Categories
Church Leadership

How to Disembark from the S.S. Fantasia

Delay is the deadliest form of denial.
~ C. Northcote Parkinson

Have you ever talked to someone and wondered… is this person living on the same planet that I am? This is a bizarre cultural phenomenon all too common among church leaders. Their day-to-day life, ministry, and sadly ministry aspirations are not based on reality but a fantasy version of reality that they have created for themselves.

This disconnection often manifests itself to me when false assumptions have driven decision-making and engagement with their local community.

  • Building a ministry around an assumption of the nuclear family. (In denial of the reality of their own extended family and in the face that the community they are trying to reach has no cultural reference to this ideal.)
  • Shrugging off the lack of racial/ethnic diversity in their organization. (In denial of statistical fact that all of America, not just urban centers, have experienced a major shift in statistical balance over the past 10 years.)
  • Redefining ministry measurables to fit the make-up of what happens naturally versus what ought to happen. (In denial of the role of organizational entropy, the reality that if you measure your impact based purely on who comes, eventually this will lead you to a crushing vortex of inward thinking.)

Sometimes, almost never intentionally and certainly by apathy, I see organizations struggling not merely because they have the wrong people in leadership or because they are bad people or because they have bad values. But they are struggling because they aren’t living in their own present reality. They are trying to win a game no one else is playing. 

They may be perfectly positioned to take community-changing action but work extremely hard on the wrong things.

Surrounded by people who think just like them (known as groupthink) they organization sales the seas of their community on the S.S. Fantasia. 

3 practical steps to help you anchor your assumptions in reality

Let’s get grounded in putting our academic study to work for us!

  • Regularly review census and other statistical data in your immediate area. If once per quarter your leadership team reviewed the latest statistical data publicly available for free via the census and the myriad of government organizations in your community, you could regularly make small decisions based on what you learn. For instance, if the school district releases a profile of new students which shows a spike in a demographic you could ask the most obvious question, “What can we do to serve this new group of people?Don’t understand this or does this seem too hard? Make an appointment with a school administrator or local college sociologist who will gladly share this data and help you understand it.
  • Regularly ask for cultural observations during team meetings. You don’t need to be a trained ethnographer to do basic ethnography. Your team is already spending time outside of the office in the community you are trying to reach… add a new question to your weekly meetings asking for one thing you observed. Maybe its that women outnumber men at a coffee shop during the day? Maybe its about what people are wearing or driving or reading. We all gather this data but until we share it with our teams we can’t make adjustments. Don’t think your team can handle this? We asked groups to do this in our Good News in the Neighborhood curriculum, middle schoolers can handle it!
  • Define your geographical target and make decisions to benefit those within that area. Face the reality that there are lots and lots of organizations/churches/ministries just like yours. Don’t be a purveyor of the rule of affinity, that’s a short-term strategy built on a false assumption that people will always like what you are doing. Instead, define your target area… be it by a mile radius or specific streets or even a zip code. And then, when you make decisions, ask yourself what’s best based on what you know from regular statistical data and cultural observations from within that target area. If you really want to go crazy– reward your staff for moving into that area and only nominate unpaid leaders like elders who come from that target area. That will begin to send the message that your organization is about that geographical area.

What are S.S. Fantasia things you see in your area/context/ministry? What’s driving you crazy? 

Categories
youth ministry

How to Keep Your Youth Ministry Job

Spring firing season has begun.

The end of the school year is a dangerous time to be in youth ministry. With the program year winding down it is prime time for church leadership to make a decision on whether to keep their youth worker for another school year.

Hint: If you get invited to an unscheduled meeting with the elders in the next few weeks, you’re getting fired. I’m sorry. (Er “forced to resign” which is the same thing but makes the elders feel better about it.)

I have several friends who are going through this right now. And it really sucks. 

Here’s two things you need to nail to keep your youth ministry job

  1. Measurables. Oh sure, we talk about the importance of relational ministry. But don’t kid yourself… it’s about numbers. If you want to get paid to do youth ministry (a pay check is a number, by the way) than you better deliver something everyone agrees is measurable and communicate that measurable well. This might be your career, but to a church leader the youth ministry program is just another mouth to feed. (It’s an expenditure.) They want to look at the financial investment they are making and see the results. You’d be wise to start the ministry year communicating clearly defined desired outcomes with  measurables and then preparing a presentation in February/March to show what you’ve done to meet those desired outcomes as well as the measurable impact. Flow charts, graphs, and case studies. If you think I’m being ridiculous… go talk to someone who works at a non-church charity, they have staff people whose sole job is to keep the funding coming by creating desired outcomes and presenting measurables to donors. At the end of the day the only way leadership will continue funding your ministry is to constantly prove it’s working.
  2. Donor relations. Earlier this week I wrote a post called Skin in the Game. As a church staff person you need to know that those who attend the church, especially those for 10+ years, have a lot more skin in the game than you do. Don’t buy the lie that the staff have the most skin in the game at a church… it’s just not true. You are an employee hired to do #1, you are not an owner. I could point you to dozens of friends who have learned this the hard way. They thought being friendly with all the leaders or doing really important, hard work meant that they were safe. Or they thought that if they simply cared a lot and gave everything they had to it that their career would be fine. And then they got invited to a meeting and asked to resign. Spiritually, the owners might be “under your authority” but that doesn’t mean they won’t fire you. I don’t care if you’re the best youth pastor in America. If you don’t deliver on #1 above you’re in big trouble. In professional sports terms, they are the owners and you are the coaches. You job is to win and attract “fans” aka potential owners. If you’re aren’t delivering results than your job is hanging purely by your ability to manage donor relations. Manage those relationships well and you can probably hang on until you deliver on #1. But mismanaging those relationships makes a board decision to fire you a whole lot easier. (Hint: It’s not always the board who are the people you need on your side. Make sure you’re managing the right relationships.)

When I talk to friends in youth ministry who have just been let go, those are the two things it always comes down to. Measurables and donor relations. (aka “politics.”) You might disagree with me on that, and you can probably point to a case where that wasn’t true. But let me reassure you… nail those two things and you are eliminating 90% of the reasons my friends have gotten fired.

Maybe this post is too matter of fact for you? Trust me. I’m only sharing to prevent your pain. I know that I’ve taken something so personal, so much a part of you, and so much a part of your faith and narrowed it down to two bullet points for how you can keep going. I know it seems simpleton and I don’t really get your context. But you just need to know the truth. Don’t be naive. We are all capable of getting fired. Manage these two things well and all the other things you love about your job can continue. Mismanage them and you’re in for a world of hurt. It might not be this Spring, but your Spring is coming.

UPDATE: Brian Berry has a continuation of this post on his blog. Go check it out.

Tip: Get canned? Check out our free job board over at The Youth Cartel.

Categories
Church Leadership

What does your ministry have to do with Dropbox?

Did you catch that? Steve Jobs invited Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox, to his office to play Let’s Make a Deal. And Drew Houston walked away.

Why? In the written interview for Forbes and the video above you get clued into Houston’s reasoning.

  • He said we were a feature, not a product.” Apparently, Jobs was thinking that Dropbox would be a great feature… what is now iCloud. (Which is buggy and I’ve turned off, by the way.)
  • We are excited about the prospect of building a really great and independent company.

Those two statements have great meaning if you understand how the tech industry works. In the tech ecosystem there are whales and minnows and only a few medium-sized fish in the middle. The whales go around and gobble up anything that looks tasty. If you are a minnow your goal, largely, is to get swallowed by a whale. Virtually no company survives a full life cycle from minnow start-up to medium-sized company to big great, independent company. The whales have too much money and too many lawyers. (see Patent Troll)

While at first blush every tech start-up I’ve ever met will tell you that they are excited about their product line and would love to grow into a great company, the reality is that acquisition is probably their exit strategy. If you asked them, “Would you sell to Google?” Almost everyone will say yes because as they grow they realize a couple of things.

  • They are great entrepreneurs/inventors and not great managers of people.
  • They have a product and not a company. It might be their 4th product which hits and makes them a household name but they can’t see past the success of their first product.
  • They are starters and not sustainers. Their business model is short-sighted.
  • They want to cash out to get billions, bottles, and babes.

What does this have to do with people in ministry?

  • If you want to build a great ministry you have to keep innovating. You can’t get so hung up on perfecting your first “product” that you stop innovating altogether and never find the thing that hits.
  • If you want to build a great ministry you have to be a great manager of people.
  • If you want to build a great ministry you have to sustain. Stop looking for a better job and make your job the best job you could ever get.
  • If you want to build a great ministry you better forget about billions, bottles, and babes.