When You’re Sick of Saying It, Your Leaders Have Just Heard It
The following is a modified excerpt from Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send. If you’d like more, be sure to pick up a copy of the book today!
I once heard a story about an old grandfather sitting lazily on the porch of his country home with his grandson, his six dogs lying underneath the porch. About a hundred yards across the field a rabbit darted out of a bush, stared back at the house for just a second, and then darted back into the undergrowth. One of the dogs perked up, let out a short bark, and took off across the field. Immediately, the other five dogs jumped to their feet, yapping excitedly, in hot pursuit of the first dog.
The grandfather said to his grandson, “Son, let me tell you what is about to happen. In about ten minutes, them other five dogs are going to come back, one by one, heads hung and tongues out. In about thirty minutes, that first dog will come back with the rabbit in his mouth.”
Sure enough, that’s what happened. The grandson asked, “How did you know?”
The grandfather replied, “’Cause that first dog, you see, is the only one who actually saw the rabbit. The others were just running and yapping because there was some excitement.”
Like those first five dogs, a lot of people in the church get swept up in the passion of a good sermon and start to yap and run … one by one, however, they come back, heads hung low, tongues out, clamoring for the way things used to be. Only those who have really “seen the rabbit” keep running until they catch him.
The only thing that enables members to push through the weariness of the constant inconvenience required for change—the only thing that sustains the motivation to sacrifice again and again—is glimpsing the vision of what could be.
So how can you birth in the people that you lead this passion to sacrifice whatever is necessary to win the lost? Simply put: the gospel.
Gospel-saturated people become visionaries. The gospel shows us the compassion of God for the world and his willingness to change it. The gospel is the single greatest catalyst for innovation in mission.
William Carey, the father of the modern missionary movement, famously declared to an English church resistant to send missionaries to foreign lands,
“Expect great things of God, and then attempt great things for God!”
The order of the phrases in Carey’s statement is important. Great expectations come first; great attempts grow out of great expectations. Great expectations come from understanding the gospel. In the gospel we see God’s willingness to save, and we ask him to do it now.
Andrew Murray, the great nineteenth-century spiritual doctor of prayer, said,
“Each time, before you intercede, be quiet first, and worship God in his glory. Think of what he can do, and how he delights to hear the prayers of his redeemed people. Think of your place and privilege in Christ, and expect great things!”
A true glimpse of the gospel creates faith, and that faith creates vision for mission and the confidence to risk for the kingdom of God. Keeping people saturated in the gospel is the single-greatest thing you can do to birth and sustain vision in them.
Repeat…Again, and Again, and Again
Bill Hybels says that the problem with great vision is that it leaks. Simply filling up the vision bucket once cannot sustain it, because over a relatively short time all the delicious vision seeps out the cracks. Hybels says,
“Whatever the value, if it’s alive and well in a local church today, it’s not by accident. It’s only because of intentional, committed, dedicated effort.”
Visions needs “heat,” he says, not just light. If light is the brilliance of the idea, heat is the energy the leader puts behind spreading that idea. You not only have to articulate your vision well, but have to repeat it a lot.
Biographers say that early in his career British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s impressive oratorical abilities actually hindered his leadership power. Churchill felt so confident of the “light” in his speeches—which were fantastic—that he failed to do the hard work of personal follow-up (the heat) required to effect the changes he argued for. By that, I mean he did not meet face-to-face with key leaders, patiently answer objections, or build personal loyalties. He assumed that once he had presented the case winsomely, with enough light, people would get on board. He was wrong. Eventually he learned to add heat to his light and became one of the twentieth century’s greatest leaders.
U.S. President Lyndon Johnson, by contrast, was not a particularly great orator, but he was a very effective leader. Johnson’s speeches, his biographers say, were merely introductions to the myriad personal conversations he would have one-on-one with members of Congress, in which he would repeat to their faces the key elements of his position and press them for response.
Repetition of the vision, in multiple mouths and multiple levels, is crucial to effecting change. Among our staff, we often repeat this plumbline: “When you are sick of saying it, the leaders in your ministry have probably just heard it. When your leaders are sick of hearing it, then everyone else has heard it for the first time.”
I want new people at our church to be able to tell what is important to us within six weeks of coming to our church. That should be long enough for them to be able to figure out that we are passionately devoted to building community, loving our city, affirming the centrality of the gospel, caring for our families, making disciples, and planting churches. We literally write our vision on the walls, repeat our values in sermons and announcements, and saturate each ministry with the essential elements of our mission and vision. We don’t bury our vision in an obscure page on our website. We make it the very air we breathe.
To use a cliché, vision is caught more than it is taught. Passion is contagious, and genuine passion is better than a hundred articulate explanations. An old lawyer once said to his apprentice: “If the facts are on your side; hammer the facts; if precedent is on your side, hammer precedent; if compassion is on your side, hammer compassion; and if none of these things are on your side.… Well, hammer the table, because people will just as often follow enthusiasm as anything.”