Focus is an important discipline. Especially if you want to make a difference or achieve something of value in life. There are lots of good distractions and lots of potentially rewarding experiences, but without laser sharp focus, you will find yourself chasing every good idea but never really accomplishing anything of great personal value.
I have been reminded recently on the importance of focus. As a church leader I get approached from time to time with ideas from people who believe it will either make us bigger or better!
They are always well-meaning and come from a sincere desire to be helpful, but in many cases, the idea either has the potential to derail momentum or consume valuable time and resources with little benefit or reward.
There is no denying that for many people, activity equates to feeling productive and useful, but if it lacks focus, it’s just activity with the potential of burning out your church. I really think it is important to have clarity, so here is my list of the signs to watch out for.
1. You have a lack of clarity about the business you are in
The business world experienced some tumultuous years in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Technology was literally changing everything. Remember video rental stores? Once the neighbourhood staple, they are now mostly extinct. Why? Because most of them were tied to the VHS/DVD format. They didn’t make the transition to the internet until it was too late. Instead of realizing they were in the entertainment business most of them thought they were in the VHS/DVD rental business.
When the way movies were being delivered began to change they stuck to a format of stores and products that were quickly losing their appeal. After-all, why run to a store when you can simply download it at home? The way entertainment was being delivered was changing but few of the brick and mortar stores wanted to change their mode of delivery?
That principle holds true for any organization, even the church. In fact, especially the church! For instance, the church is not in the business of making money, even though money is an important component of what it does. In reality, what you believe about the church will determine what business you think you are in.
For instance, if you believe that the church is mostly for believers you will shape the music and messages for those customers. But if you believe the church can be a vehicle for the Gospel to touch those outside the church then you will shape it for a different clientele.
How many of our churches are actually unclear about their target audience? Without understanding the core of your business, organization, or church, how can you possible know what ideas are good or bad, helpful or hurtful?
2. You are too busy comparing yourself to others
We are all guilty of this from time to time. Especially in the world of social media where you have the successes and victories of others constantly being flaunted before you. And if you’re not careful, you can feel like you are the only one struggling. No one ever wins in the comparison game. Someone always seems to have done it faster, bigger, better, in less time, more time, no time, or in time. It is one of the most exhaustive and futile exercises next to worry.
Not only that, but whenever you get caught up in the comparison trap, you begin to feel that your own sense of direction is flawed. You start to feel that you are doing it wrong or your vision needs tweaking when all the while it needs you to be committed to it in order for it to succeed.
3. You are too busy creating a platform for yourself
Having divided loyalties is rarely good. Someone usually gets shorted. Especially when you are trying to create a platform that is in direct conflict or opposition to the organization you lead. Your heart will always lean towards your passions and if you are building a platform around your passion and your day job doesn’t cut it for you anymore, do them a favour and move on.
There are some situations where it does work. In my case I lead a church as well as teach at a College/Seminary part-time and recently published a book. Frankly, I believe our church benefits from my involvement at the school from an academic standpoint, while the school benefits from my practical pastoral experience.
I also believe my writing contributes to both. That may be biased, but I do believe it. I will admit though, that I am careful with my schedule as to not cheat the church or the school on the days that I have allocated for each. Because without a clear delineation focus could be compromised.
4. You have allowed frustration and burnout to cloud your priorities
As a leader you will experience resistance, especially if you are instituting significant changes. It doesn’t matter how important, valuable, or critical a change is, there will always be those who will resist. Count on it, plan for it, expect it. The problem is few of us are able to manage resistance for long unless we take steps to protect and guard ourselves.
Frustration and burnout are debilitating on their own but a lethal combo when experienced together. The irony is that you could very well be meeting and exceeding all your goals, with many great stories to tell, yet still get derailed by frustration and burnout. And when this gruesome twosome begin to rear their ugly heads you begin to lose clarity about the effectiveness of your goals.
You will lose sight of reality and when you do, you begin to make decisions that don’t necessarily match with the facts. That is why the next point is important.
5. You are using incomplete or wrong analytics
We hear all the time in the church world to be cautious of the way we interpret the numbers. It’s not just counting nickels and noses. It’s about much more. Simply counting dollars and heads doesn’t tell you if people are growing in their faith? That’s why instituting analytics that are related to your core values, mission and vision are key (see point 1 above).
Now the matter of instituting measurements that are directly related to what you are trying to achieve is something you have to figure out for your own context, but its surprising how few put this into practice. This is another reason for clearly understanding what business you are in, because the analytics have to match it. The two are intrinsically linked.
6. You are listening to the wrong people
Everyone has an opinion and some will even believe they can do the job better than you. Still, if you’re responsible to lead you’re also responsible for sifting through the many voices and filtering out the valid ones.
This point alone deserves a series of blogs but for now, let’s state this clearly. You shouldn’t just count opinions but weigh them. Not every criticism is valid and not every compliment helpful. A good leader knows which is which and who in the organization they should heed when they speak.
7. You struggle with being a people pleaser
If you struggle with being a people pleaser you will also struggle with saying yes to almost anything. This goes back to the opening of this blog where I talked about creating activity for activities sake. Nothing will derail your attempt at laser focus than a full calendar. One of the hardest things to do as a church leader is to trim those activities that simply take up time and space. Yes, some activities help to bring people together and helps to build community, but you need to be clear about what should stay and what should go.
I can’t stress enough the importance of focus, especially as an organization grows. There are so many competing options and possibilities that can easily consume all our resources while at the same time accomplishing nothing but activity for busyness sake. I personally prefer staying focused on the essentials in order to accomplish more, especially when we’re talking about the church and the sake of people’s souls.