In What Direction Are You Moving?

***This post first appeared on the Orange Leadership Blog on 26 March 2015. You can read it here

As a ministry leader, one of the questions that you must consistently ask yourself is: In what direction am I moving? 

Recently, a good friend and I headed for the waters of Santa Cruz, California, to surf. On this particular day, the swell came from the South and brought us a steady supply of beautiful, tight sets - great waves for novice and experienced surfers, alike! My friend and I positioned ourselves into the line-up, alongside of several dozen other guys out there, and patiently waited for our turn. It seemed like every wave perfectly crested with ease, and we agreed that days like this one rarely come along. 

As the afternoon progressed, however, the swell began to shift. What had been sets of even and predictable breaks all afternoon suddenly became erratic. The rip tide shifted from one side of the beach to the other. The sets became scattered, and the wave height grew. Astoundingly, this unforeseen change occurred within a matter of moments as I paddled out to return to the line-up. 

Ignorant to the shifting swell, I noticed that my arms began to struggle. My shoulders tightened, and it seemed like every stroke I made propelled me in the opposite direction. I suddenly felt confused. Unaware of my surroundings, I was paddling above a rip tide, and it was winning! 

After a few minutes of fighting it, I finally lifted my head and saw the rip slung me about 100 yards away from where I intended to go. Immediately, I realized that I failed to pay attention to the shifting tide. As a result, I exhausted my arms from paddling in the wrong direction and now needed to work myself out of the rip in order to get back into the line-up. Finally, I reconnected with my friend, a seasoned surfer of those waters, who laughed at me and asked, "Did you learn your lesson?" 

That day on the water, I took for granted that the tide of the southern swell would be a constant factor for us. I plotted my direction and created my strategy, but I neglected to re-evaluate my environment and how it might change. In the ocean - just like in both life and ministry - nothing is constant. If anything, the only two constants we can trust are the faithfulness of our Lord... and change! Yet, all of us at some point make the mistake of relying on the mirage of constants to direct our leadership. We buy into a belief that certain aspects of our ministry - church leadership, volunteers, systems and structures - will stay the same long term. But as anyone in ministry knows, church leaders move away, volunteers move onto different ministries, and systems evolve according to the shifting circumstances of the church. As ministry leaders, we ought to assume that some kind of change always lays just off the horizon.

As my friend and I bobbed together outside the break while I caught my breath, he taught me an invaluable lesson in surfing that I believe makes a direct connection to leadership: you must always paddle with your head up. He told me that your vision must always be bouncing between the next set just ahead of you and a steadfast landmark on shore. In doing so, you will know how to respond to whatever set comes your way, while keeping a perspective of your location in the water.

If you lead your ministry with your head down, then you may look up one day to realize that the changing currents of your ministry took you far out from the vision of your church. Therefore, your call as a ministry leader beckons you to answer the question: In what direction am I moving? 

I want to offer you 4 landmarks that function as reference points to keep your ministry moving in the intended direction, even when the seeming constants of ministry change around you:

Landmark of Rhythm - Often during seasons of change and transition, keeping a consistent rhythm of life becomes essential to simply staying grounded. As change approaches, keep a consistent and rhythmic weekly schedule. Keep the rhythm of your family matters in tact. Staying in rhythm maintains a semblance of familiarity, while keeping a faithful bearing on the direction you need to lead. 

Landmark of Communication - If consistent communication is essential to healthy leadership, then that becomes all the more apparent during seasons of change. Change often leads to communication breakdown and leakage. As a ministry leader, the moment this begins to occur, then you must not only respond with clear communication, but you should also intentionally consider your strategy for how to convey the direction of your vision with laser focus as you communicate.

Landmark of Accountability - Change opens doors for leaders to turn inward. As a result, a ministry leader must fight the temptation to isolate and build ministry silos. The moment this occurs, both the leader and ministry face the hidden dangers associated with isolation. Accountability can serve as a landmark to keep from the riptide of temptation and drifting into treacherous waters. 

Landmark of Devotion - For most ministry leaders, change can breed feelings of trepidation and fear. I believe the most significant landmark upon which to keep your eyes fixed is Christ alone! For you to maintain your devotion to Scripture, prayer, and worship during these seasons is your greatest catalyst to leading with extraordinary clarity and influence. The Lord promised to provide peace that transcends all understanding, so lean on the wise counsel of the Spirit during times of change and unrest. 

Every ministry encounters change. It is a given. The tides will shift. They always do. Yet, keep paddling with your head up. Look to both what lay ahead and your landmarks of stability, always asking: “In what direction am I moving?” No doubt that your ministry can thrive during seasons of change.