Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Avoiding Tragedy

In his new book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the tragic accidents that marred the record of Korean Air in the 1980s and 1990s. He writes, “The kinds of errors that cause plane crashes are invariably errors of teamwork and communication.” Both of these are skills required if a ministry entrepreneur in the 21st century is to avoid crashing and burning!

Until a few years ago, a good communicator was one who could present his or her message effectively in writing and/or verbally. In some instances, a person who could communicate effectively though the visual arts might be considered a good communicator, but more often when we talked about communication, we emphasized the ability of a person to put together clear, cogent sentences that would stir, convict, educate, or persuade one’s audience.

In the 21st century, a good communicator must not only be able to use verbal, written, and visuals skills to communicate, but he or she must also be able to make good use of digital communications. Having good writing skills helps in being a good digital communicator, but it is not mandatory! Web pages, blogs, e-mail, and social networking utilities are just a few of the technologies available to ministry entrepreneurs. These tools offer an immediacy and intimacy that were lacking in older forms of communication.

You might question the importance of a ministry entrepreneur having team-building skills. Aren’t entrepreneurs single-minded, driven individuals who have a vision and then work to fulfill it without others being involved? Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, is cited as an example of an entrepreneur who was a great visionary but not a team player. At one point, he was replaced as CEO of Apple because he was not considered an effective leader for the corporation. Of course, he was later invited back to save the company. In the process, Jobs also learned that he needed others to accomplish his vision.

I would argue that ministry entrepreneurs need team-building skills for two reasons—theological and practical. First, our theology is based not only the call of the individual to serve God but the role of community in calling out and supporting individuals as they serve God. We need a community in order to do ministry effectively. Second, even though a ministry entrepreneur is usually a gifted individual, his or her gifts are often limited to certain areas. Steve Jobs is a visionary and creative person, but he needs people around him who can make his visions reality. (See Warren Bennis, Organizing Genius, for examples of how great teams are created.) A ministry entrepreneur not only knows his or her gifts but his or her personal limitations as well. Ministry entrepreneurs need a team or community both to accomplish the task and to call for accountability.

Korea Air solved its problems by tweaking the corporate culture so that flight crews learned to communicate more effectively and to work as a team. Effective ministry entrepreneurs can avoid difficulty with the proper teamwork and communications skills.

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