Big picture ministry in a trivial world

February 24th, 2017

Some years ago Richard Carlson wrote a series of best-selling books based on the title, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. The books dealt with our proclivity toward negativity, toward worrying over horrendous possibilities, and our pull toward bad news. In short, Carlson simply wrote about the small stuff that tends to destroy our attitudes, or work, our relationships and even our faith. 

Carlson essentially noted that most people are concerned with trivial matters when they should be focused on the big picture — which tends to be more optimistic and fulfilling. The trouble with trifles is that we can get bogged down in details, especially in ministry. And, while it is true that God is often in the details, it is more accurate to say that God is in the big picture when it comes to the future.

Church leaders would do well to be big picture people — visionaries who are not so concerned with listening to individual complaints, or concerns about trifling details which can stifle progress, but leaders who stay focused on the larger goals that God has put before them. This big picture mentality was certainly the case in John Wesley’s theology; he often warned his leaders not to “trifle away time” but to stay focused on “doing all the good they could.” A part of the Wesleyian heritage is centered on Big Picture approach: making disciples for the transformation of the world.

Still, trifles are very compelling, and we can often get lost in negativity, or complaints, or the focus on peripheral matters. We also live in a time when so many facts are available to us, so many opinions about the small matters, that we can feel lost in an ocean of conflicting reports, unconfirmed details and sound bites. Even our conversations with each other, or the manner in which we attempt to communicate with each other, can become rushed, hurried or wearied over a myriad of details. 

Staying focused, and keeping other people focused, is one of the greatest challenges of leadership.

So, toward that end, here are three ways to move beyond the trivial and help us center on the Big Picture of God’s kingdom.

Create a Statement of Purpose

Statements of purpose were all the rage for organizations some years ago, but in many ways the spirit of purpose has carried over into leadership, too. Knowing why we are in ministry — reminding ourselves of the purposes and the call that compelled us into the ministry in the first place — can be powerful when we are bombarded with the trivial pursuits of pastoral work, in particular. So often pastors find themselves addressing issues related to mundane details of the church facility, long-standing animosities or trying to meet a litany of human needs. But while all of these needs may be legitimate or even pressing, these smallest of matters have a tendency to lure us away from the big picture purpose.

Leaders would do well to remain focused on the big picture and the outcomes/vision desired through the organization. Yes, details are a part of that big picture, and we should aspire to do all things well, but not at the cost of fulfilling our highest mandates. 

A statement of purpose can help us focus on the call.

Set Goals

Being a writer, I have learned that setting annual goals is one of the most important steps in the creative process. Every January I set down my goals in writing, creating a plan to write the various books, articles and stories I hope to complete throughout the year. 

I do the same for ministry.

Goals can be big picture in their inception but parsed throughout the year to make them more manageable and less daunting. Leaders should press themselves in new ways while also creating goals that are both practical and achievable. Likewise, at least one goal should be large enough that, without God’s help and the larger work of the church, it cannot be accomplished. Often these large, seemingly unachievable goals prove to be the most inspiring outcomes in ministry.

Whether large or small, goals are important to keep the trivial at bay while focusing on the big picture.

Center on the Positive

Increasingly, we live what many have described as a virtual reality (as opposed to actual reality). We can often encounter the virtual in church leadership when we are focused on theory rather than relationships, or focused on carrying forth goals via Facebook rather than face-to-face conversations (for example). These virtual methods often lead us toward less positive outcomes.

Big picture outcomes can only be achieved through courageous conversations, difficult discussions, and, at times, through the hard work of bringing others into the vision. Trivial matters tend to weigh us down while big picture work and motivations inspire and sweep us along toward positive ends. 

Although it is often difficult for leaders to stay positive in a negative world, the best outcomes always come about through clearly articulated goals, teamwork and an energized effort.  

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