Friday, September 21, 2007


When it comes to success, character is more important than intelligence. Walter Mischel is a research psychologist at Stanford University. He tested children at age four for "impulse control." This character trait ended up being a much greater predictor of future success than IQ. Evidently, brains and talent alone don't make someone successful. Those brains and talents need to be under control, or what Mischel calls "goal-directed self-imposed delay of gratification." Simply put, successful people self-regulate their activities to achieve a greater goal. They deny impulses that are not in service of the greater good.

This principle of success has a direct application to ministry and ministers. First, for ministry, we are often faced with competing demands for resources. For instance, the youth department would love to have a new big screen TV. There is also an opportunity to conduct an outreach to launch new small groups in a neighboring community. Is the ministry able to discipline itself into choosing the path that will advance Christ's kingdom? Or will we give in to the impulse to "feather our own nest?" Are we willing to put "our" needs on the back burner, so that the needs of others can be met? Many groups are not willing, and it becomes their undoing.

The challenge of impulse control that is faced on a macro scale for the ministry, is faced on a micro scale for the minister. For instance, there may be an opportunity presented to speak at a national conference. Unfortunately the timing of this invitation conflicts with an important season of ministry locally. Can the minister forego the opportunity for exposure (read: ego management) in order to "stick to the knitting?" Many can't, and it becomes their undoing.

"Non-gratifying" work often precedes gratifying work. The pilot has to go through the checklist before he gets to fly. The surgeon has to scrub down before she gets to operate. The manager has to do the reference checks before hiring. The wise couple goes through the pre-marital counseling before tying the knot. Likewise, successful small group leaders make reminder phone calls to their group members on Monday, so that they have a good attendance and group meeting on Wednesday. Successful teachers block out the time for study, so that their lessons are well documented and illustrated. Successful pastors invest the time in leader development, so that they can achieve a growing ministry.

Private success precedes public success. What impulses do you need to control in order to achieve a greater level of impact? What non-gratifying work do you need to do, in order to get to do the gratifying work?


There are little things that I check on each week that may seem trivial, but that I consider to be the important behind the scenes, non-gratifying "stuff" that allows me to enjoy the "stuff" that is gratifying, like teaching the word. For instance, I check the distance between rows in the auditorium so that there is sufficient room for people to get to seats. I check the temperature in the room, and make sure there is some air flow. I look in the bathrooms to make sure there are paper towels and toiler paper. I try to do a sound check with the lapel mic. I make sure that I have enough water to drink. Do I enjoy doing these things? Not really. My impulse would be to just get up, start talking, and hope for the best. But getting ready requires doing the "nongratifying" work before jumping in.


"Paying it forward" has been an important aspect of CTK's success. We have restricted our impulses to achieve a greater good. We are paying a price now for opportunities we hope to enjoy in the future. For instance, we are sharing the costs of building a Central Services organization, so that there is a strong enough administrative backbone to support a movement. Is this easy to do? No. A couple years ago, Central Services was 15% of our budget. This year we have budgeted 11% for Central Services (it was actually 7% last month). In the future, with greater scale, we see Central Services consistently being a cost in the mid-single-digits. The future prospect is that all CTK groups and centers would have had a high degree of skilled administrative support (web, bookkeeping, advertising, etc.) for just pennies of each dollar. But for now, I have to admit that I have an occasional impulse to want to spend that money in a more short-sighted way! But I believe our long term success will based on our "goal-directed self-imposed delay of gratification." It is the nature of Christ's kingdom to make sacrifices for those who are about to come.

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