Leadership in a Flattened World

Sally Morgenthaler has an intriguing article over at Catalyst.  Check out “Leadership in a Flattened World.”

Morgenthaler looks around at the world we live in and wonders what leadership looks like in a world where information is easily accessible to anyone, where authority is constantly questioned, and people are connected in more ways than ever.  She argues that this is a world that is foreign to top-down, authoritarian leadership.

Further, she sees the countless forms of new connectedness, electronic and otherwise (Facebook, gaming events, chat rooms, village-concept malls, fantasy sports, etc.), as a sign that people have an unprecedented desire for community.  In her words people appear to want, “to be noticed, to make a difference.”

Significance, influence, interaction, collective intelligence – all of these values describe an essential shift from passivity to reflexivity.  We are no longer content to travel in lock-step fashion through life like faceless, isolated unites performing our one little job in an assembly line.  It is a new day.  We want to help solve the problems of the world.

You would think this would be a time of great rejoicing for the Church, right?  This is a time when pastors can begin equipping lay-people for ministry in unprecedented ways, right?  Morgenthaler doesn’t see this.  Instead she argues, “we continue to vision, staff, and build for passivity.  In the warp and woof of change, we adopt yet another campaign…” Instead of being open to true life-changing collaboration, she sees many church leaders who tend to function as top-down leaders.  Her solution is to, “release our strangle-hold on ministry.” She uses metaphors like catalyst, midwives, guides, and ship-rudders.

Without a doubt, we live in a participatory world.  So why don’t we see more people getting involved in ministry?  I have found that some people are hesitant to suggest ministry ideas, because they’ve been told why they won’t work.  I understand the idea, because sometimes they don’t.  However, I don’t understand discouraging folks from getting out there and trying.

When I first got really fired up about serving in the Church, I remember reading a book that inspired me to set up a time to pray in the sanctuary for the following week’s worship service.  I worked hard to set up a time for people to come and join in this (at least I thought I did at the time!), and there were only two people who showed up (thanks David Mingus!).  It felt like a failure, and I didn’t schedule a second time.  However, if someone came to me today asking to organize a prayer time for the morning worship service, I wouldn’t say, “Oh, I tried that once and it was a little disappointing…”

As Christian leaders, we need to be secure enough in our own gifts to help people find their point of connectedness and service.  We need to be confident enough in their gifts to give them space to make a difference.  We need to be secure enough in God’s grace to let people fail and learn from it.  In the end, I don’t think people will quit.  I think somehow, in the midst of trying to serve God wholeheartedly, they will find community and discern their particular place to make a difference.

Morgenthaler is right.  We live in a different world, and it’s time to help people connect and serve.  Our congregations should be fertile ground for community formation.  They should be places known for making a real difference.    What do we need to do as leaders to empower and equip others?  What do we need to do to inspire people to new heights of interconnected service?  It’s too important to ignore.

Does the Pope Text-Message?

No kidding, Benedict XVI is text-messaging the young Catholics gathered in Australia for World Youth Day (h/t Delana!).  Here’s the message (link here),

Young friends, God & his people expect much from u, because u have within u the Father’s supreme gift: the Spirit of Jesus – BXVI

Any of you getting text-messages from your congregations?  Any of you sending text for updates at your Church?  Hey, if the Pope can do it then we can too, right!?

Who Do You Love?

Monday is the first day of my summer intensive session at Drew University. So, tomorrow morning at 7AM I’ll be flying out of Tulsa for Madison, New Jersey. Since it’s quite a drive to be in Tulsa that early, we came up early to spend the day with the kids and stay the night at a hotel by the airport. We left early, ate at IHOP in Muskogee, went by the “Build-a-Bear” Work$hop for the first time, ate a great lunch, and now we’re in our hotel room after a long swim in the pool. It’s been an awesome day with the people I love.

I just plugged into the free internet connection (cheers to Hilton, jeers to Doubletree Downtown where we stayed for Annual Conference) and checked my Google reader where I came across a really great post.

During college, I worked in a grocery store, where we would work for hours “facing” or “fronting” the store, pulling all the cans and boxes to the front. It was one of my favorite tasks, because It made the store look awesome. Then the people came to shop. Within minutes, the beautiful shelves were destroyed! We always said how great the grocery business would be without the customers

Brant Hansen, over at Letters from Kamp Krusty, has an incredible post on times when this same mindset infiltrates ministry. Take the time to read his entire post; it’s a powerful reminder of how we’re called to love people who are hard to love and not just those who are easy to love, like our families. See, this post really did have some cohesion!

Lived Theodicy

Before you offer up a neatly wrapped and clean answer to someone who is suffering and struggling with some terrible loss, go read Sarah Bickle’s thoughts as she guest-blogs at Real Live Preacher.

Interestingly, my bravest friends, be they Christian pastors or confirmed heathens, have tended to explain the least. Instead, they have quietly anointed us with their kindnesses. They have prepared meals for us in the presence of our bitter enemy. They are holding our hands as we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

May we all remember to explain less and spend more time quietly anointing with kindness.

Liquid and Journey

Just finished up the in-class portion of my latest D.Min. class, The Next Church: Ministry in the New World. It was a pretty interesting class, as we talked about our “notion of Church” and some of the creative new models of Church that are being expressed in response to the cultural shifts we see in our world.

As part of the class, we spoke via speaker-phone with two “practitioners” who are doing some neat things with their congregations: Tim Lucas of Liquid Church in Morristown, NJ and Rick Diamond of Journey IFC in Austin, TX. Both of these guys are leading really interesting and dynamic faith communities, and I would encourage you to check them out. You can be assured I’ll be borrowing ideas from both of these places in the near future!

Great Thoughts on the Appointment Process

Guy M. Williams has some excellent thoughts on appointing pastors missionally over at Gen-X Missional Wesleyan. He really hits on one of the challenges we face as a denomination with an abundance of small rural and small town congregations. Many of the clergy we have aren’t from these congregations. In turn we find,

indigenous leadership of congregations is arguably not happening when “city folk” are sent to smaller-to-medium towns, and vice-versa.

Guy helpfully qualifies that with a tip of the hat to folks who those who realize that being a “native” isn’t necessary to finding a way to be indigenous,

…it is important to acknowledge up front that sometimes persons discover affinities for places that are unlike that in which they grew up. That said, affinity for place is closely related to being “indigenous” in my view.

He makes two important suggestions. First, he argues that we should examine the culture of call in small town and rural congregations,

One element of this would include solving the riddle concerning the relative lack of persons in rural and smaller town areas responding to a call to ordained ministry. Is a “culture of the call” lacking in these places? Is there something about our denomination’s organizational culture that works against this?

He then argues that instead of sending people with an affinity for certain places away from their preferred setting we should look for creative ways for them to live out a missional calling in the places they care most deeply about,

A second element of this would involve a commitment to creative thinking about opportunities for ministry that we are not seizing because we are sending persons with a metro/suburb affinity away. What if they were invested in the place of greatest affinity? We are a shrinking denomination, so surely there are opportunities we would do well to seize in the metro/suburb context?

He then heads off three potential objections:

  1. That he is saying we can only serve in one place or expressing an affinity for that one place is self-serving. Guy suggests it is a reality and we have to deal with it whether we like it or not. I agree
  2. That he is devaluing the rural/small town church. He states that he’s simply dealing with the trajectory our denomination seems to be on, not making a value statement. It didn’t get a devaluing from what he’s written. Instead, I think he’s trying to place increasing value on nurturing the call in people from a variety of backgrounds.
  3. The obvious anecdotal counter-examples of success stories in places people didn’t really want to go. He believes that the existence of these stories are good examples of God’s grace & blessing while being in serious tension with the mass of stories that suggest conflicting values, methods, etc. I think he’s right here too. We can’t devalue either set of stories.

These are terrific questions, and I believe they have to be seriously considered by anyone who has a heart for the United Methodist Church. Even though I really agree with Guy’s thoughts on the importance of indigenous missional leadership and “place,” I have a thought or two I’d like to add. While rural/small town ministry calls for a different set of gifts and graces than suburban/urban ministry, there are still certain intangibles that are essential no matter where you serve. For example, whatever the context, relationships are a central part of pastoral ministry. If someone has trouble developing and maintaining relationships in rural areas or small towns, it probably won’t make a tremendous difference if you put them in a their preferred socio-economic setting.

That reminds me of the story of the man who goes into town and says, “What are the people like here?” The townsfolk reply, “What were they like where you were before?” “Oh they were mean, nasty, and irritable…” “Well, that’s pretty much how they are here.” Later, another person came into the same town asking the same questions, yet her response was, “Oh the people back home were gracious, interesting, and pretty good folks,” to which the same townsfolk replied, “That’s pretty much what you’ll find here.” The small town I grew up in loved that story and told it often.

Finally, if we begin to scratch the surface about the reason things are the way they are, we’ll have to get into serious questions about qualifications and training for ministry. All processes are selective whether we like it or not. The current process for encouraging the call to ministry and the ensuing training is selective as well, and for a variety of reason it seems to primarily be producing people from larger population centers (Yes, I know there are anecdotal counter-examples). If we want to encourage people from more diverse socio-economic backgrounds to think about pastoral ministry, we should do some serious thinking about what it would mean for them to spend 10 years of their life preparing to respond to the call to pastoral ministry. Are there ways we can use technology to train and prepare more indigenous leaders?

Thanks Guy for an interesting post.

Hauerwas for my Homies

My daughter just came in the kitchen to get some chocolate milk for her and “bubby,” so I filled up their sippy-cups and said, “OK, but when you take it to Caleb I want you to say, ‘One for me, and one for my homies!'” She did it, and I laughed. I wasn’t in the living room to see my wife roll her eyes.

The blogging-experts out there seem to have a low opinion of folks who simply link to other people’s good stuff without a lot of commentary, and I sometimes think I do that too much. Yet, nearly every time I run into someone who frequents my blog they comment on me pointing them to things they wouldn’t otherwise stumble across (I use Google Reader, an RSS reader, so it really doesn’t take much time to come across a lot of great things).

So, I’ve come to realize that this is part of what I do through this blog. Anyway, that’s a long way of introducing this really good article by Tony Jones on the “Hauerwasian Mafia.” Trust me, I’ve had a similar journey to him after a good dose of Hauerwas during seminary. I especially loved this small vingette from his larger piece,

Having been persuaded by this thinking while in seminary, my assistant at the church didn’t understand when I went catatonic after checking my voice mail. I had only been on the job as a pastor for a couple months, and I received the offending phone message from the most unlikely source: the mom who was putting on the Cub Scout banquet. That’s right, from the seemingly innocuous mouth of a Den Mother came the Siren’s Call of collaboration with the militaristic state: she wanted me to say the opening prayer at the annual banquet.

In catatonia, I searched my soul. What would I be doing there, if I did accept? Surely, I would be granting the imprimatur of the Deity on the purely secular proceedings that would follow. I had been told in no uncertain terms by the HM that accepting invitations just like these and lending the gloss of religiosity to secular occasions is exactly what has led to the impotency of the American church. The HM angel on my shoulder told me to call the Den Mom back and respectfully decline on the grounds that God wasn’t for sale (or, in this case, for rent along with the church’s Great Hall).

But how could I turn down the Den Mom and several dozen little boys in kerchiefs? Maybe it would be great outreach opportunity, said the devil on my other shoulder. Maybe it would be a sign of hospitality and grace that would entice one of the little Cubs and his family to visit the church for worship. Maybe I’d have a good conversation over dinner with a spiritual “seeker.”

Like Tony, my pragmatic side has nearly always won out over my Hauerwasian bent. So go ahead, get over to Tony’s blog and check out his thoughts.

Organic Community

Yesterday, I bought Joseph R. Myers‘ book, Organic Community: Creating a Place Where People Naturally Connect. In the first chapter, “Synchronized Life: Moving from Master Plan to Organic Order,” Myers discusses the differences between programattic models of prescribing community and organic ways of developing environments in which community emerges. In describing the point of community, he suggests that the end goal is,

…a search for wholeness, not for totalitarian order.

Overall, he seeks to argue that it is important to move from a master plan (eg. the master plan of a city) understanding of building community to an understanding of organic order or an environmental model of allowing community to build and grow naturally.

In the second chapter, he begins to break down the way organizations deal with patterns using a master plan (programmer model) versus organic order (environmentalist model). He argues that the master plan has a bias for a prescriptive approach, whereas the organic order way of thinking favors a descriptive approach.

The prescriptive way of looking at patterns tries to import successful models from other communities wholesale into new settings.

We get into trouble when we think someone else’s model will work exactly as described with our participants, in our communities, in our environments.

On the other hand, descriptive ways of being attempt to pay careful attention to specific local communities.

Perhaps the most helpful comments in this chapter comes in his four “descriptive patterns of belonging. These come from Myers’ study of Edward Hall’s theory of proxemics which proposes four spatial references: public, social personal, and intimate.

  • Public space is the connection people have through an outside influence (i.e. sporting teams, etc.)
  • Social space involves the connection people have by sharing “snapshots” of themselves, the piecemeal sharing of personal narratives (eg. neighbor relationships, personal connections, acquaintances etc.)
  • Personal belonging is the space where we share private experiences, feelings, and thoughts, though not in a completely transparent way (eg. close friends, etc.)
  • Intimate space is the place where we share our most closely held experiences, thoughts, and feelings (eg. mentors, spouses, etc.)

Myers writes,

The four spaces describe an organic order, descriptive pattern for helping people with their search for community. We do not experience belonging in only one or two of these spaces. All four contribute to our health and connectedness. We need connections in all four.

In contrast to some models, the goal is not to prescribe these as essential steps. For example, Myers suggests that small groups might not necessarily be the best place for intimate space, and other groupings might best serve the same role as small groups. In other words, this is by no means a “one-size-fits-all” model that can be imported into any situation. Instead, by creating environments with an awareness of these levels of connection, we can provide opportunities for health and growth. I resonate with this language, and I think he’s hit on some very strong ideas about building community in the context in which we live.

However, I do have a few questions about Myers thoughts on this. First, as good Wesleyans, we have a strong heritage of prescriptive groupings. How would we reconcile Myers’ more descriptive environmentalist model with Wesley’s prescriptive progressive model of discipleship (Kevin, are you out there)? Second, how would we encourage people to do things that aren’t necessarily “natural” (eg. love their enemies, serve the poor, etc.) in order to grow spiritually? I like Myers ideas, but I think we’ll have to wrestle more with how we can encourage discipleship through a fully organic model.

Joel Osteen’s Typical Week

This is from an interview on southernillinoisan.com where they asked Joel Osteen (who I still think looks like Orel Hershisher) what a typical week in his life is like (h/t MMI)

Mondays and Tuesdays I try to take off. Wednesdays I read and study and pray. I have a stack of notes for potential sermons. I get a theme, and once I feel good about a simple thought, I read and find stories on that. I get up real early and write my sermon on Thursdays. Fridays I finish writing it and take three hours to go over it. I really get it down in me. Saturday I study it for several hours and finish getting it down in me. I have a real good memory. I rest Saturday afternoon before the Saturday night service, and I also preach two Sunday morning services. Sunday afternoon I edit the sermon for the television broadcast. I’m just used to doing that. That’s how I started.

Control or Commitment in the UMC

In my last post, I reflected on some of Jim Collins’ insights from his chapter in Leading Beyond the Walls: How High Performing Organizations Collaborate for Shared Success. Jim’s chapter is the best in the book, so it merits another post (don’t buy the book on this basis, by the way – just read his chapter in the store).

He begins his second point with these words,

…executives must build mechanisms of connection and commitment rooted in freedom of choice, rather than relying on systems of coercion and control.

Think about United Methodism (and most organizations for that matter). Do we rely on connection and commitment rooted in freedom of choice or do we rely on systems of coercion and control? From administration to evangelism, I’m afraid that we often rely on the latter. Jim describes his high-powered research team and talks about the way he recruits people for that team,

…as a precursor to all our mechanisms of commitment and connection, each person invited to join the team receives a written and verbal orientation on team values, purpose, and performance standards and is asked to join only if he or she can commit to those principles. Before joining, each person is told, “If you have any doubt about whether this is the right place for you, then it is in our mutual interest that you decline this opportunity.

I don’t know about you, but this kind of rigorous introduction to the values and purpose of the organization reminds me of the old Christian catechism. Is it sad that becoming a member of Jim’s research team is more stringent and commitment laden than becoming a member of some of our churches?

It goes back to the basics here. If you don’t have team values, purpose, and performance standards, you can’t present them to people, and you sure can’t ask for commitment. Can you imagine having a clear, confident, and concise statement like that defining the mission of your local church? You could hand this to new visitors and say, “Here’s what we’re about, and everyone here is committed to it. If you have any doubt, it is in our mutual interest that you decline this opportunity.” Talk about true connectionalism!! This could be the same for clergy. Our connection could be in our adherence and commitment to core principles rather than in bureaucratic structures.

People often ask, “How do we get individuals to share our core values?” The answer is, “You can’t.” You can’t open somebody up and install new core values in his or her belly. The key is to find, attract, and select people who have a predisposition to sharing the core values, and to create an environment that consistently reinforces those core values, buttressing it with mechanisms of connection and commitment.

Interestingly, the predisposition can really be linked to the Christian concept of calling. I don’t twist arms to get people to join our congregation. My thoughts are that if they see what we’re doing and want to be a part of it, then they are welcome to invest their lives in our congregation and live our their faith in our community. If you have to be coerced, you won’t be committed.

Of course, God is the one who does all the calling and attracting. Once we have a little more faith in that, we can define and develop our core values more clearly.  Then we won’t have to rely so much on mechanisms of power and coercion. Only then can we describe and develop mechanisms of true commitment and true connection.

Jim write, “The minute you feel the need to control and mold someone, you’ve made a selection mistake.” We’ve been so vague about what people are committing to that we have to develop more stringent control methods and we end up arguing and spending valuable time working on power structures. On the other hand, a core of people committed to Christ, called by God, and enlivened by the Spirit will be thoroughly committed to the ongoing mission of the Church. Control and manipulation would just stunt the vibrant stuff that would come out of these folks, be they clergy or laity.

There’s a lot more I could say on this, but I don’t want to short-circuit the ideas that you’re coming up with. What are our core values? Once we articulate those, what mechanisms of connection and commitment could we implement to replace our mechanisms of power and control? Can the United Methodist Church survive thrive using a model that went out the window with cassette tapes and VHS? What do you think?