Vision Has Its Price – Andy Stanley

This speaks right into my heart today…

Any vision worth pursuing will demand sacrifice and risk. You will be called upon to give up the actual good for the potential best. You will find it necessary to leave what is comfortable and familiar in order to embrace that which is uncomfortable and unfamiliar. And all the while, you will be haunted by the fear that this thing you are investing so much of yourself in may not work out at all.

There are so many unknowns associated with a vision. There are dozens of opportunities for things to go wrong. There is no guaranteed return on your investment. Sacrifice and risk-taking are unavoidable.

But to allow the cost and uncertainties to cause you to shrink back in your commitment or cause you to move out tenuously is to invite failure. Besides that, no one will follow you. Uncertainty in a leader is always magnified in the heart of the follower. John Maxwell says it this way: ‘People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision. People buy into the vision after the leader buys into it.'”

Vision requires courage and confidence. It requires launching out as if you were absolutely assured of the outcome. Vision requires the commitment of a parachutist. You don’t ‘sort of’ parachute. You are either in the plane or in the air. You either do it or you don’t. THe tendency is to approach a vision the same way a first time ice skater takes to the ice: cautiously, and never more than an arm’s length from the railing.” – Andy Stanley, Visioneering, p. 125-126


Why We Junked Mission Statements

Four years ago we had an elders/staff retreat to discuss the future direction of Northwest. In these types of retreats, we would collectively work through a number of things in regard to vision, mission and purpose as a congregation. As a part of this discussion we decided it was time to re-think our mission statement and re-work it to be more relevant to where we were as a congregation. The first step in a task like that is to put down what the current mission statement is. As we all started to write down our current mission statement…some of us were scratching our heads a little trying to come up with it. We didn’t know it because we never use it. That was an “aha” moment for us that lead to a change in how we structure some of what we do.

For us, the mission statement was one of those things that used to look really nice on a banner that had hung there so long that no one even paid attention to it anymore. We realized having a mission statement, in and of itself, did nothing. It was just a statement. It couldn’t act. It couldn’t move. It was just words. Passive, descriptive purpose…unable to do anything on its own. We also realized that if the leadership doesn’t know it, the congregation doesn’t know it. They didn’t know it because we hadn’t made it memorable in any real sense. It is not that it wasn’t memorable in a catchy kind of way it was that it wasn’t memorable because it hadn’t caught on. It hadn’t caught on because it wasn’t being visibly and consistently represented in what we said and did and looked forward to as a congregation. That was when we decided to junk our mission statement. We haven’t had one sense. If you aren’t going to use it, don’t put it out there. It just communicates that we are just as confused about what it means as you are.

Here is what we have done instead – annual themes. Each year we pick a theme that we think adequately reflects something we need to prioritize that year as a congregation. We communicate the theme to the congregation in January. Then we use that theme as a filter for the things we do, for some of our sermons, fellowship activities, etc. It doesn’t encompass everything we do but we try to make sure it is put into action. I guess it is a mini-mission statement of sorts…a sort of temporary focal point that helps get us to the next step in our development.

A helpful resource on creating and casting effective and memorable vision is Andy Stanley’s book “Making Vision Stick“. A very quick and helpful read. Here is a summary of that book here on the blog back in June.

Making Vision Stick by Andy Stanley

One thing I have noticed in my first ten years of ministry is that vision is easy to cast but hard to make stick. There are so many good and godly ideas that we can talk about. There are so many biblical directives and directions we can take. Communicating those things is easier than doing those things. I found Andy Stanley’s book Making Vision Stick extremely helpful in understanding how to get an organization to catch and maintain a vision. This goes beyond forging mission statements and having meetings. This book gets to the core of leadership itself. What is more, this book communicates a great deal in only 75 tiny pages. I really do mean tiny, this is a small, small book. I thought this book was so helpful that I ordered copies for all our elders and staff so that we can discuss it together. After reading this review maybe you will feel like doing that as well.

Here is the gist of what Stanley lays out:

Leaders must take responsibility
It starts with you. He says, “it is the leader’s responsibility to ensure that people understand and embrace the vision of the organization…but when a leader blames the follower for not following, the leader has ceased to lead.” (p.17). He says we must make what we are doing “get-able”. People have to get on board. That means we must communicate things in a consistent and coherent manner. This starts with leadership. It doesn’t get done by polling the congregation. It takes a group of leaders who decide on what they believe is the biblical course and direction for the congregation and getting everyone else on board. In other words, we can’t just hope that people will randomly come together on a consistent and coherent direction and move forward in a unified fashion.

Once the leadership has realized its own responsibility in casting and maintaining a biblical vision there are five things you can do to “significantly increase the adhesiveness of your vision.” (p.18)

  1. State the vision simply
  2. Cast the vision convincingly
  3. Repeat the vision regularly
  4. Celebrate the vision systematically
  5. Embrace the vision personally

State the vision simply
He says, “People don’t remember or embrace paragraphs” so make it simple and memorable. “If your vision is unclear to you, it will never be clear to the people in your organization. For your vision to stick, you may need to clarify or simplify it.”  That is so, so true. I wonder if sometimes we have so much vision that it is distracting. We don’t consolidate and boil it down to the most significant thing. People are so busy and so distracted, it is hard to get them on board to a dozen visions. This also means that the leader understands the vision. This is going to take prayer. It is going to take study. It is going to take time. We often get so pulled down by the urgent that we don’t make time to prepare for the future in a way that is healthy and balanced.

Cast the vision convincingly
He gives three parts to this step

  1. Define the problem – people have to realize how serious it is and what is at stake if they don’t get on board
  2. Offer a solution – A vision is convincing when people can see the connection between the problem and how the organization is offering a solution
  3. Present a reason – This is the reason action must take place now. This is the answer to the questions “Why must we do this?” and “why must we do this now?” It isn’t that you are the first to recognize the problem itself but a leader will understand that the problem is so significant that it requires immediate, coordinated action to address it.
He concludes this section with this challenge,
“I’ll make a prediction. If you and your team will set aside time to define the problem, state your vision as a solution, and discover a compelling reason why now is the time to act, you will walk away from that meeting, or series of meetings, with more passion for what you are about than you thought possible. Something will come alive in you. And when you talk about your vision, you will be more convincing than you’ve ever been before.” (p.33)

Repeat the vision regularly
This is about building vision casting “into the rhythm of your organization.” This is not about saying something once or twice and hoping people get that what you are talking about is a long term focus of the efforts of the entire congregation. The repetition is done in numerous ways (sermons, activities, emails, mailouts, etc). In order to make this a habit he recommends doing this at regular times each year so that it becomes part of the rhythm of the congregation.

Celebrate the vision systematically
Celebration clarifies the win. People will repeat what is most often celebrated. Stanley says, “Every organization celebrates something. But if your vision doesn’t align with your celebrations, I assure you that what’s celebrated will overpower the vision and determine the course of your organization.” (p.40)

Embrace the vision personally
“Your willingness to embody the vision of your organization will have a direct impact on your credibility as a leader.” (p.47). That is so, so true. In our new evangelistic class on Wednesday nights, I make sure that as I give out outreach responsibilities that I take on some myself and that if there are studies happening, that I am involved in them personally and that the class knows that. How can I expect them to buy in to something I am personally disengaged from?

“When you embody the vision of your organization, people come to believe that your job is more than just a job for you. Over time it occurs to insiders that you would be doing the same thing even if there weren’t an organization to support you. When it is evident to those closest to you that you have personally embraced the vision, you give them permission to do the same.”

How to tell when your vision is slipping
Last, the book talks about how to know if your vision is slipping. I will leave it up to you to get this book and read that part because I think it will be well worth your time.

How have you helped cast and implement vision and direction for your congregation? How have you maintained it over the long haul?

Some Times You Really Do Have to Build Bridges – Northpoint’s $5 million dollar project

Northpoint really is about building bridges. Check out their Let’s Build a Bridge project. They plan to add another access point to their main campus over 1000 feet of wetlands. It will have three lanes and a pedestrian walkway. Looks like they have already raised just under half of the $5 million it will cost to complete this project. Click here to read Andy Stanley’s take on the project and his rationale for its importance. They must have serious traffic issues to warrant $5 million for additional access. My first thought was that it just seemed like the old facility mindset – get them to the building on Sunday morning – routine. But if you know anything about Northpoint you know this decision was meticulously crafted, prayed over, and decided was key to the advancement of their mission.

Book Giveaway – 7 Practices of Effective Ministry by Andy Stanley

About two months ago I mentioned a really great book about ministry called The 7 Practices of Effective Ministry by Andy Stanley. I wanted to offer you guys a chance to snag a copy for free. So just comment on this post if you want to be in the running. By the end of the week I will randomly choose a name, order it from amazon and have it shipped right to you. If you are reading this and it is after December 3 please don’t email me or comment requesting this book (you wouldn’t believe how often that happens).

All of these giveaways are compliments of those of you who order through my amazon links. When I mention a book and you click and order it I get a small percentage of referral money from the sale. I take all that and put 100% of it into giveaways here on the blog. I get nothing from your purchases. So thank you to all of you who have made purchases through this blog. It goes a long way!

Communicating for a Change – Developing a Single Point

The second half of chapter 12 is all about how you develop your one point to its fullest. Here is his process of developing a one point message (p.106):

  • Dig until you find it
  • Build everything around it
  • Make it stick

Dig until you find it:
He uses the term dig because he sees sermon preparation as a “discovery process”. “Preparation involves discovering what the text says and what it doesn’t say, what we wish it would say, what we didn’t expect it to say.” (p.106). Again, we aren’t trying to make scripture fit our message. We are trying to take the message of scripture and present it accurately and effectively.

As you dig the one point begins to emerge from your study. You don’t normally start off knowing what that one point is. Instead it develops during the sermon preparation process and it hits you what you are really trying to say. It is easier to start with your point in mind. Some situations call for exactly that (as he explains on .107). But often when we start with our point in mind we make everything fit the point rather than letting the text tell us what the point is. Dr. Bland at Harding Grad called that jacking your point up with a text. If you are picking a point before you allow scripture to give it to you then you have the cart before the horse. You are then trying to back up what you are saying with scripture rather than trying to communicate what scripture is trying to say on its own.

Build Everything around it:
One of the most challenging parts of sticking with one point is what Stanley calls clearing out the clutter. Once you know what the single point is you you have the challenge of sidelining all those other good ideas you have in your notes for another day. Don’t chase rabbits and stick to the things that will take people where you are trying to get them. He says this takes discipline. I agree! He says, “If you don’t take time to reorient your message around the one thing, it will get lost amongst the other things.” (p.110)

Make it stick:
If you have heard Andy Stanley speak you already know what this is about. He always has a single phrase that sums up the message. He wants people to remember it. He calls this his “sticky statement” and says it has to be “short and memorable.” (p.111). This statement serves not only to focus his audience but to focus himself in what he is communicating on Sunday. This is key because he doesn’t really use notes when he preaches. According to this book his powerpoint use is sparing. He has structured his speaking in a way that he prepared in a way that makes his message memorable so he can be able to present it in a memorable way to his audience.

Being a “Burden Bearer”:

The last thing he talks about in chapter 12 is what he calls being a “burden bearer.” What he means by that is that any given message worthy of being communicated to an audience of any size has to have that one thing the speaker, preacher, etc feels they have to get off their chest…

that one message, idea, principle, or truth that had to be delivered at all cost. The one thing isn’t just information. It is not just a carefully crafted phrase. It is literally a burden. It is a burden that weighs so heavily on the heart of the communicator that he or she must deliver it. (p.113)

How do you know what this is? He says it comes from asking yourself the question “‘What is the one thing I must communicate? What is it that people have to know?’ If you don’t have an answer to that question, you aren’t ready.” (p.114). Fair enough, right? I mean, if we don’t feel the burden can we expect them to? Can we expect them to be convicted if we aren’t? He says this is what puts “passion to preaching”. I don’t know about you but I needed to hear that.

Communicating for a Change – Pick A Point

One of Andy Stanley’s strengths is his ability to laser beam focus on only one point and really drive it home. In the last post on this book I mentioned that you have to know where your goal is. Notice I didn’t say what your goal is but where. The point in that is you are trying to take someone from point A to point B. Communication is a journey. Journeys are trying to get people to one place, not two, three, four, five, or more places. So Stanley believes having one point and communicating it to the best of his ability makes for great communication. He goes on to say, “once that point, that idea, that destination is clear, then the goal is to bend everything in the message toward that one thing.” (p.101)

In picking the one point approach Andy vocally dispells the multi-point method. He has a few reasons for doing so that you may or may not agree with. Ironically, he has three points in explaining why he believes three point preaching is not the most effective way to get results:

  1. By the time you get to the final point people hardly remember the first couple. “Whatever impact they might have made is washed away by the information and illustrations that follow. On a good day, it is that last point that usually sticks.” (p.102)
  2. We don’t live lives full of lists of points, “so there’s no compelling reason to remember a list of points.” (101)
  3. Points are designed to “move people through an outline” and he admittedly says good things can and will come from that, “But if life change is your goal, point by point preaching is not the most effective approach.” (101)
    1. He makes it clear that life change can and does come from this form of preaching but in his view it is not the “most effective” way to produce it.

In some ways this makes preaching easier. Each point of a sermon can now become a sermon to itself. That makes coming up with creative sermon ideas way easier because if you use that approach you now have 1/3 as many creative ideas to come up with each week. Those three points can now be three sermons with one point each. That makes for a good series!

So how do you get your one point, and yes you should have one point!? Stanley poses two questions that must be asked before of the sermon before it is delivered (p.104):

  1. “What is the one thing I want my audience to know?”
  2. “What do I want them to do about it?”

This does two things. It defines the focus of the sermon by setting the one thing that everything in the sermon needs to point back to and support. Next, it gives direction by setting up what the sermon must communicate in order to produce the desired result, call, or action on the audience. Let’s face it, change isn’t change unless something happens and pew sitting alone isn’t that something.

The next post will review how he goes about developing the one single point in each lesson.

Andy Stanley – Liberating Your Organization

Andy Stanley tackles changing dysfunctional organizations in this DVD from Catalyst called Liberating Your Organization. He gives some really good nuts and bolts that can practically help leaders reclaim the direction and focus on a congregational level. This goes really deep into what the real issues of the organization are, how they really work, and working through the dysfunctional components to bring health and effectiveness back to churches. I can’t think of a single church I have been a part of that wouldn’t benefit from hearing what Stanley has to say about leadership and change in this DVD.

One a side note, he does take a slap at the idea of Restoration of New Testament Christianity. It was really pretty unnecessary but if you are from that background don’t let that side note distract you from the meat in this presentation.

Best Book on Ministry I Have Read in a While

I read Andy Stanely’s 7 Practices for Effective Ministry in the airport last weekend and I just have to pass this resource on. I really wish they had titled the book better in order to get across what this book is really doing as I think it would get more people’s attention. This book lays out step-by-step the ministry process at Northpoint. The gist of it is that many congregations spend lots of time being busy with no real direction. The way to do better is to take time to define the “win” and then work through the other six steps of how to focus in on creating environments that take people toward the win. They make the point that if the leadership doesn’t define the win, someone will. Usually what ends up happening is that individual ministries define their own win and there is no continuity between ministries. We get busier but no more effective. This book is the cure for that and I really appreciate the concrete examples they experienced in starting and growing Northpoint. I am going to get copies of this book for all the leadership of our 20s & 30s group and then get together and talk through how we could do that as a microcosm of the larger church. Then we can look at how it goes and how we might pass this on to the whole congregation.

If you are a minister, I highly encourage you to purchase this book.

Five Things God Uses – Andy Stanley

Our men’s class is going through Five Things God Uses to Grow Your Faith by Andy Stanley. It is some really good material. He believes that just about everything God uses fits into at least one of 5 categories. Let’s see if you can think of something that wouldn’t fit into any of these:

  1. Practical teaching
  2. Providential Relationships
  3. Private Disciplines
  4. Personal Ministry
  5. Pivotal Circumstances

Anything missing?