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FIRST-PERSON: 7 principles for every church project

LAKE FOREST, Calif. (BP)–For two decades, we’ve worked with volunteers at Saddleback Valley Community Church using these seven principles drawn from the leadership lessons of Nehemiah.

We’ve found that when our lay leaders understand these principles, their ministries grow in depth as well as numbers.

1. The principle of simplification

You’ve heard of the K.I.S.S. method, right? Keep It Simple Stupid! Nehemiah, a great biblical model of leadership, used a simple plan for organizing. He didn’t randomly assign jobs; he didn’t create a whole new organization; and he didn’t force any complex charts.

He kept his plan very simple. He organized around natural groupings: the priests, the men of Jericho, the sons of Hassenaah, and so forth. These were natural groups that were already associating together.

The point is: don’t create an organization if you don’t need it. If an organization already naturally exists, try to work through it and with it. Sometimes a new leader comes into a situation, and the first thing he does is start changing the whole organization. Think: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The simplest organizations are strong organizations.

2. The principle of participation

It’s a pretty simple rule: work with those who want to work. Amazingly, a lot of leaders never learn this simple principle. They spend all their time trying to corral the lazy and the apathetic, instead of working with those who want to work. I call that corralling goats.

Look at what Nehemiah did. He got almost everybody involved in the building of the wall. He had the clerics, the goldsmiths, the perfume makers — men, women, city and country folk. Everybody was moving bricks and making mortar.

Except for one little group: “The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.”

Nehemiah’s response was to ignore the shirkers.

In every situation you’re going to have workers and shirkers. Nehemiah just ignored the latter and focused on those who were willing to work. He didn’t lose sleep, or get bitter or waste time trying to corral them. If you’re a leader, don’t worry about people who don’t want to get involved, just focus on those people who want to get involved.

When I first started Saddleback, I didn’t know this lesson. Every time we planned a project, a work party, or an event, people would show up, but I would be disappointed by all the people who didn’t show up. God finally showed me that I should get excited about those who came!

Leaders love everybody, but they move with the movers.

3. The principle of delegation

When you’re organizing, you should make specific assignments. Think about what would have happened if, after Nehemiah’s pep rally when he got everyone excited, he then said, “Just go start working wherever you want to work.” That wouldn’t have worked!

Instead, Nehemiah divided the wall into sections during his midnight ride. He kept it simple, and then he delegated specific assignments.

When you delegate:

— Break down major goals into smaller tasks. When we started Saddleback, I made everybody a committee of one. We each had assignments. One person managed the printing of the bulletins while another set up the nursery. Everybody had a specific task.

— Develop clear job descriptions. Your workers deserve to know what is expected.

— Match the right person with the right task. The wrong person in the wrong task causes chaos. It causes all kinds of motivational problems. Delegating is more than just passing off work: you need to understand what the task is all about and what the person is good at, and then get them together.

— Everybody’s responsibility is nobody’s responsibility. Somebody needs to assume specific responsibility.

4. The principle of motivation

When you organize any project, help people feel it’s their project. In Nehemiah, you see again and again men making repairs near their houses. If you lived in Jerusalem, where would you be most interested in building the wall? Probably by your house, right?

Allowing for ownership in a project helps increase motivation. I think Nehemiah is also saying, “Make the work as convenient as possible.” Nehemiah allowed people to work in their area of interest. That’s a principle of organization: good organizations allow workers to develop their own areas.

5. The principle of cooperation

The founder of Forbes magazine, said, “You spell success: T-E-A-M-W-O-R-K.” Cooperation is a key principle to good organization. I read recently that geese can fly 72 percent farther when they’re in formation than when they fly by themselves.

When we cooperate together, when there is teamwork, there is great growth. Cooperation is a greater motivator than competition, and it lasts because you feel like you’re together on a winning team.

Good organizations provide a supportive climate of trust and teamwork. In the Bible, when referring to Christians in the church, the phrase “one another” is used 58 times. It’s as if God’s saying, “Get the message! Help each other!” There is no such thing as Lone Ranger Christians. We are together in this. We’re a team. There is tremendous power in cooperation.

God can overlook almost anything in a church: poor facilities, no facilities, poor doctrine. The one thing God will not overlook is disunity. In the first 10 chapters of Acts, 10 times it says, “they were of one accord … of one heart … unified.” When you have unification like they did in Acts, you’ll have the power of Acts.

“Snow is a beautiful demonstration of what God can do with a bunch of flakes.”

Snowflakes are pretty frail, but if enough of them stick together they can stop traffic.

Alone, I couldn’t have made much of an impact on the Saddleback Valley, but, together, the Saddleback congregation has touched thousands.

6. The principle of administration

Even after you delegate, you must supervise the work. Nehemiah walked the line, inspecting the work. Tom Peters, in his book Passion for Excellence, calls it MBWA — Management By Walking Around.

Nehemiah knew which part each man built because he went out, checking up on people. This also allowed him to find out what was going on.

Good organizations establish clear lines of authority. People do what you inspect not what you expect.

7. The principle of appreciation

Good leaders give recognition. For instance, Nehemiah knew the names of those working on the wall, and I think that’s a mark of a good leader. He even listed them in his book, and now here we are thousands of years later, and pastors across the world are mispronouncing the names of Nehemiah’s helpers. He cared enough to recognize these men and women for their work.

Do you know who’s doing a good job in your organization?

If you do, are you telling them they’re doing a good job?

I have a Giant Killer Award that I give out every month. It’s a plaque made with stones and a slingshot, with the inscription, “Am I gazing at Goliath or looking at the living God?”

Every month I rotate this plaque among our staff. It goes to the person who tackled the greatest problem of the month. It doesn’t even mean the problem was solved, it just means that staff member took on the challenge.
Warren is pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church, Lake Forest, Calif.

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  • Rick Warren