The mission of the church is not about butts in seats

Talk about your main mission, not a secondary mechanism

Image result for school report card imageI was sitting in the orientation of the new kindergarten we’re attending (well, that my daughter is attending) and the principal said something that piqued my interest. She started talking about the importance of school attendance and arriving on time. Of course, I appreciated it. I hate missing class and I hate being late. I have my own reasons for that, but I was hoping the principal would provide some rationality for her conviction. And she did. Except it was so banal it unmotivated me to follow her orders (I hope she isn’t reading this, to be honest). She started referencing her School Progress Report and how her school’s score declined as a result of poor attendance and tardiness.

I could see why that would be her main concern, school performance is anxiety-inducing for sure, but I wasn’t sure why it was the parent’s responsibility to be concerned about SPR. I imagine most parents are concerned with education, and the education of their children, which is really the point of SPR. (Similarly, good education is not about good grades and college is not about getting a job.) It is, ideally, meant to measure the effectiveness of a school, and apparently some of that correlates to attendance and punctuality. Now, one could juke the stats without improving education by making sure kids show up every day and on time. I’m certainly not accusing the principal of doing that, but when we reduce our message like she did, we run that risk. Or, we run the risk of leading our people to be oriented with symptomatic solutions and not interior solutions. They become preoccupied with secondary benefits of the goal, as opposed to the primary one.

The risk with doing this is that when we finally start talking about the main idea and the big vision, people think we are advertising. We undersell the vision when we overemphasize secondary benefits of it. For the school: the big vision is about creating the most healthy environment for learning. That’s the big idea: we want children to learn. Part of that might be showing up regularly and on time.

Leaders need to cast vision in order to make sure that the mechanisms that will lead to that vision don’t overpower the actual fundamental aim of the vision. The sad part is, so many middle managers that impose these metrics on their employees are clueless as to what the big vision is because upper management is clueless, which ultimately means the chief executive is. Metrics are killing us, in general, because even if they achieve our main goal, we fail to win over our employees, friends, and disciples to our main mission to its own detriment. When we simply reduce the vision down to numbers or performance, people lose interest, get cynical, and think you’re faking it when you finally tell them what it’s really about.

Don’t tell me to #TrustTheProcess without explaining why

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In my opinion, our currently red-hot 76ers are a case-in-point here. Prior to this season, the last time the Sixers made it to the postseason was 2011 (as the 8th and last seed in the Eastern Conference). They began tanking, or the Process, in the 2013-2014 season, you might say. They won 19 games that season, 18 in 2014-15 season, 10, in the 2015-2016 season, and finally 28 in the 2016-2017 season. Built by one Sam Hinkie, Sixers’ fans endured a period of disappointment and loss for seasons. We were tanking to earn a high draft pick and hopefully reverse the tide of our perennial mediocrity. But it was painful. The team was unwatchable. And at many points, it seemed pointless and fruitless. Everyone loves the process after the Sixers won 52 games this season and are now in the playoffs, but it was hard to endure.

What would’ve kept the fan base enduring is better vision-casting, better leadership, better communication. The Sixers seem to have gotten away with it (they have season tickets sold out for 2018-2019), but I still think they lost something upon the way. It’s hard to keep a fan base engaged when the metric you’re aiming for is a loss (the exact opposite of what seems rational).

Keep leading through the contempt

Again, to circle back to my main point: keep casting vision. Keep telling us the story. Keep telling us what we are doing. Keep moving us along. Don’t reduce it down to the metrics, to the nuts and bolts.

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Some people are afraid to be plain about our main work because they are afraid they’ll be tagged as company people. Others might be too cynical, because they don’t buy it. Leaders may have forgotten about it. Others may think you’re full of it, because you say one thing, and do the other. You say it’s about changing the world, but it just looks like achieving some sales goal or metric that doesn’t make any sense, or connect to the bigger thing that you are doing.

I think the free market teaches us this, because so often the ultimate goal is about making money. The ultimate goal for a politician is about making and keeping power, too often. I think too many non-profits get stuck into keeping their funding going. Too many schools are concerned with test scores. Too many pastors are concerned with sharing goals and butts in seats on Sunday. Leaders might think all they need to do is fill out forms and respond to emails.

We have to keep leading people beyond the numbers and the mechanisms. I don’t mean to diminish the practical realities of the importance of all the aforementioned mechanisms, but when we fail to make them primary, we lose sight of what we are trying to accomplish. Or worse, people create a narrative in the void of vision. They create their own vision, and it’s usually not so great, and sometimes it’s just wicked. They might think you just want power or success.

Cast the vision redundantly, we’ll listen eventually

We need to teach people with the basics of what we are doing. The great leaders of the Bible do this all the time. Paul continually told his churches what the main point of the mission was: “the only thing that matters is grace expressing itself through love,” he told the Galatians. Jesus told John’s disciples the evidence of his arrival is simple: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” Moses had to keep reinforcing that he was leading the Israelites to the Promised Land because the journey was so hard. As it turns out, one of the metrics of our faith is suffering, and that could very well make this whole operation abysmal. Keep casting the vision. It’s hard to follow Jesus in the world. Keep casting the light.

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In Circle of Hope, we might think the number of congregations or cells or compassion teams we have is the main purpose of our church. And we might feel bad when we don’t have as many as we should have and feel good when we do. Our emotions could go up and down with our so-called failure and success. And that’s only for the strongest of us. Many people probably can’t handle that level of intensity, especially without consistent vision casting and story-sharing.

The main mission of the church is partnering with Jesus for world redemption and personal transformation. That too often gets lost in theological abstractions, or simply making sure we think the right ways and do the right things. But life in Christ needs to have tangible results. It needs to lead in personal life improvement (evidence of ongoing transformation) and it needs to result in a better world. If it doesn’t, than the Gospel isn’t really being enacted. You should certainly be skeptical if we’re all talk, and no rock. Or worse yet, we don’t even talk, we just have you push papers, fill out spreadsheets, and try to hit some arbitrary number all day. Heaven forbid the church starts acting like your employer.

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