Leader to Leader, Ministry, Vision

Shared Reverse Timelines

October 2, 2015 | Posted by Will Miller

The importance of a reverse timeline is well known when we reflect on personal planning toward our goals. Because reaching goals is never a matter of reaching one or two objectives, thinking backward from the goal helps us to prioritize and to think through all of the steps required to accomplish what we set out to do. It’s never a matter of A to Z; you first have to move from A to B, then on from B to C, and so forth. Learning how to make a reverse timeline is even more important in ministry because we aren’t simply reaching for personal goals but for shared group goals along with the congregation. If you don’t already practice making reverse timelines for yourself, then I strongly encourage you to start.

So far, so good. Many of us are familiar with these advantages to a more detailed plan/projection when it comes to our individual role in ministry. But what about the advantages of a shared reverse timeline for multi-staff situations? I have to admit that I have often not disciplined myself to lead my team forward with more than prayer undergirding a list of individual objectives and outlines of tasks! It’s true that prayer is the engine of ministry. Certainly individual objectives and outlines of tasks are certainly helpful for keeping conversations with staff on target along with a view toward assets and opportunities in ministry. But I have recently returned to the importance of a reverse timeline as a way of effectively working with the dynamics of a multi-staff context.

My return to a shared reverse timeline came in conversation with one of our laymen who comes from a large hospital business background. I shared with him that I had become frustrated that, even though we had talented and dedicated people working toward a common goal, the team effort didn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders because the ultimate goal is still two years in the future. Even though each staff member was working toward his/her individual objectives, the common goal wasn’t staying clearly in front of everyone because it is simply too far out. Rather than experiencing the “Nehemiah” result where everyone finishes his section of wall in order to complete the whole city’s walls project, people were merely working in silos and communication was breaking down. What’s worse, no one could see exactly how her/his role was fitting in to the whole effort. My frustration turned around when this concerned and capable layman suggested that the whole team work from a shared reverse timeline.

Now it is much clearer for each staff member to see how his/her effort fits in with everyone else’s. We are able to concentrate not so much on the ultimate goal as moving toward shorter-term objectives together. Of course, this means we are actually making progress toward our two-year goal. But now that everyone is “on the same sheet of music”, coordination between key staff members has increased, which breeds trust between team members even as it boosts moral and generates excitement.

When working from a shared reverse timeline:

  • Differentiate between deadlines for objectives that can be estimated utilizing staff insight and which deadlines must be estimated utilizing outside expertise;
  • Clearly designate “milestone” objectives so that wins can be celebrated along the way toward the ultimate goal;

Use the shared reverse timeline first in task-oriented team meetings rather than making appeal to particular staff objectives.

Will Miller
Will Miller is Senior Pastor for Immanuel Lutheran Church and School in Memphis, Tennessee. His passion is to see Christians engaging their urban context with the healing of the Gospel in the compassion of Jesus Christ.