Sunday, June 04, 2006

Getting Back to Basics: Rediscovering your Ministry

Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou star in The Da Vinci Code, the latest and most publicized attack on Biblical Christianity. The obvious errors in Dan Brown’s work (both book and now movie) and his even more obvious religious agenda will in many ways challenge and have some impact on many believers and ministries. The movie just opened this month and a search recently of “Da Vinci” on our church bookstore website resulted in 49 matches. I’m not about to get into an apologetic debate; this is not the appropriate forum even if I wanted to. However, I do want to make a comment to Mr. Brown. Dear Mr. Brown, it’s “Leonardo” (his name) not “Da Vinci” (his town). There, my Art History Professor would be proud.

The reason I start this column with remarks about The Da Vinci Code is because I have noticed that the release of the book, and now the movie, has required that many pastors, church leaders and ministries get back to the very basics of Christianity. These include basic questions about the origins of Christianity and the divinity of Jesus, His crucifixion and resurrection, the early disciples and the authority of the Bible. Many churches that were very busy with their own teaching series, upcoming activities, events and programs needed to refocus for a brief time to answer questions and preach and teach the very basic elements of the gospel.

In like manner, Christ-centered organizations from time to time need to get back to basics. Just as churches needed to focus on the very basics of the gospel, every organization is built on some basic building blocks: The mission (usually expressed as a mission or a purpose statement, the organization (including paid staff and volunteers), the revenue plan (organizations raise money through donations, the sale of products or services or possibly memberships), a leadership team (senior leadership and a board of directors) and a development or marketing plan (organizations typically need to grow or they will die). Re-focusing on the basics will help an organization reload, recalibrate and reinvigorate its ministry.

The Mission:

If the mission is important to organizations in general, it’s essential in Christ-centered ministries. In a book that I have referenced a number of times in other venues, “Jesus on Leadership”, author C. Gene Wilkes makes the case for Servant Leadership. This is a crucial concept for those of us that are involved in ministry because serving is the heart of what we do. For leaders of organizations, Pastor Wilkes helps them remember that for Jesus, the model of leadership was servanthood. One of the equally important insights in this book is the importance of “The Mission” in our ministry.

The mission of Jesus was to do the will of His father (John 6:38). Often, when people get involved in ministry, they are encouraged to follow their passion. Passion is good and often an appropriate motivator. For ministry however, the mission is key. Passion can often include our own agenda but if we look at Jesus, we see that his motivation was the mission.

Most ministries have a stated mission statement. A deliberate but simple exercise of examining that mission statement and either re-discovering the mission or making adjustments to the statement based on new board endorsed policy is something very worthwhile from time to time. All too often, ministries succumb to the temptation of mission creep, allowing other influences to dictate over time where their limited energy and resources are directed. These other influences could be pet projects of board or staff members, or perhaps well-intentioned donors who have an interest in directing the ministry through their restricted funds.

The Organization

By organization, I’m referring to the organic stuff that guides, directs, plans and provides for the services of the organization. We are talking people and when we are taking people we are talking about work habits and relationships that get out of sync from time to time. Getting back to basics includes making sure you have the right people in the right jobs. Balancing work load is also important from time to time as job content and daily responsibilities change and the head of the organization is the person primarily responsible to make sure that the organization is staffed appropriately.

Ministries have two other important organizational components that are key and they include non-paid (volunteer) staff and the board (also likely volunteer). It’s easy to love these people as they understand that God wants them to be good stewards of their Time, Talents and the Treasure and they often serve in very key areas in ministry. Volunteers also need to be appropriately placed in the organization and all volunteers need to have a serving attitude towards their individual ministry. Making the more-difficult but more-correct decisions to re-deploy individuals in areas where they can better use their gift mix and can serve with the appropriate attitude is an important part of getting back to basics.

The Revenue Plan:

Fortunately, there are a variety of revenue models that successfully fund ministries. To the novice, it may appear that non-profit ministries can be defined as non-profit because they receive money in the form of cash donations. This is not true, and ministries actually have very few limitations on how they can generate revenues. Ministries are complex organizations that provide a number of different services and many have found very creative ways of raising funds to underwrite their operations.

All ministries need to develop a strategic plan that should identify financial targets (income and expenses) and elemental break-even analysis when it comes to services provided. Just as for-profit companies find the need to offer “newer”, “improved” or “reformulated” products to adapt to changing consumer desires and increased competition, ministries need to be willing to examine their revenue model and make the tune-up when necessary or even put in a new engine when needed. Like it or not, our ministries need dollars and an organization that understands how it is funded and why that model works for them is better able to plan for the future than organizations that get things done ‘by accident”.

The Leadership Team:

Getting back to basics includes an examination of how well the CEO, President, Senior Pastor and/or Directors are doing their jobs. Fortunately for Evangelical organizations, the true head of their ministry is Christ. I don’t mention this casually, for if it is truly believed to be true it makes the leadership team different. Our Evangelical organizations are extensions of the universal church and as such, after submitting to Christ as the head of the church, the leaders and directors need to have the same qualifications as Elders found in 1st Timothy and Titus.

The Bible says that our leaders are to be blameless, not motivated by money but selfless in ministry. These and other general qualities of holiness lead to a reputation that is unblemished and that which is uniquely but specifically required for leadership in ministry. Along with the moral prerequisites for ministry, competency and the right work ethic are critical. The secular, for-profit organizations would do well to also aspire to find leaders who are morally blameless but often feel the need to find key individuals with qualities best suited to bottom-line results despite obvious moral flaws.

All too often, ministry boards and senior leaders are too accommodating and allow some of their peers to fall far short of expected productivity and usefulness. They essentially allow some to retire on the job. To avoid this expensive mistake, periodic and objective performance evaluations , along with helpful 360 degree evaluations from peers and subordinates , can help ministry boards and the senior leaders in evaluating the leadership team. Coaching and counseling some of the non and under-performing team members will often help, but in some cases, more drastic changes will be necessary to better steward the resources.

Development and Marketing Plan

Fortunately, most Evangelical organizations have embraced modern and professional marketing tools that help communicate their message effectively. Recent breakthroughs in printing, in graphics and in web technology have reduced the cost of doing things professionally. Getting back to basics for ministries includes a look at all of their marketing and promotional materials to ensure that they are hitting the target and up-to-date in their message.

The message itself is very important. Flourishing organizations have found that their mission, their purpose in life, is more likely to be successfully received when quality time and effort is spent in developing the plan that gets the word out. Jesus gave us the “Great Commission” so now go, and communicate the good news of the gospel and your particular ministry to the whole world.

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