Systems Thinking: Personal Prayer

prayer2I’ll admit it: I struggle with prayer.  I always have.  I understand how it works, I know lots of different ways to do it, and I believe in its power.  But I have always struggled to pray well because it has always been outside of my systems thinking.  I’ve always thought about prayer as needing to be “authentic” – and by authentic we normally really mean spontaneous.  And I don’t do spontaneous.

But this week I was challenged by a prayer warrior to have “established and formal” prayer.  That sounds like a System to me!  And that I can get my mind around.  So what does a Personal Prayer System look like?  Here are some aspects I think need to be in place:

An Appointment

A Prayer System starts with having a time designated to pray.  It is important to have the time blocked out or it will get used for something else.  Just like anything else, if we don’t make time to pray, we won’t do it!

A Direction

Once you have time set aside to pray, a Prayer System needs a direction for the prayer to go in.  There are lots of ways to pray, and lots of things to pray for.  So choose one!  Choose a way (or many ways) to pray, and what you are going to pray about regularly (family, self, sins, church, the lost, etc).  Then stick to the plan flexibly – there are times you may need to shift your plan.

A Team

A Personal Prayer System starts with you praying, but it also needs people praying for you!  Find 2-4 reliable, trustworthy people and ask them to pray for you – as part of your system.  Then work them into the system by creating a scheduled sharing of praises, needs, and answers to pray.  Make sure to include those answers as encouragement to them to keep praying!

An Evaluation

Finally, a Prayer System, like all systems, needs some way to evaluate success.  Define what success looks like for you (time in prayer, answers to prayer, daily impact on life, etc).  Then create the scorecard – what you are going to track and evaluate (days I prayed, number of prayers clearly answered, number of times God clearly moved, etc).  Now evaluate, redesigning the system as necessary.

When we have a Personal Prayer System, our prayer becomes “established and formal”, and our lives, families, and ministries will be covered continuously in prayer.

How can systematic prayer transform your personal prayer life?

Segmenting Church Leadership

How should the local church be governed? I can’t provide an adequate answer to a question that we’ve been divided on for two thousand years. But I do want to point out some benefits to a local church having a segmented leadership structure. The idea is to have multiple leadership boards rather than one “megaboard” that handles everything from replacing light bulbs to spiritual discipline. The model can have two, three, or more leadership boards, but is probably most effective with three – a lead board that handles purpose and direction, a board that focuses on resources (volunteers, budgets, and facilities) and a board that focuses on care of people.

Manageable Workloads

Megaboards never get anything done because they are trying to do to much. There isn’t enough time in the day for one group to do all that needs to be done to lead a church. By segmenting leadership, each board has a manageable workload. This allows the church to move forward because the leadership can accomplish things. It also lets the board members feel like they are doing something, which leads them to be more engaged.

Better Decisions

Because of their massive workloads, megaboards tend to be inefficient. Segmenting leadership optimizes board efficiency by narrowing the focus of the agenda. Since less things are being considered, they are given full attention. This leads to better decisions, and more of them. When people are asked to make many decisions in one sitting, they tend to make poorer decisions.

Gifted Leaders

The likelihood of a person being gifted to lead in spiritual oversight, administration, and care at the same time is fairly low. But on a megaboard, you have people who are gifted in one or two areas being asked to lead in all three. When you segment leadership you allow people to serve in their area of giftedness. And when people are serving in their area of giftedness they lead better.

Multiplying Leaders

With one board, leadership is limited to a select few. This can lead to an amalgamation of power among the board and a lack of new leaders being developed (as there is no need for them). By contrast, with segmented leadership leadership development becomes necessary as more leaders are needed. And the segmented boards naturally prohibit power plays by the few. The more leaders a church has the better off it will be, and those leaders all own the purpose and strategy of the church.

I think there are many benefits to segmenting leadership, but help me out – what potential issues might crop up with this model?

4 Obsessions of an Extra/Ordinary Pastor

I love Patrick Lencioni’s writing. His case study style fits my learning style, and he says simple, yet profound things. Randy Richards, one of my professors said “You know something is true when you hear it for the first time but think you’ve known it all along.” That is what Lencioni does. You are reading a new insight, but you could swear you knew it for years. The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive is like that.

But I find that pastors often have a hard time taking business insights and translating them to their realm. So here is my “church translation” of the Four Obsessions

1. Build and Maintain a Cohesive Leadership Team

The first obsession lead pastors must have is the obsession to build and maintain a cohesive leadership team. Obviously, this refers to the staff, but even more so to the leading board of the church. The pastor must have a Board that understands the vision and mission of the church and is sold out to making it a reality. To make this happen, the lead pastor must have a large part of (if not the only part of) choosing the members of the Board. Then, he has to take the time it takes to get them to the point where they trust each other and know each other personally. This might mean that some meetings are all about building the group and leave “mission critical” issues off the agenda. I recommend Larry Osbourne’s Sticky Teams as a guide to this area of your leadership.

2. Create Organizational Clarity

The second obsession of the lead pastor must be to create clarity about the church. This means that they do need to take the time to really seek God’s face on the mission of their church. Why is your church there as opposed to another? What is your church supposed to do that another could not? And how are you going to do it – what is your strategy? If the lead pastor is unsure of the purpose and strategy of the church, everyone else will be too. And a church with no direction is going to go nowhere fast.

3. Over-Communicate Organizational Clarity

Thirdly, the lead pastor must over-communicate that clarity to the church. You have to tell the leadership, the staff, the congregation, and maybe even the community what your church is about until you are blue in the face. This means carving out time on Sunday mornings. It means using email, newsletters, thank you notes in giving statements, the church sign, the business meeting, staff meeting, board meeting, and personal conversations. As Lencioni says, when your people make jokes about how much you talk about it, you are starting to talk about it enough. Talk about it often, and in multiple media.

4. Reinforce Organizational Clarity through Human Systems

Last, the lead pastor must reinforce the purpose and strategy of the church through all of the human systems. You must choose leaders based on it. You must choose volunteers based on it. You must decide what programs to have based on it. You must “fire” volunteers when they don’t own it. You must reward people publicly who are getting it. You must create your budget around it (if you don’t think that creating a church budget is a human system, you must not have done it before). Every place that you have a system that touches leadership, staff, volunteers, donors, or congregants, you have to alter the system to support your purpose and strategy.

In sum, a pastor’s role is not just to preach and teach. It is to lead the church. Leadership requires having a direction, knowing that direction, communicating that direction, and making that direction strategically correlated to everything about the church.

I think this is hard for a pastor in our church culture because it will require him to say no to a lot of things people want him to do. What do you think? Is this doable, or will it require a paradigm shift for a lot of churches?

 

3 Must Reads

Chris Brogan (chrisbrogan.com) recently threw out the idea of only reading 3 books in the course of a year.  The idea is that when we try to read a lot of books, we treat them like a to do list and don’t actually get much out of them.  Instead, he says, read fewer books, but spend more time with each to get the most out of them.

If you were to take this approach to reading on Church Organization this year, here are the three books I’d put in your hands:

 1. Advanced Strategic Planning: A New Model for Church and Ministry Leaders
In this volume, Aubrey Malphurs not only explains the benefits of long term strategic planning, but goes in depth on how to do it.  384 pages of how to make a strategic plan for your church.  This is a resource I use all the time. 

2. The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business
Ranked the #3 Business Book of 2012 by Amazon, The Advantage brings together much of Patrick Lencioni’s work into one volume.  While his narratives are easier to read, The Advantage brings all the deliverables into one book as a plan for getting your organization healthy.  It will help you assess the health of your church staff, leadership, and volunteers.

3. Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church
Nelson Searcy is an excellent systems thinker.  It is worth your time to read all of his books, but this is the best introduction to church systems.  In Fusion, you will learn how to create an Assimilation System in your church.  The principles of building a system then will help you as you look at other areas within the church.

These three books will put you in position to be a more organized and effective church.

What 3 books would you recommend I read this year?