My friends and co-laborers, Ted Leavenworth and Rob Salvato, both pastors in Southern California, started a new podcast called Leadership Collective, in which they curate helpful conversations with church leaders about relevant topics.
I had the pleasure of being a guest on the podcast along with Dr. Mark Foreman. Our discussion was about the nuts and bolts of how we develop, cast, and implement “vision” in our churches. Mark pastors a mega-church in Southern California, and I pastor a medium sized church on the Front Range of Colorado, so there are some pretty big differences in how we go about this process, but many similarities as well.
Earlier in my ministry I used to hate the word “vision” because it seemed so nebulous and abstract. However, since then I have come to understand that “vision” can simply be defined as: “a desired outcome.” Putting it in those terms, the question of “vision” becomes much more manageable. Beginning with a desired outcome, you can then begin thinking about the way to achieve that outcome, and break it down into a process with steps, depending on the given time-frame.
Not only is it imperative that we have vision as leaders, it’s also important for us to communicate it. What I have learned is that most leaders unwittingly under-communicate vision, and it’s very rare for people to feel that leaders over-communicate vision. The point is, for most of us, we need to communicate vision more than we currently are, and more than we think we need to.
One of Aesop’s fables tells the story of a man who found a goose who laid golden eggs. Every morning, he went and found another golden egg that the goose had laid, until one day he became greedy, and decided to cut the goose open so he could get more golden eggs. Of course, by doing so, not only did he not get any extra golden eggs, but he also ceased getting the daily eggs he had previously received, since the goose was now dead.
The point of the fable, Aesop said, is that greed often overreaches itself. However, like with most parables, there are several applicable truths packed into this very short story.
Many of the best things are acquired indirectly
The golden eggs in the story represent a desired outcome: something you want. For you, that might mean spiritual growth in your relationship with God, it might mean increased knowledge of the Bible or theology. It might mean deep and meaningful friendships, developing a skill, or increasing your success in your work. It might be making an impact on the world around you.
But what this fable illustrates for us, is that whatever the “golden egg” is for you, it is usually acquired indirectly. When the man in the story pursued the golden eggs directly, seeking to bypass the goose, he ended up with nothing, and killed the thing which gave him that which he wanted.
CS Lewis writes about how friendship works in a similar way. Friendship, he points out, must be about something else other than the friendship itself. The basis of a friendship is that both people are committed to and passionate about something beyond their friendship. “This is why,” Lewis says, “those pathetic people who simply ‘want friends’ can never make any.” “Those who have nothing can share nothing,” he points out, and concludes: “those who are going nowhere can have no fellow travelers.” (The Four Loves, ch. 4)
The same is true of spiritual growth. To quote from John Piper: “Doctrine is the fuel for worship.” The way to grow, the way towards deeper worship, is indirect: it is through getting to know more about who God is and what He has done and will do, which fuels growth and worship.
If you’ve ever met someone who is purposefully seeking to “climb the ladder” or make a name for themselves in an organization or community, it often backfires, because it is seen as off-putting and self-serving. On the other hand, those who make a practice of genuinely and faithfully serving others will not remain anonymous for very long.
If you want to keep getting “golden eggs”, then make sure you feed the “goose”
The goose in the fable is the thing which you must “feed” in order to get the desired results.
If your goal is spiritual growth, then to “feed the goose” means to do those things which will result in spiritual growth, e.g. reading the Bible, prayer, attending worship services, joining a community group.
At White Fields, something our leadership has done is develop a plan that guides us in doing the qualitative activities which we believe will lead to our desired outcome (our vision): to build and foster a passionate, engaged and spiritually healthy Christian community to influence and bless Longmont and beyond. The way we go about doing this (our mission) is by making disciples of Jesus Christ through teaching the Word of God, engaging in the mission of God, and raising up leaders. In order to accomplish that mission, we have tried to determine what things we should be doing, which will lead to those outcomes.
The same is true on a personal level: a few years ago, after a doctor visit in which I was told I was pre-diabetic, I decided I wanted to get in better shape. Since running seemed to give the best return on investment, I decided to do that. Rather than setting weight-loss goals, I’ve set running goals, knowing that if I run a certain amount, whether I lose weight or not, I will be in better shape.
Make sure that the “golden eggs” you’re after are godly and aligned with God’s heart and will for your life, and then determine what the “goose” is that will produce that outcome, and feed that goose.
Moving beyond good intentions and wishful thinking
I have found that using my calendar is the best way to make sure I’m feeding the “goose”.
Reading through the Bible in a year is a great goal, as is family devotional time and committed church attendance. However, if you don’t use your calendar to block out times for those things, they won’t often move beyond the realm of good intentions. I have found that by putting things in my calendar, I am able to prioritize things according to my values, rather than being a slave to the “tyranny of the urgent.”
May God lead you, as you seek Him, to determine the right “golden eggs” to pursue, the right way to “feed the goose” and the ability to be intentional in doing so.
‘People in my congregation refer to this phenomenon as “falling through the cracks.” They say things like: “Have you seen Sally around church lately? I hope she didn’t fall through the cracks.”
What if, instead of “falling through the cracks,” we use a different image: “straying from the flock.” That picture seems more fitting for at least two reasons. First, “straying” implies that a disconnected church member bears a personal responsibility to stay involved with the congregation. Sheep don’t ordinarily leave a flock by inadvertently plummeting into a void. They wander away over time through a series of choices.
Second, the image of straying sheep also suggests that someone should keep watch over the flock and take action when a sheep begins to meander away. Yes, each member has a personal responsibility not to roam, but all church members have a duty to watch out for one another. However, one group in particular has an obligation to be on the lookout for straying sheep: the elders.
Elders watch to make sure that no “wolves” infiltrate their congregations with false teaching. But elders also keep watch for unwanted movement in the other direction: members straying away from the flock and from the Lord. This is part of basic shepherding work. Shepherds feed the sheep, guard them from predators, and keep track of them.’
He goes on to point out something interesting from Ezekiel:
‘Ezekiel prophesied against Israel’s leaders by accusing them of negligent shepherding: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel, who have been feeding themselves! Shouldn’t the shepherds feed their flock?” (Ezek. 34:2). And what was one of the ways they failed to shepherd? “You have not . . . brought back the strays, or sought the lost” (v. 4). As a result, “My flock went astray on all the mountains and every high hill. They were scattered over the whole face of the earth, and there was no one searching or seeking for them” (v. 6).’
Jesus, in contrast, is the “good shepherd” who leaves the 99 to pursue the one wayward sheep, something which is indeed “reckless” from a business perspective (and this is exactly what the lyrics of Cory Ashbury’s song “Reckless Love” come from).
The difficult balance from a church leader’s perspective is how to be a good shepherd under Jesus, and being overbearing. May God give us wisdom and grace as we seek to do His work!
About 2 months ago I got invited to a pastors’ lunch up in Berthoud. There were about 12 of us there from different churches in Northern Colorado – I was the only one from Longmont. There was a guest speaker, Ray, who pastors a large church in Sacramento.
I’ve been to these kinds of meetings before – but this one was different, because Ray asked a question that I wasn’t expecting:
“What is the best thing happening at your church?”
That was the question which he opened the meeting with, and it caught me off guard! I had expected Ray to talk about the great things that he is doing, or to ask: ‘what needs to change at your church?’ – but I wasn’t ready for that question: “What is the BEST thing happening at your church?”
It seems that the other pastors in the room were caught off guard by it too, because many of them didn’t know what to say. Quickly though, momentum picked up and everyone had plenty to say on that topic – including me.
Ray went on to explain that we need to stop focusing on what is lacking, and we need to start focusing on what is right – the areas where our church is knocking it out of the park and killing it, the things that we just naturally do well, and we need to do those things more and better!
I have found this concept to be so freeing, so invigorating and exciting and so vision-focusing – not only when it comes to visioneering for church, but when it comes to life and who God has called me to be.
The essence is: Who is it that God has uniquely gifted and called you to be? What is that niche that God has created you for and called you to? You can’t be everything – but you can be something, and if you learn to focus on being and doing what God has uniquely called and gifted you to do and be, then you will thrive, and it won’t be contrived, it won’t be a burden – it will feel like you just stepped into the fast-current on the lazy river ride at the water park, rather than being stuck in the whirlpool.
This is important when it comes to church, because the fact is that there are other churches out there. And there are many churches that are doing things that we aren’t – or can’t. BUT – there are things that we can do better than any of them; there is a culture that we have, that they don’t. There is a place and a role that God has uniquely given us in the Body of Christ in this place. There is a reason why people come to our church – and it’s not because they don’t know that there are other churches out there.
So I’ve been asking the question: What are the greatest things happening at White Fields church?
And THOSE are the things I want to be focused on. Those are the things I want to turn the dial UP on and make better. Rather than focusing on what we aren’t (yet) – I want to focus on what we ARE and what makes us great, uniquely – and turn up the dial on that! When you start thinking that way, you are no longer “competing” with other churches, but you realize that you are each filling a different role in the Body of Christ.
The danger is, that if we spend all our energy focused on what we aren’t (yet), we can neglect the things which to us are as easy and natural as falling off a log – and then those things will suffer as a result. The end result of that? We are mediocre at EVERYTHING and great at nothing. Rather, our focus should be on being GREAT at the things which God has uniquely gifted us to be and do – and those are usually the things which come most naturally to us – which are as easy as falling off a log.
People wanted David to fight Goliath the way that Goliath was good at fighting. David knew that he could probably do that – but it wasn’t what he was good at. He knew that he wasn’t Goliath. But he also knew what he was: he was David. And he had certain abilities and strengths, that he was uniquely gifted at: he could sling a rock like no one else! So he went out to battle with his strength, and ended up victorious.
It is important to know who you are, who you aren’t – and how God has uniquely gifted and called you. Go to battle with that, and you are much more likely to be victorious.
This doesn’t just apply only to church – it applies to many areas of life, business, etc. Who has God uniquely called you to be? What is the niche that God has called you to fill? You don’t have to be everything! But God has called you and gifted you uniquely for somethings. Focus on those things. Go and kill it in those areas, and focus on developing those areas and being GREAT at those things.
Leave me a comment below and tell me: What’s the BEST thing happening in your church?
What happened at VineLife is grievous, and the worst kind of offense. In a place where people, especially youth, should be safe, an offense like this is especially terrible.
What makes it worse in this case is that pastors and elders were involved in covering up the situation and not reporting it to police.
There is biblical precedent for dealing with things internally rather than going to court, but I believe this regards civil disputes rather than crimes, especially felonies.
The other thing this story brings to awareness for pastors and church leaders is the fact that pastors, like teachers, are mandatory reporters. A friend of mine who works at a school was recently held responsible before the law because he heard a rumor, investigated it himself, was convinced that nothing had happened – yet did not report it to police. That’s against the law. Pastors in America need to keep that in mind – and we must never cover up crimes. This all falls under the category of respecting the authorities that God has placed over us and the laws of the land in which we live (Romans 13).