What stage of development is your ministry experiencing?

I recently attended a seminar on helping businesses and non-profit organisations move towards ‘predictable success.’ That’s the actual name of the consultant company led by Les McKeown. Perhaps it sounds too black and white and business-like, yet I could see how our teams and bases easily fit into the model. Of course, there is always a God factor in all we do but, there are principles that we function with in order to see our teams and ministries grow and become fruitful. Let me give you a very brief version of the seven stages of development.

Stage 1: Early struggle – our pioneering phase. In YWAM we start the journey of pioneering a ministry by hearing a vision from God in prayer. That vision is shared with others and those early adopters are usually people with lots of ideas, ready to jump into action, believe God for open doors and step out in faith. We can paint this first step very positively but when you are starting something new, there are always hurdles to overcome and energy to invest to get something moving. The gifts needed in this early phase are vision and implementation to envisage the dream and make it happen. Every visionary leader needs an ‘action administrator’ or ‘operator’ who catches the vision and sees the possibilities in organising things to bring the dream to reality. The early struggle comes in the shape of recruiting staff, raising the money, finding the property, developing the team, making all the contacts needed and not drifting from the desired outcome.

Stage 2: Fun-bearing fruit phase. Every team should get to the fun stage where life flows nicely, the team gels, the ministry has momentum and lots of positive things are happening. For example – the DTS is established, lives are changing, people are meeting Jesus, miracles happen and life is fulfilling. It still might be a lot of work, but you go to bed with that satisfied feeling. It seems as if everyone is firing on all cylinders, there is a sense of community and each one partners together in all the areas that need work and commitment. It’s all hands on deck for the main focus that the leader of the team continues to verbalise and have vision for. For the ministry to stay fun, it does require the leadership to broaden into having more relational leaders or ‘synergists’ who are able to team build, bring that sense of community, motivate all the gifts to function together and help everyone to feel valued staff members. This is a stage that some teams decide to stay in. A focused vision, a small community of staff and no desire to diversify or get bigger or broader.

Stage 3: White water – growth pains phase. If you have ever been rafting down a river with white water, then you will know this is a dangerous, sometimes scary adventure, yet exciting at the same time. Growth requires us to go through this stage in order to arrive at ‘predictable success’ or to put it another way – the place where the whole ministry flourishes. When a team, ministry or community decides to expand and move to a multi-vision ministry, lots of dynamics begin to take place. Moving from one vision to multi-vision requires more than one visionary leader and an operator or implementer to be in leadership. There needs to be a leadership team where leading is shared. For this to happen, the leader needs to be happy to pass on responsibility and authority to others. New staff joining won’t be recruited by that one visionary leader anymore and all questions and advice won’t come through him or her either. The leader won’t be able to make unilateral decisions either (if they had up to this point) as there is a team to process decisions together. As the ministry grows, new departments will need to form as processes and systems are put into place to enable effective communication, healthy relationships, good decisions and wise problem-solving.

The big challenge in this stage is that new types of leaders are necessary who don’t immediately see eye to eye with the existing visionary leadership. This new type of leader (processors or system administrators) asks tough questions and slows down the process to get all the information needed along with staff responses, before moving ahead. There are protocols to follow in finance, personnel, housing, scheduling schools and so much more. From a simple team, it has suddenly become complex. Complex is not the idea of fun to a visionary leader who wants to develop his/her new idea but now has hoops to jump through to make it happen. Conflicts can emerge in the team which used to get on so well. Now every decision seems to take so much longer and, in the view of the visionary, there are what seems like roadblocks put in place in establishing the new vision.

If the team allows conflicts between the visionary and detailed administration to go unresolved, the ministry remains in white water. The leadership team must come to a place of acknowledging the rightness of good processes and come to love each other’s gifts and anointings. The visionary leader is still a vital part of the team but this gift must go hand in hand with the implementer, detailed administrator and relational or pastoral leader. As the leaders learn to appreciate one another and give each other space to function, the organisation can begin to settle and move into the next stage.

Stage 4: Predictable Success – Multiplying. By this point, the ministry has moved beyond the small team and now has many ministries all requiring resources, oversight and involvement in the larger community. New staff coming on board have a clear process for joining and orientation into the work and finding their place in the larger community. A new ministry that emerges is aware of the steps to take and the process for developing resources. Leadership training is an ongoing pursuit with everyone having an opportunity of a career path and seeing their dreams come true (in time). Where there are challenges, people know who or where to go to get the resolution they need. There are processes in place for decision-making and problem-solving and a good balance of systems and processes, vision, creativity, and initiative.

With the continued right mix of leadership gifting on the leadership team, the sense of community and unity, a momentum of young leaders coming in and older leaders knowing when to step back to invest or start something new, this stage can go on for a long time. In this stage, the community will usually be sending out teams to multiply ministry elsewhere and the goal of each of these teams will be to move at least to the fun stage.

Stage 5: Treadmill – more of the same. This is the stage where we are run by our processes and structure. We have a reputation to keep and so the risk-taking of those earlier years is put aside to be replaced by caution and careful thought. The recruiting is to fill the roles we have created to keep the machine rolling and there is a lack of innovative ideas, new vision, and new creativity in what we are doing. When decisions are solely being made by the ‘book’ and there are no exceptions allowed, even when it seems the wise or natural thing to do, we know we have gone too far.

The good news is that we can move back to predictable success and enjoy flowing together again by adjusting our focus, bringing on the visionary leaders to initiate some original approaches and through cutting down on the processes and the ‘work to rule.’

Stage 6 and 7: The big rut and death rattle – plateau and decline. In the last stage, we lose the visionary leaders who give ongoing life to the ministry and the remaining leaders don’t really want to recruit fresh visionary leaders into the mix. The administration is happy to keep leading and do what they have done for some time now uninterrupted by new visionary disruption. The ministry can still be functioning and those in it feel they are being fruitful to some extent, yet they aren’t thinking of the future and it is slowly declining and losing ground – even if they don’t see it.

We have had many of our bases arrive at this point where there is a handful of staff left in a big property with nothing to do but start again. In the past, we have brought in fresh visionary leaders to ignite the process and move back into that pioneering, early struggle phase to get life moving again.

I hope you can see the stage where your ministry is currently at and make some key decisions to either stay or get back into fun or move into predictable success and stay there.

Until next month


P.S Here are some simple definitions of the four kinds of leaders I referred to above.

There is a free leadership profile of the four styles mentioned – give it a try:  Leadership styles quiz

Visionary: Their passion, creativity, enthusiasm, charisma, and optimism are incredibly infectious. You can’t help but think bigger in the presence of a strong visionary. Their desire to start new things, coupled with an ability to cast vision, often places them at the top of their ministry, team or organisation. Having many natural leadership gifts, they are often thrust into or assumed to be leading. A visionary’s challenges often centre on their need for a team and their difficulty working within that team. Therefore you’ll often see a visionary recruit one or more operators, or what I call action administrators or implementers, to the cause.

Operators: Operators get stuff done and often accomplish more tasks in a day than the rest of us get done in a week. And somehow, they still feel bad about it because they only completed half of the list they had for the day. To get from a great meeting to seeing remarkable results, you must have great operators. Operators draw the shortest line from idea to implementation and do it better than anyone. Unlike visionaries who like to start and solve, operators are ruthlessly focused on finishing and fixing. Operators are less risk-inclined than the visionaries they tend to support. They enjoy someone else dealing with all the blank sheet of paper vision stuff, preferring to focus on acting now. This is also because they are natural-born firefighters. Their attention isn’t drawn to what could be, as much as what isn’t, but should be right now.

Processors: For a team to reach its maximum potential, for ideas to spread fully and for fruitful ministry to reach the next level, it needs processor leadership. Modern society could not exist without them. In fact, despite the media’s focus on visionary leadership, we are more dependent on a leader who thinks in terms of system, process, repeatability, and precision. Processors are at their peak when they are systematising and supervising. Unlike visionaries and operators, processors can stick with projects for the long haul, continuing to extract value and doing so ever more efficiently.        

Synergists: Synergists are very relational and are masters at getting visionaries, operators, and processors to work together. They are driven to harmonise and help. They are highly people-oriented, and their high EQ and self-awareness make them excellent leaders and communicators. They often serve the critical role of translating and interpreting the different styles to find points of alignment that are otherwise lost in language, bias, and vantage points. You will frequently find synergists in HR, training, and leadership positions. They excel at persuading and motivating others. And, because their motivations are genuinely altruistic, their persuasions rarely come across as manipulative or self-serving.

Edited from Scott Ritzheimer’s articles – Scale architects.

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