Why Alignment In Ministry Matters

Have you ever driven a car that is out of alignment?

You can sense that something isn’t right with the way the car is steering and then you take your hand off the wheel and the car veers hard toward the side of the road.

Something is way off!

Two major problems come to mind with a car that is out of alignment.

The first is obviously danger.

In the time it takes you to change a song, break up an argument between your kids or even to check your speed, you could be headed off the road.

The second is simply waste.

When your alignment is off, you are wasting resources. Your fuel efficiency is dramatically reduced. Your tires are wearing unevenly.

All this leads to you wasting money.

Well, you’ve probably guessed that this isn’t a post about cars…in fact, I’ve pretty much exhausted my car knowledge.

Rather, this is a post about the alignment of your staff and volunteers.

In the same way that a car being out of alignment can be both dangerous and wasteful, misalignment can lead to serious conflict in a church, including splits.

Also, misalignment can lead to paid staff members leading in different directions which obviously means that resources are not being used strategically.

On the other hand, a church that is aligned…wow! There is nothing like it in the world.

It is a beautiful thing to be part of a church that is all running in the same direction, where vision, people and resources are all aligned.

So, how do you move toward alignment?

Here are four strategies that have worked well in my context.

1. Define Your Values

In my experience, alignment begins with defining your values.

Alignment is creating around something…and that something is your values.

Your values describe the kind of culture you want your staff to exemplify.

Here are ours:

    • Hospitality
    • Relationships
    • Clarity
    • Integrity
    • Generosity

Our five values shouldn’t be your five values because values reflect who you are.

If you don’t have defined values, I would suggest gathering your key leaders to define your values.

Ask yourselves:

    • When we are at our best, what is that experience like?
    • If our church went away, what would our community miss?
    • What one or two people capture what we are about? What is it about their character or behavior that exemplifies who we want to be?
    • What are a few characteristics (not moral flaws) that are the antithesis of who we are? (these could become antonyms that help you uncover your values)

The first step in creating great alignment is to define what “it” is.

Put together a short list of values that define the type of staff and church you want to be.

A second helpful exercise here is to define or perhaps redefine your mission.

What is it that your church is striving to accomplish? Clarity around values and mission is crucial to alignment.

2. Start At The Top

Have you ever been part of a church where top-level leadership was not on the same page?

You can forget about alignment, that’s for sure.

My point here is that your top-level leadership – senior and executive pastors and the board – must be aligned around the values and mission.

If they are not, you have two choices: Forget about alignment or make some tough decisions to fight for alignment. There really are no alternatives.

Leadership drives everything.

If you can get on the same page in terms of values and mission then there really is no limit to what you can accomplish.

The best way to get key leadership to buy into the values and mission is to task that group of leaders with defining the values and mission.

If your values and mission are already defined, take a day to refine and update them.

The conversation, if open and honest should reveal any disunity around these key ideas and help forge a renewed sense of unity.

From there, it’s time for these leaders to leverage their influence.

3. Get It In The Water

Do you know that phrase, “it must be in the water?”

People use this phrase as a way of explaining something unique about a particular community.

“The people in that town are crazy about football. There must be something in the water.”

If you want alignment with your staff and volunteers, your values and mission must get in the water.

These key beliefs must become pervasive.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Constantly Communicate

One of our executive level leaders began every team meeting with a 5 minute reading of our values, mission and key initiatives for an entire year.

Was it repetitive? YES!

Was it redundant? YES!

Could I recite every word of it from memory? YES!

You see my point. If you put what everyone needs to know and believe in from of everyone every day…well, it starts to stick.

2. Every conversation

Something else our executive level leaders do is weave our values and mission into just about every conversation. This is huge.

In fact, I would argue that weaving values into normal conversations is even more effective than talking about them in staff meetings.

If possible, tie as much of the encouragement you give to staff and volunteers to core values.

All I’m saying is that over time, alignment is created as we get our values and mission “into the water” of the organization and the way we do that is through constant focus and conversation.

4. Courageously Confront

Alright, I hate to say it but there is a reason that I’ve been using the phrase “fight for alignment.”

You see, it’s not always positive conversations, in fact, one of the most important ways to fight for alignment is to courageously confront behavior that doesn’t reflect the values and mission you’re attempting to align around.

Most people prefer to be comfortable.

It’s, well…comfortable to be comfortable.

However, the truth is that behavior that is aligned with an important mission is often uncomfortable.

Hospitality, for example, is not all that comfortable. It requires that I seek the comfort of someone else.

Clarity isn’t all that comfortable either. It’s hard work to clarify language. It’s also uncomfortable to say what needs to be said.

Here’s my point: People settle into what’s comfortable for them but that behavior rarely reflects the mission and values.

This means that we’ll often have to confront behavior and attitudes that run against our values and mission.

And to speak honestly, if we’re unwilling to courageously confront, we can forget about alignment.

You simply can’t have it without fighting for it.

A couple tips that work well for me when it comes to confronting behavior and attitudes that run against the values and mission you are attempting to align around:

1. Can I share what I experienced?

Instead of saying, “You did this and it was bad,” which immediately puts people on the defensive, ask if you can share what you experienced.

This feels more like a conversation. A person who is humble and open to feedback will hear you.

If they ignore or explain away their behavior, you have another problem.

2. Attach negative feedback to values

Just like it’s wise to attach encouragement to values, do the same with negative feedback.

And, of course, if there is someone on your team that refuses to buy into the values and mission, even after being confronted several times, you really only have two choices: Fight for alignment or settle for misalignment.

I would choose to fight for alignment because as we said in the beginning, “Where there is misalignment, there is danger and waste.”

Wrap Up

Thanks so much for reading. We’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas.

Leave us your ideas or questions in the comments below.

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