By Glen Elliott
n the 2008 movie Yes Man, the main character (Jim Carrey) functions like a modern-day hermit until he is challenged to begin saying “yes” to everything. It works out well for him, for the most part, until the end when he realizes he can’t really say “yes” to everything. While it is risky to say “yes” all the time, it takes more courage and wisdom to know when to say “no.”
For years our church held an annual Pumpkin Patch event (a safe Halloween alternative) that drew several thousand folks. It was a huge success in terms of attendance and the buzz it created, though most of our neighbors hated it because of the crush of people.
Right on the heels of Pumpkin Patch came preparation for our community Christmas outreach program. It too was a big production. Many hours of practice, rehearsals, staging, prop construction, and campus preparation were necessary. Folks loved the quality programs, but by the time Christmas was over we were exhausted.
Why did we do it? Everyone said it was a way to reach people. Then a few of us dared to ask, “Did we really reach new folks for Jesus?”
Not really. Once in a while a person came back on Sundays, but she usually was coming from another church. These events required a huge amount of volunteer and staff hours and cost a lot of money. On the surface, the programs seemed quite successful. But when we did an honest evaluation, we realized the programs weren’t helping us truly fulfill the mission and vision God had given us. We cancelled both programs and faced the heartburn of the decision.
Our staff began exploring why we did certain programs. It seems we had been taught the “genius of the and,” meaning we tried for many years to do this AND that. The more the better, or so it seemed. This had been our longtime assumption: in order to attract and serve more people, we needed to add more programs. Well, maybe. But now we began to challenge the “and,” and we started to realize our effectiveness as a church might be more about what we say “no” to.
LESS IS MORE
This is true in our personal lives as well. Folks are starting to learn that less is more. Filling our lives with stuff, busy schedules, and more things to do does not equate to a better life, only a fuller life.
The message of Jim Collins’s book Good to Great (2001)—that “the good” is often the enemy of “the great”—really connected. In the book, Collins describes the “Hedgehog Concept,” giving credit to Isaiah Berlin, who wrote the essay, “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” which is an analysis of an old Greek parable of the same name. The parable’s takeaway principle is this, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
Berlin suggests that people (and I would add, churches) are likes foxes or hedgehogs. Foxes are clever and fast. They run all over chasing after prey. But when the fox tries to catch the hedgehog, the little critter just rolls up into a ball of spikes to deflect the danger.
Berlin said that foxes are “scattered or diffused, moving on many levels.” Collins extrapolates that “Hedgehogs, on the other hand, simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything. It doesn’t matter how complex the world, the hedgehog reduces all challenges and dilemmas to the simple.” A fanatical commitment to focus, clarity, and simplicity is what a hedgehog church or person is like.
FIRST HIS KINGDOM
We can’t do everything well. We can do only a few things well. What are those few things that you and your church do well? What are the powerful few things that God is calling you and your church to do?
We are talking about having a laser focus. In physics, there is a tremendous difference between a laser light and diffused lighting. While streetlights (an example of diffused lighting) provide safety by broadcasting a wide light that covers a large area, a laser’s intense, narrow focus can do amazing things. Lasers are used in bar code readers, light shows, hair-removal systems, weapons, laser printers, and microsurgery.
It’s all about focus. And it is spiritual. It’s found in the teachings of Jesus.
Jesus said; “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). In the context of values, where we focus is where our heart will be.
In the next paragraph Jesus talks about the eyes. Where are we focused? And later in that same chapter, Jesus warns of the pagans who “run after all these things” (v. 32).
It sounds like what Jesus called “pagans” Berlin called foxes! Jesus invites us to a focused way of living when he says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). It sounds like Jesus is describing a spiritual hedgehog!
CALLED TO DO, AND NOT TO DO
I’ve noticed the focus theme in a number of recent and respected books on church leadership and organization. In his book It: How Churches and Leaders Can Get It and Keep It (2008), Craig Groeschel writes about divine focus and suggests that effective vision is characterized by specificity, selectivity, and exclusivity. Effective churches “know what they are called to do and not to do.”
Groeschel leads LifeChurch.tv, which focuses on only five things: weekend experiences, missions, small groups, kids, and students. That’s it. No Bible school, no men’s or women’s ministries, no concerts, and so on. Focus.
Our leadership staff read Will Mancini’s book Church Unique: How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement (2008). I highly recommend it to any church searching for its unique, clear, and focused mission and vision.
Many have studied Simple Church (2006) by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger. The authors assert, “The simple revolution has begun.” And they push these basic concepts: simplicity, clarity, and focus. (Editor’s note: See Christian Standard’s May 31 issue or search for “Simple Church” at our Web site to see several related articles.)
And finally there is Ladder Focus: Creating, Sustaining, and Enlarging Your Big Picture (2007) by Samuel R. Chand and Gerald Brooks. These authors help any leader to keep focus in the various areas of church life.
The themes are clear and consistent. Doing a lot of things is not necessarily good, and in fact, may rob you and me, and our churches, of the power to do a few things very well.
At Pantano Christian Church, Tucson, Arizona, we are learning to live in this wonderful, energizing world of focus. We have a clear missional mandate and vision. It helps us say “no” to many good things. It helps us say “yes” to what will help us get to the place God is leading us.
It took years for us collectively and clearly to hear God’s leading. The elders and staff are onboard. We have clear ends we are working toward. These ends focus our strategic planning as we set goals, determine staffing, write budgets, and make program decisions. These are the things we pray about and talk about.
May each of us and our churches discover the power of focus and its company of clarity, simplicity, and freedom.
Glen Elliott serves as lead pastor with Pantano Christian Church, Tucson, Arizona.