Throughout my many years of ministry, I have had the opportunity to coach executives of Fortune 500 companies and church leaders. My vantage point is fascinating; I enjoy the challenge of identifying best practices that are common to both enterprises, as well as discovering the elements that cause less than stellar performance. Guess what? Many of them are the same.
Business is all about profitability and church is all about growth and health. But what I find interesting is that, when you boil it all down, the key contributors for success for both the corporate and church worlds come down to three things: Clarity of mission/delivery of mission, key personnel, and cash flow (I know, “cash flow” is not a term we use in the church world … but we talk about it almost every week. Think about it.) Remove any of the three and see what is left for your leaders to talk about.
At the end of the day, leadership is leadership—with or without the God factor. However, as Christian leaders, we make no bones over our allegiance to our CEO, Jesus Christ, and happily live with His leadership in mind when we have our staff meetings, make our decisions, and spend our money (oops … I meant His money or the people’s money or … never mind). But that doesn’t diminish the reality that powerful leadership principles do exist. Leaders can either embrace them or ignore them, resulting in having to deal with the same old problems that really are solvable.
My findings are that every organization, secular and Christocentric, have very similar leadership challenges. Let’s talk about the three that were just mentioned.
1. Lack of Clarity of Mission and Delivery
Mission answers the question “why we exist.” Technically, it is to be a derivative of a compelling vision. For the church, the global vision is to share the good news to the people in the world about God’s love and provision for them to experience abundant life, both now and later. Because God’s vision has been entrusted to local church leaders, our mission, therefore, is to be all about making that vision happen. That is why we exist. Simple and familiar, right? Not so fast. My coaching calendar is filled each year with requests to help remind clients of their mission. They normally hire me to “fix” other leadership problem—but more times than not, I find their mission unclear and not being used, kind of like exercise equipment we purchased and now hang clothes on. So I help them revisit their mission, giving them fresh thinking on the importance of using their mission to solve church problems.
Church leaders must eat, drink, and sleep mission because no one else in the organization will. If an organization, corporate or church, keeps mission present in all meetings, strategic conversations, negotiations, and decisions, it solves a ton of unnecessary problems. So, what is your mission? Just how fired up are you about that mission? Does anyone else that works around you know how fired up you are?
2. Lack of Key Personnel
This one is a little touchy but here is what needs to be said—but don’t tell anyone I said it. News flash for the church: a “C” player is a “C” player. There’s nothing wrong with “C” players if you’re okay with a “C” level performance. Most of you reading this, however, are not okay with it. All too often when I review strategic growth initiatives of a church or ministry, there is little given about the caliber of person required to deliver the objectives. Therefore, they end up putting a less than qualified leader (either paid or volunteer) to run the ministry. One of the hardest realities that I have to deliver to Lead Pastors is that their ideas far outpace the amount of quality leaders they have to pull from. “Why the shortage?” they ask. “Simple,” I say. “Show me your leadership development program.” Normally, they offer up some funky response involving reading a book or the two-session leadership development class they list on their website.
Companies and churches that rarely experience a shortage of qualified leaders are organizations that invest heavily in leadership development of the next generation of leaders. In baseball, it’s called the farm team. In the church world we call it, “God will provide leaders if He is in this vision.” How’s that working for you? Scripture gives us plenty of examples of leaders in training (David, Timothy, Joseph) and normalcy of qualifications (Elders, Deacons, etc.) These leadership qualities are not supernaturally infused but rather have to be developed. (By the way, this is one of my primary concerns about doing away with the titles of Elders and Deacons in the “let’s be relevant” upgrades we are giving the church. I am not hung up so much on the titles but rather the qualities and the conscious effort to train towards those qualities. Example: Show me how you measure the readiness of your Strategic Leadership Team—or any other team, for that matter.)
3. Lack of Cash Flow
The church thrives on volunteers and could not function without them. However, volunteers need cash at some level to support the ministry they are serving in or leading. I made one of my worst rookie church leadership mistakes when I cashed in all my influence chips while recruiting large numbers of volunteers to join the mission effort of our church. We had terrific turnout and enthusiasm was high. However, that evaporated within twelve months because, when I recruited them, I forgot to mention that we had no cash to invest in the ministries they were recruited for. It was a slow and painful path to our empty monthly volunteer pep rallies. Even our paid staff didn’t want to attend because of the cashless elephant in the room.
We have to be smart about the use of resources in the nonprofit church world. Talking about it on Sunday mornings doesn’t really solve that much of the problem. As part of the leadership team, you need to become aware that a major overhaul is needed on how to raise and spend cash. It’s a new day; stats show that the churches that are using new approaches are surviving—the rest are chipping away at the bottom line, only to find that they can only chip away so much. We need new financial paradigms to be delivered by much smarter people than myself.
I always think of the local church ministry when I am working with a group of executives that are not afraid to deal with their profit and loss statements and make long-term changes to ensure adequate cash flow. True, God does own cattle on a thousand hills, but why doesn’t He share with some of the cash flow poor churches? Maybe they have forgotten their mission and lack clarity? Maybe they refuse to train leaders to help launch the next generation of church leaders (who may want to do ministry differently)?
In all honesty, I feel the corporate world has a little advantage over the church in just one area. They have a simple way of measuring success. They just ask, “were we profitable last quarter?” Based on the answer, they adjust. For the church leader, we exist for life change and that can be difficult to measure. However, that is what God has called us to do, so we will continue to work at using good leadership practices—all the while accessing the spiritual resources made available to us.
I challenge you to take a look at these three common discoveries we have found between industry and church. Don’t be afraid to make some difficult decisions that should have already been made. Church leadership is not for the faint of heart—but being a strategic part of God’s redemptive plan makes it all worth it.