to be the one who encourages others to take ownership of actions and results. When you feel a conversation headed down the external blame road, try saying something like “I wonder what lessons we can learn about ourselves from that failure.”
2. Communicate your vision often.
You (and your people) need to be reminded often of the importance of your vision. Keeping the focus on the main thing should be inspiring to you and those you serve with. Here are two great resources to get you started on this:
Making Vision Stick - Andy Stanley
7 Ways to Help Others Understand Vision - Rick Warren
3. Model Ownership
Your actions will speak louder than your words.
By modeling expected behaviors, you make it safe and normal to embrace ownership and accountability. If you are walking the walk, you have eliminated at least one excuse that others may use for not taking ownership.
4. Clarify expectations using vision language.
Healthy accountability often begins with clear expectations. Understanding what is expected is key to both individual and ministry-wide accountability. Don’t invent random expectations that sound nice. Use the language that you already use to communicate your vision to set your expectations.
“We are making changes in our children’s ministry to better minister to the families in our community that we want to reach.”
“We are adding facility space to make room for the 1,000 people that we want to meet Jesus each week.”
"We need our volunteers to wear the same shirt because we want people to feel comfortable in our building.”
5. Focus on the future.
True accountability is not about the consequences of the past. Talking about past failures does little to motivate a sense of ownership and enables people who tend to blame external forces. Talking about the future can motivate ownership. By its nature, the future is unwritten and is optimistic. Cast a future vision that people want an ownership stake in.
In what ways are you encouraging ownership and accountability in your ministry? Let me know!
As a ministry, you are busy and time is limited. One often overlooked benefit of working at a church is that your time is often flexible. At least, more flexible than many other jobs. You aren’t required to punch a timecard or wait for a whistle to blow before going to lunch. Your employer is likely understanding of family situations and realizes that ministry is taxing. Take advantage of your flexible environment. Schedule time to get away from your office and get outside. Here are twelve methods I try to use to get outside. I hope you can use a few of them in your attempt to get out more often.
What ways do you find to get outdoors more often?
Let me know!
I love being physically present in the outdoors. My ideal vacation is a few weeks in the Rocky Mountains with each day split equally between fly fishing on a rock-strewn mountain stream and spending hours in a comfortable chair just staring at the mountains. Being outdoors and in nature is where I find peace and mental refreshment. I don’t love that it is a struggle for me to find time to be outdoors. I must intentionally look for opportunities to get outdoors often because I know that it makes me a better leader and servant.
A simple google search reveals numerous mental and physical health benefits to being outdoors. I won’t attempt to discuss all the possible benefits of being outdoors. I know that those who work in a church or related ministry struggle with a unique set of challenges and stressors that can cause a multitude of spiritual, physical and mental pitfalls. A speaker at a recent church leadership conference I attended noted that most church work environments are designed (unintentionally) to keep workers “spiritually disillusioned, physically fat and out of shape, and mentally drained.” His words were a harsh indictment of most ministry workplaces. I agree with his assessment.
Most of the stress that church workers experience stems from the fact that we place an extra burden on ourselves because we believe (rightly so) that our work has eternal consequences. The local church is God’s way of bringing people to faith and keeping them spiritually fed. As church workers, we are a crucial component in that mission. We shouldn’t take our charge lightly. Those who work in the church walk a fine line between being motivated by our mission and being overwhelmed by it. I believe that getting away from the church and being outdoors has some unique benefits to offer to the church worker.
Getting Outdoors Better Connects You to Jesus
My most influential school teachers made learning an experience. They immersed me through their storytelling and made sure I learned science through hands-on activities. We learn best through experience. What better way to learn from and experience God than to sit in the midst of His creation and let Him do the teaching. Look at the beautiful words of Job 12:7-10 “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind. (NIV) By simply being present in God’s creation, we experience Him, we learn about Him and are drawn closer to Him. There is a good reason that most church camps and retreat centers are in wooded areas and not in the middle of a suburban subdivision or on the 12th floor of a city skyscraper.
Getting Outdoors Reduces Ministry Stress
I suppose being outdoors reduces stress for most everyone, not just church workers. There is research that it helps increase good chemicals and hormones in our bodies and decrease the bad ones. Breathing in clean air and getting more Vitamin D helps reduce stress for the church worker and the atheist alike.
I feel that the unique benefit for the church worker is that being outdoors helps put things in perspective. There is nothing like standing in a vast open space or gazing at a mountain to remind us that God is big and the day to day worries of our ministry are small. Most of the time this realization comes not in a conscious thought: “Hey, look at those trees. Wow! God is mighty and not having the outline for the next worship series done is small.” Rather, this realization of perspective occurs most often as a subconscious level. As created creatures, we instinctively know that our value is in the one who created us and not in the things that we do. The more we experience the wonder of His creation, the more we realize that our work, while important, is not larger than the one who made us.
Getting Outdoors Helps Set Clear Boundaries
Dr. Henry Cloud says that “Every human being must have boundaries in order to have successful relationships or a successful performance in life.” Most dedicated church workers feel a deep commitment to their job. For many, that commitment serves their church and people well. For others, that commitment makes it difficult to set healthy boundaries in life. Church work comes at the expense of margin, family, physical health, mental clarity, and healthy relationships. Making time to be physically away from the church and in nature sets a clear boundary for you physically and mentally. Physically, the boundary is clear: I am in the outdoors and I am not at church. A boundary is also established mentally:
I am not at church, therefore I am not required to think about it (although my mind often wanders back to work issues and stress). Making a commitment to being outdoors and away from church is a commitment to set healthy boundaries.
Getting Outdoors Improves Your Ministry Focus
In ministry, there is never a shortage of good ideas or new ways to do things. The challenge for leaders in ministry is to discern the important from the not so important and to keep our eyes on our church’s mission and vision for ministry. We know focusing on what is important is key to ministry growth, but there always seems to be more distractions and legitimate challenges that need to be addressed. Push the eject button and get away for a while. Take a walk, a one-day retreat, or some extended time away and in nature to clear your head and remind yourself of the important things in your ministry. Simply being away from the office limits the distractions and the opportunity for others to fill your time and mind with competing ideas. Being outdoors lets you escape for a bit and helps you focus. Your ministry will benefit greatly from your increased focus on what is truly important.
Getting outdoors can benefit you and your ministry.
What are some things that you do to get outdoors more often?
Let me know.
Accountability is about ownership.
Gauging your level or others level of ministry accountability should focus on determining the level of ownership of your vision.
To determine your level of ownership or the “buy-in” for yourself or team members, ask the following questions:
1. In one sentence, what is the vision of our ministry?
Either you have this down or you don’t. Not a lot of gray area here. If you cannot communicate this for yourself or to others, don’t bother with the remaining questions - work on this one.
2. What specific elements of the vision are meaningful to you?
Having head knowledge of the vision is one thing, being able to explain personal understanding and motivation is the next. Motivation matters.
3. How would your life change if our ministry were to realize our vision?
If you are living a life that is dedicated to the vision, surely your life would change significantly if that vision were achieved - right?
4. Who have you shared the vision with?
Followers of Jesus share the Gospel - it’s what followers of Jesus do. Owners of vision share the vision - it’s what owners do.
5. What specific actions have you taken to advance the vision in the last month?
It is one thing to think happy thoughts about your vision. What are you doing about it?
6. What challenges or barriers exist that may get in the way of the vision?
If you own the vision, you should know the things that could kill it.
7. How much money have you given to advance the vision?
Show me your budget and I’ll show you your priorities.
What other questions help you clarify your ownership of your vision? Let me know!
When faced with a ministry challenge, I’ve heard several well-intentioned church members, board members, and ministry staff leaders make the following statement:
“Things would be better if we just held people more accountable.”
This is often said by well-intentioned, but frustrated individuals. Here’s the thing - they are 100% correct. They are also 100% wrong in their thinking.
Accountability is misunderstood. Most people think accountability means consequences for poor performance. That’s not accountability, that’s punishment. Accountability is a character trait. Accountability is a willingness to own your thoughts, actions, and results - no matter the consequences. A great one-word definition for accountability is ownership.
Most of us have a tendency to look around for things to blame or change based on our situation. If someone is out of work, they tend to blame the poor economy, greedy CEOs, corrupt politicians, or the evils of capitalism. If a ministry has plateaued or is in decline, blame is often placed on cultural change, over-scheduled families, lack of volunteers, or lack of funds.
People who struggle with the accountability character trait tend to blame others. People who excel or who want to grow in accountability know that at the end of the day, the only accountability that exists is self-accountability. Accountable people own their own thinking, actions, and results.
Ministry accountability is not about consequences for behavior, choices, or results - it’s about ownership. As someone involved in ministry, you must hold yourself accountable for your own thoughts, actions, and results. As a leader in ministry, you must help others do the same for themselves.
There is only one surefire way to help yourself and others develop accountability: Own it.
- Owners are accountable.
- Owners hold others accountable.
At a recent conference Pastor Andy Stanley challenged me and others in attendance with a powerful question:
What is the faith of the next generation worth?
Pastor Stanley’s advice for church leaders is that we should be a “by all means possible“ leader. If something is a barrier to our culture’s hearing of the Gospel, we should be willing to give it up.
Some common examples of potential barriers could include
- specific ministry practices or traditions
- worship style
- the importance of the entire Bible vs. The Gospel
- decor in church
- stressing social issues
- preaching vs teaching
- denominational loyalty
Perhaps nothing in the above list is mutually exclusive to the clear and effective teaching of The Gospel. Maybe everything is. That’s the challenge for Christian leaders today.
In a post-Christian culture, the toughest question Christian leaders face is this:
What do we give up for the sake of The Gospel?
If your answer is nothing, there is a good chance that the changing pace of our culture will make you increasingly irrelevant.
If your answer is everything, I like your spirit, but I wonder how many people will follow you.
What are you willing to give up for the faith of others?
What is your local chapter of Christ’s church willing to make less so The Gospel can be made more in our culture?
Click the image below for a simple personal exercise to determine your take on the BY ALL MEANS POSSIBLE Leadership challenge.
You can also use the exercise with your team, staff, or board. I’ve included 4 discussion questions to get you started.