Monday, August 17, 2009

Learning to Stay Three Steps Ahead

Over the last year, three couples who are friends of ours, along with my wife and I, have all enrolled in dance lessons at a local studio. None of us had much experience at this dance thing, and it had certainly been a few years since any of us had a regular occasion to be in a “dancing” situation. Nevertheless, we signed up, and participated in the first class session – and a second, and a third. No, we’re not slow learners – we learned two different types of dance (waltz and swing) and a couple of hundred steps – at least it seemed like that many. In reality, there are a few basic steps for each type of dance, and everything else builds off the patterns of those few steps.

Successful, enjoyable dance requires that you not only concentrate on the step you are doing, but to look ahead to what you are going to do next – and beyond that.

Church leaders often find themselves in the same situation: it’s not just enough to know where you are at now; you also have to be looking several “steps” ahead. In the powerful little book The Big Moo, edited by Seth Godin, there is some advice that church leaders would do well to heed: stay three steps ahead.

One step is easy – but it isn’t enough. If you are only one step ahead, by the time your church acts on your ideas and initiative, it is too late. One-step innovations are deceptive – things seem to work for awhile, but then one day you wake up and they are no longer working.

Two steps is tempting – it means you’ve partnered with someone else on your staff or in another group. Together, there is more momentum behind an innovative idea or direction. It’s easier to convince others to go along, to get support for the project. But two steps is still a problem, because the world (the real competition of the church) is three steps ahead. The world wins out because it always seems to be ahead of where you want to be.

Three steps changes the game – it means you are a groundbreaker and a pathfinder. You’re not just thinking outside the box; the box hasn’t even be put together yet. At this point in the dance, you’re challenging the structure and organization of your church – and ruffling feathers along the way. Three steps is difficult. It’s difficult to sell the idea to your board, hard to assemble dancing partners along the way, and seeming impossible to get some of your key leaders to understand.

Follow the music in your heart and head, and lead your church three steps ahead – now that’s a dance worth being in!

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