Formalize and Require or… Equip and Inspire?

by on in Leadership, Service.

When I first started teaching, I was required to be a “mentor.” It was an interesting concept and they had clearly thought through some things.

  • We were mentors for kids we did not teach.
  • We met with them weekly because relationships take time.
  • There were no grades because that would tarnish the relationship.

But… it was a miserable failure.

I had high hopes for this mentoring thing. But those hopes were dashed by a binder of mandatory worksheets, written contracts saying we would respect and honor each other, and attendance requirements.

What could have been a really good idea was really just another thing “The Man” was making kids do.

Lame… ineffective… not awesome.

Now hang with me. Let’s contrast this mentoring idea with a movement I’ve been seeing in our ministry at North Point.

A few years back, a group of our Small Group Leaders got together and started to strategize about how to help the dads of their middle schoolers. They knew, as any of us do, that they could help their kids grow a ton if they could get the dads on board… and unfortunately, many dads are disengaged.

It’s a long story, but with some hard work over their three years together, these Small Group Leaders convinced most of their dads to take part in a camping trip at the end of the boy’s eighth grade year.

The Small Group Leaders had fire. That was a win.

The Small Group Leaders and dads all told stories about their own faith during that camping trip. Another win.

And each dad said a blessing over their boys. A total win.

Powerful… effective… awesome.

Excited by their victory, these guys came to me to ask… “This was a great idea! This is something we should do for every 8th grade guy, right?”

My answer: “Not exactly.”

Let me explain. I loved it. But, it was so good… I didn’t want to mess it up!

I had flashbacks of binders full of worksheets, contracts, and attendance sheets. That’s the last thing I wanted for such a great idea.

Because here’s what happens in an organization…

Great ideas will pop up all the time. These are ideas owned by the folks who created them. With ownership comes energy and enthusiasm that can’t be fabricated.

But when you formalize and require something… it loses energy.

When you formalize and require something, you put fences around the creators of the idea. Then, it never fails…

  1. You have to cut corners or eliminate some of the things that make it special to the creators of the idea.
  2. Then, the creators of the idea lose energy and excitement because the “mass produced” version just isn’t as great.
  3. Then, other people have to pull off a program and be excited about something that isn’t theirs. (Sometimes you can do a pretty good job of drumming up excitement and vision for something, but you can never fabricate the kind excitement that comes with ownership.)
  4. And finally… the result is a less effective version of the original vision.

I know this because we’ve killed a bunch of good ideas this way.

So what are we to do with these great ideas?

I’ve learned that we have a choice.

When faced with the pressure to formalize and require a great idea, we can instead choose to equip and inspire.

(Catchy, isn’t it?)

So, over the past few years these amazing men have been meeting with other small group leaders. They have been showing them what they did (INSPIRING) and letting them in on their processes (EQUIPPING). We have been working with them to give them time with new leaders.

Now, we are seeing these leaders take these ideas and create their own version.

The result has been incredible. Slowly but surely, these unofficial ministries to the fathers of middle schoolers have been spreading. And guess what? We’ve also seen some of the female small group leaders beginning to talk about the moms.

I have high hopes.

It’s working.

It’s spreading.

It’s incredible.

So, whether it’s your staff development plan, small group model, coaching programs, or anything similar, remember…

It is tempting to formalize and require.

But sometimes it’s best to equip and Inspire.

What do you see growing in your ministry? Pass it on. Inspire us!