Recently my middle school son, Micah, came home with a “C” on a math quiz. His best subject is math, so this in and of itself was strange. As I looked closer and saw no red marks, I was even more confused. He seemed to have the right answers. Upon closer inspection, I noticed a note at the top of his paper, “Show your work.” The teacher was gracious enough to allow him to go back through his test and show all his steps, but it was an invaluable lesson for him.
Most of us see problem areas in our ministry that are primed for change. What worked once isn’t hitting the mark anymore. A program that used to receive top marks is barely passing now. A system or structure that worked with efficiency at one point is now holding your ministry back. We recognize it’s time for change. We can even anticipate what needs to change, but when it comes to actually making it happen, you must “show your work.”
In Carey Nieuwhof’s upcoming book “7 Key Leadership Conversations Every Church Team Should Have,” he says: “Given the massive shift happening in our culture, the ability to navigate change is sure to emerge as one of the key leadership skills required over the next few decades.”
Change is one of the most difficult things that we deal with in leadership. Change requires tough decisions, awkward conversations, and the death of a strategy that was once believed to be accurate. In order to navigate these difficult waters, we have to become honest, open, and transparent in our communication.
When we’ve done the research, determined the next step, and formulated a plan, we have to press pause for just a moment to explain how we arrived at the answer. Shortcuts in explanation inhibit understanding of the vision. We can help our teams better grasp how we arrived at our decision by explaining the process. “Cool” ideas don’t tend to generate support. Insightful, data-driven, creative ideas do.
Many times in ministry we present our vision and strategy to others with passionate flare, but we fail to show our work. When possible, it’s important to include volunteers when developing strategy and vision. This ensures ownership. However, it’s not always feasible and sometimes you find yourself in a situation in which you need to shift perspective without including your teams in the initial brainstorming session. When this occurs, it’s even more important for you to thoroughly explain your thought process to key leaders, not just a quick overview of the answer.
Here are four indications you are failing to “show your work.”
Change isn’t happening. Ideas don’t implement themselves, just as change doesn’t occur overnight, but your ministry should be moving forward. If weeks (or years) go by with little to no change, your vision and strategy to see it come together is unclear.
We becomes they. When you find yourself saying or thinking, “They just don’t get it.” or “Why won’t they just do what I’m asking?” you have separated yourself from your team. This language shift is poisonous to your culture and will cause more problems than a lack of change. When you pit yourself against those you lead, you’ll lose more than a cool idea. You’ll lose your team as well.
You’re stumped easily. When questions arise, you must speak honestly, but confidently about the change you are proposing. It’s fine if you don’t have all the answers, but when you are introducing change, you should present it in a way that reduces confusion and clarifies your vision. Before you can show your work, you must have work to show.
It proves difficult to start the conversation. Sometimes initiating change is difficult because others may not feel the same urgency that you do. Other times, it’s because you’ve haphazardly tried to effect change in the past and it’s hard to take you seriously as a leader. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s important to start with individual conversations that inspire key leaders to propel the vision alongside you.
Math is a perfect science. Ministry is not. Showing your work doesn’t guarantee success. Sometimes an idea will flop despite your clarity and hard work. Your volunteers don’t expect perfection. They desire a leader who is passionate, prepared, driven, honest, and clear. When you show your work, it builds a united team that can weather the ups and downs of ministry.
What are the biggest challenges that keep you from showing your work? What is the best way that you have found to show your work to other leaders (proposals, presentations, secret messages written on the inside of coffee cups)? We would love to hear from you.
Frank is the Family Pastor at Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, overseeing staff, volunteers, and curriculum development for more than a dozen locations. He is driven to develop leaders to reach their full potential. Frank is married to Jessica and together they have three children. Find him online at leade3.com or Twitter.