Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Vacation

I will be on vacation from Dec 22-29. Therefore, I won't be posting anything else on the blog for the rest of the year. Have a great holiday, and I look forward to sharing with you in 2009!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Give Me Something To Believe In

Last week, I blogged about accountability. I said that I'd be working with our leaders to establish goals for 2009, and once the goals are set, they would become the benchmarks, the standards, the scoreboard by which their leadership and their teams will be evaluated. And our leaders will be held accountable for achieving their goals. Accountability provides a clear measuring stick of what is expected. It provides a scoreboard that will tell us if we're winning or losing. It raises the stakes for our ministries and our leaders, and if we pick the right standards, it will be self-evident that these endeavors are well worth our best efforts.

It's this last idea that I want to explore a little bit more this week: Inspiring goals generate our best efforts.

You don't have to be around churches long before you hear somebody lament about a lack of commitment, a lack of people, a lack of workers, or some other version of the same thing. Churches are notorious for being long on need and short on supply. Part of that has to do with the enormity of the mission that each local church is engaged in ("Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation"--Mk. 16:15)--you're never going to have enough people for a job that colossal.

On the other hand, you'd think that we could at least staff the nursery, or find some people to be in a skit, or listen to kids recite their verses, or help out at VBS. That's the reality of most churches--they struggle to keep their basic programs and ministries operational.

But here's what I've observed: Churches that are effective in accomplishing their mission have people that are totally committed to the ministries they're involved in. I've seen churches where members would rip off their own arms and legs if they thought it could advance the mission of the church, and these churches are located right down the street from other churches that are busy lamenting their lack of committed workers on a weekly basis.

What's the difference? It's not the area, it's not the culture, it's not the gospel, it's not Jesus, it's not their kids' sports schedules. All that stuff's the same. The difference is in churches that communicate a compelling vision for service. I believe people are ready to commit... as long as they know that their commitment, their involvement, their investment of time, talent, and energy, is not going to be wasted.

I believe that churches too often simply assume that everything they do is worthwhile. It might even be true (although, usually it's not), but I guarantee that the average person in the pew does not make that same assumption. The average person wants to know, "OK, if I give my time to this thing, what difference is that going to make? What's the impact that my contribution is going to have?" And if we can answer that question satisfactorily, we'll find people lining up to serve because every single one of us has an innate, God-given desire to make a real difference with our lives.

Part of answering that question satisfactorily, however, lies in our ability to own up to the fact that we have in fact wasted people's time and efforts in the past. We have invested them in places that really didn't make any difference. We have created ministries that were not strategic, that were not well-planned or excellently executed. We have mis-shepherded the hearts and lives of our people and put them in positions where they were destined to fail, usually due to no fault of their own.

So we must commit to not doing that anymore. We must solemnly promise (and then, of course, follow through on that promise) to do our part in developing ministries that matter--ministries that really allow those serving to make an impact or an investment in the lives of other people, ministries that tangibly bring glory to God, instead of simply supporting our structure. And the best way to do that is to set clearly defined, concrete goals that spell out plainly what will be accomplished through any particular ministry.

One of my goals is to personally invite at least one unchurched person to an event or worship service at our church each month. Another goal is that our church would contribute to at least six adult conversions in 2009. These are inspiring goals to me, and they motivate me to give my best effort in a focused and concentrated way on what I have determined to be the most important facets of my leadership and ministry for the coming year.

As I work with other leaders, we'll be setting goals for each area of our church, and those goals will become our promise to each of you: If you invest yourself in this ministry, we're going to work together to do everything possible to achieve these outcomes. What outcomes? That will differ according to the various ministries of our church. But between all of them, we'll be working to produce:

  • Concrete expressions of God's love demonstrated to those who have given up on God;
  • More opportunities for people to begin a relationship with Jesus;
  • Excellent worship services that inspire, inform, and interact with Northwest Nick's daily life;
  • A relationship-centered faith community that is easy to penetrate and connect with others;
  • Growing trust in God, resulting from a personal knowledge of his purpose and his person;
  • Safe, fun, and faith-building environments for kids to come to know Jesus and grow in him.

In short, every single ministry in our church will strategically, specifically, and intentionally spell out exactly how it contributes to and advances the mission of our church--"To meet people where they are on their spiritual journeys and lead them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus." By defining a clear vision, we'll give you something worth investing in, something worth giving your life for, something worth our very best efforts.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Accountability is not one of the most popular words in our language; it often gets a bad rap and carries negative connotations for most people. Usually, when we think of holding people accountable, it means coming down on them for failures or shortcomings, lowering the boom, dropping the axe, rolling some heads, or whatever your favorite turn of phrase may be.

But accountability is actually a positive thing. God holds us accountable, and he uses that accountability to produce good results in our lives. As Christians, we live our lives conscious of the fact that we will one day stand before him and have to give an account of our lives--how we spent our time, how we used our talents, what we did with our money and assets, the way we treated people, and the manner in which we nurtured our relationship with him. That knowledge should motivate us to keep learning how to do better, how to be wiser, and how to bring more glory to God through our lives.

Looking forward to 2009, I've been thinking a lot about how we're doing as a church--how we spend our time, how we use our talents, what we're doing with our money and assets, the way we treat people, and the manner in which we nurture in them a growing relationship with Christ.

And one of the things I've been reflecting on is that our systems lack accountability. There are very few clear standards or expectations that we have for our minsitry teams, our staff, or our leaders. A lack of accountability has contributed to some unfortunate outcomes:

  • A ho-hum attitude that the actual results of our efforts don't really matter;
  • The assumption that "a good try" is all that is necessary for a ministry to be deemed a success;
  • Difficulty in involving others in ministry--after all, if the results of our efforts don't really matter, why should I put forth the effort?
  • Difficulty in generating excitement, passion, commitment, and buy-in among the congregation;
  • The "warm body" approach to ministry and leadership (i.e., if you're breathing, you're qualified!)

Accountability goes a long way toward eliminating these problems because it provides a clear measuring stick of what is expected. It provides a scoreboard that will tell us if we're winning or losing. It raises the stakes for our ministries and our leaders, and if we pick the right standards, it will be self-evident that these endeavors are well worth our best efforts. Accountability will sort out those who are competent and those who merely wish they were competent.

Perhaps, one of the most important aspects of accountability is that it must be applied consistently. Not only is it unfair, it doesn't make sense to hold one ministry or leader accountable to standards, while ignoring others. So I've told the elders that I want them to hold me accountable, first and foremost. I'm working on developing a list of goals for 2009--goals for myself as well as goals for the church as a whole--and I expect the elders to hold me accountable to reaching (or at least approaching) every single one of those goals.

In January, I'll be meeting with each of our Core Team leaders to establish goals for their areas of ministry. I won't be dictating to them what their goals ought to be; on the contrary, I'll be guiding them through the goal-setting process, offering coaching for them as they set their own goals. But once the goals are set, they become the benchmarks, the standards, the scoreboard by which their leadership and their teams will be evaluated. And they'll be held accountable for achieving their goals.

For truly effective leadership, three components are absolutely required--authority, responsibility, and accountability.

  • If you tell people that they're responsible for an area of ministry, but you don't give them the authority to make decisions, they are constantly undermined and can't lead effectively.
  • If you tell people that they're responsible for an area of ministry, but you don't hold them accountable, there's no motivation for them to lead effectively, and no mechanism for removing ineffective leaders.
  • If you hold people accountable for areas that they are not responsible for (or have no authority in), you're only going to frustrate them and create resentment.
  • If you give people authority without responsibility or accountability, they'll be prone to let the power go to their heads.

In the end, accountability isn't about punishing anyone or impugning them--it's about creating a system in which we are all highly motivated for excellence. It's about clarifying the rules so that we know what constitutes a "win." It's about raising the stakes so that we can become constantly conscious that everything we do matters for eternity.