Last week, I watched the US Open golf tournament as Matt Fitzpatrick of England played a victorious final round. As he made the turn for the final nine, the analyst spoke in whispered tones, as if his comments might disrupt the leader hundreds of yards away.
“He just needs to clear his head. To focus only on what’s most important right now.”
What is most important right now?
It’s a good question not easily answered in the constant swirl of ministry needs and opportunities.
The power of momentum
Organizational leadership expert Patrick Lencioni says that this is one of the seven crucial questions every organization needs to ask often—“often” being defined generally as every six to nine months.
You remember Jim Collins, don’t you? Or maybe you’re too young to remember the book Good to Great as an insightful read on how to lead well.
One metaphor Collins made popular in this book was around the concept of momentum. He wrote about the “flywheel” of momentum in an organization such as a church. Momentum has several definitions but, for my purposes, this is the best: “strength or force gained by motion or by a series of events.”
Every pastor-leader knows the inherent value of having ministry momentum in a local church or a department of the church, such as the student, children’s, or men’s ministries. When a ministry has momentum, it often has a series of successful milestones that breed more successful milestones. With momentum, ministry can feel unstoppable.
Pastors and lay leaders long for momentum and love to see when the fresh wind of God’s Spirit works in unity with God’s people to create what Collins called “the flywheel effect” of momentum.
In a machine, the flywheel is usually a large, heavy piece of metal that, once placed in motion by a great expenditure of energy, stores kinetic energy and does not change its speed easily. It takes a lot to get a flywheel turning. Flywheels with momentum can be altered or stopped, but they typically keep going with a lower energy requirement.
You may not have said it this way, but every pastor is praying for Holy Spirit momentum across the length and breadth of his church or her ministry. Every pastor and leadership team fears when negative momentum is working against them!
Making the right decisions in ministry
So how do we create healthy momentum in a church or ministry?
I once heard someone ask Pastor Leith Anderson that question. His answer was “a thousand good decisions.”
Wow! How easy is that! Let’s start counting today!
Sadly, it seems negative momentum in a church only requires three bad decisions in proximity and negative momentum is rolling over you! Such is the nature of life and ministry in a sin-broken world!
Ministry decisions come in all shapes and sizes.
Most are small, almost innocuous choices we make daily and weekly, e.g., what text to preach, what Bible version is best, what music to choose for the congregation, or what crafts and games to use with the kids.
Other decisions are bigger and come three or four times a year, e.g., the focus of our fall discipleship groups, what mission trips to develop, what local missions to focus on next, and defining the theme for this Christmas season.
Some choices are rare with large consequences, e.g., the budget for next year, the next ministry position we should create, the right person for a leadership position, or the next capital project.
The goal is to get as many right as we can with the assurance that God is eager to guide us as we seek him. No one makes a thousand right decisions in a row, and God has overflowing grace to cover us.
God honors the effort
Pastor Steve Stroope of Lakepointe Church in Rockwall, Texas, taught me years ago that anticipation is one of the key skills and responsibilities of ministry leaders. The pastor and leadership team must consistently pick up their focus and look down the road. They are the ones in the church who need to anticipate and prepare for the next hill to climb, the next need to meet, the next opportunity to seize.
A blessing can sometimes feel like a curse. Anticipation is one of them. Forecasting and planning are hard work. Carving out two to three, two- or three-day gatherings to pray, study, discuss, and decide can be hard to find in the relentless rigor of church ministry.
But God honors the effort. He gave us the ability. When we don’t stop to pray, ponder, and plan, this adage likely becomes our future: “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”
God urges us to lean on him and to look to him in all our planning (Proverbs 3:5–5). As you anticipate the next ministry season this fall and winter, remember God’s message through James: “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13–15 NIV).
Be sure to include this in your planning prayers: “And may the Lord our God show us his approval and make our efforts successful. Yes, make our efforts successful!” (Psalm 90:17 NLT).