The Seven Last Words

Most innovative leaders have experienced it. You have a great idea. And you can’t wait to share it. But then… Somewhere along the process of implementation you hear the seven last words… “We’ve never done it that way before!” Or, if you live in my part of the world, it might sound like this, “We ain’t never done it like that!” Nothing can deflate me faster. Those seven words are a verbal roadblock. In church life we have called them the seven last words of a dying church.

But they don’t have to be. I was already thinking about this subject last week when I saw this Tweet from Philip Nation.

“We’ve never done it that way before.” Dependent upon the intent behind the statement, those 7 words can be the death knell to a church or a doorway to an exciting future. Philip Nation

What if the seven last words of a dying church could actually be the doorway to an exciting future? As a younger leader I struggled with this. Call it inexperience. Call it a lack of emotional intelligence. Or just plain stubbornness on my part. But I basically had two responses. Bust through the roadblock. Or quit. Neither is good!

It took me nearly four decades of pastoral leadership. But I have finally reached a point where I am beginning to understand how to turn potential roadblocks into doorways that lead to an exciting future.

Understand the Motivation

Sometimes the “we ain’t never done it like that” is intended to be a roadblock. The person making the statement is a curmudgeon or a critic. They are present in every church. The names and faces change. But the curmudgeons and critics are the same. Even their words don’t have to be roadblocks. I previously wrote about the value of such voices. You can read that article HERE.

Not every “we’ve never done it that way before” comes from a curmudgeon or a critic. Sometimes those seven words come from someone who simply doesn’t understand. Their paradigm is different. Or they are just slow to get on board. In that case, it is the privilege of the leader to answer questions. Share vision. And hopefully walk them through the open door to an exciting future.

Not every “we’ve never done it that way before” comes from a curmudgeon or a critic. Sometimes those seven words come from someone who simply doesn’t understand.

Have Self Awareness

Your reaction to the curmudgeon, critic, or reluctant follower is critical. It is also largely influenced by your personality, state of mind, and overall mental health. Looking back I realize that I have responded poorly on many occasions. But I have also learned valuable lessons from those poor responses. Hopefully, I have become more self aware.

About a year ago I stumbled upon something that has revolutionized my thinking about roadblocks and open doors. While listening to one of my favorite podcasts, I heard Patrick Lencioni introduce what he calls The Six Types of Working Genius. While the model was developed to help people know their giftedness and how those gifts impact the process of getting work done, I think there is a definite application to turning potential roadblocks into open doors.

Walk Through the Door

Here’s how the Working Genius model can impact the seven last words of a dying church. My working geniuses are Invention and Discernment. Simply put, that means that I love to solve problems. And I love to solve problems by thinking and creating new solutions. That’s the Invention part of my working genius. But I also have the ability to analyze the solution that I create. That’s the Discernment part of my working genius. As you might imagine, I get to hear “We’ve never done it that way before” a lot. That’s what you get when you create solutions that people haven’t seen or done.

Let’s examine a case study. Traditional Baptist Church has been organized to carry out the five functions of the church in the same way for decades. Evangelism took place through a Tuesday night outreach program using a confrontational model to share the gospel. Discipleship took place in small groups that met primarily on Sunday mornings. And so on.

The model worked. Traditional Baptist Church grew. They expanded their programs. Built larger buildings. Even as the culture changed and results diminished, Traditional Baptist Church continued the programs that had worked so well for all of those years.

The Genius of Wonder

One day a deacon asked the question. Is this really the best way to organize Traditional Baptist Church to carry out our mission? He went on to ponder other possibilities, exercising his working genius of Wonder. By asking the question, he revealed the need for a solution.

The Genius of Invention

Without someone to come alongside the “wonderer” with a solution to the problem, Traditional Baptist would continue doing what it had always done. But God gave the church a pastor with the working genius of Invention. He spent weeks thinking through the question. Finally, he “invented” a solution. A new way of carrying out the church’s mission.

What happened next was critical. It really was the difference between a roadblock and an open door. No matter how good the pastor felt about his solution, unless he ran his “invention” by someone with the genius of Discernment, he was going to face a serious (and perhaps necessary) roadblock.

The Genius of Discernment

Having “invented” a potential solution, the pastor gathered a few staff members who had the working genius of Discernment. He asked for their input. He listened to what they had to say. Together they made some adjustments.

The Genius of Galvanizing

This went on for several days until finally, someone on staff said, “This is it. This is what we were looking for. Let’s get this done!” Many a good idea has become a roadblock because of the lack of Discernment and Galvanizing. The person with the working genius of Galvanizing can recognize when the “invention” is ready. And she can move the new idea forward by getting others on board.

The Genius of Enablement

The person with the genius of Enablement is an early adopter. Rather than saying, “We ain’t never done it like that,” they ask, “Why haven’t we done it like that?” And they come alongside the rest of the team and help to get the work done.

The Genius of Tenacity

I think it was Peter Drucker who said, “All good strategy eventually degenerates into work.” Without people with the genius of Tenacity nothing would get done. No one would walk through the doorway into into an exciting future.

From Death Knell to Open Door

Do you see how understanding this model can make a difference? Earlier I mentioned that I am an Inventor/Discerner. Let’s say I come up with a solution to the question, “Is this the best way to organize the church to carry out her mission?” Our staff discerns the plan and galvanizes around it. It’s time to move the plan forward.

Some early adopters (Enablers) are excited and immediately jump on board. But then it happens. Someone says, “We’ve never done it that way before.” Maybe the question is coming from someone with the working genius of Discernment. Yes, others have discerned the idea, but he needs time to discern for himself. The “old me” might have plowed through the perceived roadblock. Or worse. Quit.

Understanding this model helps me, and it can help you. The seven last words don’t have to be the death knell of the church. They can be a doorway to an exciting future.

Rob Paul is a church revitalization strategist with over three decades of experience serving established Southern Baptist churches in pastoral ministry. He has helped churches in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia to experience revival and revitalization by God’s grace and for His glory. He is currently serving as the senior pastor of Huffman Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL.


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1 thought on “The Seven Last Words”

  1. Excellent! As a business owner and trainer of sells people and customer service staff, I have heard those seven last words verbalized with every new opportunity for change that should improve and make reaching one’s goal more attainable. Thay might not be the same words, but express the same thoughts. Such as ; “That’s not the way Brother So and So always done it! And we were pretty successful with what he did! ” I had a story I told about that statement that’s too long to share, but your message rings true!

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