DFM: The Direction, Focus, Motivation Trio

Posted by on May 7, 2023 in Blog | 2 comments

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You might know that I now direct AVENIR Leadership Institute. It’s a lot of fun to lead something I was instrumental in founding, especially as it means I can’t pull the “I don’t know what the founders were thinking” card. If it’s not to my liking, it’s a little too obvious who is to blame! We’ve got a great team, a wonderful culture and a huge amount to be grateful for, not least our clients, who let us dive deeply into their world. They look to us for many things – ideas, an external perspective, coaching, encouragement, resources and magical solutions. But we also look to see if they have certain qualities because they help us assess if they are likely to make progress or not.

In my head I frame it as the DFM trio. Do they have a clear direction, are they willing to focus, and do they have the motivation to keep going even if there are obstacles in the way. If the answer is yes, they are probably going to be OK – actually better than OK, they are likely to thrive.

I find the DFM test is as accurate if we are working with a Christian organisation or not – and our clients come in a range of sizes and backgrounds. As this blog is written primarily for those who I’ve met through my engagement in Christian ministry, I’ll give my theological take on DFM. Actually, all the work we do comes from a theological frame, for we view our work with non faith based organisations as an exercise in public theology. In other words we take the big ideas of Christian faith and see how they work their way out in the marketplace – whatever that market place happens to be. It’s wonderfully reassuring to see how relevant and robust Christianity is when put out there – even if we can’t use the name Jesus or directly cite any Bible passages. And here’s the thing. We have sometimes concluded that our non-faith based clients are more Christian in many of their practices than some faith based organisations – but I digress.

So why DFM – direction, focus and motivation?

You don’t have to search hard in scripture to find the importance of direction. It could be Joshua 24:14-15, where Joshua insists that the Israelites make a firm decision about who they will follow, Yahweh or another god. Once that decision is made, the direction becomes clear. We will follow God’s paths – no ambivalence, no ambiguity – we have made up our mind, this is the direction we are taking. Or what about Paul in 1 Cor 9:24-27 where Paul affirms “I do not run like someone running aimlessly.” He expresses a similar sentiment in Phil 3:12-14 “I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me.” Or think of the writer of Hebrew’s exhortation to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Heb 12:1).

These are of course about direction at a very high level. They are about a conviction to align life with the purposes of God. And this is a core starting conviction to drive us. But sometimes it is so high level that it doesn’t provide enough direction.

What are some qualifiers that will help provide greater direction? Here are a few.

As we are called to be Christ followers in 2023 and beyond, we must seriously ask what it means to be a Christian in 2023 onwards. Too often nostalgia from the past drives us. We need to be directed to what God is doing now. True, we must learn from the past and be respectful of it, but if “yesterday” is the guiding force of your life, you are unlikely to get far.

We are sometimes asked to help organisations achieve the success they did in an earlier era and many of them hope to do so by a light makeover but without any real recognition of the changed context in which they operate. In other words they don’t want any deep change. The trouble is that living in the past is not a great formula for navigating the future.

We also need to ask if we will operate in the direction of faith or fear. I’m appalled at how many Christian organisations are operating from fear. When fear directs you, you will make one poor decision after another. Some Christian groups seem to have missed the message of the resurrection. God is not dead – and if God is alive, stop being fearful, and let faith and hope direct you.

Direction is also best decided when we listen carefully. This often requires a shift away from “we know it all” to “we are listening carefully”. Let’s listen to what the data tells us. For example, in the census of 1971 86.2% of Australians aligned themself with the Christian faith. In the 2021 census that was 43.9%. It as close to half as not being worth quibbling over, and these results have been mirrored in the UK, Canada, New Zealand, USA, and most European countries with only minor variations, some a little better, some worse. The overall trajectory in the so called “Western World” is obvious and it is a story of persistent numerical decline. Does that mean people are so much worse than they used to be? Perhaps, but in ever so many ways we are a far more just and humane society. So what does it mean? Let’s lean in and listen. Curiosity will serve us well – dismissiveness won’t.

What will we hear that might redirect our efforts? What I hear most often is disappointment that the church has been so much less than she was supposed to be. Why don’t we hear that, and commit ourselves to being authentic Christ followers – those who are an incarnation of the love and hope of Jesus.

So when it comes to direction, how about directing away from nostalgia and towards the future; away from fear and towards resurrection hope; away from we know it all, to curiosity and a fresh commitment to following Jesus.

Then there is focus. Life offers so many wonderful options and the good can easily become the enemy of the best. In a FOMO era we often flit from one superficial experience to another. Success comes with focus and consistency of direction. No, I am not talking about a stubborn refusal to budge, come what may, but I am talking about maturity. We aren’t children dashing here, there and everywhere after each new trinket or shiny bauble. We need to know what we are doing and stick to it. This year is the 10th anniversary since I published my book “The Tortoise Usually Wins.” I’ve been delighted at how many people have found it helpful. A major focus of the book is on the benefits of plodding on consistently. It explores the parable of the hare and the tortoise and the race where the tortoise wins, despite the hare being faster. The difference was made by consistency and focus. In an era of consumer church where we rush off to the latest exciting preacher or worship band, keeping focus will serve us well. How about we say: I stay where I have been placed unless I very clearly hear God call me somewhere else. When people are focused, they make a difference. When they aren’t, they are all over the place, and nothing good is likely to result.

Motivation also matters. But here is the thing. There is no motivation fairy. Motivation most often comes from doing. It is as we get out and do that something stirs inside of us. We start to realise we can make a difference. Exodus 14:15 is fascinating, for in it God essentially says to Moses that it is time to stop praying. He is to tell the Israelites to move on. While there is a time for quiet contemplation, reflection, and prayer, and while careful planning is important, endless chatter and yet another talkfest ultimately demotivates and leaves people cynically questioning, “Will this ever be more than talk.” Motivation comes when there is a bent towards action – because it means we are serious and really want to make a difference.

So why not pause and ask how you, or your church, or your organisation fare on the DFM test. Direction, focus and motivation – because as Paul says in 1 Cor 9:26 “I am no shadow boxer… I throw off any hindrance that holds me back…”

As always, nice chatting...

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  1. Comment *
    The right stuff..

  2. Comment. Thank you Brian .

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