Lessons From The Links: Effectively Cast Vision for Your Sunday School

You’ve spent time praying, seeking God, and solidifying your vision for the Sunday School.  Now your congregation is expecting you to drive the vision forward.  Your name has just been announced on the tee box.  The crowd is hushed, your heart is racing, and all eyes are on you.  Will you send the vision flying down the fairway, or hit a disappointing duff instead?  Are there any principles that can aid you in implementing your vision?

I’ve loved playing the game of golf for many years and I’ve spent countless hours and almost countless dollars investing in this day-off diversion (my wife is sorry that our cable ever came with The Golf Channel!).  The game of golf may hold some insights for you, where the goal is to move a ball from one location, the tee box, to another location, the hole.  This goal is not unlike the goal of implementing a vision.  You have a location, the present, and another location you want to go – the future.   These four “lessons from the links” can help you propel your vision toward your target.

Links Lesson #1 – Take Time to be CoachedPeople who are new to the game of golf often develop bad habits because they are unwilling to spend time listening to an instructor.  While it may be more fun to grab the clubs and head for the links, it is much more beneficial to take time to learn from people who have experience and knowledge of the game.  Every PGA player has a coach and wouldn’t be the professionals they are without one.  Coaches have the ability to see things you don’t; coaches have lots of wisdom to impart…if we listen.

The Bible reminds us that none of us is as smart as all of us when it says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22).   As my church moved toward a vision of dual Sunday Schools and the construction of a $2.2 million education building, we asked questions of men and women on other church staffs, consulted a seminary dean who was an expert in Christian education, and invited a seminary president and a Director of Missions to deliver sermons to our congregation that supported the vision of expanding our Sunday School.  We discovered that the first step in implementing vision was to find persons who had experience and could help us think through the implementation and communication process.  Find the experts and listen to their advice before you rush to start implementing your vision.  Be coachable.  When you “tee up” your vision in front of your congregation, you will have the wisdom of many others to help drive it down the fairway toward implementation.

Links Lesson #2:  Reprioritize Your Time – Implementing vision requires that you get control of your calendar and dedicate a significant amount of time to the vision.  Good golfers aren’t born – they spend many hours each week improving various aspects of their game; most of the top players in the world are in the gym before you and I get up, and by mid-morning they’ve already played a practice round or spent several hours at the driving range.  If you don’t make the vision a priority on your daily calendar, you will struggle to see it fulfilled.  “The tyranny of the urgent always fights against our planning and thinking time, but if we don’t make the time to plan for the future we will be its victims.”1 Determine how much time you will dedicate to the vision each week – and stick to it.  Divide your time between three activities:  prayer, planning, and promoting the vision.  For over a year prior to the realization of the dual Sunday School vision at my church, I dedicated three hours each week to the three tasks above by calendaring them as appointments I had to keep.

Links Lesson #3: Set Realistic Goals…and Celebrate! – As a golfer I must accept the fact that I will never play on the PGA tour – it simply is not a realistic goal for me.  However, there are a number of goals that I can set and achieve:  shoot a score of 80, hit more greens and fairways in regulation, and have a bogey-free round of golf.  “As you set goals…make sure each of those goals is SMART.  This is an acronym for the most important factors in setting quality goals:  Specific, Motivational, Attainable, Relevant, and Trackable.”3 If goals are not SMART, people will lose interest in the vision over time.

People will also lose heart if they don’t see progress.  “Congregations are attracted to success.  They will not remain diligent in those things that are…unproductive…Let people see the tangible fruits of the vision.  Making a positive difference becomes self-reinforcing.  An incremental victory a day keeps the Evil One at bay.”4 Halfway through the implementation of Nehemiah’s wall-building vision, the people lost heart.   ”The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall” (Nehemiah 4:10).  They focused on the unfinished task, not the progress they had made – it was time to celebrate their hard work!  Celebrating progress can energize the people you lead, so take time to stop and call attention to the victories that happen as you implement the vision.

Links Lesson #4:  Accept Responsibility For Mistakes All golfers will have errant tee shots, lost balls, and other bad breaks during a round of golf – it’s just part of the game.  Tiger Woods has said that you must, “Take ownership of your mistakes.  Every shot is your responsibility…It’s not always easy, but it’s fair.”4 Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager and other books on leadership says, “You can learn a lot about yourself from golf.  I guarantee that if you cheat or blow up when you get a bad break or make a mistake, that behavior will show up in other parts of your life.”5 Before people buy into a vision, they buy into the leader.  If that person will not accept responsibility for mistakes made in the implementation of the vision, people will quit believing in him, and quite possibly in the vision, too.   There is a paperweight on my desk that is made to resemble a rock with a cleft, and there is an actual golf ball lodged in the cleft with the saying, “Play It Where It Lies” carved in the stone.  It reminds me that tough breaks and mistakes must be met head-on without making excuses.

During the final phase of construction on my church’s education building, an $80,000 mistake was uncovered.  The pastor decided to go to the people and inform them – no matter what the consequences.  Rather than becoming a mountain of a problem, it turned out to be only a speed bump.  The church voted to spend the extra money and we moved into the building on time…without a single person becoming disgruntled over the extra expense.  People value honesty and they know that mistakes are a by-product of leading.  As you head down the fairway toward the realization of your vision, be sure to “play it as it lies” when it comes to mistakes– you’ll be glad you did.  Remember that failure is seldom fatal, and as the old “Silver Scott” Tommy Armour once said, “When you miss a shot, never think of what you did wrong.  Come up to the next shot thinking of what you must do right.”6

1Hans Finzel, The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make (Colorado Springs:  Chariot Victor Publishing, 1994), pp.185-186

2Ken Blanchard, Playing The Great Game of Golf (New York:  William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1992), p.33

3George Barna, Turning Vision Into Action (Ventura, CA:  Regal Books, 1996), p.149

4Tiger Woods, How I Play Golf (New York:  Warner Books, Inc., 2001), p.258

5Ken Blanchard, Op Cit, p.27

6Jim Sheard & Wally Armstrong, In His Grip (Dallas:  Word Publishing, Inc., 1997), p.75

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