“Your Alternate Agenda is Not Welcome Here.” (part two)
In the last post, we began to unpack the statement “Your alternate agenda is not welcome here.” While it may sound like the epitome of arrogance, I listed three reasons why alternate agendas can’t fly.
However, in this post I want to ask a fair question: are there times when an alternate agenda is a good thing? (Spoiler: yes.)
In a healthy organization, few things remain static. Innovation and change will be a natural by-product of growth, and vice-versa. New ideas (and the merciful retirement of outdated ones) will cycle in and out. So yes, there are times when a new agenda, even a (gasp!) alternate agenda should be welcomed. But we welcome it once we’ve established guardrails.
Years ago I heard of a church that experienced massive division from an alternate agenda. The lead pastor was a godly man, but not necessarily a strong visionary, and he certainly didn’t have a clearly-defined plan for the future. He brought on a new staff member who soon began to cast big vision for the entire church. The problem was, that wasn’t his role. He was responsible for one particular ministry, but his big vision steamrolled the lead pastor’s lack of vision. The aftermath was confusion and hurt, and it led to many people leaving the church because no one knew where things were headed.
So how do we check ourselves, the person (or team) with the new idea, and the idea itself? Let’s dive in.
Five “checks” to consider when considering an alternate agenda:
1. When your DNA is thoroughly grounded.
Many times, alternate agendas are embraced because we’ve not clearly defined who we are and what we do. Any church or organization must have prescribed values (see ours here) that define who we are, what we do, and what we don’t do.
When those values and DNA are clear, it helps us to see whether a new agenda is simply a fresh expression of who we are, or whether it’s a complete pivot into a new identity (more on that in #4 below).
2. When trust has been established.
There is a difference between someone being untrustworthy and someone who hasn’t built trust. None of us would hire a staff member or onboard a volunteer we think is untrustworthy. That said, we’re not going to give the new staff member or volunteer full operational authority on day one. For the good of their sanity and our team, we’re going to slowly immerse them into the role.
So no, the brand-new kid on the block doesn’t get to define the five year plan, because the brand-new kid on the block is still trying to figure out the quickest way to the copier from his or her desk. It takes some time…probably months, not necessarily years, and definitely not weeks…to get up to speed and learn the culture.
3. When all stakeholders have a voice.
If Lin-Manuel Miranda has taught us anything, it’s that there’s a room where it happens. Not everyone will end up having a vote, but the key players should have a voice. By “key players,” I don’t mean anyone with an opinion. I mean ministry leaders, high-capacity volunteers, and other people a new agenda may affect.
Hear from them. Gather feedback. Let them argue freely with no fear of repercussion. And listen carefully. They may see ramifications in the alternate agenda we don’t yet see.
4. When past history and current context has been considered.
There’s a term known as “not invented here,” and it describes our propensity to only generate ideas within our silos. There’s also the better-known church term of “we’ve never done it that way before.” Both of these should be rejected when considering alternate agendas, because both of them require tunnel vision and navel gazing to survive.
However, there is great wisdom is asking a question like “Have we done this before (and did it work)?” A new team member may not have the historical context of why their agenda may crash and burn again. On the other hand, maybe it won’t. Maybe now is the right time to introduce a previously-failed idea.
There’s also wisdom in not only asking “Where have we been?” and “Where are we now?” but “Where is God leading us in the future?” It could be that your new team member with the wild idea is the very person God has sent to you to move the needle. We dare not stand in the way of that just because we’re scared of the unknown.
5. When the “bright and shiny syndrome” has been rejected.
All of us are drawn to the sparkly and new. As we talk about defining values and knowing DNA, so many of us never get the chance to do that because we’re always chasing after a new model, implementing something from the last book we read, or replicating something we saw at a conference.
We have to discipline ourselves to be able to spot and grab good ideas, but not to the detriment of our existing structure. 98% of our changes should be small tweaks, not sweeping overhauls. Anytime we chase the bright and shiny, we run the risk of those three things we covered in the last post: diluting our identity, confusing and frustrating our people, and exhausting ourselves.
So how about you, reader? Are there people in your orbit trying to introduce an alternate agenda? Are you that person trying to change the culture of an organization? Walk carefully through the three reasons not to welcome it and the five checks to consider when welcoming it, and move forward accordingly.