Being Relevant

Hide your toes…

Regardless of what you think, if they are not participating—or see your organization as an important part of their experience—then you are not relevant.

People are drawn to that which adds value to their life experience. However, people are needy and we can lose focus if all we try to do is appeal to their needs. As leaders, we must have a deeper sense of what is needed, and that can only be found in quality time under the organizational hood. Finding that balance—between what they want and what they need—is not easy. In fact, the pursuit of that balance has rocketed some organizations to the stars and destroyed others.

One of the most helpful ways to discern whether or not your organization is one of value to its members is to ask; “Who is the client?” If your organization is the client, you’ve got a mess on your hands.

The Organization as Client

With the organization as the client, difficult times are ahead. Examples of the Organizational Client might be a church that sees the member as an asset of the church and not as the church itself. It sees the member as a means to an end. The member’s value is found in their finances, their participation, and the numbers they bring to the organizational statistics. They assure that the leader gets his paycheck and that the lights remain on. Once an organization moves to this mode—one of survival and loss of identity and mission—the path is difficult to reverse. The leader can no longer chase his passion because he is chasing his pension.

Another example of this is a member association or convention that looks to its member organizations to sustain and promote the events of the association/convention. This places the association or convention in competition with the client. What member of an organization is going to participate in an event that competes with its own interests?

We have all witnessed businesses that have lowered product quality, replaced ingredients without health considerations, reduced customer service options or quality while retaining or increasing prices. When the organization is the client, something gets lost.

The Member as Client

The key to relevance is making the member the client. The majority of your mobilizations are for their benefit, not yours. Remember, “for their benefit” is much different that doing what they want so that they feel good about you. Healthy people will see value in doing what they need to do to grow, even if they do not like to do it.

From the example above, a church that loves its members and does everything it can to educate them in the truth adds value to its members. This type of church holds to their vision, speaks the truth in love, and provides the members with the necessary tools for success. This enables them to hear the message and take steps to implement what they know needs to be done in their lives.

In the member association, we must be equally careful to add value to our members. Think along these lines. A member of your organization asks you to hold an event similar to a common event that most of your members regularly do themselves, you say that you will. You have just placed the association in an awkward situation. Groups within your association are asking; “Where will the attendee’s loyalty be directed? Back to us, or to the greater association?” “Will they find more value in a sister organization than in ours?”

What we need to do as people who add value is to say; “As an association, we cannot do that. However, if you will take the lead, we will support it, drive people to it, and help you finance it.”

This will increase your relevance to the member/client, and the reports from the event will drive the value of the association. “Our association helped us with everything we needed…”

Seek the success of others, and by that act, succeed yourself. Serving the client rather than your own organization always builds value and relevance.


I just accomplished in four minutes and fifty-three seconds what ten years ago would have taken days. Why, because I am connected. You see, the information that I needed for this afternoon’s meeting was easily found with a web search and a few clicks. The system that we call the internet has transformed culture, increased efficiency, and made me a much better researcher. That’s what efficient systems do.

Consider the bigger question: How would you develop such a system? Imagine it’s you in 1969, sitting at the table, and someone posits the question: How can we put the entire corpus of human understanding into one place, and access anything we want in under five minutes? Every needed component was there in 1969, but to conceive of, articulate and begin to build the system would have been quite impossible. Systems as transformational as the internet build with time. I would hope that if I had been in that meeting in 1969, I would not have tried to envision the modern understanding of the internet. Rather, I hope my response would have been smaller; something like, “Hey John, you have a computer at Stanford right? I do too, let’s see if we can get those things connected over a wire!” That’s exactly what happened. On October 29, 1969 Stanford and UCLA connected computers for the very first time. It was the “great first connection” known as Arpanet.

The internet sprang from that first connection, and as powerful a force as the internet has become, if we all turned off our computers at 12:01 GMT tomorrow, the internet would instantly cease to exist. It is only alive because of connections.

We have all taken part in the increased dialog about church planting. We have heard that the church planter is the top of the food chain and that all of our organizational structures exist to support them. However, let us suspend all thoughts about the church planter for now, and consider the system that we hope to create. Systems cannot exist in a vacuum, and the more focused a system is the greater chance it has for success. If we look at the entire system, like the discussion of the internet, it is overwhelming and non-realistic to think we can grasp its scope. However, if we search for the “great first connection” the system will form itself and it will be healthy and stable.

Back to the church planter…

Many of you are vested in church planting. Some of you have the ability to arrange funding for those church planters. Think before you act, it may not be the healthiest option to open the financial dialog first. The healthier path may be to formulate the connections. Many of you have heard my soapbox schpeel already, but for those who haven’t, here it is:

The church planter out there, although you may never meet them, they are top priority and we exist for them. This philosophy must carry through in all that we do. It is our responsibility to care for him and his family, perhaps not directly, but in our actions and systems. We have fooled ourselves into thinking that throwing money at something means that we care. On the contrary, it seems disingenuous. If we care we must move deeper into building connectedness. Ask questions like:

• In what local supporting pastor does this family find their spiritual covering and accountability?

• Does that same church support them financially?

• Does this family have the skills or connections for some level of self generated support?
(If a planter cannot raise some support for himself, do we really think he can plant a church?)

• Does he have financial support from other local churches, the association or state convention?

If the local field, friends, and sending church do not support him, why should you? He may be a risk.

Now, don’t misinterpret my thoughts. If the end goal is health and longevity of the planter and his family, we undermine the work of the church planter if we fail to ask these questions. Think resolutely on this: If you provide funding without the connectedness, helping the church planter formulate those connections will be more difficult. If you fund immediately, other partners will abdicate their responsibility. However, if you walk with him through the other connections, your funding can be icing on the cake. The healthiest churches in America will be those that another church has connected with and planted. If our state and national agencies can work to support the local partners, the church planter and his family will be protected.

One final note: You are key to his success. If in your thinking, planting a church means filing paperwork to get funding for a church planter, you are derelict in your duties. Invest yourself in that family, walk them into their first great connection, make it a local one, and watch as other partners connect into the great system that is a church plant. That system will transform the culture, increase efficiency, and make that man a better church planter.

Discover the Unknown

The Amazon Rainforest is perhaps the most remarkable place on planet earth. It constitutes 54% of the earth’s total rainforest. It covers 2.5 million square miles, nine countries and produces 20% of earth’s oxygen. There are untold riches in the amazon, most of which await discovery. Most North Americans do not realize that one-third of the bird species found on earth reside within her, or that half of all plant species—some ten million—have found the ability to thrive under her canopy. Furthermore, few realize that it produces over three thousand edible fruits of which only about two hundred of them are known to the western world. As for people groups, it has been estimated that there are approximately fifty undiscovered tribes within this lush, mysterious place. Every tributary, every trail leads to new discoveries and a wealth of new information. It is the most undiscovered resource on the planet and as leaders, we would do well to learn from her.

I was there a decade ago. I set up camp near a lodge fifty miles from Iquitos Peru, hired a personal guide, and explored for weeks. We trekked, canoed to remote locations, visited an Amazonian tribe, fished for Piranha using freshly sacrificed chickens, searched for and found the Pink Dolphins of the Amazon, swam in a virgin pool beneath a remote waterfall grotto in the middle the jungle and rescued a baby sloth after its mother fell from the canopy above, breaking branches during the fall, and landing very near to us with a thud, baby clutched close.

What an incredible experience. Exploration at its finest. Looking back at that journey I think about other unexplored territories and I think to ask myself and other leaders…

When was the last time you explored your people as you would the Amazon?

Whether you are aware of it or not, your greatest assets are those who work for you. As a leader, you need to explore their lives, their talent, and their history. I have worked for organizations where the leader does not delve deep into the background of direct reports, and they have missed the opportunity to tap into greatness. In every organization I have led, I have sought to learn the deeper things about my employees. You see, it is presumptuous and awkward for an employee to approach her supervisor and say; ”Here is something you need to know about me that can help this organization.” It is the responsibility of the leader to initiate such inquiry. Here is a simply way to begin. It is the method that I use.

1. Approach the same level colleagues of your direct report and ask them this question; “Tell me something about Jennifer that would interest me, something that would add real value to this organization, something she would not say of herself.”

Same level direct reports get to know each other well over time. In fact, if you are a leader that successfully builds teams, then they have already had the conversation about what talents they possess that the organization is not taking advantage of.

2. After hearing from the same level direct reports, take the individual aside and ask; “Jennifer, I want to give you permission to brag about yourself. I will not think it conceit nor will it change how I view you in any other way than positively. Tell me things about yourself that I did not know, but should. What is there in your gifting or past accomplishments that would blow me away and I could leverage to propel this organization forward. Brag about yourself.”

Leaders who provide a safe and confidential environment that mines the wealth of accomplishment from their employees will usually fine gold deep within the skillset of their direct reports.

Ask yourself…

What talents, what wisdom, what new insights lie deep within your people?

What treasures can you uncover to transform your organization in new ways?

You will never know the depths of your people without intentional, adventurous inquiry. Sit with them, begin to explore… The treasures that you will uncover will blow your mind and transform your leadership awareness as never before.

Tap into the wealth, start the discovery.