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Know Where You Are to Get Where You’re Going

June 11, 2018

You walk into Disney World.
What are the most important things to find on the big map?

Where you want to go.
The big “You are Here” arrow.

Once you know :
1) Where you are
2) Where you want to go
Then you can start mapping out how to get there.

Our job as leaders is to see what others don’t see–to look at the same reality everyone experiences and to be able to perceive what is really going on and what needs to happen next.

A big part of that is accomplished through concentrated days of Team Planning in which we chart our course for a new school year.

For most college ministries, the time for that is now.

“Why even plan?”

General Dwight D. Eisenhower sums up the reality of planning in chaotic environments:

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

The act of planning–doing the hard work of assessing our current reality, deciding what our “win” is and mapping out how to get there–prepares us to win, even if/when details change along the way.

Maybe you feel uncomfortable bringing strategy and business principles into spiritual things.

“Jesus said He would build his church. We don’t need to sweat it. Just let go and let God.”

If God appeared to you and said, “Do not fear the freshmen heathens, for I have given them into your hands. Every single freshman will become a Christian.”
What would your May planning look like?
What would your fall strategy look like?
How would your leaders spend their time?
Would you work very hard?
Would you plan very hard?

In Joshua 1, Joshua commands Israel to prepare “to take possession of the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess.”
God prepares the way and has already won the victories.
But that doesn’t mean that Joshua and his men don’t need to strategize or show up to fight.

In Joshua 8, “the LORD said to Joshua, ‘Do not fear and do not be dismayed…See, I have given into your hand the King of Ai’”–an unambiguous, direct promise of victory from God.
But a direct promise of victory doesn’t mean God will just do the work without us.
The victory still involves hard work and strategy and courage.
The men still have to put on their armor.
Some men even die in battle.
Joshua develops a clever plan to draw the people out of the city and then ambush them from behind.

God will save college students in the fall.
He will radically transform lives for His name’s sake.
And He will use your days of planning to do it.

So where to begin?

Let’s walk through three steps of ministry evaluation and planning:

Step 1: Define Reality

Max DePree says, “the first task of a leader is to define reality.”
Jordan Peterson in his book, 12 Rules for Life, describes why current reality matters so much:

When you buy a house and prepare to live in it, you hire an inspector to list all of its faults—the reality of how it is now, not as you wish it could be. You’ll even pay him for the bad news. You need to know. You need to discover the home’s hidden flaws. You need to know whether they are cosmetic imperfections or structural inadequacies. You need to know because you can’t fix something if you don’t know it’s broken.

To get a crystal clear view of current reality, we have to look at numbers.

But I think one of the most helpful things to do is to paint a picture of the movement.

So start with this:

Give everyone on your team a blank piece of paper and some markers.
Have them draw a picture of your movement–or, if they really hate art, come up with a verbal analogy.
(What words or phrases would you use to describe the feel of your movement?)

After a few minutes, give everyone a chance to explain their masterpiece.

Now you’re going to cover the wall with information on the current reality of your ministry–qualitative analysis of your movement (pictures, descriptions) and quantitative data (spreadsheets).

How many have come to Christ?
How many are involved in small groups?
What was your budget this year, etc.?

The more numbers you can track down, the better. Even better if you can track down those numbers for last year and the year before.

Some of this data can be gathered beforehand, but it’s fine during planning to take some time as a team to do the hard work of gathering information.

How many students shared their faith this year?
How many of our leaders came to Christ in college?
What is the ethnic makeup of our movement?
What is an accurate discipleship chart for the men? For the women?

Now, I know some of you may balk at spreadsheets–I mean we are about lives being changed, not numbers.
But spreadsheets are the best way to see a lot of data on a single sheet.
And without fail, numbers are what bring the most productive ideas for change as we can quickly see where we are doing well and where we are lacking.

Once you lay out all the information in front of you, you can then begin to see everything with more clarity.

Give everyone a few minutes just to take it all in.

Ask: “What do you see?”

You begin to see:


“We’ve added the same number of freshmen for 4 years straight.”
“We’ve seen fewer people come to Christ each year.”

Contradicting data

“We did way more first week surveys this year but added the exact same number of freshmen as in past years–why?”
“We had less staff this year but more students involved–why?”
“Our pictures were all rosy and hopeful but the data is pretty grim. It seems like our staff are unaware of actual reality. I wonder how we could do a better job, throughout the year, of knowing our current reality?”

What we are doing well

“Our summer missions numbers are way up.”

Where there are gaping holes

“Only 2% of our leaders became Christians in college.”

Write all these observations down in a Google Doc or on a big sticky note on the wall.

Step 2: Define Success

This is where most ministry teams fail.

Most churches and college ministries have no idea what it looks like for them to succeed in college ministry in a given year.

Why is that a problem?

Daniel Pink in his book, Drive, says “making progress is the single greatest motivator at work.”

Herein lies the problem: how do we know if we are making progress in college ministry?
What is success in a job that never ends, that begins again every fall with more freshmen to reach?

In the nebulous world of college ministry, your staff and student leaders need to realize they are making progress.

A couple of years ago, I wrote this in my journal:
“I’m discouraged with where we are at with our movement, and I feel a little aimless as to what we need to do to make corrections. For me, lack of fruit in ministry is not nearly as discouraging and overwhelming as vague, nebulous wandering.”

Ken Blanchard in The One Minute Manager says most jobs are like bowling blind.

You put the pins up, but when the bowler goes to roll the ball, he notices there is a sheet across the pins. So when he rolls the ball, and it slips under the sheet, he hears a crack but doesn’t know how many pins he knocked down. When you ask him how he did, he says, ‘I don’t know. But it felt good.’ [Managers need to] realize that feedback on results is the number one motivator of people.

Some good questions to determine what success looks like for your college ministry:

If college ministry were a team sport, what would winning look like?
What is success in your job, for your movement?
What are the bowling pins we are trying to knock down? How do we keep score?
What is your dream for this movement? Or to put it another way–why did you come on staff?
In 3 years, what would you hope would be true of your movement?
For your campus and your ministry, what unique role do you play in the body of Christ?

This is the best definition I’ve come up with for success in college ministry:
Turning lost students into graduates with a conviction, from Scripture, for their personal responsibility in the evangelization of the world.
I’m on the college campus to produce laborers who will change the world.

What is success for your college ministry?

Step 3: Pick 2 or 3 things to focus on this coming year

From all that we have talked about, what are the 2 or 3 things we need to focus on for the next year (2 or 3 things that can be accomplished in the next year)?
If you’ve done a good job at Steps 1 and 2, Step 3 will be much easier.

As Covey says, we spend the year furiously climbing a ladder. Team Planning is a crucial time to stop climbing and assess whether our ladder is leaning against the right wall.