The Team Building Philosophies of Jesus Christ (Pt. 2)
Every weekend, pastors from around the world preach messages from the Bible, but comparatively few of them know how to articulate a message. The most successful and effective churches are led by pastors who not only teach their people how to walk with God, but they do something more. These leaders have narrowed their focus to a set of core values that define the mission of the church. They find ways to work these values into their sermons on a recurring basis and in a matter of months, new church members are able to repeat them from memory.
Thirty years ago, I befriended a man who was the leading children’s minister of the day. He was a bigger-than-life personality and an exceptional speaker, but I noticed that kids couldn’t seem to remember anything that he taught. He entertained them during the time that he held them, but afterwards, nobody went home with the essence of the Bible lesson.
The reason was obvious: he taught all over the Bible in every presentation. He covered Noah’s Ark, David and Goliath, Naaman the Leper, Sampson, and Jesus all in the same message. There was no theme to be found in the stories, object lessons, puppet skits, and sermon he presented. The variety of the presentations kept the kids interested, but because he failed to articulate a single message, the audience didn’t really learn anything.
This compels me to make a statement:
If you teach everything, you really teach nothing.
Or as Chip and Dan Heath write in their excellent book Made to Stick: “If you say three things, you don’t say anything.”
Seven hundred years before Christ, the prophet Isaiah had some insightful things to say about communicating effectively. Isaiah was not known as a miracle-working prophet as much as he was for his ability to communicate. Here’s what he wrote in Isaiah 28:9-10:
“Whom shall he teach knowledge? And whom shall he make to understand doctrine? Them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.”
First of all, he indicates that even a preschool child can effectively learn the principles of God’s Word if they are made to understand. How is this accomplished? Verse 10 answers verse 9: Precept, precept, precept, precept. Line, line, line, line. Even toddlers get it when a theme is taught repeatedly.
Christ began His ministry with an intense focus on the Kingdom of Heaven. Everything He taught pointed the audience to the Kingdom of Heaven, its ways of doing things, and ultimately, its King. If anyone could have preached on any topic of the Scriptures, it would have been Jesus. But, He narrowed His focus to things that people needed most and repeated Himself until His followers got it.
As communicators, we all feel the pressure to preach something new. I am amazed by all the crazy winds of doctrine that blow through the church at different seasons. These bizarre, new, so-called “moves of God” are always about deeper life and the messages have an appeal because the individual believer becomes the focus of everything. Churches who fall for these winds of doctrine create their own world, but fail miserably in getting the Gospel to the world.
Why do these things take root over and over again?
It is because there is a pressure for leaders to say things that the audience has never heard. When we continually move from one wave to the next, we never establish a foundation.
The Apostle John wrote, “Beloved, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which you had at the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you have heard from the beginning.” (1 John 2:7)
Christ was so effective in communicating His core values that the Apostle John, who learned them as a youth, was still preaching the same things as an old man.
I am not advocating that you must continue to teach whatever you were taught in the early days of your training. But I am saying that you must identify and articulate the few simple but powerful ideas that your church is built on.
So here’s the all-important question:
How do I identify the few core philosophies that make our church what it is?
These philosophies will make decision-making a lot easier. Consider this example from Made to Stick:
Herb Kelleher [the longest-serving CEO of Southwest Airlines] once told someone, “I can teach you the secret to running this airline in thirty seconds. This is it: We are THE low-fare airline. Once you understand that fact, you can make any decision about this company’s future as well as I can.
“Here’s an example,” he said. “Tracy from marketing comes into your office. She says her surveys indicate that the passengers might enjoy a light entree on the Houston to Las Vegas flight. All we offer is peanuts, and she thinks a nice chicken Caesar salad would be popular. What do you say?”
The person stammered for a moment, so Kelleher responded: “You say, ‘Tracy, will adding that chicken Caesar salad make us THE low-fare airline from Houston to Las Vegas? Because if it doesn’t help us become the unchallenged low-fare airline, we’re not serving any **** chicken salad.’”
At Church on the Move, we are driven by this principle: Do it with excellence. It defines who we are and how we approach everything we do. It is a self-limiting philosophy because no one person and no one organization can be excellent in everything. In order to carry out our mission, there are many wonderful ministries that we have to say “no” to.
Our Seeds Conference is a great example of this principle. We do our best work for the Body of Christ on our home turf. We could take our Seeds Conference on the road, but without our team, our facilities, and our hospitality, it just doesn’t have the same impact. The best we can do to extend our message is to live stream the conference on the Internet.
What are you most passionate about? What message most defines who you are? What message has produced the greatest fruit in your ministry?
Jesus Christ built his team by narrowing His focus to a few simple principles and He repeated them until everybody got it!
Suggested reading: Made to Stick by Chip & Dan Heath (Random House)