So far we have discussed the relational, transformational, accountability, self-sacrificing, equipping/reproduction, and alignment principles that I have observed in healthy disciple-making churches. This article will focus on the intentional/proactive principle. By this, I mean leaders who have taken time and effort to discover who they are, how they are uniquely equipped by God to fulfill His purposes, and who have sought and attained alignment in their church in these critical areas. Having done that, they know that their work has only just begun. Knowing what needs to be done and doing it are two different issues. As James tells us, “To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” James 4:17.
But intentional/proactive leaders in healthy churches take their intentionality to a whole new level. They pursue their strategies aggressively, intentionally, proactively, and unapologetically. They have taken time to discover their own unique giftedness and that of their leadership team as well as key church members—these were the foundational steps they used so they could define their alignment issues. With their strengths and passions in mind, they also sought out the most effective ways to connect with their community.
The Bible describes God as an intentional/proactive being. In the account of the “Fall,” God declared what scholars call the protoevangelium (first good news): “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” Genesis 3:15. Then in Genesis 12:3, God took the initiative to call Abram with the promise that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Paul describes God’s intentionality this way, “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” Galatians 4:4-5. The Apostle John also understood God’s proactive nature: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” John 1:1-3 & 14.
Jim Collins in his book Good to Great1 describes this type of intentional focus as an organization’s “Hedgehog Concept.” He contrasts the mundane, routine, day-after-day focus of a hedgehog with the exciting but scattered and unpredictable life of a fox. When a church has a hedgehog focus, the main things stay the main things even when they don’t conform to the latest and greatest trends. It’s not that they are unwilling to adapt to cultural changes (that’s next week’s principle), but they know what works and more importantly why it works. The darkened area on the three-circle graphic is the area where an organization (church) will find its hedgehog concept. It is the focal point because it is where the answer to three critical questions are true: What are we doing with world-class quality? What are we doing that really excites us and stirs our passion? And what are we doing that produces Godly fruit? For a secular business, it is what can we do profitably? Effective churches know AND do!
In a book written specifically to help organizations thrive during turbulent times, Collin’s Great by Choice2 contrasts the successful polar expedition of Roald Amundsen and the failed efforts of Robert Scott’s team. In 1911 the two teams departed for the South Pole a few days apart. Scott’s team reached the Pole only to find the wind-whipped flags of their rivals planted 34 days earlier. What followed was a race for their lives—a race they lost. Collin’s noted that one of the key differences between success and survival and failure and death was Amundson’s team (like successful organizations) had “fantastic discipline.” He defined it this way: “fantastic discipline is consistency of action—consistency with values, consistency with long-term goals, consistency with performance standards, consistency of method, consistency over time.”
Collins created the word SMaC to describe the type of intentional actions that effective leaders use. The acronym means Specific, Methodical, and Consistent. They describe a SMaC recipe as the operating practices that turn strategic concepts into reality. They become a set of practices more enduring than mere tactics, which will change from situation to situation. He used an illustration from the sports world to describe a SMaC recipe in action: that of the legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. One player is quoted as saying, “you could have taken UCLA athletes who played in ’55. ’65, ’70, and ’75; put them on the same team; and they would have been able to play with each other instantly!” Wooden translated his “Pyramid of Success (a philosophy of life and competition) into a detailed recipe, right down to how players should tie their shoes.”
In a summary statement, Collins wrote, “We’ve found in all our research studies that the signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change; the signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.” No human enterprise can succeed at the highest levels without consistency; if you bring no coherent unifying concept and disciplined methodology to your endeavors, you’ll be whipsawed by changes in your environment and cede your fate to forces outside your control. Equally true, however, no human enterprise can succeed at the highest levels without productive evolution.
I love the closing paragraph of Great by Choice because it speaks to our willingness to be intentional/proactive in life and what is possible with God’s guidance and grace
We are not imprisoned by our circumstances. We are not imprisoned by the luck we get or the inherent unfairness of life. We are not imprisoned by crushing setbacks, self-inflicted mistakes or our past success. We are not imprisoned by the times in which we live, by the number of hours in a day or even the number of hours we’re granted in our very short lives. In the end, we can control only a tiny sliver of what happens to us. But even so, we are free to choose, free to become great by choice.
1 https://www.heartlandchurchnetwork.com/uploads/5/8/1/6/58163279/transferrable_concepts_from_collins_books.pdf link to Mark’s discussion of transferrable concepts from Collin’s Built to Last, Good to Great, Built to Last, and How the Mighty Fall
2 https://www.heartlandchurchnetwork.com/uploads/5/8/1/6/58163279/great_by_choice.pdf link to Mark’s discussion summary of Built to Last
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.
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