Getting the job done

Leading On Without Dropping the Ball

Mark Maines Image Mark Maines | Nov 25, 2013

Photo by vancouverfilmschool.

This is part three in a series on evaluation and strategic planning connected with the release of our Sticky Faith Launch Kit. While the specific strategies discussed here are not included in the Launch Kit, they complement the change process in ways we hope you’ll find useful in your context. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

“All great ideas degenerate into work for someone."[[This quote was taken from a course lecture given by Peter Drucker at the Peter F. Drucker & Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management at Claremont Graduate University.]]

These words from Peter Drucker, the “father of modern day management,” can become the stumbling block for many ministry leaders like you and me. Once we cast our vision and put well-formed plans in place, there is no other option than to roll up our sleeves and get to the work.

Previously in this series on strategic planning in youth ministry, we explored how to assess your ministry and how to plan your work. Now we turn our attention towards execution.

We might be tempted to think that execution is simply “administrative” or detail work. However, according to authors Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan, “Execution…is a leader’s most important job."[[Larry Bossidy & Ram Charon, Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done (New York, Crown Business, 2002).]] They explain that across most organizations, only 50% have an intentional planning process. Of these, only half are able to successfully execute what they planned to do. This means that only 25% of most businesses have a culture of execution.

Imagine the wasted time, energy, resources and lost potential. Bossidy and Charan conclude, “Execution is the great unaddressed issue in the business world today. Its absence is the single biggest obstacle to success and the cause of most of the disappointments that are mistakenly attributed to other causes."[[Larry Bossidy & Ram Charon, 5.]] If they are correct, how much bigger is the execution issue in churches and other ministry organizations in which our work is often not as thoroughly and routinely scrutinized as in the business world?

Execution is a difficult issue to address in ministry contexts because we often confuse what we think God will do and what we as spiritual leaders must do. Our job includes the five principles of focus, simplicity, competence, passion, and evaluation.

Principles of Effective Execution

1. Focus on what is essential: Creating clearly-defined priorities with lasting results

“To thrive in this world will require of us a new skill. Not drive, not sheer intelligence, not creativity, but focus.”[[Marcus Buckingham, The One Thing You Need To Know (New York: Free Press, 2005), 25.]] Here are several things that will increase your ability to identify and concentrate on the most critical issues:

  • Look for low-hanging fruit. Once you have identified your critical issues and have developed your plan, bring sustained pressure against those things until you have finished the task. Begin by looking for “low hanging fruit,” or “early wins,” to encourage your team along the way.
  • Arrange regular and intentional communication of completed action strategies. For most organizations, it is helpful to meet once a month as a leadership team with a focus on operational issues, or “what needs to be done now?” items. Then, a monthly meeting is scheduled in which the team discusses completed tasks as well as progress and amendments made to future tasks. This type of regular communication keeps team members informed, focused, and aligned.
  • Ensure that team members deliver their work on time, according to the plan. Accountability should remain flexible and tailored to suit the needs of each team member. Accountability that works for one person may not work for another. Your role is to think through what each team member needs in terms of personal accountability and then come up with a process that offers that needed accountability. Failure to hold all staff accountable will place an unwarranted burden on those whose “yes” means “yes” and whose “no” means “no.” Accountability is a gift we offer to each other and should inspire us to new levels of achievement, not make us want to quit. So offer it to others in way that brings encouragement, motivation and edification to your team. In the words of Ella Wheeler Wilcox, “A pat on the back is only a few vertebrae removed from a kick in the pants, but it is miles ahead in results."[[Terry Paulson, They Shoot Managers Don’t They (Santa Monica, CA: Lee Canter & Associates, 1988), 104.]]

2. Simplicity: Keeping the main thing the main thing

The Pareto Principle, or the “80/20 Rule,” was coined by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of economic growth came from 20% of the population. This has been found to be true in many other organizational situations and helps us to focus our resources on the most productive outcomes. If we know that 80% of our results come from 20% of our activities, following the tactics below will help us best use our scarce resources of time, money, and people.

  • Keeping things simple keeps them focused. Determine which aspects of your ministry yield 80% of the results. Invest heavily there and limit time and resources to the rest.
  • Create a “Stop Doing List.” When thinking through all the demands of your work, identify those activities, meetings and projects that do not directly support the execution of your plan. Then learn to say “no” to those things. When you must say “yes” to another initiative that appears strategic, it should also mean you say “no” to at least one (preferably two) other items that have been less than productive. This will help keep your work balanced and not as complex. This will also be one of the hardest things you do in ministry, as it will involve carefully thinking through the implications of saying “yes” and “no” to various people and tasks within your church.
  • Do not confuse “need” with “vision” or “urgent” with “important.” Need-driven ministries often run out of resources and energy before they can accomplish their objectives. This is because they are often pursuing the “urgent” and not the “important.” Doing the “important” things is often more critical than taking care of the last minute detail that is demanding your attention.

3. Competence: Doing what we do well

We tend to enjoy watching a professional at work who is good at what they do. Whether it’s a skilled athlete, a symphony violinist playing masterfully, or a youth worker who just intuitively knows how to relate well to students, their skill inspires confidence and encourages other teammates to do their best. Following the strategies below puts competence well within the reach of all leaders and ministry team members.

  • At the heart of execution is decision making that is timely, effective, and appropriate. Decisions that are not made are opportunities that are lost. Learn how to make them, and learn when they need to be made. We might be tempted to abstain from the responsibility of making certain decisions; however, it is our job to embrace even the most difficult circumstances and to move forward in those decisions the best way we know how. If we find ourselves in the place of not knowing what to do or lacking wisdom, we can “ask God, who gives [wisdom] to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.”[[James 1:5, NRSV.]]
  • Attract and recruit skilled people who understand what needs to be done and how it needs to be done. In other words, don’t allow just any person who is interested in your ministry to be involved in your ministry. Look for and recruit people who are self-motivated, self-disciplined and others-oriented. In ministry, we neither have the luxury of extra dollars nor extra people to motivate our volunteers. This makes attracting skilled people who initiate the right things absolutely necessary. “Lack of resources is no excuse for lack of rigor - it makes selectivity all the more vital.”[[Jim Collins, Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 15.]]
  • Train your leaders how to address a future that is uncertain and not very well defined with confidence as well as competence. Jesus uses a parable to ask an important question in his sermon on the mount: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified [trained] will be like the teacher.”[[Luke 6: 39-40, NRSV.]] Jesus highlights the necessity of training in the discipleship process. If we want to become like him, we must be trained by him. Therefore, if we want others to become like him, we must train them like he has trained us. We must ask ourselves, “Who are we training, and how are we training them? And if we are not training our people, are we inadvertently leading them into a pit? In order to prevent this, determine what your team needs to know and how they need to be trained in order to follow Jesus well and to live out his call on their lives.
  • In the spirit of continuous improvement, slowly but consistently elevate the average by “raising the bar” in your expectations and standards of performance. This will help produce above average-results from your people.

4. Passion: Harnessing the Leader’s Energy, Influence & Commitment

Execution will not happen without the energy that comes from an inspired and involved leader. Leaders who bring the “spark” that releases the energy and competence of each person on the team tend to practice the strategies below.

  • Understand your commitment to the mission is just as necessary as your energy and influence. When we describe a person’s personality with the word “passionate,” we are generally describing their energy, influence and emotions. However, the more ancient, traditional definition of the word “passion” is “suffering.” Viewed through that lens, ministry becomes a call to a long-suffering commitment. It confronts us with the question, “Are we as committed to our cause and the suffering it might entail as we are to the energy and influence that accompany our roles?” Both “passions” are essential for execution. The energy and influence of an effective leader is a key element of success, but without the relentless resolve of the leader pointing in the direction of the future, leadership teams will lose heart and lose their way.
  • Cast and re-cast a compelling and inspiring vision. We must do anything and everything we can to help our people see the big picture. Every time you meet with your volunteers, a parent, or your lead pastor, let them know where you are going and exactly how you are getting there. People join organizations for a clearly defined mission or purpose; they leave for lack of a compelling and inspiring vision. Help people see where it is you are going.
  • Live out your values, every day. Philosopher Dallas Willard urged, “We are becoming who we will be forever.”[[Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1998), 11.]] With every decision you make, you have the opportunity to become who you want to be forever. In doing so, you seize the opportunity to model to your people who you hope they become.
  • Provide adequate resources for the assigned priorities and action strategies. Generally it’s the team leader who can secure sufficient resources for the entire team. This includes adequate financial resources to launch initiatives and assuring that compensation for your staff is fair and adequate. Nothing is more frustrating to people than to embrace an inspiring vision and plan without a corresponding plan to secure the resources that will be needed. “More bricks, less straw” did not work well for the Israelites in Egypt; it will not work well today.
  • Provide encouragement. In my experience, I have learned that when people leave churches or organizations, they primarily do so for relational reasons, not institutional ones. This means respect, appreciation and gratitude can make the difference from someone being connected to our ministries and someone deciding to leave. Appreciate the whole person, and remember, “The last responsibility of any leader is to say ‘thank you.’”[[Max DePree, Leadership is an Art (Doubleday, New York, 1989), 9.]]

5. Evaluation: Staying on Track

When we get to the end of the road, we need to take the time to look back and review what went well and what we could have done better. Evaluation closes the planning process by cycling us right back into the continuous loop of assessment, planning, execution and evaluation.

Take time to ask these questions together:

  • Is the vision clear and understood by everyone?
  • Are priorities clearly defined with enough action strategies to complete the goal?
  • Are the dates that have been set realistic?
  • Are team members adequately trained and equipped?
  • Have we allocated sufficient resources to the task?
  • Are we experiencing increased traction and momentum?
  • Are the results the ones we expected? If not, what do we do with that?

Christian ministry was designed to be a team effort. Therefore, execution is a team effort. Our plans cannot predict the future nor do they guarantee success. Planning, however, does provide an integrated framework that enables our work to become more visible to ourselves and to others. It invites each member to contribute his or her part to the whole in a manner that is clear, compelling, and appreciated. As a result, the processes of assessment, planning, and execution helps each member of the body of Christ reach their full potential.

Action Points

1. Youth workers are infamous for dropping the ball when it comes to carrying out plans. How do you see faithful execution of your ministry plans leading to better (and more sustained) momentum from your team? How important do you think execution is – both to you and to your team – and what difference does that make in how you carry out ministry?

2. When you evaluate your typical follow-through on a scale of 1-10, how would you rate yourself on executing plans made by your ministry team? What about plans you make yourself? Do your ratings tell you anything about your values?

3. What are the three biggest hindrances or frustrations you tend to face in the execution process in your ministry? What practical steps can you take to reduce or improve those hindrances/frustrations? Who else could you involve in that process?

4. If you don’t already regularly do this, get a team together (create one if necessary!) to help you evaluate your youth ministry’s progress toward its mission and goals. You might try looking specifically at execution based on the five elements of focus, simplicity, competence, passion and evaluation.

5. Looking at your own passion for working with students, is it characterized more by your energy and emotions, or by the type of long-suffering commitment described above? What impact does your passion have on follow-through?

6. Where do you tend to stand on the continuum of “God will lead us, so we’ll let him work out the details,” and “We have responsibility to work alongside God, so we always need to make a plan and carry it out”? How does your view mesh with the rest of the team you work with, and how does that impact the level of conflict or team dynamics in your ministry? After reading this article, with whom could you dialog about the principles outlined above and the ways they relate to your ministry?

Originally published as “Evaluation Part III: Getting the Job Done“ by Mark Maines for FYI in August 2006. This version has been updated from the original.

Mark Maines Image
Mark Maines

Mark Maines is a Navy Chaplain currently assigned to 1st Battalion, 5th Marines. He is committed to helping individuals and organizations thrive in both their leadership and their followership. He holds an MDiv from Fuller Seminary, and serves on the Advisory Council for FYI. He can be reached at

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