Wineskins Archive

December 21, 2013

Clock Builders, Not Time-Keepers (Nov 1996 – Mar 1997)

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by Mike Cope
November, 1996 – March, 1997

25In their best-selling book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, James Collins and Jerry Porras ask readers to imagine a remarkable person who can look at the sun or stars and give the exact time and date, “It’s April 23, 1401, 2:36 A.M., and 12 seconds.” We would likely revere such a person. They’d be sought by everyone from Larry King to Rosie.

But Collins and Porras have a more significant person in mind as they evaluate the country’s greatest companies: the person who, instead of telling the time with precision, builds an accurate clock. How much more helpful this person would be, for they give something that will contribute to our lives after they’re dead and gone.

Some companies, they point out, manage to “tell the time” accurately a few times. They come out with the right software at the perfect moment. And, as a result, they make a ton of money. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a great company. Next year they may guess the wrong time. Then they crash and burn. It happens all the time.

Great companies, Collins and Porras claim, are the ones with leaders who “build clocks.” They invest in building a company with a central purpose and core values. The greatest thing Sam Walton did wasn’t to amass a fortune for his original stockholders; it was to build a company. The most important accomplishment of Walt Disney wasn’t to produce an animated movie or to build a theme park; it was rather to invest in a company that would be strong after he died.

Churches today desperately need some clock-builders. They don’t just need “time tellers”—leaders who come up with a great idea for this year and then travel around the country telling others about their great idea. They need leaders who will invest their lives in helping them be strong at the core. But how is this done?

First, by prayer. Since we work in God’s church, we must ask him to refine us, correct us, indwell us, and bless us. How blessed a church is to have elders and ministers (and other men and women who are usually informal leaders) who spend time before God—whether together in meetings or alone in a closet—pleading with him to accomplish his purposes in our midst.

Last month at the church where I minister, one of our elders began each assembly with a long (long by our standards…about 10 minutes… not that I was counting!) prayer. He never once drew attention to himself. He adapted the language of a different psalm each week to the praise, thanksgiving, confession, and requests of our church.

While we, formed as we are by rapid images of TV, often grew impatient, we were also changed. The most powerful work of any church often comes from unexpected and unrecognized sources: those, often the youngest and oldest members of the church, who spend time in prayer for the people of God.

Second, leaders become clock-builders when they help the church stay focused on its central purpose. We are to live to the glory of God. That’s something no one else but God’s church is going to do. It means we’ll be people of prayer and praise, we’ll be a counter-culture of gospel-defined character, we’ll be a community of encouragement, we’ll be an outpost of evangelism, and we’ll be a body of servants.

And third, leaders become clock-builders when they continually encourage all members to use their spiritual gifts and passions. We believe in theory in “the priesthood of all believers,” but we must invest our time and energy where our beliefs are. Rather than acting out of fear and high control, leaders must seek to liberate and inspire all Christ-followers to use their gifts to help the body of Christ grow and mature. Better than a leader who visits everyone in the hospital is a leader who equips others to use their gift of compassion to visit those who are sick. Better than a leader who holds a Bible study once a week is a leader who equips others to share the gospel by including them in the Bible studies.

Now, a warning. We tend to reward those who are time-tellers. They get most of the acclaim. They wow us with the speech they gave at a workshop; they impress us with the program they launched this year; they have just the right insight for this moment.

But of much more value is the clock-builder: the leader who is investing year after year in building a church to the glory of God.Wineskins Magazine

Mike Cope

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