Direction First, Speed Later

Recently I drove far off the grid on the north shore of Minnesota. I was not 100% sure that I was on the right road (the road number did not exactly match the directions I’d been given). My phone had no signal so it could not be of help. So, what did I do? Did I go back to make sure I was on the right path? Nope! That felt like a waste of time. Instead I drove faster in a direction I was not quite sure was the right one.

At times like this I remember words that Ruben Duran, ELCA Director for Congregational Vitality, heard from his father and later shared with me, “Direction first, speed later.”

I wish I had heard those words early in my ministry as an ELCA pastor.  In my eagerness to move my congregation boldly forward I became a font of new ideas. Some came from the latest conference I had attended. Some came as I sat in my office by myself. Others came through conversations. Once I had an idea in mind, I wanted to implement it right away. I would make a phone call, send some emails, and something new would emerge. Most of these ideas felt, to me, like just the right thing to move the congregation forward. It led to a lot of energy and excitement.

It also led to an exhausted congregation without a coherent direction. We did a lot of neat ministry together, but in our emphasis on speed rather than direction we never had the capacity to dive deeply into any of them.

Direction first. Speed later.

An organization that I work with had many of their programs shut down due to social distancing requirements during COVID-19. They wanted to boldly move forward and had a million ideas for programs that were possible. Yet before they charged forward, they hit the pause button to figure out the direction.  They began with listening.

Setting direction is more than a brief board activity. In a faith-based organization, listening to God provides a powerful path to discernment. This happens as leaders engage with their constituents.

God speaks through Scripture. Grounding the entire organization in the Biblical story provides a basis for this work. It is more than grabbing a couple verses and pushing them on people. Provide a variety of Biblical narratives and allow people to give feedback as to which ones they feel fit the organization at that moment in time.

God speaks through the members of the organization. Offering opportunities for people to share their perspectives helps an organization understand the hopes and passions of their constituents.

God speaks through the community outside the organization. No organization lives in a bubble. All have interactions in the world around them. Taking the time to listen outside the organization allows for clarity about how they interact with that world.

Direction first. Speed later.

This deep listening, through a strategic planning process, provides clarity and direction.  It gives the organization the capacity to boldly move forward with great speed, knowing that what they do fits into a greater plan. They know that they have people enthusiastically supporting it. They understand how it fits into the ecology of the world around them.

Direction first. Speed later.

Is it time for your organization to stop running in circles and build the capacity to focus all your energy in the most helpful direction? This clarity of purpose will build energy and excitement. It will allow for a compelling case for support, which leads to generous giving. It all starts with direction.

Is it time to engage in a strategic planning process?