You’re Asking the Wrong Questions

Successful churches–successful organizations of any kind–are built not on agreement of issue or even philosophy but on common identity and purpose: who are we, and what are we called to do? This requires regular conversations.

Declining churches and organizations try to minimize differences and create agreement. But growth is never built on the basis of minimizing disagreement. In fact, the stricter the demand for adherence to a common belief system, the more damage to the health of the organization. Organizations in retreat try to find common ground in such spurious definitions as common history, location, or even specific ethic or doctrine.

That’s why leadership requires courage, or the willingness to face disagreements, sometimes violent disagreements, and continually redirect common identity and shared purpose. Now raising my fourth toddler, I’ve gotten pretty good at the art of the redirect. Sometimes there is no answer to a misdirected question. Rather than address the problem, the better leadership tactic is to redirect the question back to common identity and purpose.

Common identity is vision set and reinforced through effective leadership. For example, Apple became famous for building insanely great computers. For the church, common identity is built upon the shared experience of discipleship as defined primarily by Scripture. We are followers of the Way, saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Effective congregations have leadership that are clear about their identity.

From common identity comes a common purpose. The purpose defines behavior. If the purpose is to build great computers, then anything outside of the purpose must be aggressively shed. For the church, if the purpose is to create more disciples, anything outside of the purpose must be aggressively shed. Conversations about healthcare and pensions need to be directed to a focus on shared identity and practice derived from a common purpose. Doing these things more often than not will solve disagreements.

A focus on agreement. Healthy churches, as organizations, focus on identity and purpose.