As a leader, one of the many factors you must consider is how fast to move.
Whenever I interview candidates for positions, I usually ask the question, “Is your work style one of slow progress or go fast and break things?” Most people do want to be on the extremes of slow or fast but opt for somewhere in the middle. The point of the exercise is to get a sense of how they make decisions and will they be comfortable with the pace set by our leadership.
Churches are infamous for not being nimble. It is the old aircraft carrier versus speedboat image that often comes to mind. There are good reasons why churches do not often embrace change quickly. We are protective of our doctrine; which is ancient. We are protective of people’s lives; who already face the deluge of societal change. We are sentimental about the methods that were used to win us to Jesus and grow our faith.
Leadership involves guiding people in their ongoing sanctification and mission engagement. To do so, leaders must decide how quickly to initiate this progress. Because we are dealing with the issues of eternity, some people will want to plod slowly in order for no one to be left behind and everyone to be fully engaged. Others will see that dealing with eternal matters cannot wait and we must act immediately.
Leaders must move past the emotions that often hold power over church members and see a clear path forward. Once you do, it is time to move your people forward.
So how does a leader go fast? Here are 12 ideas.
1. Be the pacesetter. If you are the leader, then be out front on all of the issues and in all of the work. It does not mean that you personally handling the work but you must be informed.
2. Know where you are going. The temptation is to just be mad with a church system that is not working so you start breaking things without a clear goal of what comes next. Know where you are leading people and have a way to articulate it.
3. Be a historian. Every congregation has a history that affects even those who are new. How decisions have been made, who made the decisions, and the aftermath of bad decisions hang over congregations. If you will take time to understand the history of the congregation then you can solve some of the “why do we do this?” riddles.
4. Choose clarity over cleverness. Word-oriented people will often hesitate in leading out until they have three points, a logo, and an infographic. Leading fast requires clarity about the why and how. Stop wordsmithing everything to death. Say what you mean in a way that everyone can remember.
5. Infuse urgency into the culture. Members don’t move quickly because they have not been told why they need to move quickly. Many are not being rebellious. They just don’t know what the big deal is about the issue. As you live, teach, and lead with urgency then the light bulbs will come on for them.
6. Allow unimportant issues to be just that… unimportant. Fast leadership must let secondary issues fall to the side. You cannot fix everything at once. Not everything is the number one priority. In fact, most of what is deemed as priority by members is not a priority at all. Lead people to see why moving fast “with this one thing” is critical. Don’t disregard people or their emotional attachments. Assure them that they’ve been heard and you’ll be happy to visit with them about it later.
7. Teach your way forward. People move quickly when they are informed. Remember that you are thinking about these issues on an hourly basis. Most church members interact with the methods and issues of the church once or twice a week. Whatever you taught last week is barely remembered. Keep teaching the why and how about moving on this issue with speed.
8. Go with the “go-ers.” When you find a willing group of people, get moving. Church leaders want to be shepherds to everyone. But you should not interpret that as needing 100% buy-in before you begin working. If you are initiating a new discipleship model that some are hesitant about, start with those who have said “yes.”
9. Consistently tell victory stories. Leaders who go fast and are change agents often celebrate by moving on to a new thing to change. Most people are not like that. They need to take time to celebrate what is happening because of their investment and risk. You can keep up a fast pace of leadership by consistently feeding stories of victory that the church is experiencing. People will go fast with you when they know that results are happening.
10. Keep inviting the plodders. You will have those who like to consider options from hundred of angles before they make a move. Know who they are and do not discard them. Instead, keep inviting them to jump into the work. Be their pastor and find out why they are hesitant. Help them know that you are not disregarding their beloved memories but looking for ways that they and others can establish new ones.
11. Use the language of development and experimentation. I am thankful for Larry Osborne’s book “Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret” for helping me get on this train of thought. Most people are afraid of change and fast-paced leadership. But they are not afraid of a church that experiments with new methods or is concerned about developing people. The language you use about forward momentum will either attract or repel.
12. Know when to slow down. Fast leadership must have breaks in the action. If you move at full speed nonstop, you will wear out even those who love going fast and breaking things. Every now and again, you have to stop and fix the minor things you broke. People need a break to enjoy the results of where they have been led. Plus, even fast-moving leaders need a break. Take time to enjoy those lead as friends and not followers. Make a journey for everyone to enjoy.
Philip Nation is the adult ministry publishing director for LifeWay Christian Resources. Find out more on his blog.