Leading in liminality

13 02 2009

canyouheargodnowWhat is needed from spiritual leaders during this time of uncertainty?  I keep bumping into what I think are a few keys to answering that question.  One of those keys is spiritual discernment – finding out what God is doing in our church and community.

I thought Ruth Haley Barton did an excellent job of articulating this critical leadership role in her article titled “Can You Hear God Now” that was published in the Summer 2008 issue of Leadership Journal.

Following are a few highlights from her article:

  • “At the heart of spiritual leadership is discernment-the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and activity of God both personally and in community.
  • …discernment does not take place in a vacuum, nor by accident. Spiritual community is the context for discernment, so the first move in cultivating a culture of discernment is to establish the leadership group as a community for discernment.
  • Discernment requires us to move beyond our reliance on cognition and intellectual hard work to a place of deep listening and response to the Spirit of God within and among us.
  • Seeking discernment with others at the leadership level requires an extraordinary amount of safety in each other’s presence, along with great clarity about what values govern the process… We cannot just assume these values. We must talk about them and seek to live them with great vigor and intent.
  • The discernment process requires a commitment to listen on many levels.
  • …discernment is not the endgame. The endgame is to actually do the will of God.




Getting real about where we are at

10 02 2009

The loss so many of us have suffered (directly or indirectly) as a result of the dramatic downturn in our economy has been both very real and very painful. As a result there has been a contraction that is not only felt in the economy but in our ability to see the magnificent opportunity we have at such a time like this. We know the facts: 1) God is good – He cares about me and my family; 2) Our relationship with Christ is strengthened during times of suffering; 3) There are others with greater needs then us; 4) The gospel is for exactly such a time as this; and 5) We are the ones blessed and now called to bring Christ’s redemption to those around us.

What we don’t know so well (because so many of us have never experienced times like this before) is the opportunity. What if the vision to build bridges to our community was for such a time as this? What if that vision was manifest primarily by reaching people in real need? What if living that vision started now – completely disassociated with any relocation plans? What if we trusted God with our future and focused on the needs at hand?

Some of us have answers to these questions: 1) It’s not that bad in Tallahassee; 2) Give it a year or two and things will be getting back to normal; 3) We are already serving the community – look at what OFS does each week.

Let’s say for argument these answers prove to be true – can we say we have acted like Christ by just maintaining the status quo? What if it takes five years to “get back to normal?” What if things get worse?

Here’s a course of action that needs our serious consideration (pertaining to Wildwood Church):

1) Admit that the relocation project is stalled.
2) Admit that leadership has been detached from one another and in disunity for some time and that only recently have steps begun to correct this problem.
3) Admit that our finances are in decline – presumptively because of the economy.
4) Admit that we are not sure when we will move forward with relocation plans but to do so now would be not only imprudent but an unethical use of resources with the increasing needs in our church and community due to the state of the economy.
5) Offer to return funds to people who gave to the relocation project who are experiencing financial hardship or who are dissatisfied with the lack of progress with the relocation plans.
6) Get permission to use the funds given to the relocation project to meet extraordinary needs of individuals and families in our community who have been affected by the economy.
7) Implement a church-wide collaborative form of communication to identify those extraordinary needs and solutions for those needs.

Risky? Without a doubt. What if people take us up on the offer to get their relocation contributions back and we give the rest away to people with extraordinary needs (and we do all that with a diminishing general fund)? But then think about the risk if we don’t act. What value is a vision to reach our community that we largely ignored during a time of crisis?

Perhaps it is premature to sound the alarm – perhaps this recession will not get much worse and be over sooner than expected. I am not a pessimist by nature but these are truly uncertain times – we have never tried to come out of a recession when the rest of the world was in it with us and the financial system had experienced such widespread failure.

No one knows the rules of how this game gets played out. Hoping for a soft landing and a speedy recovery is not a bad thing but I also don’t think it is a bad thing to discern what God would have us be about. Could it be that these uncertain times are the very windows of opportunity to advance God’s kingdom in our community? I think that this may be the real – the reality of what God is up to – that we need to be about.





Missional leadership

26 01 2009

missionalleader

Alan Roxburgh is leading a series of webinars that coordinate with his book The Missional Leader.  The book is an excellent resource providing some very practical guidance for leaders in post-Christendom.  Christianity Today reviewed the book shortly after it was published in 2006.  The following comments are from that review: 

“The book first describes this new term ‘missional.’ Leaders no longer view themselves as heads of a hierarchy, and church members no longer look only to the “professional” Christians to get the job done of reaching and caring for their communities. Missional leaders are more interested in cultivating community than controlling outcomes through programs and buildings. Such congregations are beginning to breathe in the same air and dream incredible dreams because they are learning to allow God’s Word and his Spirit to lead them rather than agendas, budgets, and traditions. People who would never have dreamed of taking leadership roles are discovering purpose in the community of believers.

“Essentially, in this model, the leader is a facilitator skilled at bringing out the deeper issues among the community. Rather than providing solutions, he asks good questions and embraces, rather than resolves, tension. The missional leader seeks to cultivate the congregation’s imaginative power rather than attempting to shape it into a pre-determined form.

“…For all its idealism, The Missional Leader paints a realistic picture at least of what life could look like among churches willing to enter the chaos and make lasting change little by little.”

Early last year Chad Hall illustrated how The Missional Leader was “playing out” in several churches in a Leadership Journal article (pdf available here).  

webinars_350x225The webinars Alan Roxburgh is hosting are available here.  The next one is scheduled for February 16.  The first webinar was recorded and recently made available to the participants – I’ve posted it below (the Powerpoint can be accessed and printed from here):





New leadership skill set

29 12 2008

The vast majority of leaders surveyed by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) agreed that the definition of leadership has changed in the last 5 years.  This survey was the central part of a 2003 international study designed to forcast trends in the field of leadership.

The results of the study were published in 2007 in a report titled The Changing Nature of Leadership. One of the researchers, Andre Martin, comments that “[t]he most striking difference between the skills that were deemed most important in 2002 and those considered to be vital in the future is a new emphasis on skills that are tied to relationships and inter-connectedness. The new leadership skill set emphasizes participative management, building and mending relationships and change management.”

The research concludes  that leadership will continue to shift over the next 5 years. The leadership skills that are expected to move to the highest priority are leading in ways that focus on flexibility, collaboration and crossing boundaries. Leaders with the capacity to build relationships, collaborate and effectively lead change will be critical to the long-term success of organizations.

Chuck Warnock correlated this report to the church with the following observations:

1) 21st century challenges require adaptive, not technical, changes. Adaptive changes are systemic, and require new solutions that we may not have thought of yet. Technical changes are improvements or adjustments to strategies we already know. Sunday School might be a good example. Does Sunday School need an overhaul (technical change) or is there a better strategy for teaching the Bible in the 21st century than “classes” on Sunday morning (adaptive change).
2) Develop a new skill set for leading. Participation, building/maintaining relationships and change management replace the old skill set of resourcefulness, decisiveness (“lone-ranger decision-making”) and doing whatever it takes.
3) Reward teamwork, collaboration and innovation. Collaborative, participatory teamwork emerges as the preferred strategy of the future and successful leadership will reward shared team efforts.

 





Leadership is spatial

18 12 2008

“The primary work of leadership is to continually stand in the place (space) where it is compelled to ask the question of what God is about among this group of people who comprise this local church in this specific context at this particular time.”

-Alan Roxburgh





Thinking logically about leadership

13 12 2008

Logical thinkers love linkages – and cause and effect linkages are particularly satisfying.  Of course not all cause and effects are cleanly linked so we often go with corollaries to allow for some slippage.  Much of this blog has focused on leadership and leaders but not much has been said about non-leaders (perhaps a bit elitist?).  Well here’s a post that includes the non-leaders – specifically how leaders effect non-leaders.

I recently read a paper titled Leadership in the New Testament (2007) by Len Hjalmarson, a DMin student at Trinity Western Seminary.  If you read this blog more than occasionally Len will be familiar to you – he has an excellent blog – nextreformation.com – that I read regularly and have quoted from on earlier posts. I was struck by a correlation he drew between practices of the modern church and the effect on believers in such churches.  As leaders we are often frustrated with why so few people serve in the local church – I think the corollary Len presents in his paper helps paint the cause and effect picture explaining that frustration:

The modern church generally is (“cause”):

  • Leader centered
  • Program driven
  • Dualistic
  • Isolationist
  • Consumer driven
  • Seeker sensitive
  • Information oriented
  • Attractional

As a result, believers in the modern church tend to be (“effect”):

  • Passive
  • Self-centered
  • Undisciplined
  • Individualistic
  • Un-Christ like

Staying with the logical framework one would conclude a different and more desirable “effect” could be achieved if the “cause” part of the equation adjusted.  Len states that the church needs to become:

  • De-centered
  • Leaderful
  • Formational
  • Covenanted community
  • Missionally engaged

To make these changes leaders need to embrace paradox, admit how little we know, and be prepared to grieve the loss of the old world along with the identity we personally invested in those places and ways.  To do this we need nothing less than divine intervention and conversion. We can’t merely graft a new theory of formation onto an old root; we need a new tree. We are dealing with believers that don’t even see the need for spiritual formation.

More specifically, leaders need to get better at:

  • Supporting self-organizing activities
  • Creating conditions rather than giving directions
  • Moving from an activist stance to a reflective stance
  • Focusing on conversations that lead to clarity of purpose
  • Creating a learning culture by encouraging continual questioning
  • Rewarding innovation
  • Facilitating connections
  • Calling people together often so that everyone gains clarity about who we are, who we’ve just become and who we are becoming (by doing this leaders don’t have to undertake the task of trying to hold it all together)




Nobody in charge

20 11 2008

harlanclevelandlLife is theatrical – both in the sense of being the actor/actress (leader) and the audience (learner). A well lived life arrives at a good balance between these two roles. When the balance is off, however, we veer off the road into one of the ditches – the ditch of just observing life go by or the ditch of leading without an astute understanding of context.

Harlan Cleveland lived a well lived life and lived it at broadway theatres (I think I’m living mine at a high school musical – and I don’t mean High School Musical). Harlan Cleveland passed away this summer at the age of 90. After reading his obituary Charles Hoffacker wrote: “I felt as though I was standing beside a theatre entrance as a jubuliant audience flooded out onto the sidewalk: I had missed a remarkable show.”

Cleveland’s authored a dozen books including Nobody in Charge: Essays on the Future of Leadership (© 2002). In this book he tells of how over the decades he reworked and refined a list of leadership attitudes essential to what he called “a generalist mindset . . . indispensible to the management of complexity.” Here are the eight attitudes he came to recognize through experience and reflection:

1) A lively intellectual curiosity; an interest in almost everything – because everything really is related to everything else, and therefore to what you’re trying to do, whatever it is.

2) A genuine interest in what other people think and why they think that way – which means you have to be at peace with yourself for a start.

3) A feeling of special responsibility for envisioning an alternate future – a future that’s different from a straight-line projection of the present.

4) A hunch that most risks are there not to be avoided but to be taken.

5) A mindset that crises are normal, tensions can be promising and complexity is fun.

6) A realization that paranoia and self-pity are reserved for people who don’t want to lead.

7) A sense of personal responsibility for the general outcome of your effort.

8) “Unwarranted optimism” and a love for innovation – the conviction that there must be some more upbeat outcome than would result from adding up all the available expert advice.