Two of my great passions are rugby union and cycling.
There are others; cricket, reading, my family and the gospel (though not necessarily in that order). But the reason I say this is that two ideas have emerged from the realms of ‘worldly wisdom’ that can bear fruit in our leadership of our church plants. I was reminded of both of them by Ray Evans’ book ‘Ready, Steady, Grow‘ (really nasty title, really helpful book).
For this to remain a brief blog post then this is not the place for a theological defence of wisdom. But I’m comfortable with learning from the best of secular management and leadership as long as it’s not ungodly and doesn’t compromise biblical models. After all, in Proverbs 6:6 the sluggard is told to go to the ant and consider her ways. So God clearly believes that there are things that can be learnt from the ways in which non-Christians go about things.
Two recent examples of common grace wisdom can be found in the world of sport. The first is critical non-essentials and the second is marginal incremental gains.
1. Critical Non-Essentials
In 2004 Rugby World Cup winning Coach Sir Clive Woodward published his autobiography, ‘Winning’. It’s a good read. In it he speaks about creating a culture in which critical mon-essentials were addressed. He recognised that there were countless non-essential things that nevertheless contributed to an environment that became conducive to England winning. He makes the point that what happened on the pitch wasn’t the only thing that mattered. The food that was served, the discipline in team meetings, contact with home and so on all had an effect on the players who were required to perform.
And so, it’s worth asking whether there are a heap of critical non-essentials that can help us to fulfil our goal of church growth better than we’re doing at the moment? In our Sunday gatherings, for example, there are a whole heap of critical non-essentials.
Is the temperature right? Is the seating comfortable? Are we welcoming visitors? Are the refreshments worth hanging around for? Is the projector screen visible to those at the back?
None of those things is essential to salvation. Which is often why I choose to ignore them. Nor are they essential to the church fulfilling its goals. But they are contributory factors that can put people off. So why allow barriers or obstacles to persist? Get rid of them. The aesthetic and environmental aspects can either help you in your ministry goals or hinder them. Have a good look around and ask some tough questions. And don’t too easily grow accustomed to your environment. Some things you’ll have to live with. But others you could change.
2. Marginal Incremental Gains
Sir David Brailsford is the architect of recent British Cycling success; not only on the track but also on the road. He was the first to talk about marginal incremental gains. None of these gains by themselves make a whole heap of difference. But if you can get ten things to improve by 1% then you’ve got 10% improvement!
So if transporting a cyclist’s own mattress around a three week tour means that they sleep better, then that’s going to affect performance on the road. Apparently he painted the floor of the maintenance truck white so as to more readily identify the dust that was hampering maintenance (it may not have been him that did the actual painting). He made anti-bacterial gel compulsory so as to cut down on infections. Each of them almost laughable on its own. But all these marginal gains add up. And we’re doing pretty well in the sport of cycling post-Brailsford.
And so, it’s got to be worth asking whether there are things that we’re doing at church that could be improved by 1%.
Could we challenge our church to 1% more praying for church on a Saturday night? 1 % more time at church on a Sunday morning? 1% more smiles at church? 1% more food eaten together? 1% more financial contribution?
Neither of these two insights is our core business. And if we’ve got limited capacity then we need to concentrate on praying, preaching and personal work. But there’s wisdom in not neglecting them. And perhaps delegating someone with a creative eye to assess and address what they find.