Do you like having your thinking challenged? I read a book a while back called ‘Rework’ by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson and it did just that. It’s amazing how we hear phrases that are used so often, they begin to become part of our belief system. Sometimes, just like the value of ministering in the opposite spirit, we need to rework some of the ways we think about life. Here are a few phrases to start our rethinking:
Ignore the real world: “That would never work in the real world.” Perhaps you have been in YWAM for a long time and you love hearing visionary messages and so you live more in the supernatural world. That’s great – however, I hear a lot of statements like, that’s not practical, yes but, what about, … The real world sometimes sounds depressing – it’s a place where new ideas, unfamiliar approaches and foreign concepts don’t work. Is your real world filled with pessimism and despair? The real world isn’t a place, it’s an excuse. For instance – the thought of seeing the last 1700 plus languages that need the bible translated occurring in the next 8 years is not thinking in the real world! When it’s taken all these years to translate the first 5000 languages, this sounds like an impossibility. It’s actually pushing us to think like the God of the universe who is working with his children to get something done that is totally amazing.
Long term planning is guessing: Long term planning is a fantasy. Sounds like it’s the opposite of what we just said doesn’t it? When we plan with the outcome depending on others responses, it’s a guess. There’s too many factors that are out of our hands. You have to be able to improvise. You have to be able to pick up opportunities that come along. You have the most information when you’re doing something, not before you’ve done it. Plans that cover more than a few pages long just wind up as fossils in your filing cabinet. Decide what you’re going to do this year not over the next 10 years. Figure out what you are going to do this week, then the next most important thing and do that. Make decisions right before you do something, not far in advance.
Big isn’t necessarily better: Maybe the right size for your team is 5 people? Maybe it’s 40 or 200. Grow slow and see what feels right. Small is not just a stepping stone. Small is a great destination in itself. Perhaps it’s best to have lots of small teams and not have a sense of failure if we never seem to get past a dozen on our team. In the business world, small businesses often wish they were bigger and big businesses dream about being more agile and flexible. The reality is they are two different animals with pros and cons, so think about what size team you really want and need.
Cut back on big vision:You just can’t do everything you want to do and do it well. It’s hard enough to do one thing right. Some of us have so many ideas and dreams and ambitions that we spread ourselves too thin and end up doing everything mediocre, or nothing really well. Lots of things get better as they get shorter. Directors cut good scenes to make a great movie. Musicians drop good tracks to make a great album. Writers eliminate good pages to make a great book… What are you good at? – stick to that. There’s an editing process. It’s the stuff you leave out that matters. So constantly look for things to remove, simplify and streamline.
Learning from mistakes is overrated: “You need to learn from your mistakes.” How about learning from your successes! Failure is not a prerequisite for success. There’s a difference between learning from going through a hard time and having to go through hard times to learn anything. I have worked on a lot of timelines over the years and sure, I have learned a lot from the hard times but I have learned so much through good modelling, mentoring and reading about other’s mistakes. We don’t all have to fall into the same pits!
Workaholics don’t always get more done: Working more doesn’t mean you care more, are more committed and get more done. It just means you work more. The Lord knew we need breaks to be refreshed and he even took one himself after working hard for six days! You can’t just keep working and expect the quality, the creativity, the satisfaction to keep high. On top of that, if all you do is work, you’re unlikely to have sound judgement. I learned this from making the mistake!
Don’t keep secrets: We would be wise to emulate chefs who give away all their best recipes, tips and knowledge. We all should share everything we know too. Businesses are usually paranoid and secretive. KFC has its secret ingredient (actually we know what it is – MSG). What is the benefit of keeping what is working for you to yourself? If God teaches you something, pass it on, so others can learn and benefit – unless of course you think they have to make the same mistakes as you to learn!
Enough with visionaries: I have fallen into the trap of idealising certain people who I see as people who will make a difference. But actually what we need is anyone who can be a starter – someone with an idea, a touch of confidence and a motivation to put it into action. Over the years I have met up with many who I would never have seen making the influence on the world that they have. They had a passion to do something and just hung in there, persevered and over the years made an impact.
Scratch your own itch: Create a great ministry or model that works for you – something you want to develop or use and is meaningful for you. For example, I love the IBM model of three ingredients for the agenda of a leadership team – intercession, business and ministry to one another. It has helped me and so I share it to help others.
Throw less at the problem: The menus at failing restaurants offer too many dishes. Improving the current menu doesn’t come first, trimming it down comes first. At our retreat centre a few years ago we were offering twice as many retreats but had little uptake on them so we cut back. We focused on doing less and getting good at a few things and do them really well. It seems to be working. (There’s still lots more I would love to do though!!)
Focus on what won’t change: A lot of ministries focus on the next big thing. You start paying attention to things that are constantly changing instead of things that last. The core of your activity should be built around things that won’t constantly change. If we keep looking to the future, the present gets left and the people who are present get dropped. Who are the people who are pillars in the team? What projects and ministries are part of the foundation of what you do? Focus on these.
Embrace constraints: Look on the bright side and stop whining – I am speaking to myself. I am still without a PA! But limited resources force me to make do with what I’ve got. And that forces me to be creative. I have to ask, what is really priority? What can we not do without? The result might not be quite as quality a job as it was but the ministry is still functioning!
Meetings can be toxic: Meetings are notorious for using too many words; they usually convey an abysmally small amount of information per minute; they drift off subject too easily; they require thorough preparation that most people don’t give time for; they frequently have agendas so vague that nobody is really sure of the goal; they often include at least one individual who loves the sound of their own voice and can waste everyone’s precious time. We often find that one meeting leads to another meeting which leads to another… So, set a timer and when it rings, bring the meeting to an end. Involve an agreed agenda, focused prayer, creative interactive elements, clear proposals, deal with specific problems, suggest real changes, make sure someone is implementing the change and ensure everyone is heard and feels a sense of belonging.
Go to sleep: Foregoing sleep is a bad idea. Creativity is one of the first things to go when you lose sleep. When you’re tired, you lose motivation to attack the big problems. Your ability to remain patient and tolerant is severely reduced when tired and you can get irritable very easily. The most important thing in preparing for challenges, speaking engagements and assignments is having your heart right with God and being connected. The organising of material, information, details and powerpoints is never ending. So once you have it basically together, go to bed!
Emulate sweet shop owners: Sweet shops get it right – they make their product so good, so addictive, that you keep coming back for more. How about giving people a small free taste of whatever it is we are doing, that makes them come back for more and get committed. This will force us to make a bite size experience for people that is easily digestible and gives them a taste for more. Just make sure when they come back that the real thing is as good if not better than the taste!
It’s not just saying sorry: We have all seen the picture of the little boy who grunts ‘sorry’ to his brother for hitting him, only doing so because his Mum has told him to. Leaders do make mistakes, bad decisions and hurt people and so need to learn to say sorry. There’s never really a great way to say you’re sorry but there are plenty of terrible ways. The worst is the non-apology which sounds like an apology but doesn’t really accept any blame. A good apology accepts responsibility. So use the appropriate tone and language to show that you understand the severity of what happened. Keep in mind that you can’t apologise for being a twit (or an A..). Even the best apology wont rescue you if you haven’t earned people’s trust.
You don’t create a culture: Instant cultures are artificial cultures. You don’t create a culture – it happens. Culture is the by-product of consistent behaviour. If you encourage people to share in openness, then transparency will be built into your culture. If you reward trust, then trust will be built in. If you have a welcoming spirit and are hospitable, then it too will become a part of your way of life. Culture is action, not words. What are you actively living out?
Don’t create guidelines or policy manuals: The second something goes wrong, the natural tendency is to create a policy. Policies are organisational scar tissue. They are often overreactions to situations that are unlikely to happen again or are made to make life easier for the leader. It’s easier to make a rule than to disciple people in understanding. Policies become the collective punishment for the misdeeds of an individual.
Don’t look at years of training and experience: There’s surprisingly little difference between a staff person with six months of experience and one with six years. The real difference comes from the individual’s walk with God, dedication, personality and intelligence. How long someone’s been doing it is overrated. What matters is how well they’ve been doing it and how anointed they are. We can so easily get stuck into roles that aren’t the best for us.
There are so many ways that we think that aren’t necessarily right or good. That’s why it’s helpful to spend some time asking God about what we think and how we think!
Talk to you next month