March 24, 2015

By Eddie Pipkin

“Silent Disco” – The Importance of Clarity of Vision

Eddie Pipkin

I was on a three-day cruise to the Bahamas recently, helping a good friend celebrate his graduation from seminary, and I got the biggest kick out of this onboard activity called The Silent Disco.

The first night of the cruise, the ship hosted a party in the top deck dance space in which everyone who entered received a pair of headphones before heading out onto the dance floor. You put on your headphones and started busting a move to the tune in your ears, but here’s the awesome part: there were two separate audio channels, and you were listening to one or the other. So, half the people in the room were dancing and singing along to one tune, and half the people in the room were dancing and singing to the other. Take my word for it, it’s hysterical, particularly if you are standing on the sidelines and just watching.

Groups of line dancers were crashing into one another or looking on confusedly at seemingly random hand motions and gyrations, and because you could switch your headset channel back and forth, lots of people kept trying to switch to the coolest song on the coolest channel at any given moment.

To a spectator, isn’t that exactly what ministry must look like at times? People dancing to their own tune, out of synch with others at the party?

When we are not careful to define and communicate a clear direction—either for an individual ministry or team or for a whole organization—that is the fate that awaits us. Ministry teams (and whole organizations) have to be working together for a commonly understood unified purpose in order to successfully arrive at a destination in a healthy and happy condition.

And I’m not going to pontificate here on the value of Mission Statements or Vision Statements. I have been involved in that process numerous times (and in the doghouse more than once for my cynical, smirky quasi-participation). Too often, those exercises result in ambiguous groupspeak, a collection of bland euphemisms that try to wedge in at least one adjective from every person in the room.

What I am talking about is that ministry should have outcomes (preferably measurable); teams should be working towards a goalpost; and meetings are given meaning by the discernible action plans they produce.

Whenever we convene busy people together, we should have an agreed upon goal to which we are working. This gives structure to the ensuing conversation – it’s hard to keep group conversations from drifting into the weeds if no one has marked the fairway – and it concludes the meeting with a strong sense of having utilized the time wisely because we walk out of it having identified action points, next steps, or at least a unified vision for what we’re trying to accomplish.

In a recent local church worship planning session, we got into a spirited debate over whether to use a particular song as a worship response (across three very different worship experiences). Some argued the song was perfect in theme and scriptural relevance, and others argued that it was indeed a beautiful song, but that musically it was the totally wrong fit for the congregation at the praise service. One of the leaders chimed in, “But I like an eclectic service with a mix of different musical styles. I think there are people in worship attendance who really connect with that.” And I agreed, there are. But how many? What was our goal? To craft a worship experience that connects with us personally and 20 others in the room and perhaps lead the others to an unfamiliar but deeper experience, or to build a worship experience that connects more naturally with the other 200? The point I am making here is not whether there is a right or wrong answer to this particular question, but that it is critically important to ask ourselves, our teams, our organizations, the right questions and then be diligent in hashing out an answer and following through on our hard-earned resolutions. Set the goal (small goals, big goals) and work toward the goal, prayerfully, creatively, fearlessly.

The next time you begin a meeting, start an email chain, or gather a group of ministry partners together for a brainstorming session, frame your time with answers to these questions:

  • What are we setting out to accomplish – what we do we envision as the end of this process?
  • What are the values we want to honor in working towards this goal?
  • What action points do we need to end this session (or round of emails) with, and who will own them for the next stage?
  • How and when will we measure success (or the lack thereof)? How we will we know when it’s time for the touchdown celebration or to head back to the locker room to rethink our strategy?

Share some of your own stories of dancing to different tunes. Or maybe you have a joyous celebration of one time when the whole party was line-dancing in beautiful unity. Share it all in the comments section.