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Archive for John Kaiser


Winning on Purpose

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One of the books on my summer reading list was Winning on Purpose by John Edmund Kaiser. Kaiser has spent his ministry career as a pastor, denominational executive, and church health consultant. His book is the product of his discoveries about how churches can transition from maintenance models to more productive missional models.

Using a clever sports analogy, Kaiser presents four critical questions that every congregation needs to ask: Do We Really Want to Win? Do We Understand the Game? Do We Know What Position to Play? and Do We Have the Right Equipment?

In part one, Kaiser suggests that in order for congregations to “win” they have to understand their purpose. This includes understanding the object of the game, knowing the rules of the game, and knowing how to keep score. These basic principles will help congregations stop defeating themselves and free them to function as Christ intended.

Part two focuses on the three basics that make a game worth playing. According to the author, the object of the game defines the responsibility of Christ in relationship to his disciples. It is Christ who provides the mission of the Church and the divine resources to accomplish that mission. Clarifying Christ’s relationship to the church is a liberating step and prevents churches from assuming responsibility for things she is not. The rules of the game create authority. Kaiser wisely points out that boundaries inform the church what is not right but creates a field of fair play where there is liberty. Good rules are not merely prohibitions, they serve to foster creativity and freedom. Accountability is the means by which the church keeps score. This section was particularly helpful because the writer helped clarify the difference between scoring goals and winning the game. Many of our church’s goals focus on padding statistics rather than winning the game. While scoring points is good, scoring is not the object. Scoring is the means to a larger end: winning. I believe that this distinction alone could revolutionize the way pastors, staff members, and churches think about goal setting.

Part three was also helpful. In this section, Kaiser clarified the four positions that are played within winning congregations. He did so as follows:
The Board Plays Governance
The Pastor Plays Leadership
The Staff Plays Management
The Congregation Plays Ministry.
While these chapters were clear and simple, pastors of churches that maintain a congregational form of polity may find them to be frustrating. In traditional Baptist churches, pastors face multiple committees that play governance. In addition, each month (or quarter, as the case may be) the congregation comes together to provide even more governance. These structures may be designed for support but quickly can be reduced to a culture of permission giving. Congregational churches as a whole need to evaluate their structure with the basic question, “Are we supporting? Or are we permission giving?” Supporting the ministry and the ministers is a function of management while the permission giving culture is the function of governance.

The fourth and final section is more technical, advancing the analogy even further to discuss the role of organizational documents, the church calendar, and denominational affiliations.

Overall this has been a good book. It’s written simply and clearly, and while it may not provide any new truth to an experienced pastor it certainly receives high marks for providing a different way to think about doing church. I’ve already highlighted the two most helpful sections. If I were to offer any constructive criticism it would be that at times the book comes across as more prescriptive than descriptive. But that’s a minor offering.

This book would be best used for training church leadership and membership about the organization and function of the congregation. The simplicity and clarity of this book will foster valuable conversations that cannot but help propel the church forward and to win on purpose.