Three Questions that Shape Everything We Do as Leaders
An excerpt from upcoming book, The Caleb Strategy, by Scott Rodin and Jeff Suderman
We are privileged to have worked with Christian organizations for a combined 50+ years. These experiences have encompassed work with a wide variety of ministries, leadership styles and positions around the world. Amidst this amazing diversity, we are convinced there are three foundational questions that ultimately shape our work as Christian leaders. We urge you to thoughtfully consider how you would answer these three questions:
Are we doing God’s work?
Do we understand God’s role?
Are we doing it God’s way?
At first glance these questions may seem to have obvious answers, we believe that in practice, our answers do not always match our ideals. Here is a brief description of each and two alternate ways we can choose to respond.
God’s Work: Are You Joining or Leading?
- The Leading Approach: God needs work done, so He commissions us to do it for Him. In this approach God is initiating and directing our work, but not being actively engaged in it. He provides us with the guidance and resources we need and then turns the execution over to us. God created the world and provided us with all the resources we needed to be happy and successful, and then leaves the scene, entrusting us to work it all out. When the ministry we lead becomes “our organization” or “our work” we take on the attitude of owners. As a result, our strategic planning processes will also reflect this mindset.
- The Joining Approach: God is already at work all around us and He calls us to join Him in that work. The alternate view focuses on what God is already doing and understands our work as a participation in His greater work. God is not only present in this work but he is at the center of it; not only directing and guiding but actively involved in every aspect. God initiates work and we join Him. This approach to ministry gives us a steward’s perspective in all we do. It acknowledges that as branches, we can only bear fruit when we are intimately attached to the vine (John 15:5). When we take on the attitude of a steward and partner it will be reflected in our strategic planning with everything focused on pursuing kingdom outcomes for God’s glory, since this is first and foremost God’s work.
God’s Role: Is He an Absentee Landlord or Owner?
- The Absentee Landlord Approach: We are the owners of our work, God sits at a distance and holds us responsible for the outcomes. If this is our work that has been left to us to do then we become the owners of our work. God’s role is relegated to providing overall direction, supporting our needs through people and financial resources, and affirming the direction we’re going. We seek His blessing for our ministry. While we may say He owns everything, we operate as though we are the true owners.
- The Owner Approach: God is the owner of our work, intimately involved in it and is ultimately responsible for it. Our ministry truly and solely belongs to God. He not only owns it, He gives it direction, provides its resources, and works His will both in it, and through it, for the building of His kingdom. Everyone in the organization is committed to building God’s Kingdom God’s way with the resources God provides. This attitude flows into our approach to strategic planning. If God owns this ministry, including us and its future, then our planning should reflect a wholehearted pursuit of His will regardless of the implications.
God’s Way: Do We Focus on Outcomes or Outputs?
- The Output Approach: God is most concerned about what we do. God’s ultimate purpose is to equip us to do His work. He then leaves it to us to decide how we do the work as long as we can produce measurable outputs, which are the way we measure success. Organizations that approach their work as owners will pursue success by means of goals and strategies accomplished as a result of wholly human efforts and will lead us to success defined in singularly human terms. Put a different way, if this is our work, and God leaves it for us to do, then there’s no reason we shouldn’t do it our way.
- The Outcome Approach: God is most concerned about who we are becoming. God’s ultimate purpose is to work in us and through us to produce kingdom outcomes, which include not only the effectiveness of our mission but the transformation of our hearts in the process. We undertake all of our work in a way that wholly aligns with God’s way of doing things. We are engaged in the passionate pursuit of doing this work God’s way. When you look at your strategic plans they should reflect a discernment process where we seek Kingdom outcomes and also consider what God seeks to do in us as His people and His ministry in the process. When we seek God’s way, we must also focus on God’s redemptive work in us as His people, as His coworkers in this kingdom work. Perhaps this is the most important outcome a faith-based organization can achieve!
Kingdom organizations and ministries need to carefully consider these three foundational questions. They serve as a simple means to assess your focus and your priorities. They also provide a compass by which to orient your attitudes and actions as you lead your ministry.
We believe that every church, ministry or Christian organization should pursue its mission by understanding that they are coworkers with God in His greater mission, that He is the owner of their work at every level, and that their success only comes when they are carrying out their work in full obedience to Him. If we lose this perspective we are in danger of losing the ‘why’ in our pursuit of the ‘how’, losing God’s work in and through us in pursuit of our work for God, and losing God’s place in the pursuit of defining our own place.
We encourage you to examine these three questions and your honest answers to each. Then ask the Holy Spirit for the guidance to pursue the better way and the courage to lead your people on that journey.
This blog is excerpted from a manuscript for the upcoming book, The Caleb Strategy, to be published in spring, 2017.