DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Collins’ Spinning Flywheel

Written by: on September 18, 2013

After 8 years in the private sector I had returned to full-time ministry.  One of the reasons I was excited about the church where I was going to serve was because of its professionalism – in other words, it was run like the business I had recently left.  As part of our job descriptions, those on staff were required to go to the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summits.  My first GLS experience was highlighted by Jim Collins’ talk – Good to Great.  At the end of his comprehensive talk he mentioned the differences that are present in the social sector and recommended the monologue that was just published.

I lived a dream job for two years.  I was in the ministry, but operating under business principles.  The end however came as the lead pastor moved on to better and greater churches. Our next pastor failed to understand many of the principles that Jim Collins espoused and soon the church fired him which resulted in a split and eventually, my leaving.  Surviving these events, I learned one thing.  When a church does not hold itself accountable to outputs and inputs, trouble ensues.

Jim Collins states that “the critical distinction is not between business and social, but rather between good and great.”  The idea is still the same, “separate inputs from outputs and hold yourself accountable, even if those outputs defy measurement.”

I had seen this concept flourish first-hand.  Before arriving at the aforementioned church, I had spent 8 years working for an international business.  And, before my time in business, I had served as a missionary in Brazil with the Southern Baptists – arguably, the most organized and intentional mission’s agency in America.

In both transitions, I felt that little had changed.  The product was different, but the mechanism and strategies followed the same course of action.  In all three cases, measurements were received and evaluations took place.  In the business setting, the bottom line was income generated over the previous year, while in the social sector, the product changed (baptisms, attendance, enrollment at seminary etc.), but accountability based upon consistent numbers still mattered for our trajectory.  Collins’ challenge of “you will always be merely good relative to what you can become” rang true in all three instances.

Differences were present.  Executive power held more sway in business than my post as director of a certain ministry area.  But understanding when to use your power and when to use powers of motivation and example were still crucial.  In both instances, followers know when you are motivated for the greatness of the work and not for yourself.

Collins focuses on the principle of “getting the right people on the bus,” which can work in all situations.  Getting the right volunteers is just as, or more important than, getting the right employees.  Unfortunately I’ve failed in this area more than once without the due-diligence of a selection plan to follow.  He also speaks of saying “no” to pressures that push us from our trajectory, the Hedgehog Principle, which I find harder to accomplish in the social sector.  With greater numbers of people that have access to us, the discipline to say “no” remains a challenge.

Collins ends this simple monograph by speaking of the Flywheel – how once these principles get moving and gain momentum, it just gets better and is hard to stop.  During the first two years at the “great” church, momentum had been built.  It was amazing.  It seemed that anything we tried worked, more people came, activities grew stronger and even when we failed or tried something mediocre and had to change directions, the congregation forgave and moved on as if nothing happened.  The flywheel was spinning so quickly that it seemed nothing could stop it, sometimes even fortuitously.  But as we know, it’s all built on leadership – even momentum.  When the lead pastor left, surprisingly everything continued strong and vibrant – the flywheel was moving as fast as ever.  We continued growing for over a year….until a new lead pastor came and stopped us in our tracks.  Sadly, his lack of leadership eventually broke down all that had been built up.

I’ve been privileged to work in companies and social organizations.  Although most have been average, I did get to see the Flywheel turn and all of Collin’s principles come true.

The California gold miners had a phrase.  Those that had gone and completed a year in the gold fields, whether successful or not, could say they had seen “the Elephant,” meaning that they had come, tried and survived.  In a similar way, I can say that I saw the “Flywheel,” and it was good.

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Phil Smart

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