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Car Washes and Leadership -

Car Washes and Leadership

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I recently attending a church goal setting and calendar planning session. I marveled as I observed each presentation. The goals were impressive, and every presenter received accolades at the conclusion of each delivery. It was expected that I would be impressed. When everyone was finished the pastor asked me if I had any questions for the various department leaders now that the presentations were finished. I did have a few.

“How many people on your team or in each department have any clue as to what you just presented? As the department leader did any of you create these presentations on your own and without the input of your team? Were any of these presentations simply modifications to last years? Did anyone achieve what was proposed to do last year? How do you hold yourselves accountable to attaining these goals? Do you or they know how you are going to accomplish these goals? How do your goals support the goals of the other departments? Are the goals of every department mutually supporting one common church vision? Are the goals of any one department pulling in a separate direction and counteracting the goals of another? Did the church develop its vision first and then have every department develop goals that are essential in order to reach the vision? Are your goals self-serving or do they benefit everyone else? Are any departments competing for people, calendar time, resources or talents in order to achieve your goals? How do you intend to measure these goals in order to track them? What data did you use in order to set your goals? Does anybody know exactly where this church is heading and what its vision is?”

These were just a few of the questions I asked. Surprisingly nobody had answers for any of these questions.

I then told them a true story. Recently my wife and were stopped at a traffic light. A Day Care Center was located on the corner and we observed over twenty children and a few teachers having a car wash. It was hilarious! Each child had on a little yellow T-shirt with the Day Care Center logo emblazoned proudly across the front. They were running, chasing each other, and expending a lot of energy. It looked like a swarm of little bees humming around. One little boy was chasing some girls with a soapy sponge. Another was spraying his friends with the water hose. There was a cacophony of screaming and laughter in the air. We both laughed at the sight of the people actually doing all of the work. The teachers were washing the cars and trying in vain to get everyone to cooperate with them.

Progress is not necessarily equated with numerous activities, continuous action, audacious goals and the abundant expending of energy. The truth is that sometimes progress is negated by an overwhelming abundance of no-value-adding efforts spent going nowhere. What benefit is it to our church if we are all running feverishly ? But in opposite directions? Could we possibly be pulling apart instead of together?

The aforementioned church had repeated this same goal-setting process for years, but they had been at the same plateau of growth for even more years. My suggestion to the church was to scrap the illustrious goals that were apparently self-serving and meaningless, and re-focus their attention on achieving something worthwhile together. By combining everyone’s skills, talents, resources and energy toward the essential goals that support a common strategic vision they could mutually accomplish something worthwhile.

The first step to accomplishing this is to develop a shared vision that everyone embraces collectively. A vision is a concisely worded portrait of a destination or a promise-land somewhere ahead. The second step is to determine the essential goals that absolutely must happen in order to reach the vision. The third step is for every department, ministry team and individual to identify and measure value-adding and consistent actions that they will faithfully execute in order to support each essential goal that supports the shared vision. Eliminate other things from the calendar that expend time, energy and resources but are counter-productive to the vision.

Sound complicated? No, to the contrary, it is very simple. Keep it simple and it will work.

What is complicated and challenging is trying to have revival and growth while everybody is on a separate page of understanding and working against each other. It’s like having a car wash at a Day Care Center and nobody seems to be participating. Just as the teachers were doing all of the work that day, a few dedicated church leaders and the pastor will wind up doing all of the work that everyone else should be doing. It’s not that others were not working, but they were so busy chasing each other that they had no energy left to wash cars.

Leadership includes the fine art of steering the energy and actions of the church toward the fulfillment of a God-inspired vision.


Dr. Fred Childs is a leading church consultant, organizational development expert, and leadership authority.


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