In a Whirlwind of Velocity and Complexity, Find the Essence

What can your church learn from the mission-focused leadership of the United States Armed Forces?

A clear, executable mission is the key to success for every branch of the military. An outstanding attention to teamwork and training make the United States Armed Forces the most formidable fighting force on the planet. Leadership is just as important to each service branch as it is to your church.

During this Independence Day week, in honor of the commitment and sacrifice of the men, women and families of the U.S. military, SUMS Remix honors a key actions of mission success found in the US Marine Corps.

In a whirlwind of velocity and complexity, find the essence.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Corps Business, by David Freeman
Fast. Motivated. Hard-hitting.

That’s what every business wants to be. And that’s why the U.S. Marines excel in every mission America throws at them, no matter how tough the odds. Far from being the hidebound, autocratic entity that most people imagine, the Marine Corps has created a stunningly nimble, almost freewheeling adaptive organization.

In Corps Business, journalist David H. Freeman identifies the Marine’s simple but devastatingly effective principles for managing people and resources — and ultimately winning. Freedman discusses such techniques as “the rule of three,” “managing by end state,” and the “70% solution,” to show how they can be applied to business solutions.


The U.S. Marines purpose is stated this way: We make Marines. We win our nation’s battles. We develop quality citizens. And we continue to stand strong as America’s expeditionary force in readiness. Throughout its 241-year history, the Marines have been the nation’s ready response force, called to be “most ready when the nation is the least ready.” From humanitarian relief efforts to combat operations; from air, land, and sea to every clime and place, the Marine Corps is ready to answer the nation’s call.

Marines have long recognized the link between battlefield success and leadership, with cherished core values of honor, courage, and commitment defining the Corps ethos. The same values and leadership imperative they represent can become a unique approach to leadership training.

While not carrying the same life and death significance that a Marine officer faces, today’s church staff team finds itself in a whirlwind of velocity and complexity, striving to balance complex demands of the organization it leads, the people it serves, and the family it loves. The church that cannot react quickly and effectively to threats and opportunities popping up all around it will find itself out of the game.

The church staff can learn a lesson from the Marines, where everything about them – their culture, organizational structure, management style, logistics, and decision-making process – is geared toward high-speed, high-complexity environments.

One of the Marines’ greatest tools is simplicity: taking complex, confusing, or ambiguous situations and concepts and boiling them down to their “essence.”

An essence may lose some of the subtleties, and it may even entirely ignore points that from the point of view of some observers would be important. But the key to an essence is that it portrays a situation or order in a way that is easily grasped and actionable.

Sometimes finding the essence of an order involves entertaining ideas that weren’t explicit in the original order.

Each of the following key questions can help to find the essence:

What are our strengths and weaknesses and what are those of the opponent?

What assumptions can we make?

What must we not do?

How will the mission affect morale?

What are our fallback plans?

What are we overlooking?

David H. Freedman, Corps Business: The 30 Management Principles of the U.S. Marines


Using the key questions above, conduct an “essence” exercise, looking at a ministry action or initiative that your church is contemplating, one that you have not done before.

List each of the key questions above on a separate chart tablet, and post all the pages on a wall visible to your entire team.

Discuss each key question in turn, writing answers from your team on the respective chart tablet page. As you work through the list of questions, be sure to list answers to previous questions that may be developed.

When you have exhausted your teams answers to all the key questions, go back to each sheet and by consensus circle the top three answers for each question. For each of the top three answers, come up with a word or short phrase that distills the essence of the answer.

Develop a plan of action in carrying out the ministry initiative, with the essence statements forming the structural framework.

Following the completion of the initiative, conduct a debrief in which your team will see how closely the actions followed the essence. Where deviations are noted, discuss the result and lessons learned.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 41-2, published May 2016.

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. I’m going to peruse back issues of both SUMS and SUMS Remix and publish excerpts each Wednesday.


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