When I'm not making fun of romantic comedies, I'm often watching them with my wife, Annie. (She hates it when we do both at the same time). We watched one a few months back called New In Town, starring Renee Zellweger as a wealthy, big-city businesswoman who moves to the small town of New Ulm, Minnesota to deal with a manufacturing plant. As the movie unfolds, she befriends the locals and, shocker, meets a guy, and is challenged to rethink not just her business strategy, but her life strategy. Okay, just between you and me, I will admit that I liked it. Goal-oriented person having to reframe her priorities amidst a small-town identity crisis. I grew up in Houston, went to college in Boston, so I've spent most of my life in big cities. I now live in Twin Falls, a town of around 40,000. So, I could relate to this movie!
I am a goal-minded person. Especially at work, I enjoy having my ducks in a row, thinking through many different possibilities beforehand, and then aiming for the best possible scenario. Then I like to track how well I did. I like to think I place great importance on measuring success. First, what is success, and then how does one measure that success? Something I've quickly learned is that everyone, EVERYONE, seems to have an answer to this question whether they've articulated it on paper or not. And everyone seems to be operating from that picture of success. So if we're working off of different pictures, things become difficult really fast.
And this comes in handy when, say, starting a new event, or implementing a new vision in (for me) a children's department. It's been helpful for me to be able to look back and say, "Yes, we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish," or have a discussion, perhaps, on ways in which we missed the target. Usually the feedback sessions in our Kids Ministry involve some of both. Recently I was reminded of how important it is to make sure the "target", if you will, is clear in the minds of volunteers, leaders, parents, etc. When it isn't, there's often confusion and frustration for everyone involved because we're all aiming for different things.
But being the wannabe diplomat that I am, I have to ask... is there a downside to setting goals? Let me put it this way: it seems like us goal-setters have a tendency to place a lot of self-worth in achieving. And here's the tension as I see it: working in ministry at any level involves gigantic variables like, say, people. Or God. Or the weather. Things outside of our control. So when said variable throws a curve ball, achievers can get, well, uptight (to say the least). Defining success in a people-oriented vocation is difficult enough, so how do we navigate this uncertainty? In a for-profit business, for the sake of conversation, we could measure dollars and cents as a bottom line; what do we measure in ministry?
A few things that have been helpful for me in this:
- Stay in contact with other trusted people about your perceived failures. Often my wife has reframed a "failure" for me in a way that has helped me see opportunities for growth. Other times, my perspective has been too narrow. Other times it's been too broad.
- Read Jeff Heidkamp's blog on How Not To Panic. There's a lot of tie-in to what we're talking about here, and it's awesome.
If I could be so bold, do share with us: what have been some helpful metrics for you in your ministry? How do you define success, and how have you navigated failures?