“Leaders rise and fall by the language they use.” Pastor Bill Hybels made this statement at the beginning of his outstanding book, Axiom - Powerful Leadership Proverbs.
Hybels claimed the right words will make a vision take flight. Sometimes whole visions live or die on the basis of the words the leader chooses for articulating that vision. He gave an example of a time when he was trying to rally his church to compassionate outreach in their community. He wrestled and wrestled with the right words to articulate what he was feeling. Hybels said he spent much more time wrestling over the memorable axiom than he did over the rest of his sermon. It wasn't good enough to say we are going “to be compassionate.” The right phrase would have to inspire and motivate. Finally, after more than a day pondering the right phrase, he settled on “we are going to unleash unprecedented amounts of compassion into our broken world.” Words like unleash and unprecedented acted as the motivating factors he was looking for. The results were amazing. The congregation was excited and did unleash unprecedented amounts of compassion on their community and thousands of people were touched because this one phrase was so motivating.
Carefully chosen phrases can make strategic plans sound like rally cries. As leaders our words matter. That's the premise of the book and if we as leaders would take the time to carefully craft memorable axioms we could motivate our congregations to a cause like never before. For example, when I was pastoring in Okotoks, I discovered that the greatest need in the community was the need for identity and purpose. I desired to rally people around these two problems and felt that our new church could be the solution. I sensed that Ephesians 4:11-12 would be our guide and that we as the church would "equip the saints with the work of the ministry." But how could I articulate what was in my heart in a short memorable phrase that would make our strategic plan come alive? After much digging we settled on “Our Dream is to Help You Build Yours.” This worked exactly as we had hoped. It became our rallying cry and enabled us to reach hundreds of people with the gospel of Jesus.
Hybels claimed that axioms bolster a culture and steady it against the winds of change. I believe this to be the absolute truth. I have discovered that the natural gravitational pull of the local church is to be insider focused. When that happens the church becomes more about performance and appearance than outreach and care. To resist this natural drift in our church we adopted John Burke's axiom “No perfect people allowed.” This simple, memorable phrase is often repeated by all of our members and bolsters the culture we are trying to establish so that we can consistently and more effectively reach the unchurched.
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Questions: What "axioms" do you use to bolster your vision and culture? Do you have personal axioms that guide you or your family?