“7 Practices of Effective Ministry” by Andy Stanley, Reggie Joiner, and Lane Jones

Posted: November 30, 2012 in Book and Article Reviews, Pastoral Ministry
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The bibliographic material in this book was scant.  The purpose of the book, however, does not dictate that there should be a wealth of resources.  It is mainly a reflection of what North Point pastors have found to work best in their context and how it can possibly be helpful to other churches.  As such, it is predicated on their experience, rather than built upon research of others.

Overall, I thought the book was helpful in a number of ways.  The “parable” at the beginning related everything to baseball, which helped to elucidate the material before delving into it a little more deeply in the second half of the book.  Essentially, as the title suggests, there are 7 practices that guide effective ministry: clarify the win; think steps, not programs; narrow the focus; teach less for more; listen to outsiders; replace yourself; and work on it.

“Clarify the win” orients people toward the goal of the organization.  If people do not know what the goal is, they will make up their own or they will exit the organization.  “People love to win.”  Set them up for success.  Clarifying the win keeps everyone moving in the same direction.

“Think steps, not programs” was a significant one for me.  It asks the question: “Where do we want people to end up and how will we help them get there?”  This frees up the organization to get rid of programs that are not in line with the direction that the organization is happening.  It also breaks everything down into manageable steps that guide people along the journey.

“Narrow the focus” is another way of saying “simplify the organization.”  That does not mean that it needs to be simplistic.  However, by saying “no” to some things, it allows us to say “yes” to more important or better things.  Trying to do too much can often leave the organization stretched beyond what it can manage.  This typically leads to doing a bunch of things that may not be done well.  By focusing on a few things and doing them well, you significantly increase the quality of what you are doing.  And, this increases the probability that this will more significantly shape the people you are trying to reach.

“Teach less for more” means that you don’t have to communicate everything to everyone.  Communicate, instead, only what is important to the people that most need to know it.  In baseball scenarios, it’s not important for the pitcher to know everything about the organizational structure, he just needs to know what is essential about pitching.  By concentrating the information that you are feeding individuals, you help them be more successful because they can focus on what they are doing and how they are doing it.

“Listen to outsiders” keeps the organization from becoming self-focused.  Once an organization becomes self-focused, its death may be a foregone conclusion.  Listening to outsiders can help you see whether or not the organization is relevant to the needs of those it is trying to reach and serve.  Furthermore, it can help the organization to push past faulty assumptions about what it should be doing.  In order to reach your audience, you have to know your audience.

“Replace yourself” is self-explanatory.  In my experience, this is vital, especially within the Church.  This is really a matter of discipleship.  Helping others to grow to be able to do the things that you do does not make you less important.  But, it does help the ministry sustain itself beyond a single generation.  Good leaders know how to pass on what they have been taught themselves.

“Work on it” is the final practice.  Nothing will go perfectly.  Making changes takes time and effort and patience.  Creating an environment where you can ask difficult questions and remain committed to one another is essential if an organization is to continue growing and thriving.  These 7 practices are a continual cycle of renewal.

To conclude, I really thought the book was helpful overall.  I wasn’t crazy about some of the business language that creeps into the book.  I don’t think people are consumers and Christ is the commodity while the Church is the marketplace.  However, the book provides very practical insight into ways that organizations can continue to thrive and adapt to a constantly changing culture, while not compromising the Gospel message.  Finally, as the book mentions, none of this is important if the Holy Spirit is not in the process.  Ultimately, it is God building the house, we are simply called to respond to God’s directing.

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