Congregations, and the people in them, are well-intended. We sense in our connection with God that there is a purpose to our living that goes beyond how we currently live, that there is a world that is better than the one we live in. We aspire to that better self and that better world. Our mission statements frequently state our intent to help make our lives, our communities, our world “better” – more aligned with God’s view of what could be.
It is the moving from intent to purposeful action that remains the hard work for most of us (and for all non-profit organizations). We allow ourselves to be aspirational – to aspire to better lives and a better world. The hard work is in finding a faithful path to our aspirations. What is it that we actually have to do next? What difference do we need to produce next in order to be that better person, to have that better world?
Moving beyond intentions begins by changing the questions we ask of ourselves. Instead of only asking what kind of person we wish to be (generous, faithful, disciple-like…) we also need to ask the less comfortable question of what we need to change about ourselves next in order to be more like the aspired person we envision. Instead of only asking what kind of congregation we want to be (vital, growing, disciple-making, justice seeking…) we also need to ask the less comfortable question of what change we need to address next, or what we need to learn next, to be more like the aspired congregation we envision.
We are commonly better at aspiring than of actually changing. Notice the repeated use of the word next in the above paragraphs. We need different questions and new tools to shift our focus from a distant better life or world (our long-term aspirational vision) to focus on the change, or new learning, needed next (our short-term actionable “next”) to move toward that aspiration. Leadership is more than providing a vision of what could be. It is also the risk of short-term experiments and actions to get closer to the long-term aspiration. We need to learn a new vocabulary to look beyond our immediate and known activities to frame the outcome required next. We need metrics, ways to measure if we are, or are not, getting closer to the difference / change required next. We need to ask questions of ourselves that are more focused than an aspiration. Wanderers in a new cultural wilderness, such as we, are in need of find better tools, better questions, and better measures to move closer to a promised land we sense in God’s will for us.
Gil Rendle’s new book, Doing the Math of Mission: Fruits, Faithfulness and Metrics is available from Rowman & Littlefield publishers. To read more and to order the book, visit the Rowman & Littlefield webpage.