Flywheel in Motion

As I gathered in a room last night with 6 other blokes all committed to growing in their practice of spiritual disciplines I felt like we ‘turned the flywheel’ just a bit… With 4 others keen, but unable to be there this week for a variety of reasons we have managed to get a great core of men wanting to shift the balance of their own faith. I will explain the concept of the flywheel later but for now let me mention the source.

One of the best books I have read on helping organisations get their butts into gear and become more than just another blip on the radar is Jim Collins Good to Great. Although written for the business sector, it has been immensely valuable in thinking through how we make progress in what we do as a church.

Collins made a study of a heap of mediocre organisations that made the shift to being ‘great’ and identified a number of key principles. Some of them are a bit counterintuitive and some of them make perfect sense but are hard to do.

In leading an established church I accept albeit reluctantly that we do need to embrace some elements of organisational life and that if we are to be more than a social club for religious people we need some sense of shared purpose and direction. While that doesn’t require great formality I have found the principles Collins mentions helpful in working with a group of people larger than would meet in a home.

Collins diagram is explained fully in his book but for now I’ll make a few comments on the key elements.

Level 5 Leadership – in the ‘great companies’ there was a clear move away from superman, visionary, heroic leaders towards more empowering and humble leaders. These were leaders who didn’t want the future of the organisation to rest on their charisma. I’ve learnt to value this form of leadership much more over the last 10 years, but also observed that people feel safer when the ‘level 4 leader’ is in charge – the one who carries everything on his own back. I functioned that way in my youth ministry days, but I refuse to do that now as I actually feel its counterproductive in the longer term. I discovered Collin’s book after my time in youth min, but it has affirmed some of what I feel is a healthier (and more biblically faithful) way to lead a community.

First Who Then What – Collins says ‘get the right people on the bus’ and then get them ‘sitting in the right seats’. This is always hard because the bus comes pre-loaded and you don’t always know who the right people are until you’ve been around for a while. I don’t like asking people to get off the bus and so far haven’t had to, but the people ‘on the bus’ has changed over the last couple of years. We have some great people on the bus and I reckon there may be one or two more who we can find a seat for.

Confront The Brutal Facts – I am not sure if we have done this well yet. I get the sense that we know the facts are brutal – ie we are pushing uphill with mission/evangelism and therefore church in its current form – but I am not sure we are quite ready to confront them. I feel part of my role over the last 10 years in Forge and now in a local church is to state, re-state and keep stating the brutal facts. The challenge is to do this in a way that challenges and inspires people rather than just makes them want to quit or pisses them off. That’s hard when some days you just want to quit yourself! I don’t like the role of ‘brutal facts presenter’, but I’m absolutely convinced that no one makes change if they are unaware of the facts. Why would you?

The Hedgehog Concept – is to simply hone your focus and energies on to the one thing that you can be the best in the world at and to say ‘no’ to the many other good things that compete for your time and energy. Again I think we are unclear on this one and it is needing some further work. Its easy to scrabble around and pursue all kinds of good ideas in our efforts to do something worthwhile, but unless the energy is focused we can just end up tiring people out. I imagine that with the right people in the right seats and some dedicated attention to the brutal facts and the situation in front of us this will come clearer.

A Culture of Discipline – and Collins adds ‘with an ethic of entrepreneurship’. I like it. A focused disciplined bunch of people who are able to ignite the creative spark and take risks as they need to. A culture of discipline on its own might be diligent, but hardly inspiring. I like the balance he suggests here and it is something I want to work towards also. However perhaps a little reframing so that we create ‘A culture of

discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship in a spirit of grace’. Too much church based discipline can turn to legalism and get very very ugly.

To be honest I didn’t think Collins work on technology accelerators was all that applicable to our church life and as I’m writing all this from memory I can’t even remember what was relevant. I’m sure it was of value to someone!

So these elements actually form something of a process and it has been one that I have been at work on for a while now. But back to the flywheel. Collins likens changing an organisation to spinning a very big flywheel. It takes a slot of effort to get going but once that baby’s moving – ‘look out’. Collins suggests that the movement of the flywheel doesn’t depend on catalytic events, but rather is a summation of all that has gone into making it move.

I’m not so sure I agree there. I reckon a series of catalytic events can actually produce momentum and so long as the energy behind it is sustained, then the flywheel is going to keep gaining steam. Last night felt like one of those significant moments when most of the men in our church community turned up to a group that was explicitly promoted as a place where you would be challenged to grow spiritually by the practice of spiritual disciplines and by training yourself to be godly.

I got the clear sense that our blokes wanted more than just a beer and a chat and that we had hit on a real desire to ‘step up’, hence the feeling that maybe the flywheel is in motion and maybe we are going to see some significant change.

As with any momentum based activity it is as easy to lose momentum as to gain it so we will need to keep encouraging one another and spurring one another on. But I think we may have reached a ‘tipping point’ there (to use another author’s term), but maybe that’s food for a different post…

6 thoughts on “Flywheel in Motion

  1. I’m not so sure I agree with much, if any of that good to great stuff. As Roxburgh says,:

    In the biblical narratives God is constantly present in places where no one would logically expect God’s future to emerge and yet it does over and over. There is nothing in these stories about getting the wrong people off the bus and the right people on to accomplish great ends and become the best organization in the world. This God who calls us is always calling the wrong people onto a bus that isn’t expected to arrive.

    – Roxburgh, The Missional Leader

    I’m not sure the church will make a dent in society. Does it need to? as far as I can tell, the church has almost always been a peripheral body. Essential, but nonetheless on the edges. Where the church does become a dominant or even an influential force, it almost always ends badly. the church should not be powerful in the state; legalism and subsequently tyranny are the absolute inevitable consequences of such.

    I increasingly see the church as a place for those who chose a different path, and in so doing, leave the language of influence and power behind.


  2. G’day Phil

    Hope you’re going well.

    I’m not for a moment suggesting a constantinian type of influence.

    I agree that has always led us to unhealthy places. But I do think we are salt/light/yeast and ought to be agents of serious influence in our society.

    So I don’t see GTG as incompatible with a missional approach to christian community. Probably at core is how we define ‘greatness’.

  3. no, you are right, the Constantinian image is misleading. But the idea of getting the wrong people off the bus etc doesn’t fit with me. And I am not sure what a Christian influenced society looks like – really. we talk about salt/ light etc – we talk about it alot here in Kabul, and I have an idea of what it means here. But I don’t have a clear sense of what it is back in Perth.

  4. Sounds great re: getting a group of guys together to be more authentic and intentional with one another.

    But I must say – I hate the bus analogy with an absolute passion – it sums up so much of what I believe is wrong with the state of many of our contemporary evangelical churches – kpi’s – vision/mission statements of a preferred future- yuk!

    If I heard that gear spoken from a pulpit, or a small group, you wouldn’t see anything but my dust… which would probably be ok, successfully proving the relevance of that analogy to the speaker 😉 ha!

    peace for the road ahead mate

  5. I didn’t see your direct email address on your blog. I just want to pass along for your information that I am offering the first 5 Chapters of my new book UNEARTHED: How Discovering the Kingdom of God Will Transform the Church and Change the World for FREE at:

    It is written to the average Joe Christian as a first introduction to The Kingdom of God.  I would love it if you would check it out.


    brandon andress

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