“I don’t need to be productive, I need to be Godly.” That is a constant refrain I get from church planters that I coach. They want to read their bible, prepare sermons, and hang out in coffee shops. There is nothing wrong with those things, but the work of church planting is SOOOO much more than that and requires productivity. I try to remind them that the grace that saves and sanctifies us also works in us to be productive.
Remember 1 Corinthians 15:10:
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
God’s grace towards us causes us to be Godly and that includes being productive for God’s glory.
The Origin of My System
I became a Christian when I was 16, a week before my 17th birthday. I started a bible study at my high school. Through that I felt called into ministry. I told my parents, they told me they disagreed. The next year, my senior year, we started the bible study again and saw 30 people cross the line of faith and connect to a church. I talked to my parents again about going to pursue a bible degree and they relented. They said I had to go to an extraordinarily conservative Christian college. I didn’t know anything about the school, but was just excited to go.
When I showed up on campus for freshman orientation I was given a student handbook, no big deal. Every place has rules. Then I got the dorm handbook. I thought sure there are extra rules it’s a Christian school. Then I got a society handbook, then we got a sports handbook then we got a chapel rules sheet then another rule book for student government.
Then I learned that I was accountable for all the rules before classes started. That’s when demerits would start. I asked what demerits were. They explained the what happened.
- 75 Demerits = Socialed. Essentially, no contact with the opposite sex on campus.
- 100 Demerits = Campused. Students at this level weren’t allowed off campus except for church or approved ministry.
- 150 Demerits = Expelled. If you got to 150 demerits in a semester you were out.
Time to Get Serious
That’s when I got serious. I needed to get out, but needed the degree. I figured my shelf life there may be 4 years but more likely I’d blow up by then. So one Friday night I sold out to the idea: I must graduate in 3 years. I sat down with the course books, an outdated idea today, and started looking and working. I went through multiple iterations, but by bed time (yes that was a real thing) I’d worked it out.
I started in the fall of 1999 and in June of 2002 I graduated with a BA in Bible and a double minor in Counseling and Computer Science without any debt. How? I learned the importance of envisioning a goal and attacking it. Since then I’ve developed a way to attack any problem.
Church planting is one giant cornucopia of problems to solve. My system has gotten a workout over and over again as we planted our church. It has been tested and we’ve found it to be a helpful tool as we deal with problem solving inside of CityView.
The Productive GRACE system for problem solving and planning
1) Get serious about the vision
- Ask: What is the preferred reality?
- Write out what it looks like. This doesn’t need to be complete, but what would it look like if the problem was solved. Frequently, the biggest issue with dealing with a problem is clearly seeing what it should look like. We get caught up with 1000 “what if” scenarios and that is counterproductive. Sit down and write out what the problem would look like if it were solved.
2) Required resources
- Ask: What resources do I need to accomplish this vision?
- Assemble the named resources. Do you need leaders? Do you need tools? Do you need advice? Who do you need advice from? You want to get the resources together to solve the problem.
3) Author a plan
- Ask: What does this look like specifically.
- Write down a specific plan. This is taking the preferred reality and flushing it out. Put it down on paper or your digital note taking software. If it is a large plan consider using milestones and due dates. Make a timeline and begin to implement the plan.
4) Consistently execute the plan
- Ask: What do I need to DO right now to make this plan move forward?
- Keep asking this question repetitively. In church planting, problems are sometimes quick fixes, but are frequently long term and require consistently asking the question, what do I need to do today to make sure that the plan is being carried out.
5) Effectively adapt to changes
- Ask: What are the changes that are taking place that could change my plan?
- Things happen. Change is going to be necessary along the way. As a church planter it feels like as soon as you have a plan down some dynamic changes. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have a plan. It just means that you figure out how to account for it.
I thought it might be helpful to share a problem that we were facing earlier this year and how we worked through it using this GRACE method.
The Problem: We were dealing with a lack of communication from our staff. When we did communicate it would be through a massive group text message with 8 people on it. This was a huge thread of gifs, emojis, real issues to deal with, and inside jokes. Further, we couldn’t keep track of answers, who was doing what, and when assignments were due. The thread was entertaining, but painfully inefficient.
The problem was exacerbated because we only had a very small office and mostly volunteer or VERY part-time staff with limited time availability. I wasn’t sure what our staff was doing day-to-day. I didn’t want to micromanage, but I did want to make sure they were working and accomplishing their area of ministry.
We weren’t communicating effectively and our conversations weren’t logged in a way that we could go back and find our questions and answers well.
I broke it down like this:
The Preferred Reality:
We needed a way to communicate and collaborate as a staff on a daily basis without having to be physically present with each other. We also needed a way to catalog the conversations we were having so we could find our decisions, assignments, and plans. I’m a techie and had an inkling that the easiest way to solve this problem was through an app that might enable threaded communication. The preferred reality was to find an app that solved our communication issues.
The Required Resources:
I talked to our staff and shared the problem and got their input. I also talked to several other church planter friends who were in similar situations and found out what they were doing to overcome the problem. Additionally, I did a google search to find apps that were collaborative communication tools. One resource came up over and over again as useful tool, Slack. I downloaded the app and did some YouTube training on it.
Author a Plan:
The plan was simple. Everyone download the app and move all staff communications to Slack. This meant setting up multiple channels for our staff communication. We setup the channels that made sense to us: worship, groups, video production, finance, etc. This was the only place where we wanted these conversations to take place. The only people in those channels were those who were necessary to the conversation.
Consistently Execute the Plan:
This was slightly more difficult. We had lived in the text world for 3 years. That was what we were used to. We still were texting on the thread. I had to effectively shut that thread down. Whenever anyone would text there about a church related issue I’d text back, “SLACK!” Within about a month all of our church related conversations were moved. Occasionally, people still revert to texting. They still get the familiar “SLACK!” comment and I receive a notification in Slack with a tongue in cheek apology.
Effectively Adapt to Changes:
As we used the app we saw a need for multiple conversations and for some to be hidden. Not everyone needed to know what was going on in each thread. Some of them needed to be locked down. We developed new channels and discovered the way to make certain channels private. This change made private and sensitive communication possible for us.
This is just one example of a way that we have utilized the GRACE system to solve problems in our ministry. I use the same system to create annual goals, address confusing situations, and stay focused on what’s next while working towards our vision. Whether you are trying to wrap up a degree early, deal with a staff issue, or just address become more productive the GRACE system can work for you.