Follow-through

Great organizations follow through.  It is generally accepted that President-elect Barack Obama conducted the most intelligent and effective presidential campaign in American history.  Using the Internet, YouTube, My Space, Facebook, phone calls and text messaging, Obama’s campaign employed every available method of communication to speak to and influence American citizens, especially young adults.  Did you know that 5 minutes after Obama’s acceptance speech on November 4, an email thank-you was sent out to millions of supporters?  How’s that for follow-through?

Follow-through is the key to success in most areas of life.  Whatever sport I attempt, I always have to work on my follow-through.  When I don’t follow through on my golf stroke, I slice the ball.  In biking, when I don’t follow through on my pedal stroke and only push down instead of lift up, I lose some of my speed.  And when swimming, if I don’t follow through on my arm stroke by pulling all the way back to my thigh, I lose some of my power.

Follow-through in the church is the most underrated measure of congregational health and vitality.  When I was pastoring churches, I quickly learned which people I could count on to get things done and which people would always say “yes” but never would come through.  Have you ever experienced these scenarios?

  • We take a group of lay persons to a great workshop and get lots of ideas.  However, we don’t schedule a follow-up meeting with participants, the notebook sits on our desk for 6 months, and we eventually throw it away.
  • We ask people to commit to a series of meetings to formulate a strategic plan but don’t put a process in place to follow through.  The document gathers dust on a shelf, and the goals are never accomplished. 
  • We plan a comprehensive pledge campaign for the fall but fail to include any personal follow-up with people who do not return an estimate of giving card.  We wonder why the campaign was not a success.
  • We hire a staff person with all the right qualifications but little experience.  Because we don’t follow up with training, mentoring and coaching, however, the staff person is ineffective and soon resigns.
  • A committee comes up with a brilliant idea for a new ministry.  However, no one puts together a plan to implement the ministry, so it never gets off the ground.
  • Because of inadequate monitoring of the budget, we get to the end of the year only to discover that ministry shares have not been paid in full.
  • We plan an aggressive program to invite people to church but don’t even think about providing effective follow-up once after they come.

Lest we think follow-though has nothing to do with spiritual leadership, I invite you to read Matthew 21:28-32, the parable of the 2 sons.  Jesus asked, “What do you think?  A man asked his 2 sons to work in his vineyard.  The first son refused but then changed his mind and went.  The second son said, ‘Yes, I’ll go,’ but never followed through.  Which of the 2 did the will of his father?”  What do you think? 

According to Jesus, actions, not empty words are important.  Follow-through is what matters most.  I am sure some of you may be thinking, “The most important task of a great spiritual leader is being a visionary.  It’s my job to guide the congregation in forming a road map for ministry.  I can’t be bothered with details.”

I like to think of effective ministry as having seven components.  The first and most critical component is creating a vision.  But the other 6 components are all related to follow-through.   

  1. Vision: vision begins with the leader, but it must be a shared vision as well.  How is God calling your congregation?
  2. Forming a strategy: what are the specific goals of your congregation for ministry and mission?
  3. Counting the Cost: do you have the human and financial resources necessary to move ahead?
  4. Implementation: what is the process by which you are going to reach your goals, and who will be responsible for the implementation?
  5. Monitoring: how will you check up on the progress of reaching the goals?
  6. Feedback: how will you solicit input from others to better up the process? 
  7. Evaluation: don’t be afraid to question your decisions: do you need to make any changes along the way?

Great organizations, great churches and great pastors follow through.  As the administrative officers of the church, pastors cannot and should not do all the work of ministry themselves, but they are responsible for seeing that it gets done.  What makes for healthy churches is the training and empowerment of others for implementation, the painstaking formation of processes and procedures, the mop-up work, the nitty gritty of ensuring that nothing falls through the cracks, and the insistence on constantly evaluating and monitoring.  Ideas don’t change the world; implementation does.

On November 27, President-elect Obama tapped former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker as a top economic advisor.  When questioned why he was selecting Washington insiders to be part of a new administration that was seeking deep change, Obama replied, “Understand where the vision for change comes from, first and foremost.  It comes from me.  That’s my job, to provide a vision in terms of where we are going and to make sure that my team is implementing…  Change doesn’t come from Washington.  Change comes to Washington.  What we are going to do is combine experience with fresh thinking.”

Tomorrow Barack Obama will take the oath of office and become the 44th President of the United States.  Obama understands that the vision he set forth during this campaign will mean nothing without implementation after he takes office.  Obama cannot possibly know everything, but he must surround himself with capable people who have the ability to strategize, count the cost, implement, monitor, seek feedback and evaluate. 

On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we remember the painstaking follow-through that had to occur to bring us to the place where we elected our first African-American president.  My hope is that as our country moves forward with a new president and a new vision for the future, you and I will surround Barack Obama with our prayers, our support and our own follow-through as good citizens and faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

Blessings, Laurie

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