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Planning with Intentionality for Your Church’s Future

I could hear the discouragement in Jim’s voice as I talked with him on the phone. “I just know God is giving me this vision,” he told me. “How can I get my leadership team to buy into it?”

I knew Jim was a capable guy, and a natural pastor. He had taken this church a couple of years earlier, and they loved the new and energetic weekend services that Jim had designed. That, along with caring for the people he loved, had been the primary focus of Jim’s tenure at the church.

Jim went on to tell me about getting his leadership team together the previous week, and trying to get them to see into the future. He realized they needed a plan. But Jim and his leadership team seemed to be speaking different languages, and the vision he had been trying to communicate did not give a very stirring picture. I realized that Jim’s greatest need was not merely a plan, but a planning process.

Jim is like so many other pastors who are faced with the big task of leading a church. Pastoring and leading often require totally different skill sets. Planning church activities and sermon series are quite different from leading people to plan together for the future of a church.

In my experience as a church planter, pastor, and mentor to other ministry leaders, I have come to several conclusions regarding the planning process.

  • There are distinct levels of planning – each of which must be approached differently. Churches failing to distinguish these levels will find their resulting plans lacking and even unrealistic.
  • Churches typically don’t view planning as a systematic, ongoing process, but rather as a one-time event. However, occasional leadership retreats are not sufficient to answer the “What’s next?” question for a church.
  • Churches often fall short in the clarity of their corporate language with regard to planning. Definitions of planning and planning levels often overlap, leading to great confusion.
  • Perhaps most importantly, churches often expect leaders to function effectively at every level of planning, when this is simply not how most leaders are wired and gifted.

  • Levels of Organizational Planning

    One of the first keys to successful planning is the ability to differentiate between the various levels of organizational planning. Successful organizational planning is a systematic, multi-step process which involves distinct levels and ongoing hard work. There are four distinct dimensions of planning which leaders must take into consideration. These include Visionary, Missional, Strategic, and Tactical planning, and each dimension has its own considerations, functions, leaders, and “shelf life.”

    This 4-D approach is appropriate for any organization, - church, business, non-profit, volunteer organization, etc. In this month’s newsletter, we will talk about the first two of those ‘dimensions’ of planning.

    Visionary Planning

    Vision must be the driving force within any organization. I define vision as “a compelling picture that depicts what could be, and what should be, in the organization’s future.” In our church context, I like to describe vision as God sending us a snapshot of our future. That picture doesn’t usually come into view suddenly, but is often so big that it takes a long time to download.

    God typically gives vision to a church’s senior leadership over time, as the organization goes through ups and downs, successes and mistakes, and learns lessons along the way. Eventually, enough of the picture comes into view that it can be deciphered and communicated.

    It is important to note that there should be one unifying vision, not several. Multiple visions are also known as di-vision. While this may seem an obvious danger, it is often tempting to sell out the one vision for more leaders. Other visions sound good; we need more leaders; therefore, we let these people (and their divergent visions) into our leadership circle. It’s not that these alternate visions are bad or “wrong,” but they may be wrong for your situation at the time.

    I tell our folks that God provides a canvas, while members of the church family are each provided with a paintbrush. As the vision snapshot becomes clearer through effective communication by the leadership, we each pick up our brush and paint a few strokes, representing our contribution to the fulfillment of the vision. This is a picture of 1 Corinthians 12, as the brush strokes reflect with our unique role in the Body.

    The result, over time, is a reproduction of that original snapshot, with contributions by as many as possible in the Body. This level of individual participation creates a strong sense of ownership, because everyone helped paint the picture.

    Over time, however, a vision can “run dry”. There is usually great excitement surrounding a well-articulated vision in the early years after its introduction, but that excitement can wane as time goes on. Because of this, the planning “horizon” for a vision extends from about 4-6 years, at which point the vision will need renewal. In a healthy church, a new vision will be articulated even before the prior vision is fulfilled.

    Missional Planning

    The second dimension of intentional planning is missional planning. The vision is all about what is to be. It is a future state. Organizationally, it doesn’t just happen; there must be intentionality in the pursuit of the vision. For every vision, there must be a mission, aimed at bringing the vision to reality.

    I remember watching “Mission: Impossible” on television as a kid. Each week Peter Graves would locate a well-hidden cassette tape player. The tape-recorded message would describe his next assignment, before self-destructing in a cloud of smoke. He had a new taped message each week (at least until summer reruns). For each mission, the message laid out a description, a starting point, and a finish.

    The lesson from the MI show is that a mission is very action-oriented, and it has a completion point. However, the way “mission” is typically viewed in the church is very confusing. Many mission statements are in fact not very action-oriented, and many of them lack a clear completion point.

    I realize this may be a very different definition of “mission” than many leaders are familiar with. Therefore, in our ministry, we also acknowledge an overarching “purpose” to our ministry, which is reflected in Jesus’ Great Commandment and the Great Commission. In my opinion, this should be the purpose of every church. This “purpose” answers the question, “Why do we exist,” and the answer to this question never changes. A “mission,” on the other hand, must change as a church moves toward the vision horizon.

    In putting together an effective mission, a church must address these key questions:

    1. What is the vision of the church?
    2. What is the most important course of action that must be pursued in order for the vision to be fulfilled?
    3. How do we know when that course of action is complete?
    4. How do we best communicate that course of action?

    The mission of the church is the single comprehensive course of action that catalyzes the fulfillment of the vision. Everyone in the organization, with no exceptions, needs to buy into the mission, in order for the organization itself to succeed. The mission statement, then, must clearly communicate what must be done in order to help bring about what is to be. It must be action-oriented, brief, and simple enough to commit to memory.

    An effective organizational mission is strongly tied to its vision. Therefore, the mission must be renewed at least as often as the vision is renewed. It is very possible that over the course of a visionary life cycle, fulfillment of that vision will require multiple associated missions. After all, moving toward the vision is a process – a process that may require several major courses of action. In such a situation, the stated mission should be constantly revisited, to make sure that it still communicates the primary course of action.

    As the cast of “Mission: Impossible” worked toward the vision of a better and safer world, they assumed a different mission every week. Over the life of a vision, the mission won’t change nearly as often. In fact, changing the vision more than once during the visionary life could lead to serious organizational instability. But more than one mission will be needed to fully enact the vision.

    In our next post, we will explore Strategic and Tactical planning.

Sharing Your Vision

In the last post, I talked about what it means to have a vision and listed some examples of people in the world who have had great visions for change and then followed those dreams. But those dreams did not come to fruition overnight...they came about through a lot of hard work, both their own and of others. So, what is that one should do when a vision looms in their mind and they want to share it with the world? Here are some of the actions involved in sharing the vision.

To Tell or Not to Tell

Interestingly, when most of us get that vision, we want to rush out and tell someone. Unfortunately, if you share that dream, you may find yourself being called a dreamer, crazy or simply be greeted with blank stares. This is a problem with visionary thinking. So, when you get those visions consider carefully whom you share them with. Yes, sharing them is often needed, as it is part of the planning process, but keep this in mind, the bigger the vision, the less you can say about it, especially when the vision is in its conception stage.

Once your vision moves from the undeveloped picture stage (remember the Polaroid?) to seeing that picture come to life, people will begin to understand where you are headed. However, while the dream/vision is in its infancy, there are some key questions, you should ask before sharing your vision with someone else.
  • What are the perspectives held by the people who will hear about my vision?
  • What is it about the vision that will threaten their perspectives?
  • What about the vision is sensational?
  • What about it is wacky?
  • What about the vision seems like an impossibility?
  • When you have the answers to these questions, and perhaps others you may anticipate, you are then ready to bounce your idea off a trusted friend.

    The Big Picture

    Have you ever met someone who is always looking at the big picture? The big picture people are the ones who help move a vision into a reality. They will lead teams, help establish definitions of terms and disperse information. Or, succinctly put, they help with information, clarification and motivation.

    It should be noted that a vision for your ministry or company, is not a sentence or two on the letterhead that can be recited by volunteers/employees when called upon. In fact, a brief vision statement is almost an oxymoron. Rather, it is more like a section of your newspaper. Despite what popular thought prevails, your vision “statement” should be lengthy, or it is not really a vision—it is just a goal. Not that goals are bad! Rather, goals are not typically as large or encompassing as a vision is.

    In addition, you need to recognize that a vision may change with time and become less exciting, thus requiring renewal. But, this is common. The vision is the driving force with an organization. It gives a picture of what could be and what should be in the ministry/business’ future. It is up to you, as the leader, to keep things fresh. But, that is a topic for another time.

    Until then, give some thought to your vision. What do you think your business will look like in 5 years? In 10 years? What about in 20 years? Now is the time to start planning that dream.

Do You Have a Dream? Visionary Planning

What do Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Jessica Jackley, Andrew Carnegie and Meg Whitman have in common?

They all had a dream. If you look up each of these people, you will find that they had the spark of an idea and with planning, dedication and perseverance they created something that has changed the lives of people for generations. In some cases, what they did – especially in its earliest stages – was misunderstood by many of those around them. However, those dreams did eventually come to pass. In the business world, as well as in that of the non-profit, it is necessary that one have a vision. Typically, this vision does not come in a flash of brilliance, but rather as the result of a problem.

What It Means To Have a Vision

In order to be successful, a business or ministry needs to know where it is headed. This is one of the key elements of organizational planning. If you are a leader in your organization, then it is up to you to help your team get that vision. You need to take the time to construct a definition of what that vision means in your own unique situation. The words used must have clear meanings, so everyone is on the same page; this will go a long way toward establishing a congregational corporate language.

There are many misconceptions regarding having a vision, but one of the most prevalent is that having a vision is about what is going to be accomplished. While this is a part of a vision, it is not the vision. Instead, a vision is about a future state of being. Quite often, the future state of the vision is much like the Polaroid pictures of the 70s and 80s. When the picture was first taken, it was fuzzy and left one wondering how it would look when fully developed. After some time passed, you could see the picture in all its glory. Oftentimes, the vision for your organization, like the undeveloped Polaroid, is a bit hazy at the outset, but in time, it will be revealed fully and clearly.

The ultimate picture of your company will be revealed the same way. And while it may have its ups and downs, trials and triumphs and an assortment of lessons learned along the way, that is all part of the process, not a reason to quit dreaming. Simply, a vision is not fait accompli overnight – it is done in stages. These stages are:
  • Birth – This is the obstacle to be overcome

  • Burden – When the obstacle moves from being seen not as “What was” but to “What could be” and “what should be”

  • The burden then becomes a passion or purpose.

  • The passion/purpose clarifies the opportunity – This is looking beyond the challenge and seeing them as opportunities.

So what happens next? After all, there is more to be done once you get that vision. You can’t just sit there indefinitely and see what will happen—you want to act. But how? What might that look like? Check in later to learn more.

The Value of a ‘Safe Place’

I really liked the commitment of this young technology start-up company, to their employee’s personal lives. The firm would give employees plenty of flexibility in their work schedules. Employees were really driven, and willing to work long hours, and so leaving during the day for an hour or so was no big deal, as employees would certainly make up those hours, and many more beyond. I had often complimented the company’s exec team on obviously doing a good job of hiring folks.

I was very impressed with Jay, one of the company’s employees. He was obviously a really smart guy, well thought of in this small company. His peers on the team really seemed to look to him, and after half a day with the team, I realized that his teammates really saw him as the ‘informal’ team leader. He had a really congenial personality, and seemed to enjoy life – and his job. He seemed like a guy who really had things together.

I go into every day with a client, trying hard to create an atmosphere of a ‘safe place’. I guess with my experience as a pastor, there is nothing I value more highly than the ‘client’s’ or ‘counselee’s’ ability and willingness to say whatever they feel they need to say. So I try hard to help client teams to understand just what a safe place is, and how to make their team a safe place. I even tell client teams that the ultimate goal of building a team that has the five fundamentals – trust, healthy conflict, commitment, accountability, and collaboration around collective results – is the creation of a safe place, where team members can be truly authentic.

One of our exercises led Jay to make note of a challenge from his childhood that had seemed sort of benign. But after talking about it a bit, he began to get a little quiet. A little later on in the day, he seemed visibly shaken. Finally he began to tear up, and he said to his teammates – most of them male. ‘You all know that I tend to take off from work just about an hour and a half every week during the day. I know I’ve told you different things as to what I’m doing….’ His tears began to turn to sobs as he continued – more intermittent as he was obviously struggling. ‘The truth is – I’ve been going to a psychiatrist for the past year on a regular basis…’ Jay went on to describe the issue in his life that had taken quite a toll on him. What was pretty amazing to me was the reaction of his teammates – nothing but care and compassion. They let Jay talk, some even getting a bit emotional themselves. Jay’s reaction was pretty cool as well – you could almost see the burden of what he had been hiding being lifted from his shoulders. It was a great moment. I did not rush the moment, but let it run its course, allowing teammates to say whatever they wanted to their colleague and friend.

As I would run into Jay in the hallway in days after that, I would notice that he seemed even more congenial – even joyful. Each time I would see him, I’d be reminded – the best thing companies can do for their employees is to create a ‘safe place’ for them to be themselves. The best thing we as consultants can do is model that ‘safe place’ for our clients. It made all the difference for Jay that day – and for his teammates.

A Reluctant Leader

It happened a few years ago: I was ecstatic! I had gotten the news from my wife just as I was getting home from the office. In a way, it’s a good thing she didn’t tell before I left, or on the way home – because I don’t know if I would have been able to drive!
Why was I so pumped? Our 13 year old daughter was nearing the end of her 8th grade year, looking forward to middle school graduation. Her 8th grade class did their own “superlatives”, and – she got the superlative for “Best Leader”!!!
Whenever a parent gets good news about one of their children, they tend to get a little prideful – right? Not that that is a bad thing – unless they become obnoxious, and can’t keep their mouths shut about it. I can get a little obnoxious if I’m not too careful, but I usually don’t go too far over the edge.
Anyway, back to the story. I couldn’t wait for my daughter to get home from a friend’s house (where surely she was busy heading up a group planning for their post-graduation activities), so I could congratulate her.
After a couple of hours, she walks in, and I hug her and tell her, “I’m so proud of you!!!” She said, “Why?” I tell her with glowing enthusiasm, “You won ‘Best Leader’ in your class!”
“Oh.”, she said. “Big deal. Look at Agnes. She won “The Cutest”. Boris won “Best All Round”. Gertrude won ‘Most Athletic’. “ (notice the names are changed here to protect the innocent) “The best I could do was ‘Best Leader’?” she said, “What good is that?”
Needless to say, my daughter’s reaction left me a little deflated. I couldn’t believe she wasn’t on cloud nine about this! After all, her dad loves leading others. (I have to admit I don’t always do a good job at it, but overall, I enjoy it, and people seem to follow – much of the time, anyway). My daughter is a lot like me anyway – down to the ravishing beauty, the vertical impairment, and the big teeth from my Mom’s side of the family (that hopefully she will one day grow into). She could also follow in Dad’s leadership footsteps, and could hopefully do a lot better job than he!
Why wouldn’t she be excited?!
Over the next few days, I wondered a lot about that very question. Why didn’t the ‘Best Leader’ superlative excite her? Some things came to my mind:
  • Thirteen year olds have different priorities than their 40 somethin’ year old (now 50 somethin’ year old) dads. They are into having friends and fun. Responsibilities are relatively few (although they don’t think so) and life is generally easy (although, again, they don’t think so).
  • Young girls are – and perhaps rightfully so - more focused on the things that will bring them significance (and unfortunately – insignificance), than they are helping others find their significance.
  • Young people in general probably underestimate the value of good leadership.

After thinking about it, I realized that each of these three reasons were not only common to a 13-year old. They – all of them - are also characteristic of many adults I have encountered, For example….
  • Leadership is a big responsibility, and so many are reluctant to take it on.
  • Many adults are still seeking their own significance, and can’t imagine influencing others when they feel inadequate themselves.
  • Many adults underestimate the value of good leadership – often because they have so rarely seen it.

Above all, I recognized in my daughter something else that I see in many adults who have the ability to lead: denial about that ability. There are many “leaders” out there who are not exercising leadership to the extent that God has gifted them. The leadership gift is lying dormant within them – waiting to be energized.
What did I take away from this “Best Leader” experience some six or seven years ago? The good news for me is that 1) others observed my daughter’s leadership capabilities, and 2) she has continued to develop and demonstrate those abilities on a pretty regular basis. I can only hope and pray that as she grows into adulthood, she won’t be in denial about it, and will allow those capabilities to develop in her over the years!!!
How about you? Are you in denial?
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