My husband, Todd, and I moved to Mexico in 1997 with our savings account, hoping to meet orphans, learn Spanish, and follow a call to make a difference. Twenty-plus years later, Back2Back is in nine locations around the world, managing an annual budget of $11 million dollars. The learning curve between there and here has been steep. How do you grow up alongside a vision God’s given you? How do you sustain people, passion and momentum? In the spirit of vulnerability, here’s some of the learning we’ve had despite ourselves:
How do you grow up alongside a vision God’s given you?
- Vision is listening to the Lord and taking the next step. First lesson was God didn’t need us to start loving orphans in Mexico, He’d been doing that a long time. He was looking for obedient, available servants to submit to work he had already set in motion. We needed teachable spirits and servant hearts more than we needed fancy visions and mission statements. As natural starters, we often tried to get ahead of him, and it never worked out well. Vision isn’t dreaming about big numbers; vision is having God’s eyes for what’s right in front of you.
- You can’t out-give God. Sharing what you have learned doesn’t divide your attention, it multiplies your work. We asked everyone we could for help in the beginning, and it seemed they either wanted to charge us for help, or were too busy. As we’ve grown, we have intentionally tried to put ourselves in collaborative environments with other organizations, so as we share with them, we also learn from them. While some of our best practices can look like our secular counterparts, the distinct difference in ministry is we are not competitive. A win for you is a win for the kingdom. He will anoint those who give generously of the experience, wisdom, and resources he has entrusted to us.
- People can’t be put on the honor system. We need accountability and structure, because healthy things grow. When we’ve left people on the honor system, we either set them up for failure, or led them to believe their work wasn’t important to us. We may not always like the back-end of ministry, but you can’t size up without it.
- We don’t run a pony express. The pony express used to run the horses so hard between posts, they would retire them after one leg. We can’t sustain with overworked staff. They need to see their work as a place they can be creative, exchange with others, have a healthy rhythm and learn new skills. If we are too busy and too fast running the mail, we will wear out and then, tap out.
- There is more than one bottom line. More than ever, this new generation of employees is teaching us work is more than what we can measure and accomplish. It’s what we can create and experience. Who we work with, how we relate with them, what we are doing and how we feel about it, are all important aspects of a work culture necessary for sustainability.
- Understand your audience. We used to talk to everyone outward facing with the same tone: assuming they wanted to help us accomplish our goals. Over time, we realized how tone deaf we sounded. Today, we communicate differently depending whether the intended audience is curious, interested, ready to be educated, or an advocate. We also scrubbed all materials of possessive pronouns. If a donor thinks it’s “our vision” or “our goals” they’ll only be apt to help to a certain extent. We want them to feel a part of a movement, and they are in on it. We now say “the mission” or “the goals,” creating a space on the platform for anyone.
We will never be ready for the next growth opportunity. We can plan for it, and pray for it, but sizing up means risk and trust. It requires sensitivity to the Spirit, a readiness for spiritual warfare and a strong sense of accountability among your leaders. Healthy things grow, so regardless of misunderstandings and missteps, if we keep humble and teachable, there’s no telling what’s ahead.
Beth Guckenberger is the Co-Executive Director of Back2Back Ministries, an international non-profit focused on the needs of orphaned and vulnerable children. She is an author/speaker, and together with her husband Todd, they parent to a large family. www.back2back.org.