Lecture 9: Moving from Vision to Strategy
Strategies are systematic choices about how to carry out the mission and vision, how to deploy resources, achieve goals, maximize strengths and reach the desired outcome, As you choose strategies to implement your vision, it’s critical to submit them to the leading of the Spirit.
We have moved from definition and talking about the context of leadership and what core leadership values are. Now we move into the heart of leading itself. Leaders who want to be effective leaders have to own the mission. In leading an organization everyone has to be clear about the mission. The mission is answering the question of why we are here. Then we moved to vision with it answering the question of where; where we are going in reference to the future. Every church should have the same mission. If the Word of God is our authority, then we all should have the same mission. We don’t create the mission; God has told why the church exists. We are here to faithfully fulfill the mission that is given to us by God. But the vision is different; every church has a different image of its future. The vision particularizes the mission. The vision we have is the dream of what we think God wants us to do. Visions include things which God lays on our heart to do such as serving in a foreign country; it is to accomplish a particular thing. Leaders must learn to wait upon God; the lecturer used the imagery of going to the mountain. Go away to a place and dwell upon God; wait upon him for guidance. The vision provides us with imagery of where we want to go with our lives. We haven’t answered how we are going to do this. The how involves the strategies that we use to get where we want to go. So vision is more about the where and part of that is seeking God, waiting upon him for guidance.
You cannot delegate vision; we have to own that. After we establish the where, we need to take our followers with us. Like us, they also have to own this. Remember, if your followers decide not to follow you, then you are no longer a leader. In the Netherlands, I asked where the church was going because they really didn’t have a vision. You can’t lead anything without collaboration. In order to move in the same direction to accomplish the vision, everyone must move together in that direction. People want leaders to help them meet their aspirations. In order to accomplish a vision, you must enter into long term thinking. In terms of being visionaries, leaders have to think backward into the present and also out into the future. A true visionary knows that they have to think in terms of the past, present and future. Looking into the past, visionaries by nature are historians. This is called the Janus effect; the further you can look into the past, the further you can look into the future. History tells us what works and what doesn’t work, what different patterns and cycles look like. Great visionaries are also great histories. Two examples I gave were Nixon and Churchill, who were both great visionary leaders because they were historians. A visionary also looks into the present and great visionaries have to be great realists. They have to learn to deal with the present reality. Max Dupree says that the first duty of a leader is to define reality. This is what wins a certain trust and respect. Sometimes leaders play the faith card in saying to others that they just don’t have enough faith. Leaders are really good at this; they have the particular language down. But there is a difference between Godly faith and reckless faith. Godly faith says, here is the reality and I know we can do it.
Often in considering a budget as being the price tag for our vision; we might consider that it is doable or we might say that it isn’t. Interestingly, forty percent of the congregation gives nothing; this is a reality. Another reality is that the average giving of individual people is only two to three percent. So, in looking at this reality, perhaps then you can say that the budget is indeed doable. A huge part is looking out into the future. Visionaries must read and pay attention enough to see into the future; some people would say that they need to take mind walks. Peter Swartz is a futurist; he writes book predicting the future. One of his books, the Art of the Long View, emphasizes scenario thinking; by this he looks at patterns and trends in how things might go and identifying probabilities and asking important questions. Often companies will consider certain probabilities to see how they would react if such a situation ever came about. This is what Peter Swartz would often do for a company. Sometimes, these are called, ‘what ifs.’ What if the American culture became more hostile toward the church? How will we prepare for such a reality? This is part of what leaders have to think about. In such a situation, they might consider the question, what kind of church will we have to be? Our survival may depend on how close we are operating as a body. A church filled with individuals is not going to survive a more hostile culture. In 1973, I was in my first year at Western Seminary. That was the time of the oil crises where a lot of the oil was shut off from the Middle East. You could only purchase gas for the care every other day. Shell survived this oil crisis because they had already done some future problem analysis on this. But most churches are not so futuristic in their thinking. A lot of the time, we are just surviving day to day. God visionary leaders try to lead an organization to think out into the future and to be realistic with the present.
We have to create ownership and that is the fourth part of the vision process. We have talked about this already in terms of collaboration. As I have already mentioned, leaders have to own the vision. They have to know it and be committed to it more than anyone else. It also has to be owned by others. In owning it, we must communicate it and talk about it and weave it into our leadership, like in sermons. Our vision is all around this phrase, radical connection. You see that on our literature as it is part of our communication and we want people to see us as a church that is connected in these five core areas of ethnicity and being multi-cultural. We have people with gifts connected with opportunities demonstrating the use of those gifts. We need to stay focused on this. Paul, as an example, had a vision of taking the Gospel to the gentiles. God gave him this vision and he was always looking out ahead. No matter what people did to him, he stayed focused on this vision. He used athletic imaginary to describe this in his life. Words like pressing on, beating myself, etc. shows us how he stayed focused. As I have said, as you move down the mission, it becomes more fluid. While the mission never changes, our vision of being a church of radical connection may change as dreams do change. Normally, visions don’t change that often, especially for a church of other organization. When we come to the strategy of the vision, we begin to look at how we go about accomplishing the vision. Strategies can be in terms of our game plan. They are systematic choices about how to carry out the mission and vision and how to deploy resources to achieve goals, maximize strengths and reach the desired outcomes. Many organizations waste a lot of energy in developing their vision. Developing a strategy shouldn’t take a long time either due to factors like leaders leaving, people leaving; things are changing. So you can see how church people become cynical when pastors bring up vision or in case of mentioning any changes. People want to see things happening instead of just talk. If we can get to the level of strategy, we are moving closer to reality.
Wells Fargo Bank has a vision of satisfying all of their customer’s financial needs. This is a fairly audacious vision. They want to be the one stop shopping place in regards to finance, whether it is planning, investing or savings. Whatever you do, we want to be the institution that does that. This is a nice vision but if you don’t have a strategy for it, it doesn’t mean anything. So the strategy is to offer a lot of financial products which require a lot of options for people. Lord Nelson, for example, in deciding on a strategy to attack the French and Spanish fleet; they had a huge advantage over England. In gathering their armada, the British couldn’t compete. Lord Nelson came up with a game plan that was different than what ships usually did. They mounted their guns differently and Nelson won the battle. So the strategy is what keeps the organization on tract toward vision. Once a year my staff and I take time out to think strategy. If we don’t have a good strategic statement, the vision is just a dream. Our strategic statement is about four pages; it lays out how we are going to get to our mission.
D. Six Steps of Strategy:
This is the hard work of leadership. Ideas are cheap and have a high mortality rate simply dying on the table. The difference between ideas and reality is establishing a strategy to get there. So in one sense, visionaries are a great gift but their problem is they don’t like dealing with the messy part. They are the ideal people in thinking up strategies, there are no boundaries. They often quote Ephesians 3; now to him who is able go beyond what you can imagine or think; God has given us permission. But instead of talking about and planning it; many just want to see it happen. As you become older, one thinks more in terms of strategy rather than visionary. But part of this is to do a regular analysis which refers again, back to realism.
You need to do an analysis of your strengths and weaknesses. How many of you have done a swat analysis? You decide on your strengths in order to know your abilities. You also know your weaknesses but you shouldn’t start with your weakness because you might kill what you want to do. Sometimes, these things need to be stated or framed as such in order to understand where your group is or where your church is. Next comes opportunities; of course this is about people and ways to bring people into the church. The location of a church determines it visibility. With opportunities you also need to consider threats; for example the economy and where it is going. An illustration would be David and Goliath; David did a swat analysis and out of that came a strategy. He looked at his strengths, considering his sling which was able to deliver force with precision. He was a small person being so young and this was his weakness. He couldn’t wear all the armor that others could wear so he didn’t have the same protection that others had. His brother didn’t have any confidence in him which was also a threat. There was one place in Goliath’s armor that was exposed. Another strength he had was the Lord; He had the Lord on his side.
You can also do a trend analysis. Part of this assessment is to consider the trends and where they are going. Where are jobs going to be in the future? Once a year, Time Magazine has an article like this of where the jobs are. What is good to get out of and what is good to get into in terms of a job? Looking at trends is all part of thinking strategically. Another illustration is the Kodak Photography Company; they didn’t pay attention to trends. They were too in love with film for cameras. Kodak actually invented the digital camera and now they are gone. They could have been above groups like Nikon, Pentax, Sony, etc. The church can be similar; they can be so in love with the status quo or with the past. They can miss reaching tomorrow’s generation. This happens all the time as the opportunities continually change. My first church had a great opportunity; we were an emerging church with an amazing congregation in a really crummy location. But many in the church were too married to the past and to the building.
2. Guiding Policy:
The second thing is to develop guiding policy. During the Cold War some years back, the government developed a guiding policy called containment. This was to acknowledge it and limit it spread, placing your weapons at certain points to keep the virus from spreading. They created organizations like NATO and SEATO, etc. To a certain extent, this worked because communism couldn’t keep up with it. So thinking strategically includes themes, staffing, facilities, mission and policies that are put in place. We need to be action oriented. Bad strategies are merely statements of desire rather than a plan to overcome difficulties. A strategy isn’t wanting to be the best church this side of town. That is a nice statement and an aspiration, but it doesn’t give you a game plan. A good strategy includes a set of actions. These are not the details but rather it defines the plan.
The third thing is that the action coheres. An organization is composed of lots of parts; so when you do strategic thinking, you have to get all the main parts together. Whatever the strategy, it has to embrace what is going on now or you may need to change what is going on now. For example, if we are going to have a high school ministry that just meets on Saturday night, what about the kids that come with their parents on Sunday morning? Do we have two high school ministry groups? Do we have just one and try to encourage everybody to come to just that one? And what are we going to do with worship that is going to enhance that or get in the way of that. Those are the things we have to struggle with. So, every activity must be aligned to the strategy. There cannot be a silo or independent mentality. Another illustration, when the US was fighting in WWII, they were fighting on two major fronts, in Europe and the Pacific Ocean. One strategy would have been to do it equally on both sides. Another strategy was to give their best attention in one place rather than another place. Their main strategy was Europe and then the Pacific Ocean area. Everybody must cohere with the same strategy. So, there has to be coherence also in the church. So to create strategy, you have to create coherence.
4. Making Strategy an Everyday Job:
The fourth thing, you have to make strategy everyone’s everyday job. It requires a contribution by everybody. It just can’t be the leader’s job. There has to be a buy in to that strategy by everyone which requires a lot of communication. Sometimes, the leader has to keep drawing the big picture to keep everyone in line with what is going on. For example, an Elder Board can start thinking in terms of affordability, in dollars and cents as such. We have to ask, what does God want us to do; what can God do; what is our mission and our vision? What happened in the past when we faced similar situations? So, one task of leadership is to remind us of these things. People start to narrow down things in how it affects the church or other planned situations. Part of the planning for certain services are whether they are kid friendly or not; these are discussions that need to take place. One of the strategies therefore becomes reflecting on the church calendar rather than a civil calendar which happened a lot in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Things like Advent, Ascension Day, and Pentecost were not as important as mother’s day and father’s day and July 4th, etc. But why did the church get driven by a civil calendar rather than a church calendar? Historically when the Free Church reacted to the State Church of Europe, they didn’t want to do anything that looked like the State Church. The Free Church was those believers that withdrew from the State Church because of the unbelief that was in the State Church. And like many situations and people, they over reacted to things. The church went through a phase where they didn’t want art or buildings or ascetics. Many of the Cathedrals were about those things and so in order not to look like them, they went the other direction often time to the extreme. Even Conservative Baptist prided themselves on building simply churches that had no ascetic appeal at all because they would start to look like the State Church. So you developed sermons around Independence Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Thanksgiving Day, etc.
5. Keep Reviewing:
Make it a continual process and keep reviewing it and thinking it through. Then we submit these to God. So, our vision is to be a church of Radical Connection and one of the connect points is whether we can finish it and understand that failure connects with grace. We don’t want to be legalistic. Failture isn’t disgraceful and we just don’t want to entertain, but if you are going through failure, you can find grace. So, we have a great vision statement, we have the where but we need to move to how. One of our strategies would be to develop small communities and teach them to understand Biblical grace. People will look at the church as a place of faith and grace; they can come into a home group and confess their sins and find forgiveness rather than be shunned and judged. Another strategy would be to offer a leadership class so people could learn from it. You can teach people to be friendly and welcoming. You can ask people to share their stories of their walk with God. People will often remember these stories rather than a sermon. Part of our strategies can be to show-case grace stories.
6. Define Objectives:
So eventually, we define objectives that define when and what and who. This is reality. From mission to dreams or visions to the game plan, this is what leaders have to do. They have to keep people moving and focused, otherwise you end up with a lot of paper with a lot of words. It is easy to talk a lot instead of seeing the reality of actually doing. Life is too short and so it is great to see dreams become reality.