For several months I’ve been meeting with a team of leaders to evaluate and innovate our discipleship strategies at Christ Church. These planning times are essential to clarify direction for the future. Unfortunately, strategic thinking at many churches too often looks like a rehashing of last year’s ideas or a carbon copy of the church’s strategy from down the street. However, the best way to innovate for the future is not to rip off someone else’ strategic plan. Leaders must cultivate strategic thinking practices that will shape the future of the church. Here are four strategic thinking approaches I recommend:
1. Scan, Measure, & Analyze the Present - Before you can decide where you want to go, you need to understand your current reality. Here are four ways to get your head around your church’s “here and now”:
Sometimes churches and organizations have a bad case of nearsightedness. They get so focused on the hear and now that they don’t see their greatest opportunities on the horizon. I recently heard Gary Hamel describe it like this: “Organizations miss the future because they over invest in what is at the expense of what could be.” Here are four signs that your church or organization is nearsighted (over investing in what is) and is aimed to miss the future:
1. Misguided Planning: I can’t tell you how many organizations (churches especially) think planning is nothing more than whipping out the calendar and filling it with activities. If all of your planning is focused on scheduling events, then you’re making a serious, nearsighted investment in “what is.” The future requires you to think and plan with “strategic flexibility.” In most cases, calendar planning could be renamed “carbon-copy planning” because it’s nothing more than a repeat of the previous year’s programs and events.
2. Unchallenged Assumptions: I find it interesting that research conducted by Matthew Olson, Derek van Bever, and Seth Verry pinpoints assumptions as the common culprit in stalled growth. In their article, “When Growth Stalls,” published in Harvard Business Review, they state that stalled growth is the result of management’s failure to bring the “underlying assumptions that drive company strategy into line with changes in the external environment.” When we fail to challenge our assumptions, we drive our churches into irrelevance at warp speed.
3. Budget Handcuffs: Many churches and organizations are wearing budget handcuffs because every dollar is allocated to existing programs, buildings, and salaries. I recently heard Willowcreek Community Church describe a line item in their budget called, “Winds of the Spirit.” Each year Willow allocates a certain amount of money that doesn’t have a program name attached to it. It’s simply money set aside to be used as the Holy Spirit directs the leadership. This allows leaders to be innovative without being handcuffed by the budget–it gives them resources to fund new, innovative thinking.
4. Idea-Repellant Cultures: If you’ve ever sat in a meeting where new ideas were treated like the Bubonic Plague, you know exactly what I mean by “idea-repellant cultures.” If your culture doesn’t have room for new ideas to breathe, you’re placing the kiss of death on your future.
Question: What are other signs that a church or organization is going to miss the future by over-investing in what is?
It is easy to ask God to bless what we do. In fact, it’s so easy that sometimes I wonder how far out of step we are with God. Paul’s introduction to the Colossians puts things in a better perspective. “I, Paul, have been sent on special assignment by Christ as part of God’s master plan.” (Colossians 1:1, The Message). Three things stand out to me about this passage:
1. The Assignment - Paul understood that he was on a special assignment. It wasn’t a haphazard journey or a neat idea. It was an assignment. In a school setting, assignments are given with the expectation that they be completed. And that’s how Paul viewed his assignment. It wasn’t optional, up for vote, or random.
2. The Assigner - Jesus Christ assigned Paul the mission he was called to serve. It wasn’t something Paul made up. It wasn’t his latest, greatest idea. It wasn’t the pursuit of a self-serving agenda. Paul’s assignment was assigned by Christ
3. God’s Master Plan - The assignment imparted by Christ fit into a much bigger picture. Rather than Paul asking God to bless his plans, Christ invited Paul to participate in God’s master plan. His unique, God-given assignment wasn’t a stand-alone puzzle–it was one piece in the master puzzle created by God. The focus was God’s mission, not Paul’s. Paul was simply assigned a part to play in the work God was doing in the world.
Here’s the take-away I want you to grasp. Your mission is not your own, but it is meant to be owned. In other words, your mission is defined and assigned by God. It’s not your own in the sense that you didn’t make it up. It began with God’s ultimate mission. However, it must be owned. When the assignment is imparted to you by God, you have a responsibility to own the mission. In the same way Paul gave his life to the mission that God invited him to partake in, He has extended an invitation to you and I as well. So here’s the question…Are you on mission with God’s special master-planned assignment, or are you attempting to assign to God your own master plan to bless?
Most people don’t need to be convinced of the importance of personal growth. But the importance of developing a personal growth plan often takes a bit more persuasion. So here’s three reasons for creating a written plan for your personal growth and development:
1. It Helps You Transition From Optional Growth to Intentional Growth – Optional growth is based on feelings, moods, and interests. In other words, your daily growth is dependent on your daily feelings. But intentional growth takes place because of a commitment to a well-developed plan. Optional growth is based on a desire to grow while intentional growth is based on a discipline to grow. And the discipline is often stimulated by the specifics of a growth plan. When you have a written plan, your personal growth moves from the vast playground of noble ideas to the narrow sweet spot of your potential.
2. It Increases Growth Traction – Author and consultant, Bobb Biehl provides a simple but insightful formula for making progress: Track + Action = Traction. Some leaders are very action-oriented, yet often find themselves spinning their wheels. They fail to gain traction because they’ve never created a quality plan to run on. Other leaders have the opposite problem–they make plans but are horrible at execution. The key is to create a quality track (growth plan) coupled with accountability for action. A solid growth plan includes four ingredients: a clear growth goal, practical action steps, personal accountability, and a regular evaluation process. Such a plan provides a track, stimulates action, and results in traction.
3. It Reveals and Enables Your Potential – If I were to ask a college freshman, “Do you have the potential to lead a multi-million dollar company?” they may or may not respond positively. But what would happen if that same student graduated with a degree in organizational leadership, pursued an MBA, aggressively read everything they could get their hands on about business excellence, interviewed high-capacity leaders monthly, attended leadership conferences annually, interned with a great company, and met regularly with a business coach? If, after all of their personal growth efforts, I were to ask this same student about their potential to lead a multi-million dollar company, their response would likely be an emphatic “yes!” Why? Because past growth reveals future potential. So imagine what could happen over a lifetime if every year you created and implemented a clear, purposeful, written growth plan. The pursuit of your plan would enable personal growth which in turn would reveal your potential for the future.
Questions: Do you have a written personal growth plan? If not, what is keeping you from crafting your own plan for personal and professional development?
My last two posts have examined four ingredients to time management: Purpose and Values followed by Roles and Priorities. Purpose and Values are the ultimate compass for how to invest your time. When you understand your purpose and values, you can strategically pursue the right roles that will help you best fulfill your purpose and live out your values. And as you clarify or acquire those roles, you must establish clear priorities for each role that focuses on your strengths. So what’s next? There are two final keys to effective time management: Planning and Boundaries.
Planning and Boundaries focus on the “how” of time management. Planning employs an effective system to help you strategically plan the use of your time. Boundaries are the parameters you establish to ensure your time is not abused and important values are not violated. So how do you establish Planning and Boundaries?
Here are several “PLANNING” considerations:
- Secure an Effective Time Management Tool – Whether it’s Microsoft Outlook, iCal, or any number of tools or apps, find what works best for you. The only “right” tool is the one that works for you.
- Enter Start Dates at the Beginning of the Year – Begin each year by entering start dates for your key goals and initiatives. This will allow you to forget your goals without forgetting to achieve them–because your calendar will remind you when to get started.
- Have a Weekly Meeting with Yourself – Set aside 15-30 minutes at the beginning of the week to plan your week, schedule priorities, organize your workspace, and organize your inbox.
- Understand Your Personal Rhythm – Everybody has peaks and valleys in the flow of their day. When you understand your most productive times, you can allocate your high energy moments to your most important tasks.
- Maximize Downtime – It’s the loss of 10 minutes here and 15 minutes there that really adds up to major loss of time. Consider having a 10 minute stack for those in-between times when a meeting ends early and the next one doesn’t start for 15 minutes. Keep a book in your car for those times when you arrive early or find yourself waiting on somebody. Make quick calls during down times.
- Schedule Appointments Back to Back – This will enable you to start and end appointments on time.
- Avoid Time Wasters – Things like hallway conversations, unorganized workspace, and fruitless technology can consume large amounts of time.
- Work Off-Site – Sometimes the best way to get things done is to work where you will be free of interruptions.
- Delegate and Outsource – Delegate everything that falls outside your strengths, can be done by somebody else 80% as well as you, or is a waste of your time. Build a volunteer base who can assume various tasks. Furthermore, outsource when possible.
BOUNDARIES are the final key component in time management. Without boundaries, somebody else will determine how you spend your time. To help you establish clear parameters for the use of your time, consider the following:
- Conduct a Time Management Audit to Identify Your Greatest Time Management Pitfalls – In what areas of life do you most often violate the use of your time? Is it at work, with your family, in your volunteer roles, or somewhere else? A 7-day time audit will help you discover exactly how you spend your time.
- Determine the Root Cause of Your Pitfalls – What often drives imbalance with time is one word–FEAR. We allocate disproportionate amounts of time to certain areas because we’re afraid what will happen if we don’t. For example, we work long hours because we’re afraid we’ll let the boss down or bring in lower results this quarter.
- Identify Clear Boundaries – Determine what you must do in order to set a boundary that will help you get your time in balance.
- Pursue Accountability – Chances are you won’t be able to maintain your boundaries without somebody else asking the hard questions. If you’re married, ask your spouse what your boundaries should be–and don’t blow up when he or she tells you.
- Take a Regular Day Off and Use Your Vacation Time – God did not make you to work seven days a week. Violating this boundary will only deteriorate your health and sabotage your family life.
Time management minus planning and boundaries equals an unbalanced life. These are the practical day-to-day aspects of time management. But let me emphasize, planning and boundaries without purpose, values, roles, and priorities only leads to efficiently accomplishing the wrong things. But when all six ingredients are present, time is truly maximized.