Culture Building Memo #7: Don’t lose the principles for the particulars

Pastors James and Chad eagerly started building a Great Commission culture in their church last summer. We moved forward with real progress but soon a “bump” interrupted our plan. James was becoming a dad in December and would take a leave of absence for six weeks. Chad would lead the church in his absence . . . but then God intervened.

During James’ absence, Chad felt led by God to pursue pastoring a church in the inner city. Come February, James was back at the church but Chad was leaving in March. Our progress had stalled and we had to scrap our initial plan. At this juncture, it would be easy to allow the particulars of life to overwhelm the principles of the GiDC process.

All of us have experienced these bumps in the road. We create our plan (“man proposes, God disposes”) but events change our course. At this juncture, we can become mired in the particulars of the process. As culture builders, we must step back and help people focus on the principles. As the business author Tom Peters wrote, “It is easy to get mired in the perpetual politics of implementation.”

Timetables and assignments will change but the principles remain the same. The heart of disciplemaking is helping people see the principles behind the particulars. We must strategically focus on the “end” and keep the “means” in perspective. Frustration builds when we allow the particulars to overwhelm the principles, when the means becomes the end. Here are four suggestions to help us not lose the principles for the particulars.

  • Differentiate between “means” and “ends.” Having a quiet time is a means, meeting with God is the end. It is easy to confuse the two.
  • Stay focused on the Bible. The Scriptures gives us commands, principles, and examples living as Christ’s disciples. There are few prescriptions for the “how.” When we focus on the Bible, we’re forced to teach principles and not practices (since so little practice is prescribed).
  • Wear ministry bi-focals. We look at life and ministry through two lenses. One lens focuses on the big picture principles — reviewing the big picture concepts in culture building. The second lens plans the particulars of times, dates, and materials with the church leaders.
  • Plan periodic reviews. Take time to assess progress in both the principles and particulars. I have failed to plan regular reviews and am working on doing this with the churches I’m ministering to. The review forces me to put on my bi-focal glasses — I look at the principles and the particulars.

Sometimes our most important leadership function is helping church leaders keep the principles and particulars in proper focus. Church leaders’ worlds are filled with phone calls, sermon prep, counseling emergencies, and funerals (just to name a few things that crowd the schedule!). We serve leaders by focusing on the principles in the midst of an unending flood of ministry particulars.

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