Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

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A Formula for Success

  • Dr. James Emery White

    James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theologyand culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he…

  • 2011 Nov 07

Wendy’s new CEO is fed up with being known as the “third” burger chain. If you want to pull his chain even more, talk about Wendy’s as the fallen star of the fast-food industry.

In his first interview since being named chief executive, Emil Brolick spoke candidly with a USA Today marketing reporter about his plan to once again make Wendy’s an industry innovator.

It better be a good one. It will need to fix a company with 6,600 locations worldwide that has been, to quote USA Today, “rudderless in an ocean of competition since its iconic founder, Dave Thomas, died nearly a decade ago.”

When asked what difference he could make, Brolick said, “I’m a big believer in the importance of leadership in an organization. My leadership can make a difference in this brand.”

He’s right. And not just for burger chains. The Bible talks clearly about the spiritual gift of leadership in Romans 12, and challenges those with the gift to step forward and lead. Since the gifts were given for the building of the church, there can be little doubt that the Holy Spirit finds leadership indispensable for the church’s flourishing.

Brolick then offered a single formula for success.

“Have a vision, a strategy, define reality, give hope and execute.”

I think I like this guy, and may just buy stock in Wendy’s. I have seldom read a more concise, direct plan for organizational success that resonates with everything I know about leadership.

Let’s unpack it in light of the church.

1.      Have a vision. We all know that where there is no vision, the people perish. Or more accurately, run amuck. Vision is a clear picture of the future that paints a target on the wall. You can’t ever hit what you don’t aim at. Vision tells us what we’re aiming at.

What is your vision? Has it been clearly articulated?

At Meck, our immediate vision is called our 20/20 Vision: to have 20,000 active attenders with ministry in 20 countries by the year 2020.

2.      Have a strategy. Very few churches have a strategy. Instead, they have tactics – meaning, things they are doing. But there isn’t an overarching strategy that leads tactics to be chosen, much less that the tactics feed and support.

What is your strategy? How do you plan on achieving your vision?

At Meck, our strategy to reach 20,000 attenders is to mobilize our church community to invest in those around them and then invite those very people to attend a growing number of regional campuses throughout our city. Our strategy involves not only outreach, but assimilation, discipleship, and then unleashing individuals for ministry.

3.      Define Reality. This is one of the most overlooked aspects of church leadership. My friend Bill Hybels has, of late, been chanting “facts are our friends.” He’s right. If an area of ministry is slipping, if a staff person is not a good fit, if a strategy is not working, if an area needs work, it does no good whatsoever to continue on with a “business as usual” mentality or to gloss it over as if everything is fine. A leader defines reality, and that helps realities change. If something is broke, call it broke – and then fix it! If something is dying, bury it – before it starts to stink! A good leader won’t just tell you how good things are – they can also tell you exactly where things are weak. 

What is the reality of your church’s situation? What’s working, and what’s not?

At Meck, we need to relocate one of our new campuses as early as January because its current location/facility is hindering growth. Our set-up and break-down teams for our two newest campuses are in desperate need of support to prevent burn-out and break-down of volunteers. We are grossly understaffed in areas of children’s ministry and guest services. These are realities, and there are many more to go with them.

4.      Give Hope. It’s been said that you can live for four months without food, four days without water, and four minutes without air - but not four seconds without hope. It isn’t enough to cast vision, much less to define reality – a leader has to give hope that the vision can become reality; that things can change. 

Does your church feel like it can change? That it can do what it is being called and challenged to do?

At Meck, we take the first weekend after my summer study break and lay out the God-movements in our church. When a church has a breakthrough, when progress is being made, it should be brought front and center to the church. Not simply so that God can be given His glory, though that is primary, but also so that the people can maintain the hope they need that we can continue to kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.

5.      Execute. I recently tweeted about the importance of having a bias for action. Too often we have a “ready, aim, aim, aim…” mentality. Fire your dang gun! There comes a time to pull the trigger on action and decision.

Is your church weighing whether to do something, and it’s been weighing it for a long time? Is there a “paralysis of analysis” going on?

At Meck, in the last 12 months, we decided to build on one campus, launch two new campuses, begin a ministry to Spanish-speaking persons, add two more countries to our mission investments, and adopt a local school that has the highest poverty rate in the city. 

In truth, having a vision, a strategy, defining reality, giving hope and executing is far from simply a marketplace strategy, much less unique to a fast-food executive.

It’s part and parcel of the exercising of the gift of leadership.

And as the apostle Paul said of the gifts given for the church, “If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously.” (Romans 12:8, NLT).

It’ll flip around more than a burger chain.

James Emery White


“Wendy new CEO has big plans to flip its ranking,” Interview with Emil Brolick, conducted by Bruce Horowitz, USA Today, Tuesday, October 18, 2011, p. 1B and 2B. Read online.

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