I had great intentions. I had great motivations. But for years, I didn’t understand the way the church worked – and it made me part of the problem instead of part of the solution.
We were going through a period of exciting growth in our church, and everyone’s focus was on how we as a church could do more and more. More creative programs. More outreach efforts.
I had some good ideas about things our church could do to reach out to the community. I had people on the church staff commending me and telling me that my ideas were great.
It was exciting to share these ideas, to envision them being enacted, and to think of all the good that would come of them. We as a church could grow and do wonderful things.
Other People’s Efforts
But I realized something about my ideas. I was really good at coming up with stuff that we could do, that the church could do – in other words, things that other people could do. Not me – because I was already so busy. I served on the tech crew, I taught a small group class, I played bass in the contemporary service – I was already doing a ton.
These great ideas were things for other people to organize and implement and evaluate and work at. I came up with the idea – it was the church’s job to make the rest happen. Sure, I’d be willing to volunteer – I just can’t do that much. I’m so busy, you see.
But as a leader of a small group class, now I’ve seen the other perspective. I’ve seen the brainstorming sessions when people get talking about great things that the class could be doing. Great outreach efforts. Great service opportunities.
They really are good ideas – but I know what it means when people talk about what we could do. The idea is suggested, and no one steps up to lead. Everyone just assumes that someone else, mainly me, is going to get the effort organized. Then when it comes time for the rubber to hit the road, very few people are willing to step up and do the work. We’re all so busy, you see.
Action, Not Ideas
We live in a culture that celebrates ideas and the dynamic leaders that propose them. And this focus downplays the role of the manpower that makes these ideas happen.
I used to think of the implementation as the simple part – the given part. I used to think of the church as just this nameless blob that takes in ideas and spits out end products. So naturally, I believed that the gap between where we were and where we wanted to be was going to be bridged by great ideas for new, exciting things for us to do.
Now I realize: the missing factor is action, not ideas. The church is not short on ideas for programs, they are short on manpower to use on those programs.
I can guarantee you my pastor and church staff are not sitting at meetings thinking, “Wow – we have so many volunteers. If only we had some ideas for things they could do.”
I’m proud of the ideas that I came up with, and my class came up with some wonderful ideas as well. But, I hate to say it, ideas are a dime a dozen. We have so many ideas in the church – I bet the staff is practically swimming in them.
When I came up with these ideas, I wasn’t really helping the church out. Without action, my ideas are useless. And in fact, they can actually create more problems.
Adding to the Workload
Church productivity is not just about getting things done. It’s about managing resources to be most effective. If the resources in a church are slim, you do the best you can. And the demands of ideas will always exceed the capability of your volunteer and staff workforce.
Ideas add nothing to your resources. In very rare cases, good ideas can make a church more efficient and free up resources. But the overwhelming majority of projects and ideas (like the ones I had) are not for ways to be more efficient but are about additional things for the church to do. They add to the workload instead of helping it.
I told myself that coming up with an idea is contributing to the process. Other people are volunteering and working – I can’t do that (I’m so busy after all). But my part is to come up with ideas for other programs that would really be great for the church to enact.
We can trick ourselves into being passive. We can justify our lack of effort by pointing to ideas that we put forward – ideas that will never receive action or implementation and will never help the church.
Frustration and Negativity
Generating ideas can lead to frustration. When my great ideas aren’t enacted by the staff, it’s easy for me to think that they don’t value my ideas or they don’t value me. In reality, it has nothing to do with that. The staff may really want to use my idea, but the church workforce is just so overworked and stretched. It’s an issue of a lack of manpower, not the quality of ideas.
I can then look at the current programs and begin to judge them. “I can’t believe the staff doesn’t value my idea – and they think this is the way things should work?” I look negatively at the leaders who are responsible for these areas.
And as a leader, it really breaks my heart when my class members look at me with frustration when their ideas aren’t put into place. They just can’t understand that I’m trying my best – I’m just up to my eyeballs with very little manpower to back me up.
Let’s make the mind shift from a church in need of ideas to a church in need of hands to help in the work.
How can we do this – and how can we show others how to do this?
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