The Phases of Church Leadership: Vision Development

I am continuing a series of posts concerning five phases a church needs to learn and experience in order to either move toward or remain in a state of growth and health. These phases form a never-ending loop that should be repeated over and over again. The more intentional church leaders are at working through these five, the more intentional the focus and coordination of their ministry will be.

I have already introduced the first two phases. Churches need to work through Assessment and Identification. Next, based on the study and reaffirmation of the biblical standards for the church, the data and observations from the Assessment conducted, and the new profile of Identification developed, it is time for the third phase: Vision Development.

In a series of previous posts I shared several critical abilities for missional church leaders. I recommend you go back and read them. These abilities are actually key strategies and steps for Vision Development. In the way of a reminder, I wrote about the need to: Understand the Mission, Establish a Biblical Vision, Build Bridges of Leadership, Handle Change and Conflict Well, and Pray with a Missional Heart. Let me add to those discussions here.

It is vital to not only recognize the difference between the mission and a vision as a leader, but to help the average member in the pew to get it also. In this discussion, the mission is the unchanging purpose of God for His church while the vision is the specific, contextual plan to fulfill that mission. Think of train tracks (predetermined, unchanging pathway to a predetermined destination) versus the actual building of a train. What specific “train” needs to be built in order to run on the rails in your context?

Through Assessment and Identification, the church defines the biblical principles by which the church should operate as well as an understanding of who the church actually is and how removed from that scriptural ideal it actually is. This plumb line provides the end goal for the current vision.

Then through backward planning, church leaders can map out the necessary programs and even special projects that will move them down the tracks. These vision components must be based upon the discovered biblical foundations and evaluated by whether they lead to the proper quantitative, and more importantly, qualitative, goals that ultimately lead to the end goal.

For example, we are not always certain whether large numbers alone are pleasing to the Lord. We can be certain, however, that personal transformation leading to fruit and producing discipleship, brings glory to God (the ultimate end goal). Church leaders, therefore, should define what personal transformation means, how to identify it and what it looks like. Then, a plan of what needs to be taught and practiced in order for that to occur can be determined. Finally, the needed programming and event schedule and curriculum can be established. This process not only provides the parameters for planning but the criteria for further assessment as well. Train building, not bumper car collisions!

Once the leadership is on board and the train is ready to roll, phase four kicks in. This is often the most difficult phase. It is called Adjustment. Next time!


The Phases of Church Leadership: Identification

As I continue this series of posts concerning five phases a church must go through in order to move toward and to remain in a place of strong health, let me remind you to please read each posting. The overall discussion of and the relationships between the phases will make much more sense! Remember to think in terms of the Olympic rings as one phase intersects with another.

Today I want to introduce and discuss the second phase. I call it Identification. It must be preceded by a strong assessment phase (phase 1) or it will be lacking and shallow. Therefore, only after the church has worked through an honest assessment and evaluation process such as I described in my last post, will leaders be ready to develop a current profile based on their findings. Identification is the final report or the conclusions discovered based on the thorough assessment that took place.

Some may call this phase simply part of or the final aspect of the assessment process and I am not going to argue too strongly with them. But I personally believe and have experienced in over 34 years of ministry that it is important to separate Identification out and call attention to it specifically as a next step due to its high significance. It is helpful to think of assessment as the actual research and data gathering and to think of the next phase of identification as the analysis and compilation of the assessment results.

Unfortunately, I have known far too many churches who conduct assessment but then it never leads to anything. There are no findings discussed, no further steps planned. What a waste! A healthy Identification phase leads the church to not only remember where it has been and recognize where it is now, but to use this knowledge as a basis for phase three action which will be the Vision Development.

Identification done well compiles a current profile for the church. It creates an understanding of and answers to qualitative questions of both being and purpose as well as the pathway to developing goals and objectives. Questions are answered such as: Who are we as a church? Where are we as a church? Who do we need to be? What do we need to know? What do we need to do? These answers provide a platform, a foundation, upon which action can be planned and implemented. To understand who you are as a church, where you fit into God’s plan for this time in this place for these people is crucial knowledge for church leaders and members.

It is helpful to put this profile in writing so it can be easily communicated, discussed and become a useful tool for the next phase. Helping the entire leadership team and congregation to be aware and fully understand this honest summary of reality can be vital. Once everyone knows who and where the church really is, they can begin to build and move forward in a united way that transcends simple opinion. The church can move beyond the questions of the past and often the polarization that they can sometimes bring. When everyone is on the same page from the beginning, planning and vision development can proceed in oneness. Healthy Assessment and Identification phases set the stage for biblical Vision Development. Watch for that next time!

John Ewart on the Hourglass of Leadership

Have you ever been in a situation where decisions and the ability to move forward were stifled because there was a bottleneck somewhere in the leadership process? It can be extremely frustrating, especially when you are the one causing the problem!

Years ago, I had an experienced leader teach me about what he called the “hourglass of leadership.” Perhaps you will find some aspect of this helpful. I have referred to it often.

Think about the shape of an hourglass. Wide at the top and bottom with a very narrow middle. That middle part is very strategic. It is designed to allow only a certain amount of sand to sift through thus creating the timing mechanism. If the gap is too wide, the sand moves too quickly and the timing is off. If the gap is too narrow, the sand is blocked from making progress and the instrument becomes useless. That small gap actually makes certain the hourglass fulfills its designed purpose.

Leadership can be described as that gap. Good leaders help determine pace and timing. Effective leaders maintain the connection to the designed purpose. When leadership is too wide open, unfocused and inattentive, there is often no calibration. In church life that can result in a bumper car mentality (see previous posts) with ministries all doing their own things. They have little to no connection to a greater, designed purpose. Resources and efforts are going off in a million directions, competing with one another and very little progress is really ever accomplished.

If leadership is too tightly controlling, however, it can lead to a halt of movement, a stifling of creativity and lack of progress as well. Leaders who have to be in every meeting and personally make every decision can hurt and even stop growth no matter how brilliant and talented they are. They create a bottleneck of micromanagement which inevitably becomes frustrating for everyone involved, including them!

There is a needed balance of uniformity and release in church leadership. This proper balance of uniformity, creativity and delegation can create an environment in which healthy scalability can occur. In other words, if everyone is on the same page, actually understands what that page is, why it is important to all be on that page and then is allowed some flexibility to create on that page, you can create a climate of uniform vision and be in a positive position for healthy growth.

Leadership must bring ministry leaders together in a united vision designed to fulfill a biblical mission. They must lead others to participate in building a train that is hooked together, moving down a single track in synergy as compared to riding around on the bumper cars. This takes time and a certain pace that can often be very contextual. Like sand properly sifting through an hourglass. If the attempt is made to change them too suddenly, there is often rebellion. It is similar to a child that have never been told “No” and suddenly is disciplined. It can lead to conflict.

But once that vision page is drawn together and everyone is on board, leadership must also release responsibilities in delegated trust with accountability back to the ministries in order to see the base grow and extend. If you do not, you will create a backlog of decisions and lack of action. You will soon be stuck and plateau can occur. Eventually, you will forget to make certain decisions in a timely fashion because they all rest on your shoulders and you will create even more confusion about the vision and mission.

So think about the hourglass. What is the proper vision and timing for this place and these people to fulfill God’s mission? How can I bring them together in unity and them let them go in ministry?