By Todd Adkins
I want to talk to you today about the beautiful constraint that we find our churches and ministries in at this time. I know it may not seem very beautiful at the moment, but I believe we have a unique opportunity to see our ministries not only survive, but thrive today and in the days to come. The greatest moments in the history of the church have been when the boldness of the gospel met with severe constraint. And this combination has been the fodder that awakenings and revivals were made of. And we assume creativity, boldness, and innovation come from an abundance of resources, money, time, people, and opportunity, when actual the opposite is more often the case. Necessity real is the mother of invention, after all. And we know that the local church is the most necessary thing to this planet. It is His Church and He will see to it, that it moves forward with or without us, and I plan to be with Him as He does so in this time. God has been in the business of doing the impossible, or seemingly impossible, for a long time, especially when His Church or His people are involved. So, if the walls ahead of you seem insurmountable, like Jericho, then find encouragement from what God said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God is with you wherever you go.” And if the suffering ahead of you is neutralizing you and your leadership right now in this moment, then remember Paul’s encouragement to Timothy, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, of love, and sound judgment.” Church leaders, we have a charge to keep and a Bride to get ready, regardless of the circumstances.
I want to tell you an encouraging story that is happening right now. Constraints are often supposed to be a bad thing, but we know they don’t have to be. One of my best friends works for a mission organization and shared with me a fascinating story of how the gospel is spreading throughout China during COVID-19. It seems that the masks the government makes everyone wear there is also messing up the government’s facial recognition software, so it is unable to work, and Christians are more free to share the gospel in broad daylight with less risk of being caught. So in this instance a group of Christians is creatively and boldly taking advantage of a severe constraint and turning it into a gospel opportunity.
I want to help our churches approach this crisis with boldness, with creativity, to do the same thing. We want to have innovation. We want to use this time to realign, restructure, and reopen our churches in a new way for that new normal. And I know we are all obsessed with processing the three phases – at least here in the states – but we all need to realize it won’t be as neat, clean, and easy as three phases on our spreadsheet.
The frameworks and tools I am giving you aren’t a prescription. I’m not telling you how to do this. They are meant to help you move forward with your team to find clarity where you are and adapt as things change and we move forward. I am going to overview the concepts and breakdown each step, session by session, to help you and your leadership team process it together. Four of these sessions are taken out of a book, A Beautiful Constraint by Adam Morgan and Mark Barden. It’s a great read and you would likely find significant portions of it helpful for you and your team, so I encourage you to pick it up.
First, I want to look at how they define constraint. A constraint is a limitation imposed by outside circumstances or by ourselves that materially affects our ability to do something. We should view constraints not as a restriction, but rather as a stimulus for increased creativity and positive change. Many managerial systems are focused on trying to manage out, or removing constraints from a system, and this book says we need to advocate for bringing it in and make sure that we are embracing the constraint using it to push us forward.
There are four types of constraint. Foundational constraint is one that limits our success in how it is designed alone. Zappos is an online shoe retailer where customers can’t try on shoes physically in the store. So, to overcome this, they offer free return shipping. Resource constraint is raw materials, time, money, people, and talent. An example of this would be Southwest. In its early days they had only three planes, but four routes to serve. To overcome this constraint, they revolutionized the industry by developing a turn-around time of just 10 minutes, when the industry standard was an hour. Then we move to method constraint. This is where we have to do something in a certain way, or we think we do. Think of the fast food industry for the last 40 years, and then the impact of Chick-Fil-A. What’s fascinating is how they have embraced this constraint and shifted even further to adapt their practices for COVID. Time is a constraint that we are most familiar with and often obsessed with.
Speaking of foundation, resource, method, and time, one of the best stories from this book highlights the far-reaching results of constraint. Think of trains, the space shuttle, and Roman roads, and what they have in common. It turns out to be 4 feet and 8 inches. The two solid fuel engines that power the space shuttle are 4 feet and 8 inches wide, because that’s the width of the train tracks needed to carry them from Utah down to Florida. Four feet and 8 inches wide is also the size of the roads that were first built by the Romans, which is where some of the first train tracks were laid for steam engines. Wow! One of the most advance pieces of technology on the planet is constrained by a convention that was setup 2,000 years ago. Now, I’m not going anywhere with that. I am not calling you to loosen your orthodoxy, but I am suggesting that you not sacrifice what might be Biblical, effective, and essential to the church on the altar of tradition as you realign, restructure, and reopen your church for a new day.
Let’s take a look at the stages and steps we will walk through together. In Session 2, we will begin by looking at three different perspectives people usually have on crisis. It’s the way that you approach it. You are either a victim, a neutralizer, or a transformer. We will see how that posture impacts the way we look at this current crisis that we are in. There is also a quick assessment that will help you understand where you are and maybe where your team is and allow you to understand how you can shift your mindset from one stage to the next to the next.
Session 3 is about freeing up your resources and thinking about breaking path dependence. It explores how we have habitual ways – both personal and organizational – that prevent us from finding new solutions during this current crisis. It also includes a tool to help you and your team identify some of these patterns and address them.
In Session 4, I am going to give you a strategic framework. It is one of my favorite tools. It’s about getting down to the nitty-gritty of eliminating the trivial good in your organization and realigning your resources, your people, your money, and your capabilities for the highest contribution during this season and in seasons to come.
Session 5 picks up from there with a “We can if…” question framework. This is probably my favorite tool in the course because it is simple to use and it refuses to accept a “we cannot do this because…” mentality and it shifts the conversation to “we can if we look at how to answer those questions in a new way.” It’s eight little formulas to make sure you are moving in the right direction. It will help you find creative solutions and open up people who are usually closed to creative solutions as well.
Session 6 goes a step deeper down into the individual ministry level and can bring great clarity on identifying the top needs of different groups of people in your church and aligning resources, capabilities, and methods to deliver those needs for specific groups of people.
Session 7 is about contingency planning for budgets, ministry programming, reopening phases, and more. There are multiple templates and multiple examples from other churches.
Session 8 is about agile decision making. As you move toward reopening your church, at each phase it gives you a tool and a template that you can use to not only get clarity now for your planning part, but also have clarity for you and your church in the weeks and months to come as you begin to implement.
Session 9 bring everything together and is a visual gut-checklist to be sure you are ready to move forward and find some success.
Before you begin, be aware of your surrounding culture in your church or ministry and your personal circles as well. These groups can unconsciously influence you, positively or negatively, especially if you are putting together a task force or team to address this. Ask yourself if you are surrounded by “can-do” people or “cannot” people. It’s actually OK, and helpful, to have a few people on your task force from the latter group, but make sure their posture is one of helpful critique and not just one of being critical. The real question is, are you surrounded by people who are ready to shift their mind?
Check out our FREE course
A Complete COVID-19 Guide: Lead Your Church Toward a New Normal on Ministry Grid for a a step-by-step process to help your church realign, restructure, and reopen. Click here for more info.