Better Minds, Better Church Office Management?
Julie Bell believes mind management improves teamwork—and discipleship.

Editor's Note: On Thursday, the early registration and discounted rate ends for the National Association of Church Business Administration's 55th annual conference (July 1-5 in Washington, D.C.). Christianity Today International's Church Management Team is a content partner with NACBA, an organization that supports the work of thousands of business administrators and office staff across the country. As leaders contemplate whether to go, we sat down for a Q&A with Dr. Julie Bell, 44, one of NACBA's keynote speakers for this year's conference. Bell is founder and president of The Mind of a Champion, a Dallas-based coaching consulting firm that helps professional athletes, corporate executives, and church teams improve their performance.

As a part of The Mind of a Champion, you've developed a concept called Performance Intelligence and wrote a book about it. What is it? It's your ability to perform your best when it matters most. A lot of people can do their best when the circumstances are right. How do you use the talents and resources that God has given you to do your best, regardless of the circumstances?

How would this benefit someone who works in a church office? A lot of great programs come in to maximize your skills, such as a communications workshop or conflict resolution or time management. Mind management is our greatest inefficiency. My list of things to do doesn't wear me out—my thinking about my list of things to do wears me out.

What are some common problems in church offices that you think can benefit from better "mind management"?

I talk about something called the "Three R's." Church teams need to recognize their thinking, refocus, and then establish new routines, new habits of the mind. Part of how to recognize that thinking and refocus involves developing a "Winning Game Plan." You start by asking, What's most important now? Everything can't be important now. You have to work on that focus. Is what we're doing really aligned with our desired results? For example, Wednesday nights at church—what is the church's overall purpose and what does that look like in the Wednesday night children's ministry? There are desired results on discipleship, on fellowship, on Bible knowledge. On the front end, we're not clear on purposes, then on the back end, we have staffs who are beat up and worn out because they're smart people, talented, gifted by God, but they're not executing because they never knew what plays to call. Without clearly defining (what's most important), we try to do all of it, and we fail because we can't do it well.

What kind of toll does that take on church staffs? We have a win-lose mentality. For instance, with a church calendar, a conflict in dates causes one event to get pulled over another. … I can turn anything into a win-lose opportunity. If I win, then you lose. … If you just look at the overall desired result of the church and made sure the programs in competition with each other are aligned with that, you may find that not all are aligned.

How does individual performance feed into team performance? That coaching voice in your head sets you up to do your best and other times it will undermine you and burn you out. Your coaching voice is the most influential coach you will ever have—kids begin recognizing it at the age of five. … Individually we have that coaching voice in our head, and it requires focus, confidence, competitiveness, self-discipline, and a winning game plan. … Does your church have a winning game plan, with the right people doing the right things to get the results you want? Or is it business as usual? I need a winning game plan for my life individually, and then we need a winning game plan corporately.

How does that shift a church staff's dynamics? It's very hard to perform your best when you don't have a clear focus. I've had to work on this in my parenting, in the relationship with my husband, and my work—how to ask different questions and identify the win-win, the next step.

Does so much focus on the mind detract from spiritual development, though? You have to be intentional with your thinking. Paul talks about thinking about whatever is true, noble, and lovely. He talks about taking every thought captive to Christ. If we let our mind wander to whatever we want to, we are in the world and suffering the consequences of sin.

Where is your home church? Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas. My husband L. Nelson II grew up at that church. About six years ago, we were living in Oklahoma when he was called to be its pastor of adults and personal discipleship.

You're related to Billy Graham (the global evangelist and founder of CTI). Tell us about that connection. My husband is the grandson of L. Nelson Bell, Billy's father-in-law.

Who is your hero? Ruth Bell Graham, only because everything I've read of hers, and my experience meeting her, I knew she was full of grace raising her children, a lot of it on her own with Billy traveling a lot. Whenever I need inspiration as a wife and mother, I read stories about her.

What are you reading right now?Grace-Based Parenting, which was my beach reading on a recent vacation. My church also just started The Bible in 90 Days.

What's your favorite movie?Chariots of Fire. My all-time favorite quote is during the last race of the movie, when everything slows down, and that signature music is playing, and Eric Liddell says, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure."

Your favorite Bible verse? Jeremiah 29:11. After graduate school, this became very real for me. It's my go-to verse.

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