The flappy sail – 6 tiny signs to pay attention to as you hit a new season at church

Another sailing cliché that you can mull on as you still enjoy the remnants of that holiday glow.

How can you tell if you’re positioned to get the best possible amount of energy from the wind, to get where you want to go?

You listen, and you look. Because – ‘a flappy sail is not a happy sail.’

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&NCS_modified=20141225100421&MaxW=640&imageVersion=default&AR-303179943Another sailing cliché that you can mull on as you still enjoy the remnants of that holiday glow.

How can you tell if you’re positioned to get the best possible amount of energy from the wind, to get where you want to go?

You listen, and you look.  Because – ‘a flappy sail is not a happy sail.’  Just a flicker of flap indicates that you’re losing the wind a bit, maybe not focussing on the sailing as much as you should. It’s an early-warning sign, to make a quick adjustment before anything disastrous happens. (By the way, my brief acquaintance with sailing has taught me that you need to concentrate – a lot. I thought it was a matter of a pleasant drift on the water, and the occasional languid turn to port or starboard.  In reality, it takes multi-tasking to a whole new level.  Who knew?)

So, as you gear up for a new term, just look out for the flappy sails.  What do I mean? Well, here are six:

1. Your personal spiritual life

How’s the praying, the bible reading, the memory verses?  Are you at risk of starting to do the Christian life as a job, without nourishing your own walk with Christ?  The river, as they say, can’t flow higher than its source, and it’s hard to lead a church from a position of spiritual starvation.  Yes, we all go through dry patches, but I’m talking about self-imposed dry patches.  That’s why I have a bible I only use for Quiet Times and never for giving talks – if that bible gathers dust, it’s a flappy sail.

2. The teaching and preaching  

What have you chosen to preach on this season – and why?  There are a range of good answers: you’re really excited about a book or theme, it’s giving a balanced diet, the church really needs this message (which is the best reason).  But if your answer is a ho-hum, not really sure, that’s a flappy sail.

3. Your diary 

I always find it hard to maintain the presence of two areas: one-to-one discipling, and my personal evangelism.  Somehow, other (good) aspects of ministry crowd those out.  But I’m convinced that paying attention to them are critical litmus tests, both of my concern for people, and what I’m modelling to others.  I want the members of our church to do both those things themselves, but if they see me talking about them but being too busy to do them, they will copy me exactly.  They will learn to honour the value in theory, not reality.

So I’ve always been impressed by the story of John Stott inviting his window cleaner to an evangelistic service (at which he, Stott, was speaking).  The man had no idea who was inviting him – but the important lesson for me is that Stott hadn’t lost his personal, evangelistic edge

4. The detail  

It’s really hard to keep up with it all, I know, but it really is worth trying.  This week I spotted in our own publicity: the wrong email address, the wrong name, the wrong bible passage, poor punctuation…  The issue is not that all our stuff has to be flawless.  The issue that is when we have no system for checking, correcting, and no one minds because it doesn’t matter.  Back in the 1980s, public policy scholars James Wilson and George Kelling publicised the idea of ‘zero tolerance’ on things like broken windows on public housing.  Why?  Because if you tolerate one, people will smash a second, and a third, and pretty soon the whole area looks run down, and (in their theory) crime gets a foothold.  So check those lightbulbs around the building – how many have to blow before the electrician gets a call?

5. The communication  

Over the summer, we have a slightly different pattern for Sundays, because more people are away more of the time.  So, how often do we need to communicate the critical messages?  Home group series?  Training events?  Prayer meetings? New courses?  Because once is never enough.

6. The long view  

Is anyone looking beyond the Next Big Thing?  I’m writing this in the warmth of late August, acutely aware that although our team is temporarily smaller than it was, someone needs to be thinking already about what we do after Christmas, planning the resources, and with the expectation that they’ll need to steward their energies because their role is to pick up the baton when everyone else is ready to drop.

Now, remember we are talking sailing.  From my (extremely limited) experience, I would say that paying attention to the sail is not something you do once, and then tick off the list.  No, this is a job for constant monitoring.  Don’t beat yourself up about flap, because it’s almost inevitable – it’s just a sign you need to adjust things v-e-r-y slightly.

That’s six flappy sails.  I’m sure there are more, so pile in!

Process questions

  • Take five minutes to think through the five areas, and check to see if you need to adjust anything.
  • And take five minutes more, to consider any flappy sails I haven’t mentioned

3 comments on “The flappy sail – 6 tiny signs to pay attention to as you hit a new season at church”

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