Tuesday, October 16, 2018

What are Your Blind Spots?: A Review


Jim Hudan and Rich Berens have provided a helpful book for organizations based on the best recent research on organizational development.  They challenge those leaders who think everything is working smoothly when there is much that can be done to improve the functionality and health of their organizations.

The writers identify five leadership “blind spots”:

  1. Purpose matters, but it doesn’t drive our numbers.
  2. We have a compelling story to tell that our people care about.
  3. Rational and logical presentations engage the hearts and minds of our people.
  4. People will not do the right thing unless you tell them what to do and hold them accountable to do it.
  5. My people feel safe telling me what they think and feel.


These common misconceptions hinder both organizational health and productivity.  The common factor in all of the blind spots has to do with the people--the employees--who actually accomplish the work.  Hudan and Berens challenge leaders to wake up and realize that most of what they understand and practice about leading and supervising is wrong.  

The purpose of the book is not only to challenge these misconceptions but to provide, in a brief easily understood way, a process for change.

In many ways, the book is a “cook book” on how to initiate, implement, and sustain a new way to working with everyone in the organization.  The authors have provided a very practical, research-based, but user-friendly approach to organizational change.



Monday, October 15, 2018

Laying the Foundation for a Visioning Process

Although the term “strategic planning” is still a key emphasis for most businesses and organizations, I have found more churches embracing the idea of “visioning” -- defining a path forward but one that is responsive to the role of the Spirt in its execution.

Several things are necessary for a successful visioning process.  Let me identify four essentials.

First, spiritual and relational preparation.  If we are doing God’s work, a good beginning point is calling people closer to God. Through prayer, Bible study, and sharing, the disciples in a congregation come to understand that God speaks in many ways, including the experience and learning of fellow parishioners. Forty Days of Prayer:  Preparing Ourselves for God’s Calling by Mark Tidsworth is a good resource for this preparation.

Second, assemble a team. The pastor and the ministerial staff should not do this by themselves.  The vision is not handed down from “on high” but arises from the people. A strong team should be inclusive (men and women), multi-generational, and diverse in experience and service. Although long-term parishioners bring wisdom to the process, newcomers bring a fresh perspective.  I have found it helpful to include some persons who are relatively new to the church but have already shown a high level of commitment.

Third, involve those in the church in real conversations.  Alan Roxburgh writes that “the Spirit of God is among the people of God.”  The Spirit speaks most often through face-to-face conversations rather than surveys.  Surveys have their place in obtaining information, but transformation comes through dialogue among people in small groups.

Fourth, engage with your larger community.  Visioning should not be done in a vacuum.  In church planning, we tend to talk among ourselves rather than engaging in conversation with our neighbors and fellow citizens.  What is God doing outside the walls of our congregation? How should we be involved?

If you are interested in learning more about visioning, feel free to contact me at ircelharrison@gmail.com or check out the Pinnacle Leadership Associates website.








Friday, October 12, 2018

Are You Ready for Your Ministry Job Interview?

In a recent Fast Company article, Stephanie Vozza suggested ways that a person in a job interview should answer the question, “What are your strengths?”  The answers she provided are good and apply also to those who plan to practice ministry in the 21st century.

First, “I am a good problem solver.”  The church today has plenty of problems, although I would prefer to call them challenges.  Most churches have limited resources and unlimited opportunities.  Despite diminishing numbers, aging congregants, and declining financial resources, most churches are located right in the middle of multiple ministry opportunities.

Leaders are needed who can identify those opportunities, bring both parishioners and community members together to address them, and leverage the resources available to pursue a path forward.  This means that ministry leaders need skills in asset-based community development, appreciative inquiry, human-centered design, and other processes to engage people in developing and implementing solutions.

Second, “I am a good communicator.” Attending a recent conference, I heard a speaker say, “Most of you are not here to receive information but inspiration.”  Good communicators go beyond providing information clearly to inspiring people to action.  They are in touch with the reality of their church’s situation and challenge people to come along with them to address that reality in a proactive way.  They use personal experience, scripture, stories, and media to do this.

Third, “I have strong time management skills.”  Since more is being demanded of our ministry leaders, they need to set clear boundaries and make good use of their time. Each of us must acknowledge our needs and our limitations.  If we do not nourish our spiritual and relational lives, we will fail as leaders and as human beings.  We must also use all of the tools at our disposal to be effective time managers.  Your smartphone can be your friend if you use it properly.

Fourth, “I am very determined.”  A leader should have a clear understanding of his or her calling from God.  You need a clear vision for your life.  Although you may not know the exact path that you will follow to achieve that vision, you need a realistic understanding of your gifts, skills, and inherent strengths.  This will help you stay the course.

Fifth, “I am honest.” Our society needs people of integrity, those who are consistent in what they say and what they do.  It is a bit sad that we see integrity is a gift rather than a given!  This gift of honesty and integrity also applies to this list.  If you don’t have these skills, be truthful about your shortcomings and then get to work on developing them.






Thursday, October 11, 2018

Coaching and Counseling: What’s the Difference?


Since many people are still not familiar with the coaching process, I usually begin the first session with a client giving a quick overview including the fact that the process is client-centered, conversations are confidential, and coaching is not counseling.  Therapy or counseling is very important and sometimes a person is not only being coaching around growth issues but he or she may also be seeing a counselor for deeper personal concerns.

The diagram from a coaching organization gives some clarity about the differences between coaching (or “life coaching”) and counseling (or “therapy”) as well as areas of commonality.

Here is what coaches do:

  • Coaches do not represent themselves as therapists.  Their work with the client is future oriented and does not deal with issues such as grief, anger, and loss.  
  • Coaches not only seek but need the client’s cooperation in order for the coaching relationship to be productive for the client. 
  • Coaches engage in active listening, not only listening TO the client, but listening FOR feelings, ideas, or possibilities that will aid the client in achieving the goals he or she has chosen.


On the other hand, therapists have these distinctives:

  • Therapists clearly represent themselves as trained and licensed professionals.  They are prepared to help the client address deep emotional issues.
  • Therapists have at least a Master’s degree and may have a Ph.D. or Doctor of Psychology degree. They have also gone through a lengthy credentialing process.
  • Therapists sometimes are required to treat patients even without their cooperation.  This may be due to a requirement or mandate from an outside party or organization.


The two professions hold these competencies in common:

  • Both need to build trust and rapport with their clients in order to be effective.
  • Both need good communications skills, asking good questions and listening carefully to the responses of the client.


Although a good coach does not have the level of training of a therapist, he or she is a professional and has sought out the training and practice to be effective and ethical.  If someone is seeking a coach, I recommend they ask about training, certification, and experience.  Don’t settle for less than the best!

Coaches recognize their limits and refer clients to therapists as needed.  Increasingly, many counselors see the value in coaching, making referrals to certified coaches.  Some therapists are even adding coach training to their portfolios and adding this as a separate practice.

In the best-case scenario, counselors and coaches can come to see themselves as partners in helping people.  Each has a positive role in people development.















Monday, October 08, 2018

The Eyes of Faith


In his book, The Eagle has Landed, Jeffery K. Smith writes:

“Robert Hutchings Goddard, born on October 5, 1882, is widely regarded as America’s first true rocket scientist.   A native of Massachusetts, Goddard was educated at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and later taught physics at Clark University.

“The New Englander’s passion for rocketry began during his childhood and eventually became his life’s work.  At the age of 27, Goddard published A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes, which hypothesized that a rocket launched from Earth could reach the Moon.  Like many visionaries, the young rocketeer encountered numerous skeptics.  In January of 1920, the New York Times harshly criticized Goddard’s theory that rockets could be utilized for space exploration: ‘He seems only to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.’  Forty-nine years later, as Apollo 11 raced to the Moon, the famed newspaper published a retraction to its article criticizing Goddard.” 

Goddard was not only an “early adapter,” he was an innovator wo understood that a very simple idea might have far reaching implications.  Innovators like Goddard are often far ahead of anyone else.  The see answers for needs that may not have been clearly articulated yet.  They see things that others miss. 

In a recent webinar, my Pinnacle colleague David Brown talked about “holy experiments,” small innovations that my blossom into vibrant ministries.  The interesting thing about holy experiments is that they often emerge on the periphery of what we are doing now.

Like something that appears in our peripheral vision but is not there when we turn our head, opportunities for holy experiments are often seen only with the eyes of faith.  We know that there is something there, but we just can’t quite put our finger on it, then suddenly all is clear, and we see what must be done.

I tend to think that this is how the Kingdom of God emerges.  Jesus said, “For, in fact, the kingdom of God is [already] among you.”  (Luke 17:21, NRSV) The opportunity is there but it will only be seen when the Spirit reveals its presence to those with the eyes of faith.


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Putting on Our Christian Clothes

When one of our grandchildren was in Kindergarten, he attended a private Christian school.  He loved the school and even enjoyed wearing the uniform required of all students.  We would pick him up sometimes, and his mother always provided clothes for him to change into so that he could keep his school clothes clean. One day, we did not have a change of clothes and he said, “I really need to change out of my Christian clothes.”

I admired his desire to keep his uniform clean, but this caused me to think about the way that many of us experience Christian discipleship.  We tend to think of discipleship has only impacting certain parts of our lives, so we can put on and take on Christian living at will.  

I have been in conversations with adults, even church leaders, who have a very limited view of discipleship.  When they use the term “discipleship,” they are thinking of Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, and evangelism.  They concentrate on this practices that are clearly “Christian” in nature.  They fail to see that discipleship encompasses all that a believer does.

The ways that we use our finances, do our secular work, relate to our families, and spend our leisure time are all impacted by the fact that we are Christian disciples.  We don’t put on and take off discipleship, but we wear it all the time.

Another way to think of this is that being a discipleship is not a job, it is a lifestyle.  We are not “on the clock” when it comes to following Christ.  He is part of lives when we get up in the morning, during the day, and when we lay down at night.

We wear our “Christian clothes” all the time.  This means that they may get a bit dirty in the experiences of life, but Jesus expected that to happen.  Being a disciple is not a nine to five responsibility; it is 24/7.

Monday, September 24, 2018

My Involvement in Theological Education: An Unexpected Journey

Ircel Harrison, Molly Marshall, and Rita Harrison at 2018
 commencement in Shawnee, KS
Thanks to the reminder from LinkedIn, friends started sending me congratulations on my work anniversary last week.  I had to think for a few minutes but realized that these messages were in connection with my tenure at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.

In 2004, I was serving as the coordinator of the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  Mike Smith, my pastor at First Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, and I began talking about the challenges of theological education for those who were called to ministry but had families, jobs, and were already serving churches. They couldn’t easily pull up roots and go elsewhere. He mentioned specifically Beth Duke, someone I knew but he was more aware of her desire for a theological degree. She certainly fit the profile. She was a nurse at Southern Hills in Nashville, living in Smithville, Tennessee, where her husband had an established practice as a dentist, and had two grown kids living nearby.  She was called to ministry, but her options were limited.

The challenge was, “How do you provide accessible, affordable, quality seminary education for someone like Mary Beth?”

I contacted several seminary presidents that I knew, but their response was, “We don’t do that kind of thing.”  I was still looking for possibilities when I saw Connie McNeill at a CBF General Assembly. I knew Connie from campus ministry days when she worked in Missouri. She was then serving as Vice President for Internal Development at Central.  She suggested that I talk with President Molly Marshall. We had a good initial conversation.

Mike and I had been thinking about offering a few courses locally with the idea that a student would have to do some of their work on campus in Kansas, but Molly responded by e-mail that she thought the seminary could offer an entire accredited degree program in Tennessee.  I think there were times that she regretted sending that e-mail, but it showed clearly her visionary approach to theological education.  She stuck with us through some difficult days.

We launched in September 2005 with First Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, as host church.  The first two classes were Hebrew Bible I, taught by Laura Moore from the Shawnee campus, and Christian Heritage I, taught by Mike Smith, the host pastor.  I served as volunteer site director.

Much has happened since then.  I was asked to teach some classes and then became part-time site coordinator upon my retirement from the state CBF organization.  The site was moved to Nashville in 2012 and Dr. Sally Holt became our site coordinator.  TCBF, under the leadership of interim coordinator Don Dixon and coordinators Terry Maples and Rick Bennett has continued to support the work.

We have had our challenges, but we have also had our successes:

  • Many students have been exposed to theological education, even if some who never completed their degrees;
  • We have offered lifelong learning for over 20 adults;
  • We became a full-degree granting site in June 2011; 
  • We have been inclusive, ecumenical, and egalitarian;
  • We have graduated 14 students with the Master of Divinity degree;
  • And Mary Beth Dunbar-Duke was our first graduate in 2009 and is now an ordained minister and a full-time chaplain at Vanderbilt University.


After completing my work as site coordinator, I was asked to teach in Nashville, teach online classes, and serve as interim director of the Doctor of Ministry program.  The opportunity to develop deeper relationships with colleagues in Shawnee and the other satellite locations as well as students around the world has been remarkable.

There have been major changes over the time I have been affiliated with the seminary.  Curriculum for the Master of Divinity has changed with all classes now being offered in a synchronous, online format.  The curriculum for the Doctor of Ministry degree was redesigned.  The Nashville site became home to the Women’s Leadership Initiative which recently launched its third cohort.

The opportunity to work in theological education has been a blessing but it has also been exciting to be part of the creative and fluid approaches to theological formation led by Robert Johnson, Provost and Dean of the Faculty.  Central continues to be on the cutting edge of seminary education.  I have enjoying being a part of that innovative community.

(Based on remarks to the Women Leadership Initiative cohorts on September 7, 2018, in Nashville.)