From here to there: The right people in the right seats on the bus

No, not the next t-shirt

First of all, are there any wrong people on the Lord’s bus?

The answer is emphatically “NO!”

We’re all Bozos on this bus. God is not accepting us because we eradicated all of our bozo-like attributes. Much the contrary: “one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people (Romans 5:18), bozos included — even those who don’t admit what a clown they are. “All people” includes anyone reading this. So don’t worry, you are the right person on the bus.

I wanted to start there, since this bus analogy could take the wrong off ramp rather easily. We have been talking about how to apply one idea from Jim Collins to our dialogue about how to get down the road as a church. When Collins talks about deploying leaders and staffing strategically, he talks about getting the right people  on the bus and getting them into the right seats. He’s one of the business gurus that everyone listens to — partly because he comes up with good metaphors to help us get his points. Since Circle of Hope is a unique family business, in our own way, we listen to business gurus who might have some good ideas for us.

The idea we’re listening to has to do with how to lead and how to staff for meeting the goals God gives us: We get somewhere when we have the right people on the bus and get them in the right seats. Here’s the idea:

You are a bus driver. The bus (your church, in this case) needs to go further and it’s your job to get it going. You have to decide where you’re being led, how you’re going to get there, and who’s going to lead the expedition.

Most people assume that great bus drivers (read: pastors and other church leaders, including cell leaders) immediately start the journey by announcing to the people on the bus where the bus is going—by setting a new, improved direction (something like we do when we publish our yearly Map).

In fact, good strategists do not start with where but with who. They start by getting the right people on the leadership bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances. If Jesus is not doing this when he chooses his first disciples, I don’t know what he is doing. He told them, “I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.”

Here is an example from Collins’ business research. When David Maxwell became the bus driver (CEO) of Fannie Mae in 1981, the company was losing $1 million every business day, with $56 billion worth of mortgage loans underwater. The board desperately wanted to know what Maxwell was going to do to rescue the company. Maxwell responded to the what question the same way that all good bus drivers who want to get somewhere respond. He told them, “That’s the wrong first question. To decide where to drive the bus before you have the right people on the bus, and the wrong people off the bus, is absolutely the wrong approach.” He was a great bus driver for ten years. As you might know, his successors almost drove the bus off a cliff.

When it comes to getting started on getting somewhere next, we need to understand three simple truths:

First, if you begin with who, you can more easily adapt to a fast-changing world. If people get on your bus because of where they think it’s going, you’ll be in trouble when you get ten miles down the road and discover that you need to change direction because the world has changed. But if people board the bus principally because of all the other great people on the bus and, of course, because of the One person riding with all of us, you’ll be much faster and smarter at responding to changing conditions. Like Jesus says, “Good trees bear good fruit” wherever they are planted.

Second, if you have the right people on your bus, you don’t need to worry about motivating them. The right people are self-motivated. They want to do it. It is fun to do it with them. Nothing beats being part of a team that expects to produce great results. Like Jesus says: “I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things.” It will be an “abundant life.”

And third, if you have the wrong people on the bus, nothing else matters. You may be headed in the right direction, but you still won’t achieve greatness. Great vision with apathetic or preoccupied people still produces mediocre results. Like Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Great Christians are bozos moved by Jesus; they discover what they have been given and find the best way to give it. Their passion makes them transforming transformers.

So why get all corporate-sounding about Circle of Hope?

1) We have a lot of leaders and we want them to be happy and passionate

We deploy a lot of leaders to drive our rather large bus. They have a lot of space to be creative and everyone is personally responsible for the success of our ‘business” in all its permutations. At least that is how we set it all up to work.

As we think about staffing and as we engage people who don’t get paid for serving (the precious “volunteer” – or as one might name them: “the people who have a life in Christ”) we sometimes run into the complaint that we are not providing “career level” staff position or well-delimited volunteer positions, so we don’t get the people we need to lead.

I wonder what people are talking about. Do people really just give what they are paid for? We are relying on more than that. Will our staff really reduce their “job” down to something that is commensurate with their pay? Will volunteers really prioritize the paying side of their time and be left with not time to serve our cause in Christ? The fear that people might do such things seems like a negative view of people! —  are they doomed to be that subordinate and “slavish?” I don’t think so. On the contrary, I think we have found a lot of people who are called — the kind of people who would make tents to be able to be an apostle. It’s true, we want to pay our staff well and we aren’t looking for people who only work and never rest; but we know leading and serving with passion is also rest for our souls, not just a job.

2) We want to make sure people are in the right seats on the bus.

I think we are amazing. The fact that we survive, adapt, inspire, serve, grow and make new disciples is great. I’m happy. We have done well and we are doing well.

However, basic to our goal is also to make many new disciples and grow in number and capacity for transformation. It is hard to be satisfied in the middle of a burgeoning mission field! Our main “product” is new faith and deeper capacity to cause transformation. We don’t want to grow for growth’s sake, but we didn’t get called to be a Circle of Hope to end up as an island of faith in a post-Christian world! Our bus door is open.

The quality and discipline of our leaders (paid and not) are the keys to getting from here to there. We want to get the right leaders in the right seats: hiring who we need to hire and training and encouraging the many more servants who give their lives to follow Jesus. Being in the wrong seat wears people down; being where you belong makes momentum happen. When people are exercising their gifts, their passion revs up the bus; when they are feeding the institution because they are dutiful or kind, things get stale. When we’re well-deployed we don’t need to be tightly managed or constantly fired up; we are self-motivated by our inner drive to fulfill our calling, make a difference and be our part of creating something great.

We obviously want to create something great. We did it — and we are doing it all the time. What now? Change is on the horizon. The world certainly does not stay still! We need to do what it takes to keep doing the best we can with what we’ve been given. When we map this year, let’s expand our vision, ask the right questions and even have any healthy conflicts we need to have in order to express who we are and imagine the possibilities in store. Like Jesus says, “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.”

One thought on “From here to there: The right people in the right seats on the bus

  1. I had a “we are all bozos on this bus” album cover cut out in my window for years, and then on my desk at work. I think it helped teach me to be a little more graceful to folks around me, particularly when we’re doing the hard work of figuring out whether people are in the right seats.

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