Living with the End in Mind: Part One
By Kelsey McFaul
Consulting CEO Mark L. Vincent on the intersection of professional and personal stewardship
At 18, Mark Vincent found himself hiking up a mountainside in the Dominican Republic, on his way to assess a church construction project.
“We stayed in the home of a man named Maximo who I’ll never forget. He and his wife had just a two-room home and one place setting, so we all took turns eating off that one place setting, all 12 of us. One person would eat; they’d wash the dish and give it to the next person to eat; they’d wash the dish; all the way around.”
That night, in a sleeping bag on a dirt floor, Mark found his summer working in the DR distilled to a crisp conviction.
“I was so mindful of how this was different than what I understood hospitality to be in my home of origin, where there was a guest room and a guest bathroom and you would invite people in at specific times that suited you. And truthfully, the guest bedroom was a bed we weren’t even sleeping in anymore.
It wasn’t this full-blown, everything I have is yours. It just had such integrity in it and such an expression of hope that God really is our provider and sustainer, and I decided in some way or another, this needed to mark my life.”
In the years since, Mark’s discovered what it means to live into the knowledge his possessions, relationships, and even his life are not his own. His time in the DR marks just the beginning of a stewardship journey including pastorship, executive leadership, his wife Lorie’s 16-year battle with cancer and eventual passing, and his current work as CEO and Senior Design Partner at Design Group International.
“I’ve learned that it is about the end and not about you. We begin with the end in mind, and everything we do is with that in mind. And along the way, in the journey of moving toward that end, we get to create with God.”
Beginning with the end in mind is characteristic of Mark’s personal life, but it’s also the focus of his professional consulting work.
Design Group International, or DGI, is an organizational development community of practice focusing on process consultation. DGI consults for both nonprofit and for-profit business models and finds its sweet spot with associational organizations pursuing multiple bottom lines.
“Associations, denominations, and partnerships come together out of mutual self interest, but as things begin to grow and succeed, they tend to look at their own bottom line before they look at a collective one. They may not even know what that collective bottom line is or how to measure it or how it influences their own.”
Think of that collective bottom line as the organization’s “end;” its mission statement, so to speak. DGI’s role is to bring an organization’s stakeholders together to discern that mission, where it comes from, and how to evaluate decisions in light of its fulfillment.
“We often discover there are a number of faux mission statements operating. Not just one, but a number that influence and take away from what the stated mission would be. They’re not always bad things; sometimes they’re values that replace the mission, like we might end up worshipping an aspect or characteristic of God rather than God.”
Similarly, steward theology understands that leaders are managers entrusted with God’s kingdom work, while He is the true owner of all our resources. Steward leaders who embrace this lead with God’s ends in mind, rather than their own self-aggrandizement.
“The steward leader starts from the understanding that they don’t own their responsibility and they aren’t going to own it in the end. They’re all about building value based on what the owner, God, wants.”
Steward leaders are called to live in the tension of seeking mission fulfillment while knowing they do not own, and may not even see, the fruits of their labor. This means they define success in larger terms than the next fiscal year or last month’s financial statements.
“Success is being able to celebrate the next steps that a successor is taking, even when that’s a different direction than you would have gone….Where so many leaders fail—year one, year 20, it doesn’t matter—is with the ending. If they can’t articulate the end, they’re not leading.”
Mark’s found that his ability to lead with the end in mind is directly related to his ability to steward the self, one of the four relationships (alongside God, others, and creation) a steward leader is called to surrender.
“I grew up in an environment where self was not something you talked about. You put others first to the point where you don’t know yourself very well.”
In contrast, stewarding the self well means making an effort to understand one’s capacities, personality, learning style, emotional intelligence, and how all of those can be used and improved to serve others.
“I meet many leaders who feel they cannot invest in their own development, which means all they have are the tools they have and they can’t grow. Things shut down if they’re not setting aside time to think and to care for themselves and to know themselves so that they can serve the mission and serve others. They lose touch with who they really are.”
Paradoxically, leaders who invest in their own development, their need for rest, and their mission are better able to recognize the end they’re pursuing, their own supporting role, and how they can create with God in the process. This co-creation, says Mark, is the greatest joy of steward leadership.
“We are made to create. We get to bring our best gifts to it, and we get to learn and grow and find out things we didn’t know and have surprises and adventures–for the benefit of others and for the human flourishing of those God created and seeks to redeem. We begin with the end in mind, and we create with God along the way. If those aren’t in place, I don’t see how we lead.”