Most pastors and leaders have a well-defined vision for the ministries they lead. They have core values they would like their ministries to embody and a mission to accomplish. They develop brochures and PowerPoint presentations laying out their vision and communicate it with passion to people. And inevitably these same ministries fail to fully embody the vision. Why?
When I was hired by my current church to begin a ministry for young adults, I had a vision I hoped the group would embody. Life experiences and biblical studies had thoroughly convinced me of prayer's utter importance for the godliness and health of individuals and groups of believers, so I knew we would need to be a group who prayed. As I discussed the vision with others in the church and sought the wisdom of God for the shape this group would take, I grew increasingly passionate about making prayer a central part of our DNA—I wanted prayer to be part of who we were. During my conversations with people leading up to the launching of our group, I communicated the need to be a prayerful group with passion, and I highlighted it in the brochures and PowerPoint presentations.
In the early days of the group, we did focus on prayer with extended times of silence during our Sunday morning gatherings, hosting a 24-hour prayer room, and spending significant time praying for each other—but over time it all fizzled out. Prayer went from being significant to non-existent. I didn't understand it; I hadn't changed the brochures.
One afternoon during this tenuous time, I was reading at a Starbucks, or to be more precise, I was trying to read while simultaneously eyeing the counter. I wasn't afraid someone was going to try and pilfer some pastries or anything; the reason for my divided attention was the barista behind the counter. She was sitting on a high stool, back facing the incoming customers, engrossed in her own world and perusing the pages of a small paperback.
Numerous people entered, walked up to the counter, and awkwardly stood there not quite sure if they should say something to her or if the shock of being removed from the realm of the paperback would send her into a tirade. Some people used the fake cough tactic; others pretended to fiddle with things on the counter; while others just stood patiently, assuming she'd have to turn around eventually. When the barista finally acknowledged the caffeine addict at the counter, she executed her duty with an utter lack of enthusiasm and a presumptuous disdain for the inconsiderate patrons. It was clear her alternate world was far preferable to pulling espresso shots.
When an unassuming young woman walked in and muttered that she was there for an interview, the reluctant barista introduced herself as the manager! By that time another employee arrived, and the manager and the applicant plopped down at a table next to me (I only relay the distance to rationalize the eavesdropping that followed).
As the interview began, the manager cautioned, "This is a tough job. It's always go, go, go. Sometimes there will be five or ten people in line and you'll be the only one working, so you have to have a good work ethic, love people, and be able to handle stress. Because the job is so difficult, we have a high turnover rate. I want to know you can handle it and succeed."
Quite an astonishing difference between the picture this woman painted of her ideal employee and the way she executed her job. As the leader she didn't embody any of the values she communicated as essential in the interview. As I started to really get my judgmental juices flowing, the Holy Spirit helped me realize that I had been doing the same thing in my leadership at church. I was communicating the value of prayer without embodying it. There were a couple of things that happened in my life that facilitated this.