Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Leading and Managing

Seth Godin does good work.  Not only does he provide alternatives to old ways of doing things, he reminds us not to neglect proven concepts.  In a recent blog post, he wrote about the differences between managers and leaders.  He said:

“Managers work to get their employees to do what they did yesterday, but a little faster and a little cheaper.  Leaders, on the other hand, know where they'd like to go, but understand that they can't get there without their tribe, without giving those they lead the tools to make something happen.  Managers want authority. Leaders take responsibility.”

Godin goes on to point out that we need both managers and leaders, but he shows his bias when he says, “It helps to remember that leaders are scarce and thus more valuable.”

Although I understand his sentiment, I have to disagree.  I would say that both are valuable, but only if they understand their respective roles and both accept the responsibilities that go with those roles.  Certainly we need visionary leaders who will move us to the next level, but leaders are only leaders if they have followers.  These followers must be encouraged, nurtured, and empowered.  Not only must they be given the tools they need to do the work, but they must also have the freedom to use them. 

We have many examples in the Bible of leaders who prospered for awhile but then lost their “edge” because they forgot what made them leaders.  David was blessed by God and energized the people of Israel, but his hubris led to poor moral choices that undermined his leadership. 

Managers have the gifts to make things run smoothly.  They know how to use resources wisely and make sure everyone knows what they need to do.  The Achilles heel of the manager can be the inability to adapt to changing conditions.  Once the structure or organization is in place, they are not inclined to change it.

Managers are akin to the “stewards” we read about in Scripture.  They had a great deal of responsibility and often ran large estates for their masters, but they had to remember their place and that their role in the economy was limited.

The bottom line is that we need both. Many great leaders have fallen because they were not able to turn the vision into a workable system.  Many competent managers have driven the organization into the ground because they had limited vision.  Leaders and managers need each other.  Together they move organizations forward.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Some Assembly Required

As parents who have faced the task of putting together a toy on Christmas Eve can attest, “some assembly required” is an understatement.  The job usually takes much longer and produces more sweat and frustration that we expect.  My friend David Cates used this illustration in his sermon yesterday, challenging us to the task of “being builders.”

David’s sermon and illustration got me to thinking about the fact that all of us have the opportunity to build something—a life, a family, a church.  Often we have the chance to do all three.  As we do so, we discover that there are both internal and external aspects to building.

Internally, we have to do the hard work of clarifying our purpose in life—as a person, a family, or a church. This comes as a result of knowing our values, discovering our strengths, and then setting our course.  As we do the hard internal work, we achieve external results.

At the same time, there are external concerns we must address.  We are part of a community, and we must determine how that community can either help or hinder our progress in building.  We are impacted by our culture and exegete it to find resources to help in our task.  Finally, we count the cost and make adequate plans to “pay the price” needed to build a life, a family, or a church.

As David observed, “As we practice building, we get better at it.”  What are you building?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Reconceptualization not Reorganization

In response to my recent blog post on the way forward for Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a friend suggested that I was dealing with reorganization of the national entity.  Actually, I am suggesting not reorganization but reconceptualization.  Whenever a new leader comes on board, the first step usually taken is to reorganize.  Reorganization gives the impression that things are being changed and thus improved. Wrong!  Too often this is just rearranging the various parts without addressing basic values, strategies and systems.  The same thinking provides the same kind of results.  New thinking presents new results.

If the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is not only to survive but prosper, it is time to go back to the drawing board and identify the values, strategies and systems that define a missional judicatory.  For the last two decades, CBF has attempted to gain credibility with churches and other denominations by doing the things that a denomination is “supposed to do”—send missionaries, endorse chaplains, support theological education, develop a retirement program, and provide Christian education resources to churches.  I applaud the efforts that CBF has taken in recent years to work with churches so that they might become missional and to identify new strategies to further that goal, but it is not enough.

Let me suggest five things that a 21st judicatory needs to do to be truly missional.

First, it will perform a pathfinding function.  Someone needs to be out there on the cutting edge finding new ways forward, cutting new trails, and discovering what has been hidden.  This is the research and development function that should be part of every church and judicatory that hopes to be around in a decade.

Second, a 21st century judicatory will do the hard work of aligning entities—churches, individuals, NGOs—in order to accomplish a common goal.  I believe that this is what Rob Nash presented in his address to the 2011 General Assembly in Tampa:  “These field personnel tonight are being called out of networks focused on particular ministry in particular parts of the world as much as they are being called by CBF or they are creating those networks in order to do this thing to which God has called them.”  Alignment is tough, dirty, grassroots work but it pays off.

Third,   21st century judicatories will be empowering entities.  They will be “open source” organizations, encouraging all parts of the entity to create vital and innovative ways to solve problems.  They will identify the lowest common denominators necessary for cooperation and then get out of the way.  This is the approach that Dee Hock fostered in creating the VISA organization and that he explains in Birth of the Chaordic Age and One from Many: VISA and the Rise of the Chaordic Organization.   A few common principles and processes unite a diverse, worldwide financial service.

Fourth, 21st century judicatories will expect its leaders to be coaches.  They will not have the answers, but they will help others to find the answers they need.  There are tremendous resources in every congregation that can be nurtured to full bloom with the right kind of encouragement, but it takes patience and humility.

Fifth, although the term has become a cliché, networking will be an essential part of the 21st century judicatory.  Whether these are oriented toward missionary-sending, resource development, theological education or a multitude of other activities, networks will be the engines of goal achievement in the future.  This is an area where the current CBF organization has shown great success.

These comments are not meant so much as a critique of the current situation as they are an encouragement to seize the opportunities that lay before us.  These words from Jeremiah seem appropriate to our situation:  “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”  (Jeremiah 29:11)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Where Have All the Leaders Gone?

In a recent Harvard Business Review blog post, Ron Ashkenas asked the question, “Where have all the leaders gone?”  Admitting some nostalgia for the past, he nevertheless points out the low confidence ratings for the President, Congress, corporate leaders, and leaders in most segments of society.  He goes on to comment on the  large sums spent in recent decades on leadership development programs and wonders if we are getting our money’s worth.


Ashkenas suggests two possible reasons for the growing perception of leader ineffectiveness.  Both may have implications for church leaders as well.


First, he suggests that “the velocity and volume of issues that leaders are confronted with today has increased substantially.”  Leaders have always faced problems and change, but both seem to come more rapidly today with increased means of communication, short attention spans, a desire for “quick fixes,” and a growing consumer mentality even in the churches.  There is little time for reflection and analysis about one issue before the leader is forced to move to another issue.  This is especially tragic for the leader of a religious entity who needs to reflect on biblical and theological principles in making decisions. 


May I suggest some responses to this situation?  For one thing, a leader must learn to delegate.  There are capable and informed people in the church—both clergy and laity—who may be better equipped to deal with certain issues.  Give them that opportunity.  Leaders must also let the technology that often intrudes on their lives work for them.  Learn how to use e-mail, texting, and various applications to help you organize your digital input.  Wise leaders will also adopt coaching principles that will help people to make decisions for themselves.  Rather that coming up with a quick and often uninformed answer, learn how to ask good questions that will help people to discover solutions for themselves.  Finally, make time for reflection and prayer.  No one will give you this time.  You must carve it out for yourself.


According to Ashkenas, a second reason for diminished confidence could be that “many of today’s leaders are overly concerned with the reactions of their stakeholders.”  Certainly a leader needs to listen and be responsive, but the latest brushfire can often obscure the horizon that the leader must keep in view.  Leaders must learn to categorize the comments and “advice” they receive.  One way to do this is to ask such questions as, “Is this something that I need to address?”  “Is this something that someone else can address?” and “Is this something that no one needs to address?”  Choosing the right category requires both self-confidence and a commitment to the overall vision of the church or organization.  This means that the church leader must learn to be a non-anxious presence amid the tumult of congregational life.


Despite the challenges of our time, I am convinced that the leaders are still there.  You may very well be one of them. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Keeping in Touch

A friend recently shared with me these words from German theologian Helmut Thielicke:

 “The gospel must be preached afresh and told in new ways to every generation, since every generation has its own unique questions.  The gospel must constantly be forwarded to a new address, because the recipient is repeatedly changing his place of residence.”

Please note that Thielicke does not say that the gospel message itself needs to be changed, watered down, or made more palatable for a new generation.  He is saying that if we are to communicate the gospel effectively to people of a new time and culture, then we must be willing to answer the questions generated in that environment, use the images and metaphors that are understood by the people to whom we are speaking, and speak in such a way that we can be understood.  The core message is the same, but the way it is presented varies.

This is one reason that those of us who are communicators of the gospel should be students of our culture.  Although contemporary culture may not be as “God haunted” as it once was, people still have existential and theological questions that may be addressed by the gospel.   These questions include (but are not limited to):  “Why am I here?”  “Is there a meaning and purpose to life?”  “How am I to relate to those around me?”  “What is my responsibility to and for others?” “Is community necessary and what forms the basis for a generative community?”  “What is our relationship to the created order?”

Good literature, poetry, art, and music are ageless and speak to all generations despite significant changes in values and perspective.  Even more enduring is the message of God’s love and desire for relationship with humankind.  The “old, old story” is certainly worthy of a new hearing, and we must use the best skills at our disposal to assure that it is properly presented.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Rearranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic

I was introduced to the phrase above when I was a campus minister and doing research on young adult values and expectations.  The idea has stayed with me and I have found it helpful in explaining what happens in a number of organizations when they “cast a new vision,” “organize to be more effective,” or make some other change that is more cosmetic than significant.

In a recent blog, the Rev. Linda Grenz, publisher and CEO of LeaderResources, takes a look at the Episcopal Church and challenges congregations to ask questions that will lead to change that is more than cosmetic.  She points out,

 “Organizational systems theory says that a system is designed to produce what it is producing. If you like what the system is producing but want to ‘improve it,’ tinkering with the system enables you to produce a better result . . . faster, better, cheaper. But if you don’t like what the system is producing, you have to change the system.

Grenz goes on to pose some interesting questions based on this idea, including:
  • Where is God at work in the world around us and, if we had no structures or ways of being the church already in mind, what would we create to align ourselves with and participate in doing God’s mission?
  • Who are we, who do we say Jesus is and how does that shape how we live and “are church?”
  • Are church buildings, as we currently envision them, essential or the best way for us to create sacred space for people to worship and…?

She also suggests this exercise for churches—“Write down everything you do, look at each item and ask: If we stopped doing this, would we still be the church?”

With all of the challenges that churches and judicatories face today, would this not be a good time to consider some of Grenz’s questions and obtain clarity on the question, “What business are we in?”  Too often we seem to be in the business of survival. We assume that if we can just get a new pastor, pledge next year’s budget, or introduce a new program, we will be OK.  Such an approach hardly does justice to the charge that God has given us to do Kingdom work.  Isn’t it time for a change?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

TED: Ideas Worth Spreading

Are you familiar with TED talks?  These are relatively brief presentations by thought leaders that stimulate, inspire, and encourage.  At the Annual Fall Gathering of the AlabamaCooperative Baptist Fellowship yesterday, one of the breakout sessions was titled “CBF Meet TED:  Inspiring Stories from and for Our Movement.”   Hosted by Chris Aho, the session featured three short presentations to stimulate, inspire, and encourage participants.

All of the presentations were helpful, but the presentation by Jamie Mackey, minister to students at First Baptist Church, Huntsville,Alabama, particularly caught my attention.  Jamie identified the four ingredients of a healthy student ministry—relationships, Bible study, ministry, and fun—and explained their importance.  He made some application to other types of ministry as well—senior adults, campus ministry, etc.

As I listened to Jamie’s presentation, I realized that these are the ingredients for any effective Christian ministry.  They apply in the local church, in community work, and in judicatories. 

First, relationships are essential to healthy, growing ministries.  The time invested in getting to know one another, telling stories, praying together, and sharing experiences provides a strong foundation for everything else that takes place.

Second, Bible study gives us not only a theological rationale for our work, but it also provides the images, language, and inspiration that sustain us when the going gets rough.  There is nothing new under the sun, but the Bible shines its light on all of our experiences.

Third, I would define ministry here as the way we practice or live out our faith, especially in the world around us.  Community and Bible study are not ends in themselves but result in changed lives that impact the place where God has put us.  As God’s people, what we do is not ultimately to benefit ourselves but others.

Fourth,” fun” means different things to different people, but I think we can all agree that fun facilitates creativity, relief of tension, and a bit of mischievousness! What does this have to do with the work of ministry?  No one is going to stay with anything very long if there is not a little fun involved.  If we are too rigid, we stifle the work of the Spirit.  Real innovation comes out of spontaneous, free-flowing experiences.   All of us dread committee or team work where there is not a good balance of task and relationship.  A little fun gets the creative juices flowing.
How does your ministry stack up to these criteria?  Thanks, Jamie, for giving us something to consider.

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Way Forward for CBF—Another Look

With the announced retirement not only of Executive Coordinator Daniel Vestal but also long-time leader Terry Hamrick (who has at least three different titles on the website) and the upcoming report of the Hull Committee, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is entering a significant time of transition.  Plagued with financial shortfalls in the past year like so many judicatories, some hard decisions will have to be made about future mission, organization, and services.

Although I no longer hold a leadership position within CBF life, I am a supporter and feel that I have a stake in the future of the organization.  As I think about the future of CBF, I suggest that we need to consider two major areas—competition and opportunities.

Who are the competitors of CBF?  The “knee jerk” response would be the Southern Baptist Convention, but this is yesterday’s competitor.  Those related to the SBC have made their choice about the path they will follow and that path has its own opportunities and challenges.  Individuals may still choose to leave an SBC church and join a CBF church, but churches will not make that choice.  Certainly, many churches will continue to support both SBC and CBF and the strength of that support may ebb and flow, but those same churches are also looking toward other partners beyond these two entities.

The real competitors for CBF will be determined by the path that the organization chooses to follow in the future.  If it continues to be a global missions-oriented entity (not necessarily a missionary-sending entity), the competition may be groups like Wycliffe Bible Translators, Buckner Benevolences, World Vision, and Habitat for Humanity.  The good news is that these can also be partners if clear relationships can be developed.  If CBF continues to provide congregational development resources and services, the potential competitors (and at the same time partners) are groups like the Center for Congregational Health, The Columbia Partnership, The Upper Room, Smyth and Helwys, Pinnacle Leadership Associates and so many others.

The key will be the answer to this question:  “What does CBF bring to the table that makes it a desirable and viable partner?”  Many of the organizations mentioned above have ready access to churches already and do not need or desire CBF as a gatekeeper.  What is the value that CBF can add to the partnership?

The opportunities ahead for CBF are both internal and external.  Externally, CBF needs to relate constructively to organizations like (the Baptist Center for Ethics), the Baptist Joint Committee, Baptist Women in Ministry, Passport, and the fifteen theological institutions because they are providing some things that CBF either cannot or has chosen not to provide to the churches.    They will provide a “Baptist voice” in politics and culture, innovative ministries for specific groups, and theological education for clergy and lay leaders.

Internal opportunities are numerous.  One would be an increased use of the Internet and web-based platforms to unite, equip, and educate CBF constituents.  Great strides have been made in this area, but more needs to be done.  Another opportunity would be to look for staff with non-traditional experience and training.  Although CBF will probably continue to see the local churches as the organization’s primary constituency, this does not mean that the entrepreneurial leadership needed for the future will necessarily be found in the churches.  A third opportunity would be to disperse CBF staff across the nation and the world.  Leaders with various responsibilities could enrich the life of CBF if they were scattered around, serving not only as resource people but relationship builders.  What would CBF look like if the majority of its staff became “field personnel”?

Some say that crisis brings creativity.  I would not want to characterize the present situation in CBF life as a crisis, but it is certainly a time that calls for creativity.