5 Traction points: Connection, grip!
Back in the day we'd say "where the rubber meets the road" when we were talking about traction. The Urban Dictionary defines this axiom as "the moment of truth", that is, the time when we discover if our plans actually work, or that moment when the action is immediate. In leadership and mission it indicates that the necessary connection has been made, creating the greatest possibility for traction. It's when the leader and his or her organization gains a grip on their situation---orientation, speed, profile, and drive---and begins to move the organization forward.
Getting a grip is another adage that moves in many directions. Sometimes it's used to shock someone back to reality, a person that may have momentarily moved to la-la land. Realating to leadership and mission it mostly references the need to connect so that traction is possible. Today some people express it by the phrase "get a life", meaning, "make it happen". Many leaders and organizations can't find traction becasue they can't make the "rubber meet the road" or "get a grip" on the situation, or even, "get a life" regarding their goals and objectives. And, when that connection is tentative, or slippery, consistent traction is impossible. We're spinning our wheels.
Spinning our wheels is something people associated with the church can talk about, me included. There have been many occasions when our church gears were grinding at top speed and we weren't moving at all. Part of this is because, as an achiever (see Tom Rath, Strengths Finder 2.0) I prefer busy. OK, it's a strength but can morph into a weakness if overplayed. So, busy-ness often occupied my personal leadership style and therefore the churches that I led. It's true in many o f the churches I've observed or consulted as well. There's lots of action, plenty of motion, but little movement. In these instances what we were doing didn't always connect with the needs of the world around us, or, at time, even the mission we were trying to fulfill. This disconnect translated to frustration in the human resource area, and difficulty in raising the other resources because the ministry wasn't accomplishing anything. We often needed to re-affirm the connection by getting a grip on the situation.
At other times the connection was slippery because the tires were slick, you know, without tread. This is when the resources are thin and the ministry being attempted loses urgency because of poor results. Like the picture above, the grip here is difficult because the tread is worn. Workers are tired and frustrated, energy is lost, too much being spent on raising resources, recruiting other workers, re-orienting continuance with fewer people and money and supplies, and many other adjustments necessitated by lacking connection. When administrative details require more of the time and energy and resources, the connection can't be maintained. You's got slick tires, friend.
How can church leaders and the churches they lead get a grip?
(1) Do the diagnostics often. Every few months the techs over at Speedy Oil connect my black Kia Soul to a computer and check the systems that make it run. It's just a health check up to make sure the cylinders are hitting, the plugs are sparking, the fuel lines are open, the gears are connecting, and the tires can make contat with the road. This means that the machine is checked regulary to make sure it is working properly. Leaders should do continuous diagnostics on their organization, the people involved, the resources required, and the effectiveness they are experiencing in achieving their mission.
(2) Scheduled maintenance is a must. The diagonotics detect dysfunction in the systems. Maintenance corrects or repairs it. Now, maintenance isn't a strategy that many pastors and church leaders enjoy because it hints of a maintenance mission, that is, a mission to maintain things as they are, status quo. Regarding traction, maintenence is the regular work to insure that everything is working properly. It involves training, re-training, enouragement, rest, spiritual nourishment, and all the things necessary to keep everything moving. It should be intentionally scheduled, and not occur an afterthought.
(3) Remove impediments. Rubber to the road dynamics also involves removing impediments that can break the connection and prohibit or limit movement. I was always amazed at how much debris blocked the path of mission, usually programs and at one time worthy endeavors that no longer contributed to the connection we were trying to make with the community. When tradition takes over we can continue many things that once were rallying points for mission but in the current environemtn add nothing to the process.
(4) Re-invent. Things can go stale in no time, even events. activities, teaching sessions, and work schedules in churches. Keeping a fresh look and feel to things are often important to making the connection that creates traction. I always loved the way Dr. Chip Green kept a new face on Celebrate Recovery, a Christ centered addition recovery ministry that he had lead for ten years. He and his wife Rose Marie dreamed this ministry, provided the leadership for it, trained the workers, and gave the weekly process a re-invention to prevent staleness. What a gift!
(5) Clarify the destination consistently. Often mission gets lost in the doing of it. No wonder so many leaders and their churches lose traction, being detoured by destination conflict. When the destination, meaning the vision and mission, is clear, all of the machinery can contract the road in unision. Connection is maintained.
In the Book of Acts Peter and the church leaders were losing traction with the Gentile populations. They decided at Jerusalem to make course corrections and let the rubber meet the road so that uncircumcised Gentiles could become believers. Paul told the Corinthians to examine themselves
(2 Cor. 13:5) and instructed the other churches how to make traction as they shared the Gospel and grew the Kingdom. Over and over they were taught that the message was strong and effective, that God's power would guide them, and that they must exercise faith in expanding the Kingdom.
Simon Peter is a thrilling study. HIs Christian life was framed by Christ's command, "Follow me", the first and last things Jesus said to him. So, Peter did what Jesus told him to do, he followed. Sometimes he ran into a ditch. Other times he spun his wheels. But, the command "follow" means to put one foot in front of the other and walk where Jesus walked. It means to follow and not to spin your wheels. It's a lesson Peter finally learned on an upside down cross in Rome.
Spiritually, the church is where the rubber meets the road for communities around the world. We better stop spinning our wheels.