*This article first appeared in the Fall 2018 version of Enrich Magazine.
Guest Post by Ross Allen. Ross has spent the last 35 years helping businesses develop their strategic direction and translating it into a tangible plan of execution. He now devotes his time to working with churches of all sizes to rediscover their purpose and set a vision for impacting their communities in a meaningful way.
How can we temper our tendency to overcomplicate when it’s important to keep things simple? Better yet, how can we nurture a vision for our church’s future when the complexities of running a church are so intense?
It has been my experience, working in the business community most of my adult life, that with success comes complexity. And with complexity come increased pace, higher stress, more responsibility, and a blurring of purpose for those in leadership.
It’s a natural process, but it doesn’t have to hinder your ability to lead.
A clear sense of purpose and an inspirational vision are two very different things, but they go hand in hand. An effective vision for where your church is heading is fuelled by crystal-clear articulation of its purpose or why your church exists in the first place. Let me explain.
Most organizations—churches included—understand what they do. Churches preach the gospel, worship God through music, expand on biblical lessons, perform acts of outreach, etc. These are what statements or results.
Some organizations understand how they do what they do. For instance, a church may say, “We are seeker sensitive and preach to the younger generations from The Message Bible” or “We have three styles of worship to appeal to different generations.” These are how statements or methods.
But very few organizations understand why they do what they do. What is the root emotional reason for the work you do? And why should anyone care? Let’s dig a little deeper into this what, how and why concept to understand where this is going.
Throughout history the most effective leaders have inspired humanity by following one simple rule: articulate why you believe what you believe in a way that others can understand. Less effective leaders who are looking to inspire their followers, employees or future voters focus on the goals or results of what they plan to do. This is an easy and logical form of reasoning that typically falls flat when people are trying to make a decision to buy, get involved, or change their point of view. Some leaders will try to inspire others by focusing on the unique processes or methods they will use to achieve their goals. This, too, is a logical but uninspiring form of communication. Inspirational leaders consistently articulate their core belief (their why) to others and reinforce that message with actions that are in line with that belief. But in the end, they always lead with why.
This is not some magical management success formula; it is, in fact, rooted in our biology. Our brains are comprised of roughly three sections. The inner two sections make up our limbic system, where all our decision making takes place and from which basic emotions like fear, jealousy and joy emanate. Unfortunately, this part of our brain has no capacity for language. The third section of the brain is comprised of the neocortex, where many higher functions like reasoning, language and compassion are centred. Often when we make “gut” decisions and someone asks us why we made that choice, it’s common to say, “It just felt right.” This is your limbic system doing the best it can to talk.
When leaders try to inspire others with their what and how statements, they are appealing to our sense of logic—but it is uninspiring. This is not how decisions are made. As Simon Sinek, the clever business strategist, likes to say, “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.”1
So how can a harried senior pastor who is trying to run a complex organization like a church create and present an inspiring vision for the future of their church?
The key is to get your well-thought-out purpose articulated first; the vision will naturally follow. It all comes down to asking the four questions below. Give yourself permission to take time to think through your answers.
You most likely already know your why, but you may not have had a chance to express this in inspirational terms. It takes time to articulate really meaningful answers. Work in a small group of intimate friends if you can. Your initial answers may come out sounding like what and how statements. This is normal. Keeping working until you arrive at an emotional why.
- Why do you believe what you believe as a Christian?
- Why was Christ sent to Earth to live among us?
- What does your community need that your church offers?
- How would you say all of this in one or two sentences that a non- Christian would understand?
Once you have wrestled with these questions and come up with an answer to #4, test it out with believers and non-believers to see if it resonates. Once successfully tested, you have your purpose. And once you articulate this purpose, your vision will quickly follow—because purpose is the rocket fuel of vision.
- Simon Sinek, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (New York: Penguin Books, 2009), 45.