Budgeting: A Guess, A Dream, Or A Plan?

An organization working through the budgeting process needs to forget guessing, begin dreaming, and develop a plan.

Forget Guessing

If you are guessing what your budget should look like that means you have not done your homework.

The budgeting process can seem a little like a guessing game. Yes, you are looking ahead with no assurance that the money you expect and hope to come in actually will. You do not know what your costs for the year will be.

There are some fixed numbers like salaries, but other numbers, such as utility costs that fluctuate based on weather, aren’t as certain. You can get a good idea of what your office supplies will cost based on the previous year, but those costs go up from time to time.

Doing your homework means looking at the realities of the past and the possibilities of the future. The realities are how much you spent on different things over the last few years. You should be able to forecast based on the trends of the past. Developing a budget is not random guessing but a process of looking at various factors to determine the best budget. As for income, look to the past and how current realities might determine if that same amount of income can be expected next year. In a church, if many people are experiencing job loss or are moving away, you may have to anticipate less income as fewer people are able to give. A budget is a thoughtful forecast based on prayerful dreaming and visioning, and connected to a plan of how to move toward the vision. While budgeting always involves a level of uncertainty, you must create a budget based on real information.

Begin Dreaming

Most churches, like other organizations, hope to grow. That means connecting with more people and running more programs. This means greater costs, but hopefully greater giving as well.

It is important for organizations and churches to dream about the future. I believe that we need to build our organizations and our budgets around “God-given” dreams. Ask God what his desires are for you and the people you work with and the people you serve. Are there needs and opportunities God is calling you to step into?

Dreams often cost more than the expected income. This is where the hard work comes in. Find a way to determine if costs need to be cut or your income can be increased. Whether you are a leader in a church or another organization, determine if God wants you to create a budget that will cost more than your forecasted income. We can’t be irresponsible, yet faith plays a part. If you believe God wants you to do certain things and they cost a certain amount, sometimes a budget can look impossible outside of the fact that God can bring in the necessary funds.

A budget is part of your dreaming as you look at how you can meet the costs of the dreams you believe are from God. A budget is an important part of developing your vision as you will need to pay for the costs of moving toward that vision.

Develop A Plan

As you dream of what could happen next year, have a plan so you know where you will be spending money, and an estimate of how much. Your plan is based on your vision and God-given dreams. Your vision and goals should help you project what will be spent over the next year. In our church we also invite leaders of certain programs to submit budget requests based on their vision and goals for their own ministry.

A budget is not just a guess, is needed to achieved your dreams, and can be achieved as you develop a plan around that budget.

  • Set Clear Goals and Strategic Steps

Defer to your organization’s mission and goals to inform how money will be spent. Your goals and strategic steps will give you an idea of what your financial costs for the year will be. Build on the data from past years to develop a plan for how your finances will support your organization’s God-given dreams.

  • Communicate Your Vision

Communicate your vision and God-given dreams clearly to all stakeholders in your church or organization. Share your dreams with passion and excitement. Help them see how their financial contributions will make a difference in people’s lives. Let them know what they are contributing to.

  • Report Regularly

Use a regular reporting structure to let key people know how things are going financially and how that is helping you move toward your goals. Implementing a reporting plan, including what the reports will look like, who will prepare them, and how often they will be shared keeps people informed and prevents surprises when adjustments may have to be made. Updates keep people connected and donors excited about continuing to support the church. When people see the impact of their giving – perhaps through a connection to real people who are being helped – they will be more likely to continue to give.

The results of not reporting on finances regularly can be detrimental to organizations. One church used a congregational meeting to inform the church that finances were very low, and to meet costs, they would be letting a few staff go. The problem was, they had not informed the congregation of the financial situation before they decided on this solution. If they had done so, people may have been willing to increase their giving. If people think there is plenty of money, they may be spending their money elsewhere. Don’t wait until there is a problem before you inform those invested in your church or organization.

If you are determined to honor God in your church and organization, then make sure you talk with God about your dreams and His dreams and then develop clear plans on how to move ahead. Continue to ask God for the wisdom He offers as you handle the finances of your organization with integrity.

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

15 Values of a Person of Integrity

Blog 15 Values of a Person of Integrity

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integrity

ĭn-tĕg′rĭ-tē

noun

  1. Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.
  2. The state of being unimpaired; soundness.
  3. The quality or condition of being whole or undivided; completeness.

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Integrity is a characteristic that makes most lists describing good leaders. As you read the list of definitions of integrity below, evaluate yourself as to how you match up. If you want to become a better leader, with integrity, choose one to work on.

You are a person of integrity if:

  1. You are the same person in every circumstance. While we may act differently when with friends or family or coworkers, we should display the same integrity in every case, no matter who you are talking to, or what context you are in, or how much you have had to drink or how tired you are. Consistency.
  2. You are quick to acknowledge mistakes your mistakes, such as failed communication or broken promises.
  3. You are who you say you are. Your actions match your words.
  4. You are honest. Never surrendering to the draw of the white lie. Truth is a high value for you.
  5. You are a person of few excuses. You never use “sorry” as an excuse or to get out of something. If you say “sorry”, you also look at how to correct the situation.
  6. You are never satisfied with producing low quality work. You always do your best.
  7. You make the tough calls. You know when to shut down a useless endeavor, when to address concerns of team members, and when to challenge someone to do better. You do not allow problems to simmer.
  8. You do not throw others under the bus to save yourself. You take personal responsibility.
  9. You are trustworthy. If you promote a new event or project, people trust that you will do the work necessary to make it the best it can be.
  10. You want to be understood, not just heard. You learn how to communicate well.
  11. You are quick to give credit where credit is due. You never claim credit for another’s ideas or work.
  12. You respect people, whether a boss or employee, whether a team member or a client.
  13. You are persistent, and follow through, not giving up easily. You look for ways to makes something work, rather than an excuse to give up.
  14. You are ethical. You are more concerned about doing the right things than just doing things right. You do the right things even when no one is looking.
  15. You have a high regard for the standards of your profession, calling, and position.

I hope you measure up to these 15 values, if not, you might choose one or two to start working on right now. Leaders, let’s be people of integrity.

Keep Looking up,

Andy Wiebe

Pursuing Excellence: Plan Your Sermons a Year Ahead

Life happens at a pretty steady pace. In fact, unless you plan ahead, you will be dragging behind regularly, just barely keeping up. It is valuable to set aside time at regularly to do the work of looking ahead. For preachers, there is always another sermon to prepare. Unless you plan ahead, it is difficult to spend adequate time thinking through how to preach a biblically accurate, relevant, and creative sermon. The more you plan ahead, the more time you have to think through and improve each sermon.

1.Natural Blocks of Time

I begin by determining the number of Sundays between natural breaks. For example, if I was going to preach on Christmas through Advent, and typically think of the church “year” from September to June, that means I only have September through November for a longer series. I could preach through a book of the Bible with that many weeks. Or, I might do a series for September and make a change at Thanksgiving. After determining how many Sundays for natural blocks of time, I start praying through and listing what I feel I need to preach on in the next 12 months.

2. Congregational Needs

There are times in a church where it seems the congregation needs a certain topic addressed. For example, I am presently leading a church transition ministry, meaning I come into a church that is newly without a pastor and is looking toward hiring the next one. Sometimes the transition is a painful one, where people have been hurt by the pastor or each other. Many transition pastors preach a series on the “one anothers” of the Bible. (“Love one another” or “forgive one another” and so on). The hope is to help people to restore their relationships and trust in each other.

As you pray and think through the needs of your congregation, God will guide you to which books of the Bible or topics to address. You could invite your leadership team into the process by asking them to suggest needs they see in the congregation. If you know that most people are going to take holidays over the summer, you might want to plan a summer series in which each sermon doesn’t build on previous sermons but can be fully understood on its own. If people miss a sermon, they are not falling behind.

If you have a number of new people, you may want to address some of your denominational and local church beliefs and priorities. Or if your church includes many new Christians, you might want to introduce them to Jesus through preaching through one of the gospels over the next year. You could intersperse it with thematic series at Christmas or leading up to Easter, or just preach right through the gospel.

If there are themes you feel need addressing but don’t fit in your preaching schedule, you could address some of those needs in a class or weekend seminar.

3. Main Idea of Each Sermon

Once you have decided which of the books of the Bible or themes you want to preach on, begin breaking them down to what scriptures will be preached which Sundays. Make sure each independent sermon builds on the theme you have decided on. After identifying the scripture for each Sunday, develop the basic sermon idea. This will not necessarily be the final decision, because at this point you are just doing a quick survey of the material. You may adjust the main idea later, but you want an outline of the focus for each sermon so you can begin to collect supporting materials, ideas, and stories for that focus over the next year leading up to each week’s sermon.

Develop the main ideas well enough so that you can give the music and creative service planning teams about six months’ notice for them to gather material for that Sunday that will fit with the sermon.

4. Monthly Glances Ahead

Each month, spend time looking at the next month’s sermons, reminding yourself of upcoming themes and topics. This helps you watch for how things like the news or world events are speaking into what you will be preaching about, as well as how that sermon will speak to local needs. Keep in touch with those who will be leading music or adding other creative ideas into the service so you are working together and building one cohesive service.

Prayerfully start to define the main focus of each sermon more specifically. Ask God to give you and your team creative ways of speaking truth and applying it to each one who will hear.

5. Weekly Specifics

As you work through the details of planning the sermon and accompanying service for the next Sunday, work closely with any volunteers who will be part of the service. Communicate your theme clearly and make sure you are on the same page with all who will contribute. Pray about the applications you will include in your sermon, and ask God to direct your final preparation so that lives will actually be transformed through what God has helped you prepare.

It is a privilege to weekly stand before a congregation who is waiting to hear from God. Put in the time necessary to be biblically accurate and creatively relevant to your congregation. God will reward your efforts as you continually listen to His guidance right from the time you determine what book of the Bible to preach on to the time you wrap up the conclusion of your sermon.

Keep looking up,

Andy

Book Reviews: Andy’s 2022 Reading Experience

I will be sharing a brief review of every book I read this year. Hope you enjoy and hope it encourages you to keep reading.


AQUACHURCH 2.0by Leonard Sweet

AQUACHURCH 2.0: Piloting Your Church in Today’s Fluid Culture uses the metaphor of water to teach on the church and it’s role in today’s culture. He addresses many aspects of church ministry, even chapters on “Risk Taking” and “Intuition” which most other church leadership books do not include. He is encouraging churches to be more aware of the culture we live in and minister in so we can understand how best to differentiate between places we join in and times we act counter-culturally. He makes a point of saying, “For leaders, not having a Web ministry is more than being without a calling card, not using a Web site as a communications and community-building tool is to have fumbled the future.” That is an appropriate message to the many churches who went to online service through Covid but have not chosen to have a meaningful online presence going forward. This book is a great resource for any church leader.

The Church Needs More Creativity

Our Bible begins with the Creator at work, creating our world. When He makes people, they are created in the “image” of God, as creators themselves. While different animals are incredibly industrious and clever, humans are set apart from the animal world by our ability to think through problems and find new solutions and create new things.

Merriam-Webster online defines “create” like this:

  • To bring into existence
  • To invest with a new form, office, or rank
  • To produce or bring about by a course of action or behavior
  • To produce through imaginative skill

Create with a twist on what already exists

God brings into existence something out of nothing. We, as humans, have to use what is already available to create something new or different. Even the creativity of thought or speech builds on the thoughts and words of others.

Creativity uses and builds on what others have created. Of course, we need to acknowledge other’s works and do not want to claim something as ours when it isn’t, but we usually create out of what already exists.

As a church, too often, we buy curriculum and programs that others have found to be useful. We run programs and events that have been effective elsewhere. These can be great options for times when we do not need to “re-invent the wheel” and use materials that others have invested in developing.

Even when we purchase a complete program, we often realize there are aspects that don’t quite fit. In order for the program to work well in our own situation, we need to implement frequent evaluations of our programs and events, and be open and flexible to make changes. These changes require a sense of creativity to consider what we could take out and add to improve the pre-made materials for our situation. We may also find that there are times when we are better off creating our own completely new program that more appropriately contributes to our ministry as a church. Just because a club program works well in large urban centers in the United States does not mean it will transfer to rural northern Alberta. While the teaching may still transfer, the application part may have to be adapted to connect with rural northern kids.

Stretch yourself to think creatively

We need to learn how to be creative. Many of us had all our creativity schooled out of us. We were forced to colour within the lines for too long. We no longer know how to think outside of what already exists. We need to stretch our creative muscles and limber them up so that we can think of things that do not exist yet, building something new on something old. This could be through reading and listening on a variety of subjects. It could be dreaming and brainstorming as a team. It could be learning how to take aspects from many different places to put together something that is new and different, and perfect for what we are hoping to accomplish.

Being creative is not an individual task. Instead, seek creative input from people in your community. Talk to people in different fields to learn how their knowledge and experience could be adapted to work in the church. For example, what might we learn from someone’s expertise in trees about how to structure small groups? Or how might talking to an electrician spark ideas for discipleship?

Areas for creativity in the church

As we focus in on church ministry, creativity can add some new life in almost every area!

The Worship Service – Our worship services have not changed much in decades. We may sing less hymns and more worship songs and we may use versions of the Bible with up-to-date language, but the service as a whole still consists of singing, prayer, scripture reading, and preaching much as it did years ago. Even if we don’t get creative with the outline and contents of the service, we could benefit from creative ways of doing these essential pieces of our worship traditions.

What if we celebrated communion with different stations spread around the room where we could physically enter into confession, repentance, and celebrating the forgiveness Christ offers? We could write sins on paper and run them through a shredder or nail them to a cross.

What if we built on the message of the sermon by inviting people to discuss the application of the lesson and promise to hold each other accountable to follow through on our commitments? Not only would this invite more participation in the service, but encourage engagement with one another throughout the week.

Discipleship – This has been one of the most talked about topic in my church circles over the last decade or two. How do we best disciple others? How do we grow as disciples of Jesus ourselves? Often the process is built on information. We teach people scriptural truths and encourage them to memorize verses. Could we borrow ideas from the trades where people progress through stages of practical learning along with class time? Maybe we could apprentice new believers through stages of learning and development. What if we “walked” through life together? An apprentice disciple could be in touch with their mentor throughout the day, perhaps checking in at certain times, and being available for advice and prayer? We need to creatively find ways of doing this better.

Children’s Ministry – Every church has some type of ministry for their children, and often they are very similar. Could we be creative in how we help our children get to know Jesus and grow in their faith in Him? Yes, use all kinds of media, and creatively insert “old-school” ideas that we enjoyed as children that our youngsters have never experienced. Sometimes creativity may mean re-creating something old with a new twist. You could use puppets, play a video, or have them record their own video on a topic. Find ways to engage them physically through games or dance or hands on interactive learnings stations.

Creativity is the means, not the end goal.

While our desire is to be creative, that is not our goal! While it may be nice to be known as a creative church, the creativity is only meant to help us reach our other goals and to engage more people in the process. As a church, God has called us to reach and teach people; to come to faith in Jesus and to grow as a disciple. Creativity can help us get people’s attention and keep them interested. Creativity can be the container that carries our goals forward. The colour and shape and size of the container helps draw attention. Who wants to watch black and white movies when you can watch them in High Definition colour?

Let’s learn to stretch our creative muscles prayerfully and creatively to be the best church offering the best programs you can!

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

Church Has to be Different -But How?

A number of church leaders are declaring: Church has to be different now. Church has to change. While Covid has been an accelerator of this, leaders were already declaring this earlier.

I understand. As culture and society change, we need to adapt how we do the work of the church in order to connect with people today. But what changes?

I don’t feel I have the answers to what that change looks like. Instead, I will share my questions with you who follow me and hope you have some ideas to respond with. I would love to hear your comments.

Worship Service Changes

Do we need to change how we lead the worship service? I believe many churches need to plan for more audience participation and less performance at the front. I am passionate about creating interactive and transformational worship services – so much so, that I am in the process of writing a book about it!

Do we need to change from a monolog preaching style to more discussion? I know of one church that is attempting to do exactly that. People come to the service, gather around tables, and a table host leads the discussion. What else needs to change in the worship service?

Program Changes

What might be some beneficial changes to the type of programs we offer? Do we need to reduce the number of programs we offer? Should we plan more opportunities for people to interact with each other? Do we need to have more Biblical learning opportunities because people are biblically illiterate today?

Online Changes?

One positive outcome of covid restrictions was more churches provided an online worship service option. The church I presently serve is continuing this option, and usually have a number of people tuning in to watch. How might we improve in how we deliver those? Do we need to have people who can interact with those who are tuning in online? Maybe we need to hire staff to be the online church pastor in the same way multi-site churches hire a campus pastor?

How can we have a better online presence beyond just a one-hour worship service? Does this mean creating a presence on social media?

Discipleship Changes

How can we improve how we disciple new believers? In the past the emphasis was on teaching them “how to do” the Christian life. Should we move to an emphasis of “how to be” a Christian living in the world? While Bible teaching remains essential, especially for those coming to church with no prior Bible knowledge, I wonder if we need to help people move beyond living right to really connecting with Jesus, to actually listen and hear God?

Children and Youth Ministry Changes

Could we move beyond entertaining children and youth toward teaching them, even at a young age, how to live a life that is totally dependent on a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, and tuned in to the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Do we need to challenge youth with opportunities to serve both in the church and in the community and world? Do we need to add in more digital content, or do we deliberately reduce screen time in our programs to counteract all the time they spend online in their day? Would it be wise to help youth focus more on getting to know God rather on avoiding sin? I came across a great quote a while back that went something like this: “Sin does not repel God, God repels sin.” We often see it as the less we sin, the closer we can get to God, when it is probably better to grow deeper in our relationship with God and then sin will be repelled.

Philosophy of Ministry Changes

Should we refocus our energies on helping people to grow in relationship with Jesus and not just in information about God? Do we need to remind ourselves that God came to be “with” us (Emmanuel)? Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to come live “in” us. It is about growing in relationship, not about growing in knowledge.

Outreach and Community Involvement Changes

As we think about introducing people to Jesus, our first realization should be that the mission field is not overseas, but right at our doorstep. There are many people living right next to us, who are just like us, who have never heard the message of salvation. And rather than thinking we need to go overseas, realize the world has come to us. Instead of taking a mission’s team to Mexico, maybe we need to reach out to the growing Mexican population down the street. Maybe instead of going to Africa, reach out to the many Africans from many different countries that now live in our cities? Even many small towns are seeing an influx of foreign workers and new immigrants. We need to reach out to them, welcoming them to Canada and sharing Jesus’ love with them.

As we reach out to those around us, this often requires an improved sense of community involvement and community connections. Some churches do well at this. Some churches offer English classes or homework help. The church I serve has an annual free Clothing Bonanza, clothing many children as they head off to school. They also give away free Bibles, so many that one year they started grabbing the church’s pew Bible to give away. Unfortunately, other churches are so caught up in their own church they hardly even know any people who don’t already know Jesus.

Let’s help people practically, and ensure we share the gospel as well. What else needs to change in how we reach out?

Facility Changes

What needs to change about how we build and set up the places where we meet? Many churches have done a good job equipping their facilities to be more accessible for those physical limitations, for example, by building ramps and elevators. We also have screens with the words on them so people don’t have to flip through hymn books. Additionally, many churches have recognized the needs of their communities, and replaced pews with chairs to allow their spaces to serve in varying purposes throughout the week. Are there other changes? Do we need to add more coffee bars?

Other Changes?

What else needs to change in how we do church? How do we update and adjust our ministries to have a greater impact for God’s kingdom? What “sacred cows” need to be chucked in order to head in a more effective direction?

I’m guessing that many changes will be different from church to church. Every church needs to mull over this issue of how to change to be the best they can be in reaching out and discipling people in their walk with Jesus.

What else needs to change?

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

Assumptions Lead to Problems

Last week I was preparing for Sunday’s service at church. We wanted to include communion as part of the service. I have only been at this church for a few weeks now, and I assumed things.

I assumed that their traditions around the celebration of communion would be similar to my experience. Here are my assumptions. I assumed that I could insert communion into the service where I felt it fit best. I was planning for a two-part sermon and decided communion would work really well as a practical expression of the first part. Next, I assumed that communion would be set up with cups of juice in trays and bread on plates. I assumed that would mean we needed a table at the front for the elements to sit until we were ready to move into the ceremony of communion. Then, I assumed that we would be serving everyone. That lead to a few more assumptions. I assumed we then needed to have 4 people prepared to pass the trays down the rows to cover the two sections of chairs we had set up, so I asked four of the elders if they could help serve. Along with the serving, I then assumed that since we were serving the bread and then the juice, we could use someone to play some music while everyone was being served, so I asked my wife to be prepared to play a few songs on the piano. Since I assumed we were serving everyone, I thought my sermon would be longer because we had to give time to serve everyone which would draw things out a bit.

My assumptions were not correct. First, in talking to my wife, she mentioned that she had seen a supply of cups and wafers that were one sealed unit. So then I assumed we will only be serving them once, so that shortens up the time a bit. Then, in conversation with one of the Elders, he mentioned that they had just been handing the elements to people as they entered the sanctuary.

So we will not be serving them at all, okay. They will already have the bread and juice with them for when they were needed. And that meant that we didn’t need anyone to actually serve the congregation.

Well, someone still had to hand them out as people came in for the service. Another assumption was that the piano could be used and I was informed it desperately needed tuning and was not ready to play. I had to tell my wife that her playing was not needed.

Assumptions.

We often make assumptions, especially when we are in a new situation. I am new to this church and had not bothered to ask anyone about how they practiced communion. I could have saved myself some trouble by just asking a few appropriate questions.

So, how can we deal with assumptions in new situations?

  • Realize we don’t know what we don’t know.

When we are in a new situation, we assume that we can approach it the same way we have approached similar situations in the past. We need to realize that every new situation requires new information for us to know how to proceed in a meaningful way.

  • Watch and listen

We can learn a lot in a new situation if we slow down and carefully observe what is going on. Before jumping into action, watch what others around you are doing, even how they are doing things. Listen to the conversation. What do they talk about? What can you learn from what they are saying that will help you know how to move ahead?

  • Ask questions

I am serving as a Transition Pastor. That means I go into a church for a period of a year or so before I move on to a new assignment. Every new church I serve is a new experience for me. Yes, I have years of experience being a pastor, but I have not been a pastor for this church at this time. Even in the last church I served, I had been a pastor there years ago, but people and practices had changed. I did not know how things were done now.

So, I ask a lot of questions. I want to know what their traditions are and how they would like to see things done. I try to figure out who they are talking about when they mention a name.

I try to get a sense of the inter-personal dynamics in the relationships of the people I am working with. I want to know the history so I can get a true sense of the present.

  • Admit you are a newbie

It’s okay to remind people that you are new here, acknowledge that this is a new situation and you may mess up. As I greet people on Sundays, I admit I am new there and don’t know if they are long-term members or guests. As we talk about programs or practices, I remind people I am new and don’t know all the history. I regularly ask people to give me some background and detail on programs or practices so I can get a sense of what they are talking about.

  • Ask for a guide

Sometimes it is helpful to ask for someone to be your guide. It’s good to find who is familiar with the situation so they can help you navigate around potential missteps. If you can find someone like this, make use of their knowledge.

Assumptions can lead to problems, but you may avoid those problems by trying some of the tips above.

I would love to hear how you have handled new situations. Leave a comment about how something went really well or really bad.

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

Book Reviews: Andy’s 2022 Reading Experience

I will be sharing a brief review of every book I read this year. Hope you enjoy and hope it encourages you to keep reading.


LEADING IN A CULTURE OF CHANGE – by Michael Fullan

This book is an older book but the principles are still helpful today, and maybe even more needed than back in 2001. Change is happening quickly around us, and many are suggesting they have answers. Often those requiring change to happen, look for a charismatic strong leader or a program that has worked somewhere else. Michael Fullan suggests, I believe correctly, that we need to realize that no one program is the answer to every situation. He also says that the change a charismatic leader brings may only last as long as he is leader. So Fullan suggests that change needs to be worked at slowly, with many of the people impacted participating in the transformation. As well, instead of using a cookie cutter approach, look for what might be appropriate to use at certain locations and at certain time periods of the change. He concludes the book like this: “Ultimately, your leadership in a culture of change will be judged effective or ineffective not by who you are as a leader but by what leadership you produce in others.”

Pursue Excellence with Constant Evaluation

“CANEI is an acronym that stands for constant and never ending improvement. If you really want your services to soar, you have to commit to CANEI. You can never be satisfied with what you did last week, even if it was a great week. Always keep moving forward; always be working to reveal God’s excellence in a new, more powerful way.” 

– Nelson Searcy and Jason Hatley, Engage: A Guide to Creating Life-Transforming Worship Services.

To become better we need to evaluate. Everything we do can be improved through taking the time to reflect and evaluate when completed. An effective way to guide post-event evaluation it to use established systems and processes, whether these are adapted from other leaders or organizations, or created internally.

Recently I was reading Leading in a Culture of Change. Michael Fullan, in talking about evaluation, refers to Army After Action Reviews. These AARs have three key questions: What was supposed to happen? What happened? And what accounts for the difference?

I like that. While many evaluation systems include many questions about every aspect of the event, they really all come back to these three questions. All the questions on a long evaluation form probably come down to these three questions.

What was supposed to happen?

This question is effective because it assumes there was a clear plan from the beginning. Every person involved in making it happen knew what was expected. They likely talked through each aspect ahead of time, and maybe even rehearsed parts of it. Your evaluation needs to begin with a reminder of what you hoped to accomplish. In this way, everyone is reminded of what their goals were.

What happened?

This is where you work through the event in hindsight and remind yourself  what actually happened. Did those leading know what they were doing? Did the people involved enjoy the experience? Did it end up being close to the original goal and plan? Were you able to work the vision well, meaning did your effort move everyone toward the envisioned goal? This is the opportunity to consider each aspect and identify what went well and what did not.

What accounts for the difference?

Once you’ve identified the expectations and actual outcomes, it is time to look at how closely your event matched what you had dreamed and planned for. Focus in on what happened differently than expected. Point out any surprises or missteps, and then try to figure out why things did not go as planned. What are some reasons for what went wrong? And just as important: what are some reasons for what went right or better than you had planned?

With this in mind, brainstorm what needs to change to be better next time. There might be all kinds of actions to take to improve:

  • Better training
  • Clearer directions
  • More rehearsing
  • Better equipment
  • And on and on

An After Action Review (AAR) may take a few minutes or may last an hour. It depends on how complicated the event was or how many items were identified when answering the third question. I like these three questions because they really focus in on CANEI. You can zero in on what needs to improve for next time.

Evaluation always needs to lead to action. Everything that needs improvement must be worked on until a satisfactory change has been defined and developed.

Incorporate regular evaluation into your routines. Ask God to help you see where you may have fallen short of His hopes for the event, and the Holy Spirit to make it clear on how to continue to improve. As a follower of Jesus Christ, do your best for the Kingdom of God, no matter what you are doing.

Keep looking up,

Andy Wiebe

Leading Well When the Unexpected Happens!

We think we have a lot more control on things than we really do. We plan and prepare, but there are many things out of our control. We cannot control the weather, so it is not really all that unexpected when a picnic gets rained out. We cannot control people so it should not surprise us that people do things we hoped they wouldn’t, or don’t do things we wish they would.

Parents have hopes for their children but children choose their own paths. Business owners have dreams for their business but sometimes the market has more influence on how well they do than anything they could prepare. You plan for a big event only to have a small crowd because there were other more interesting things to do.

Most people like to be optimistic. We have to be if we want to make plans or develop anything. We have to believe that things well go well and get better. Reality sometimes chips away at that optimism.

So, what can we do when the unexpected happens?

  1. Pray

Too often we think that we need to find our way through a situation. We have worked hard on a project and want it to go well, so when the unexpected happens we feel that we need to come up with the solution. Instead, we need to remember that God is greater than any problems we come across. And God is never surprised. When challenges surprise us, why not go to God with them?

God will help you through it. He may give you an answer to quickly figure out a solution. He may give you strength as you struggle to find answers and push your way through. But God wants to be part of our lives. And if we are dedicated to serving God, then all that we do in some way should help to build God’s kingdom. If that is our goal, then the God of that kingdom would probably want to help us find our way through.

Remember to Pray.

2. Manage your Responses

An emotional response to the unexpected is not unusual, but obviously not very helpful. If we respond in a negative way to something that surprised us in a negative way, we are only compounding the problem. That is not going to help save the situation or fix what went wrong. Unfortunately, this is my natural response when a car darts in front of me in traffic. Maybe some of you can relate?

If we have enough bad unexpected things happen, when we get to that tipping point or that final straw that breaks the camel’s back, some of us give up. Whatever we were trying to do may just seem like too big of a task if too many unexpected things interfere.

Often it is our emotions that drag us down. We need to find a way to manage our emotions and push on.

3. Determine to Persevere

Some of us are resilient and continue to push ahead, looking for ways to overcome unexpected challenges. While some give up, others find a way through. Don’t immediately let the unexpected stop you from what you were planning to do. If your pursuit is of any value to you, then determine to find your way through.

These first three actions quickly lead you to the fourth one.

4. Triage the Situation

Good leaders will learn to assess the situation quickly and prioritize the needed response. When you go to the Emergency Room at the hospital, you are first taken to triage, where they assess your level of need so they can make sure that the greatest need is served first.

When the unexpected happens, you need to be able to determine the correct response by assessing if the unexpected situation needs to be dealt with first before going on with your plans.

For example, if you are planning a wedding and the hall floods on the week of your special day, you need to determine if the flooding can be dealt with or a new hall needs to be booked. This may take priority for the moment while you put aside the planning of the rehearsal to deal with the unexpected. In the same way, when something unexpected comes up at work or in your personal life, assess the situation to determine where to focus your attention for the best result.

5. Plan the Solution

Once you have triaged to identify your priorities, use that list to guide you through to a resolution. Figure out who can deal with which part of the problem and who can continue to work on the original project. Maybe part of the solution is to shut down your project or event for now and figure out how to reschedule with more planning in the future.

6. Delegate or Recruit Help

The unexpected often means that your time and resources are disappearing more quickly than you had planned. Can you hand off some of the responsibilities either in addressing the unexpected challenges or in the original project? Find someone who can step in to help. Don’t feel that you have to be limited to your abilities or that of your present team.

7. Pray and Trust God to Intervene

Continue to pray throughout the process. If you are a Christian leader, you have access to the God of Heaven. Our creative, miracle-working God can help us when we feel completely overwhelmed. I like seeing where God steps in and does the unexpected. I was just reading in 2 Kings 3 where the kings of Judah, Israel, and Edom were facing an army of Moabites. They thought they were hopelessly defeated, but then God stepped in. Water ran into the valley and onto the plains. The morning sun made it look like blood.

But when they got up the next morning, the sun was shining across the water, making it appear red to the Moabites—like blood. “It’s blood!” the Moabites exclaimed. “The three armies must have attacked and killed each other! Let’s go, men of Moab, and collect the plunder!”

But when the Moabites arrived at the Israelite camp, the army of Israel rushed out and attacked them until they turned and ran. The army of Israel chased them into the land of Moab, destroying everything as they went. (2 Kings 3: 23-24)

God can do the unexpected. Leading well when the unexpected happens depends to a large extent on how much you depend on God.

Keep looking up,

Andy