Andy Stanley’s Looking for the Uniquely Better

Welcome to another year of Coaching Tips. While this is a transition year for those of us in the US campus ministry, may we see God work in new and unexpected ways.

Last week, one of the teams I’m on attended Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit. We found that many of the talks applied directly to our situation. I personally walked away with enough fodder for months of coaching tips.

Andy Stanley, pastor and founder of North Point Ministries in Atlanta, mentioned that some time ago, their organization had done some analysis of their success in ministry over the last 20 years. He included the five things that they would do all over again in two podcasts entitled “Lessons from the First 20 Years.” They are, in no particular order,

  • Have a uniquely better product.
  • Maintain a culture of continual improvement.
  • Power of a clear vision and mission.
  • The value of a learning organization.
  • The people we chose is more important than the system we use.

It’s that first one on being “uniquely better” that Stanley unpacked for us Thursday. I want to pass on his most salient points and then share some of my own takeaways as we begin a new year in a new leadership environment.

North Point sought to create an engaging church experience for the family and especially for men. Today, lots of churches are doing the very things they did “uniquely better” than others when they grew so quickly. But, while it is virtually impossible today to discover that which is uniquely better, someone, somewhere is messing with the rules of the prevailing models.

Will we recognize the uniquely better ideas when they surface? Our best hope is to create organizational structures that recognize the better when surfaced. Stanley listed four ways to create a culture that recognizes the better.

1. Be a student, not a critic. Don’t criticize that which we don’t understand or can control. The moment we start criticizing, we stop learning and stop seeing the next. The next generation idea almost never comes from the previous generation.

2. Keep eyes and mind wide open. Listen to outsiders. Listen to those who don’t know what we do or how we do it. Outsiders are not bound by our assumptions. We go with “That won’t work.” because of our assumptions. Close-minded leaders close minds. If you shut eyes and minds you will shut those of others. If they have ideas they won’t bring them to us.

Some questions he asked us to consider:

  • How do we respond to staff who make suggestions based on what they observe in other organizations?
  • Can we shut down the thing inside that wants to shut down the ideas?
  • When was the last time we ran with an idea that wasn’t my idea?
  • Am I curious about what I don’t know?

3. Replace “How?” with “Wow!” Ideas die with “How?” How much does it cost to just say “Wow!”? “Wow!” ideas to life, don’t “How?” them to death. Nothing is gained when we don’t know what young leaders are dreaming about.

4. Recognize rather than resist. If we are pursuing the uniquely better, we will be pre-disposed to see it. Ask if it is unique and better.

In reflecting about this afterward, I realized that some of this is counter-intuitive to the way I think. As an ISTJ, with strengths of analytical and deliberative, I focus on the “how” and am reticent to “wow”. I do seek to position the next generation of leader, and I don’t need to be the one who comes up with the new ideas. Our team has a habit of reading a book each semester giving us new insight and different assumptions.

And while I love to read, I am quick to run ideas through my own grid. I think that is typical of many Cru staff. We are good at our ministry. But we forget that past success is no indication of future success.

In this season of our ministry may we have open minds, open hearts, and open hands to receive from the Lord what He would do in and through us.

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