You have never tried to make your message irrelevant, boring, or incomprehensible. At least I hope not!
But you find yourself preaching while questioning your effectiveness. You walk up to deliver a sermon lacking confidence in your content. You question your ability. Your capacity. Even your calling. You feel your church more tolerates the message than engages in the content.
This might be the most important preaching principle I’ve learned.
Before I tell you the lesson, though, let me walk you through my process of discovery:
When I first began preaching, I took an entire manuscript on stage. It was a pastoral security blanket – except not pink and fuzzy. I tried not to read it directly, and in most cases, I was successful. But in my mind, it was good to know it was there… just in case I needed to snuggle.
As you probably know from my previous writing, I’m a big proponent of engaging volunteers in the ministry of the church. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to start a practical conversation about mobilizing volunteers better in 2016. But before we get into some practical advice, I want to address one of the most important and yet often ignored aspects of equipping volunteers to do ministry: helping them identify and then use their gifts.
God gives every Christ-follower one or more spiritual gifts. He does this to strengthen the body of Christ. When God’s in control of these gifts in our lives, the impact of our mission, together, is incredible. It’s one of the ways God designed the church to reproduce itself.
But how do we help people determine their gifts?
On the first day of my first internship during college, my supervisor told us there was one important rule we needed to follow if we were going to have a great experience with the organization.
Interns are not allowed to make coffee.
While this “rule” became somewhat of a joke around the office, I think the underlying principle behind it is a valuable one. We knew from the onset that we were not there simply to be the office “gophers.” It demonstrated to us that we were valued as interns and brought on for the summer to do more than just make coffee and run errands.
I don’t like the term “church consulting.”
Yes, it’s on my website. There’s a simple reason for that: Church leaders aren’t searching the web for “ministry health assessments” or “strategic planning,” though I wish they would. That would mean those things were top of mind — but for most pastors, they aren’t.
Our cultural narrative says the pastor’s kids are the worst — sneaky, rebellious, and a bad influence on the rest of the youth.
I’ve heard most stereotypes germinate from a seed of truth. But in my life, I’ve met more PKs who blow up that stereotype than ones who fit it.
I recently finished The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. It’s been out a few years now, but I haven’t heard many church leaders mention it. The concepts, while very simple, fascinated me. They revolved around a simple discovery of neurology: the habit loop.
A habit = a cue + a routine + a reward
Whatever the cue is, routines you reward get repeated. And once a habit is formed, it leads a person — or an organization — on autopilot.
For example, in a church, it could play out like this:
First time guest shows up (cue) + church members stay huddled in conversation (routine) + church stays small and comfortable (reward)
Staff meetings create space for sharing ideas (cue) + staff members bring ideas and are encouraged to take risks (routine) + staff members feel valued and empowered (reward)
Pastor suggests a change (cue) + a group of people complain (routine) + pastor halts change (reward)
As you can see, habits can be leveraged for bad or good.
I found this book personally challenging, but also incredibly encouraging. Here are some observations and questions based on some of my favorite quotes from the book:
1. “Habits aren’t destiny….habits can be ignored, changed, or replaced. But the reason the discovery of the habit loop is so important is that it reveals a basic truth: When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit — unless you find new routines — the pattern will unfold automatically.”
Habits, in theory, save the brain time and energy. They can create positive outcomes just as much as negative ones. But often, we allow habits to take the reigns on things that should get more of our brain power.
2. “Habits emerge when patterns are predictable—when our brains learn to crave a specific reward at a specific moment. When rewards defy prediction, when we fall off the wagon in ways that confound expectations, we take some of the power out of a pattern. It’s a little bit harder for the habit loop to start.”
This is one good reason to fight predictability in church. Your predictable services are creating organizational habits that will become increasingly difficult to change over time.
3. “Some departments at NASA, for instance, were overhauling themselves by deliberately instituting organizational routines that encouraged engineers to take more risks. When unmanned rockets exploded on takeoff, department heads would applaud, so that everyone would know their division had tried and failed, but at least they had tried. Eventually, mission control filled with applause every time something expensive blew up. It became an organizational habit.”
This story was so interesting. NASA’s habit goal backfired here. They intended to encourage people to take risks. They ended up celebrating failure instead of success. Are you celebrating things that do not align with your vision, out of habit alone?
4. “Keystone habits offer what is known within academic literature as ‘small wins.’ They help other habits to flourish by creating new structures, and they establish cultures where change becomes contagious.”
Keystone habits are habits that set into motion a series of other behaviors. If you change a keystone habit for the better, you get a domino effect. Sometimes they are hard to identify, but they’re worth rooting out. What negative habits, if changed, would set off a chain reaction of other positive changes?
(Andy Stanley interviewed Charles Duhigg about keystone habits on his podcast a few years back. You can listen here.)
5. “Sometimes, a truce can create dangers that outweigh any peace.”
In the book, Duhigg describes “truces” inside organizations as unspoken agreements, or habits, between different people, teams or departments that “keep the peace,” even at the expense of what’s right for the organization as a whole. An organization full of these kinds of truces has a sick culture that will ultimately cause its demise.
Truces also create ministry silos.
6. “During turmoil, organizational habits become malleable enough to both assign responsibility and create a more equitable balance of power.”
When pain comes, habits are easier to change. Crisis is never easy or desired, but it often creates the foundation for positive change that nothing else could.
7. “For an idea to grow beyond a community, it must become self-propelling.”
How are you empowering people to own the vision of your church? Is it replicable? Is it replicating?
8. “…every habit, no matter its complexity, is malleable.”
Have you given up hope that bad habits in your church or on your team can change?
9. “…once you understand that habits can change, you have the freedom—and the responsibility—to remake them.”
Ask God to show you where the culture of your church or team is sick. Ask Him to show you which bad habits start with you.
We’ve added another new face to The Unstuck Group team! Sara Chapple joins us this month as our new client relationship manager. She’ll be the one wrangling details and schedules, and making sure each church has the resources it needs to succeed throughout each phase of our consulting process.
Sara’s journey in ministry includes nine years on staff at Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas, as well as launching and leading a ministry for single women. Read on below to get to know Sara.
TIFFANY: How did you get to this place in your journey?
SARA: I began working in full-time ministry in 2005. During my years at Fellowship Church, I was privileged to lead in many ministry areas including singles and women’s ministry and supporting the C3 Conference. During my last three years there, I helped launch a network for churches and senior pastors called C3 Global.
I left full-time employment at the church and launched my own ministry for single women in 2013. During this season I spoke at events, led Bible studies and hosted a retreat. Towards the end of 2015, I began to feel the pull to be a part of a team. I loved the idea of working with churches and pastors again and found The Unstuck Group soon after.
TIFFANY: What did you learn about the reasons churches get stuck in your previous roles?
SARA: So many things! But I think a theme that ties them all together is uncertainty and doubt. Pastors and leaders in the church care about people deeply and take their calling to shepherd seriously. The decisions they make carry weight. We sometimes get stuck simply because we want so badly to make the right decisions. We begin to have uncertainty and doubt about what the correct steps are.
This is where the Body of Christ has an opportunity to work so beautifully. When one part of the Body is in need, the rest of the Body steps up to help. Leading a church can be very isolating, and the enemy can prey on that isolation. But when we work together and senior leaders don’t carry the load alone, the Body works! I really believe that.
Being a part of The Unstuck Group means I get to be a part of the Body that exists to help when pastors are in need. In 1 Corinthians 12:26, it says “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
I love helping pastors through the “suffering,” and I especially love rejoicing as they succeed.
TIFFANY: You’re worked closely with pastors, serving with an administrative gifting in several of your roles. What are some practical ways pastors can grow in their ability to empower rather than just delegate?
SARA: Empower like Jesus! Jesus was no micro-manager. He empowered the disciples, and He was strategic in the way He did it. He spent time with them. They watched how He worked. They picked up His DNA, so to speak. Then He sent them out on their own.
They weren’t perfect, but He brought them back in and taught them some more. He corrected them. They had failures. Some recovered and kept going and some did not. He let the ones go that needed to go. The ones that remained, He gave them the vision and sent them out.
>> Learn more about the entire team at The Unstuck Group.
Photo Credit: Gratisography CC0