Game of Purpose


What is the purpose of your game?

What is the purpose of your game?

During one of our Friday Night events where anyone and everyone can show up at our house for a free dinner and some fun, my youngest son, Cale, gathered some of his friends to play a new board game he had just gotten for his birthday. As the group laid out all the pieces, Cale began telling everyone how to play, beginning with the first step.

Although it started off fun, ultimately…chaos ensued.

Over the next half hour, I watched from a distance and realized that most of the kids didn’t really know the end goal. My son had never explained the purpose of the game. Sure, everyone knew they wanted to “win,” but most didn’t understand what winning actually looked like, nor “how” to win.

In my experience of working with churches, this is often the case. The church (or staff team) get together, the pastor begins to explain the process of their ministry and the first steps. Everyone is excited. Everyone is energized. This is going to be fun! Everyone listens to their leader, often the most experienced player. And they begin the “game.”

Eventually…chaos ensues.

Maybe it is not always “chaos,” but certainly it doesn’t go as each player had planned.

The problem is that most of the players do not actually know the end goal. The vision. The “win.”

What does “winning” look like for your church or organization? What should it be like?

Describe it. Explain it.

Be detailed about what it means to win and what the circumstances are that lead to that winning. Certainly for Christian churches, the win is often to lead more people to Christ and have them love and follow Jesus. But this is too vague. Be more specific, more detailed, more targeted.

For the game the kids were playing, are you supposed to be the first one to the end of the trail that is mapped out on the board? Am I supposed to lose all my cards? Or get as many cards as I can? Am I supposed to get the most points? Or are points bad?

After describing the end-game, then…and only then…start explaining the process of how you get there.

Recently, I was doing some consulting with a good friend of mine at his church. I asked him to describe what the vision was for his ministry three years in the future. He immediately began describing processes and sign-up forms and practices. I’m sure he thought I was rude, but I cut him off mid-sentence.

“No, no. That is not what I mean. What is the vision? What is the purpose of this ministry? What do you want to accomplish?!”

After a brief pause, he said, “I want people to feel welcome in [this particular ministry] and feel the freedom to sign up, feel accepted, attend regularly, and grow closer to Christ. It should be one of the life-bloods of the whole church.”


That is it! The end-game! Now I know how to win. I know what the goal is!

I think Nehemiah understood this idea well. Although the dialogue between Nehemiah and King Artaxerxes is quite short in Nehemiah 2, the principle is there. When asked why he was upset, Nehemiah simply responds, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it” (Nehemiah 2:5). That was all he explained. “I want to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem!”

THAT was the vision, the end-game, the goal. The “win.”

Later he worked with the people of Jerusalem on how to rebuild them and what that process might be.

Nehemiah's vision was to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He focused on the "win" first, then laid out the process.

Nehemiah’s vision was to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He focused on the “win” first, then laid out the process.

So now, let’s talk about how to get there. Let’s talk about first steps, second steps, next steps, processes, plans, routes, finances, development, and whatever else is necessary.

Pick a reasonable and logical time in the future. I like three years, but maybe for you it should be one year or maybe five. Whatever works in your setting for your situation. Develop the goal, the vision, the end-game, the win. Explain it to your team, describe it, and make sure everyone understand the target and purpose.

Pick a time in the future and write out what you want that future to look like.

Pick a time in the future and write out what you want that future to look like.

Then, start discussing the best strategy, the best methods, and the best processes. If you don’t, then chances are everyone is focused on their own process and strategy rather than on what the purpose of the game is.

We are all playing to win…but the real question is, what does winning look like?



Colored Pencils

I like colored pencils! I just think they’re cool. You get fun colors, and when you mess up, you can erase it and start over! What is not to like?

colored pencils

In ministry, I tend to use a pencil when it comes to planning. Here is why…

When I traveled and worked in the entertainment lighting industry, I learned to use a pencil when drawing and marking up the design plans. When in the shop and talking with the designer, making notes, planning my strategy for all the work and organizing the equipment, I used a pencil on those plans. This is because, inevitably, when I got to the show site, something unforeseen had changed. Lighting positions needed to be slightly altered, the cable lengths needed were different, the stage was bigger or smaller than expected, a new celebrity was booked late and cues or colors needed to be added.

If I had used a pen on the drawings, I would have to scratch them out and write over the top, confusing everyone who constantly reviewed and referenced the drawings for guidance. It got messy fast. It looked ugly. It became harder to read and understand. And the lighting designer (technically my boss), would look at his beautiful drawing and wonder what I had done to it.

light plot by Bill Williams

Drawing by Bill Williams

So I used colored pencils…and lots of erasers.

The same is true for ministry. You must have a plan. But adjustments are inevitable. Unforeseen changes will occur. And during these alterations, the vision plans can get messy fast.

So use a pencil. The idea here is that, generally, the overall vision doesn’t change, but sometimes the tactics to reach that vision might. Perhaps the financial resources needed for a project might be different than you expected, or the time and location of a ministry might need to be altered. A change in staffing might need to occur to account for the changes in work. In church work, a change in time-frames is often needed. Maybe a communications challenge arose and you have to rethink how best to convey the vision.

The key here is to remember that the guiding vision should rarely, if ever, change. On that part of your drawing, use a highlighter! Mark it up with a bright yellow or orange highlighter that flashes in your face. It should be the brightest color on your plans. It is the sole purpose and reason you are there. Everything else, can be in pencil. All the pencil markings should reference the highlighted vision.

I used to do a lot of lighting work for NIKE. The designer always wrote a note on the drawings that said, “LIGHT THE SHOES!” He would put it in big bold letters then use a highlighter on top. That was the goal…the vision…the purpose we were there. NOTHING was more important that lighting the shoes. But as to HOW we lit the shoes, where we placed the lights, what adjustments were needed to light the shoes…that was all up for pencil markings.

Whatever your overall vision and goal is, use a highlighter.

When it comes to planning the implementation of that vision, use a pencil.

Or colored pencils.

And have plenty of erasers!

Something inevitably changes...bring erasers.

Something inevitably changes…bring erasers.

Difficult People

Some people are just difficult.

They might be stubborn, obnoxious, prideful, arrogant, rude, opinionated, too quiet, too anxious, too negative, too loud, or just plain weird. Or…they might just not be like you.

Maybe you have a hard time reading them, understanding their body language or are unsure of how they think and process information.

We’ve all come across these people. Maybe at times we have BEEN these people.

Some people...are just difficult.

Some people…are just difficult. THE OFFICE — Pictured: Steve Carell as Michael Scott — NBC Photo: Mitchell Haaseth

I find that the default reaction (self included) is to ignore them, marginalize their position or exclude them completely. It is much easier to simply dismiss these oddballs as being too negative or too difficult to work with. It is a lot nicer and comfortable to not have to deal with those you don’t quite understand, don’t agree with or don’t like.

But perhaps we miss something when we do not even take the time to try and get to know those we do not understand and learn how best to communicate with those who are different.

In my previous job, I learned within a few days of being hired that my boss didn’t communicate well with the staff. Most had a difficult time getting his attention, communicating with him and achieving any sort of meaningful dialogue that moved their projects forward. One Sunday during church, I approached his wife and asked, “What is the absolute best way to communicate with your husband?”

Her response was simple. “Email him. He is very very visual. He needs to see everything, not hear it. When I really need to get him to understand something, I email him myself.”

Some people are more visual.

Some people are more visual.


From that day forward, when I needed to communicate something very important, I wrote it down via email or written paper. I used pictures and charts when possible. This changed my ability to not only communicate better with my boss, but also understand him as well.

Remembering that everyone is different, I quickly picked up that other members of the staff all communicated differently. Some visual, some audible, some just wanted to have a sit-down face-to-face conversation or draw everything on a big white board. Another staff member in the same church was much more audible. He needed me to explain everything out loud rather than type it in an email. Another, just needed to do everything face-to-face, talking it out…along with several rabbit trails during the conversation, but always still reaching our conversational goals.

Some people are more audible.

Some people are more audible.

So when you are faced with what appears to be a difficult person you can’t connect with, do you just move along? Or do you try and figure out how best to communicate with just that person?

My recommendation is to find someone who does know them well…a spouse, a friend of theirs, someone who has worked with them for a long time, a previous employer, somebody who knows them better than you! Ask them, “What is the best way to communicate with this dude?”

Then, employ that method and see what happens!

Some people just communicate better in person or face-to-face.

Some people just communicate better in person or face-to-face.

If you want to take it a step further, ask that same person additional questions to find out what they’re about, who they are, what their dreams and passions are, what they like and dislike, what is their past history of working with other people. After you get a basic idea, the better plan would be to also ask this difficult person those same questions!

All these things will help you to better understand this challenging person and help you to better communicate with them. This will help not only your side of the equation (or project, or cohort, or whatever), but will most likely also help theirs!

Proverbs 18:2 suggests we must learn to understand others, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” We need to learn how to understand each other, how we each communicate and learn from what each other has to offer.

If we all do this, perhaps we won’t have so many difficult people.

And perhaps…I won’t be so difficult.

Leadership Development IS Leadership Opportunity

“Why me?”

That was my first thought…and the first words out of my mouth.

“No, really…why me? I have no experience in this.”

It was a day that changed my life. I will never forget it.

I had known this man for several years. Successful, smart, funny, deeply committed to his faith in Christ, a teacher in an adult Sunday School class, a leader on the church elder board. He owned a well-known accounting firm and was on the leading edge of integrating technology into his business model.

His name is Steve Ocheltree and he had just asked me to be on the finance committee for our church. If you know me now, that may not seem odd, but you have to understand the context at the time.

I was young, had long hair (enough to put into a pony tail), wore torn shorts 364 days of the year, worked in the entertainment industry, was prideful, opinionated, was sometimes a punk, and knew little about finances. It was somewhere around 2002 and I had just started my own business. It was paying the bills…but just barely. I had been at this particular church for a long time, but I knew little of church leadership and even less of church finances.

But Steve was convinced I needed to serve on the church finance committee.

He and his wife took Brandy and I out for dinner. We just assumed it was a “thank you” since we babysat their kids the week earlier. But Steve had other intentions.

Over dinner he dropped the question…”Will you join me on the finance committee?”

I honestly thought he was crazy…nuts…misunderstood me for who I truly was. The ensuing conversation went something like this…

Steve – “I am just one man on the elder board {there were 12 at the time}. I express my opinions, voice my concerns, and vote my conscience. I am a part of something larger, but I really have no control of the ultimate direction of the church. But as the Treasurer of the elder board, I get to choose who is on the finance committee. I get to choose the direction. There are others there, but I choose you also.”

Me – “Why me? I have no experience in finance. I have no idea how the church should spend money.”

Steve – “I know. I don’t need somebody who knows those things. I need somebody who has vision for what the church should look like. Somebody who knows how to ask all the difficult questions. Somebody who isn’t going to ask questions that are always correlated to money.”

Me – “I just started my own company. I barely know how to run a small business. I’m still figuring everything out. I’m not sure I’m the right guy for this.”

I was genuinely concerned. I appreciated his offer, but I really didn’t think this was the position for me to serve the church.

Steve – “I need a leader.”

Me – “I’m not a leader, Steve.”

Steve – “You will be. Moses picked Joshua to lead the Israelites after he was gone. I’m picking you…not to lead the finance committee or be on the board. I can’t choose those people. But I can work with you, teach you, and let you be a part of the leadership process. You’ll be great!”

Me – “I think you’re an idiot.”

Steve – “Maybe.”

I reluctantly agreed…and so started my leadership development.

This is how I would have compared my leadership ability at the time of this conversation.

This is how I would have compared my leadership ability at the time of this conversation with Steve.

I was convinced that Steve had no idea what he was getting into by choosing me. I was loud, forward, asked lots of questions, gave my opinions, listened little, made assumptions, gave questionable presentations, and ticked off several of the other members numerous times.

And Steve just let me go for it.

He took me to lunch once a month and we talked about church, finances, leadership, vision, direction and church polity. He asked me how I was doing in my personal walk with Jesus. He asked me what I was learning from the committee meetings.

He challenged me.

Steve didn’t just fill the open position on the committee, he found somebody who didn’t initially fit…but might with some coaching. He saw a young kid that had potential, was forward thinking and wanted to make a difference but didn’t know how.

You can talk a lot about leadership development, but when was the last time you chose a young cocky kid to make a presentation for the department you are responsible for to the senior-most level leaders of your organization?

Steve did. He asked me to make a presentation to the elder board on behalf of our committee. It was for a project that ran about $60,000 dollars and under normal circumstances, Steve should have been presenting the proposal since he was the Treasurer and leader of our team. But he asked me to do it. This was a lot of money for the situation and there was much to lose…not to mention my pride and Steve’s reputation.

Young eagles are born to fly. How will you keep them in your flock?

Young eagles are born to fly. How will you keep them in your organization?

Leadership development is more than having a Bible study on leadership. It is more than watching an Andy Stanley Leadership Video. It is more than taking some young people to the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. It is more than studying a leadership book with your staff. Leadership development IS leadership opportunity.

To steal the term from a great pastor/leader, leadership development is about finding the young eagles in your organization and actually letting them fly! Let them make mistakes, be opinionated, ask lots of questions, make assumptions, and tick off a few people along the way. Let them learn by DOING the leadership, DOING the work, DOING the ministry, DOING the business.

Larry Osborne, in his book Sticky Teams, writes “Young eagles are born to fly. It’s their nature. It’s how God made them. If they can’t fly high in our church, they’ll bolt and fly elsewhere.”

But guide them. Ask them the hard questions, ask them what they are learning, ask them what is stirring in their faith walk. But don’t just ask for their opinion. Give them the opportunity to actually lead!

Looking back, I’m not convinced Steve was ever really able to wrangle me in. But I’m also not convinced he ever tried. He knew I could be a leader…I just needed a push and needed the opportunity. I don’t think he ever imagined just how far it would take me!

I served on that committee for two years. Later I was asked to join the elder board and because of my experience with the finance committee, was appointed Treasurer. A year later I was hired by the same church to a full time paid position that involved far more than just overseeing finances.

Steve saw something in me I had never seen in myself…my own wings, my own potential. He pushed me out of the nest and hoped/knew/prayed/guided me to fly on my own.

This is what Steve saw in me.

This is what Steve saw in me.

The importance of leadership development was never explained to me. It was demonstrated to me, handed to me, experienced by me, and asked of me.

So who are you developing? Who have you chosen to join your team? Who are you investing in? Who are you giving the chance to actually lead?

Steve gave that chance to me and it changed the trajectory of my whole life.

Thanks Steve.

Answer the phone!

I work with churches.

A lot.

I work with small ones, large ones, ones that change sizes every other month. I work with some that over utilize technology and some that don’t even know how to spell “technology.” I work with some that are startups that don’t technically exist yet, but well on their way to being fruitful in the Kingdom of God. And I work with some that seem to be on the verge of closing down.

I work with a lot of pastors, volunteers, lay leaders, elder board members, and many other people that are responsible for various aspects of the church’s ministry. Every church is unique…as are the individuals that makeup each church. As with any industry, some are more effective than others. Some are excellent at defining their vision and have few but highly detailed targets, while others are excellent at perpetuating the idea that people like me shouldn’t make statements about whether one church is more effective than another. It’s just par for the course. None of it really bothers me and, quite frankly, differences within the church is part of what makes us all unique and helps us strive to reach more people for Christ.

What DOES bother me???

Churches that do not answer the phone.

Answer the phone! Please???

Answer the phone! Please???

I cannot tell you how often this happens, but it…is…a…lot!

Answer the stinkin’ phone!

I don’t want to leave a message. I don’t want to push number 3 if I want a directory. I’m not calling a billion dollar corporation that has spent millions of dollars to outsource their customer service help lines.

I’m calling a church. So please answer the phone.

Why is this important? PEOPLE.

You are in the business of people. Nothing…nothing is more important in your industry.

In our 21st century, digital, totally connected, we-have-an-awesome-website-so-go-there-for-information, and send a tweet world, people still need to connect on a deeper level. People still need to hear a voice. People still have questions that are not answered on your Facebook page or Instagram account.

I just need to talk to Bob or Francine, but now I have to leave a message because “nobody is available to answer your call at the moment.” That makes me feel like I wonder if/when/will Bob ever actually get my message.

At first I thought it was just the smaller churches that had a limited number of people on staff and they couldn’t afford to employ somebody to answer a phone all day. But then I realized it was larger churches also.

I have done a lot of consulting work for a church that has a very large staff of several dozen. The automated system immediately activates when you call and gives you several options including pressing “zero” for the operator in case the “directory” option isn’t sufficient (which isn’t because none of the staff I work with ever answer their phones either). Over the course of years…yes, years…not once have I ever talked to the operator.

Because she doesn’t answer the phone. Ever.

Cue endless cycle of “for such and such, press 7.”


Now in most cases, I’m doing business with these churches. I’m either consulting for technology, or vision and direction, or staff consulting. If I feel frustrated that I cannot get a hold of the right people (or any people), how must new people who are genuinely interested in attending your church feel?

You are in the business of people.

You are in the business of building relationships.

Answer the phone, please do not make me keep dialing numbers and make me S-P-E-A-K  V-E-R-Y  S-L-O-W-L-Y for the speech recognition software.

I had to personally address this problem in the last church I was actually employed by. We were in a time of needing to cut back on spending and reducing our expenditures. After working on several layers of non-personnel cuts, it was suggested maybe we could eliminate the front desk secretary who spent most of her day answering the phone. We had a fairly sophisticated telephone system that would allow for “automating” the incoming calls and direct people accordingly.

I disagreed. Heavily. We are in the business of people. When a person comes to us, we cannot turn them away to a machine. We must engage them. We must hear the tone of their voice. We must greet them with a smile. We must ask them their name.

Fortunately for that church, my argument won out and that church still answers the phone with a real voice. When I call, it’s nice to hear a live person.

How many people do you think might call your church and ask for some level of information? It might be information about attending. Maybe a member who wants to volunteer. Maybe a member who needs some counseling. The reality is, you have no idea. And that means you have no idea how much of an impact you might be able to make in more people’s lives since many people won’t leave a message or get lost in the automated system.

Now, I recognize technology has a place. The church website is still the most valuable communication tool the church has and a vast majority of people will go their first. But when they do call…and they still do…people need to know they’re not going to end up with “John” in India.

I understand we cannot expect a live person 24 hours a day and we cannot expect every employee to be present and answer the phone every time a person calls. I get that. Messages still need to be left. Voice mail is still a valuable tool. But during generally accepted business hours, somebody needs to answer the phone.

This can be done in various ways. For large churches who have a large staff, simply apply this to somebody’s daily responsibilities and make sure they follow through. Or find a group of volunteers to rotate…each serving half a day once per week. Small churches can utilize volunteers in this manor also. Other options include the use of technology. If you have volunteers that are willing to help, but cannot be present at your facilities, then set up a plan with your phone system or phone service provider and have the number forwarded to your volunteer. Or have it forwarded to a cheap cell phone that is passed around.

Remember, you are in the business of people.

So answer the phone.

answer phone

You are in the business of “people.”