the shape of leadership

Making Progress in Ministry

Five essentials for moving forward

Stephen Blandino on September 8, 2021


Ministry leaders want progress. In fact, when things slow to a halt, or we reach a plateau in ministry, it can drive us crazy. We tell ourselves too much is at stake to stand still. But then we scratch our heads in frustration when we don’t know what to do.

How do we get moving again? I believe it comes down to five essentials.

1. Vision

To make progress, we need a clearly defined destination. Without a vision of a better future, we’ll simply repeat the past.

To clarify your vision, reflect on three things: problems, passion and prayer. Define the problem you’re trying to solve, take stock of your deepest passions, and seek the Lord in prayer. Where the three areas overlap is probably an indication of your vision.

Once you define your vision, you have to communicate it. Author Brad Lomenick said, “Leaders who don’t communicate their vision are no better off than leaders who have no vision to communicate.”

To keep the vision in front of people, communicate it often.

2. Strategy

Once you define the vision, identify a specific strategy for reaching it. This is where a great deal of progress jumps the tracks. We pick a strategy that is outdated or irrelevant. We choose a strategy that worked in one environment but isn’t suited for our new environment.

When choosing a strategy, consider three questions:

  • Is this strategy field-tested? Very few strategies are truly original. With a little research, you can probably find out whether anyone else has tried it. The important thing is to make sure you adapt the strategy to work in your context. If the strategy is untested, carefully evaluate the next two questions.
  • Is the strategy purposeful, relevant, sustainable and scalable? The strategy should fulfill your purpose — your vision. It should also be relevant to your target audience. And it should be sustainable in its current design. That is, it shouldn’t burn through people, money and energy. Finally, the strategy should allow for growth.
  • Have you sought wise counsel? When you formulate a strategy, bounce it off a few trusted advisors who love you enough to tell you the truth. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”

These considerations won’t make a strategy foolproof, but they will move you a long way down the road toward an approach that works.

Sometimes a current strategy needs to pivot. If you’re wondering whether it’s time to pivot, ask three additional questions:

  • Have I given the strategy enough time to work? Bailing on a strategy prematurely will only cause doubts later. Plus, strategy jumping always disrupts momentum because you have to start over. It’s one thing if you have no momentum, but it’s another thing if momentum is slowly building.
  • Have I carefully weighed what I would pivot toward? The last thing you want to do is pivot from a weak strategy to a disastrous one. Carefully weigh the need to pivot, seek outside input, and consider the short- and long-term ramifications.
  • Have I created buy-in? If you’re going to pivot from one strategy to another, or make a few changes to your strategy, make sure you have buy-in from your team. Strategy changes always impact people, and that impact can be frustrating.
Pivots are often necessary, but they require wisdom
and prayer.

Pivots are often necessary, but they require wisdom and prayer. Without pivots, progress can slow to a crawl, or you can undermine the full potential of your strategy. The key is to be flexibly focused. In other words, stay focused on your vision and strategy, but be willing to flex when things need to change.

3. Team

A clear vision and a great strategy will go nowhere without the right team. Author John Townsend once observed, “The right people can accelerate everything, and the wrong people can take you down.”

To find the right people, look for these traits:

  • Character: They model integrity and trustworthiness.
  • Competence: They can do the job.
  • Chemistry: They get along with their teammates.
  • Culture: They model what you want to replicate.
  • Calling: They feel called to the ministry and the vision.

Most people hire for one or two of these, but all five are critical for long-term success. When all five are present, you’ve likely found the right team member.

4. Execution

Some people excel at designing strategies, and others are great at following through. You need both. Without the right strategy, you’ll grow deeply frustrated over time. But without execution of the strategy, you’ll be all talk and no action.

Your strategy helps you narrow your focus to the best ideas. But once you identify those ideas, it’s time to put them into practice. As you execute your strategy, use the acronym SODA at each step:

  • Steps: What is the goal?
  • Owners: Who will carry it out?
  • Deadlines: When will it happen?
  • Accountability: Who will follow up on it?

Essentially, the SODA process defines your bite-size goals and who will do what by when. Then, team members will be accountable for those actions. Once they have their assignments, team members have to manage their time accordingly.

5. Finances

The final key is finances. Visions, strategies, teams and execution all require money. If you haven’t thought through how to fund the vision, you won’t go very far. Some people assume if an idea is from God, they don’t need to know how to fund it. That’s not smart. Wisdom and faith can coexist.

When it comes to finances, think about your sources and systems. Determine what your sources are for financing your vision. Are you selling a product? Are you offering a service? Are you inviting donors to invest in your cause? What are the primary sources for you to secure the funding to advance your mission?

In ministry, those sources are beginning to diversify. In addition to tithing, some churches are securing grants, starting businesses, renting facilities, and more.

What are your systems? What systems do you need to put in place to attract people, gain donors, thank donors, track giving, and manage finances in a way that is sound and secure? The right systems allow you to manage money well and stay focused on what’s most important.

These five essentials will put you on the road to progress. Although they cannot guarantee success, few ministries make meaningful, long-term progress without them. Which of these five areas do you most need to focus on today?

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