Friday, April 28, 2017

The Old has Passed Away

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”--2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV

Innovation is a grass-roots process.  Until a leader comes to understand this statement, innovation will continue to be seen as something that is done by a select few in a limited number of organizations.  Every organization—even the church—can become truly creative and innovation, but this will require a significant paradigm shift.  This must happen first with leadership and then with participants.

Jeanne Liedtka, who teaches at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, writes that there are two paradigms of innovation and only one is truly about innovation.  From one perspective, innovation is something only done by experts.  It takes place in homogeneous teams who operate within their narrowly defined areas of responsibility or silos.  In this approach, stakeholders—those who are the recipients of the product or service—are seen as figures to be managed and perhaps manipulated.  Quite honestly, the “innovation” that comes out of this approach will be very limited, short-lived, and ineffective.

True innovation takes place in a paradigm where everyone is a potential innovator and their ideas are welcomed.  Team are diverse, made of up people representing several perspectives, skills, and competencies.  They use participatory methods to generate, evaluate, and clarify ideas.  Stakeholders—both within and outside the organization—are strategic partners who not only have an investment in the process of innovation but can make a contribution as well.

A paradigm that is truly innovative is open and participative.  All are invited to the table and encouraged to make a contribution toward solving a problem or generating a process that will make a significant difference for all involved.

For most of the twentieth century, churches, denominations, and most businesses operated out of the first paradigm above.  We assumed that there were experts out there who knew more, were better trained, and could come up with better solutions than the person in the pew, the worker on the assembly line, or the consumer in the marketplace.  That time is gone.

The world in which we work and minister today calls for the more enlightened approach embodied in the second paradigm.  This approach encourages, values, and embraces the work of the Spirit of God within individuals both in the church and in the community.  A new way of thinking is required to address the challenges of this time and place.

(A version of this blog originally appeared on the Creativity and Leadership blog at

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Picking the Right Gift

Have you ever had the experience of picking out what you thought would be the perfect gift for a friend or loved one and then seeing disappointment or confusion on that person’s face when it was unwrapped?  This is an embarrassing moment for everyone involved (especially if there is an audience).

Why does this happen?  One reason is that we did not know the person’s interests and inclinations as much as we thought we did.  Another is that we selected the gift because it was something that we would like to have and just assumed that the other person would as well.  Finally, we gave a gift that we thought that the person ought to have to correct some fault or encourage them to adopt a new behavior. 

Sometimes we do this in ministry settings as well.  We assume that a certain constituency needs something and we plan to provide it.  When it is delivered, the process, program, or service falls flat on its face.  Why?

1.  We did not know our constituency as well as we thought.  We failed to observe, learn, and ask what was needed in the situation.

2.  We catered to our own interests and gifts.  As someone said, “When you have a hammer, every problem is a nail.”  We work out of our own gift set and do what we are best equipped to do whether it is needed or not.

3.  We give people something we think they need: “This will be good for you.”  We are providing a corrective or intervention that they may not be ready to receive.

One way to avoid these errors is to involve those who are recipients and potential participants in the ministry.  In human-centered design or design thinking, planners work with people at the grass-roots level and involve them in addressing their own needs.  This approach emphasizes obtaining the human perspective--especially that of the final user--in the problem-solving process. 

As believers, we understand that each person is unique in their gifts, abilities, and needs.  We are expected to be sensitive to the needs of others, but we sometimes fail to do that in planning ministries.

Design thinking requires us to see the problem within its context, brainstorming and identifying possible solutions, developing prototypes, and implementing the solution.  End users work alongside the designers in all stages of this process.

If we want our gifts or our ministries to be on target, we need to understand the recipients at a deep level.  This requires time and intentionality.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Reality Check for Seminaries

A study released recently by the American Association of Theological Schools found that enrollment in its member schools had stabilized and even showed a slight increase over the previous year.   Perhaps more interesting are the upward and downward trends in student enrolment over the past decade.

In downward trends, the enrolment of white students has decreased by 19 percent.  There was a 6 percent enrolment decline for those under 30 and a 14 percent decrease in those seeking the Master of Divinity degree, the basic theological education program.

Upward trends included the following:  ten percent increase in racial/ethnic students, 16 percent increase in students over 50 years of age, and an 11 percent increase in those pursuing professional or academic Master of Arts degrees.

I would particularly like to address the upward trends and what they mean for the providers of theological education.

First, the increasing number of students over 50 who are engaging in a mid-career changes or preparing for a second vocation provides wonderful learning opportunities for all involved.  Many of these individuals bring years of experience not only in the church but in secular life.  Many have been managers, educators, and professionals in other fields.  Their experiences both enrich the classroom and challenge the professor in new and generative ways.

Second, the larger number of students from varied racial and ethnic backgrounds also offers opportunities and challenges.  People from varied cultures--including African-Americans--bring different learning styles to the classroom as well as rich life experiences.  (See colleague Terrell Carter’s book, The Lord Gave MeThis: Understanding Historic Leadership Development Practices of the BlackChurch to Prepare Tomorrow’s Leaders, for more on the theological formation of black leaders.)  Although this may stretch the professor in new ways, such diversity prepares all students in the class for the cross-cultural and inter-connected world in which they will serve.

Third, the attractiveness of the professional and academic MA programs may indicate both a desire to complete seminary in a shorter period and to focus on particular aspects of theological preparation.  Although many of these programs are research oriented, others focus on fields such as missional leadership, Christian formation, and missions.  Seminaries continue to adapt to provide what students need including offering both MDiv and MA degrees online.

The identity of those seeking theological education continues to evolve and this requires that theological institutions change in order to provide the formation these students need for effective ministry.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Strategy and Tactics

As individuals and organizations, we are often distracted by the latest “bright, shining object.”  The object may be a new training program, software, or ministry opportunity.  Whatever it is, the new object seems more attractive than what we are presently doing, promising a quick and productive result.

In his book Leaders Made Here, Mark Miller reminds us that we should hold our strategies tightly and our tactics loosely. In World War Two, Eisenhower’s strategy was to invade Europe and defeat the German forces.  Various troop and logistical movements were the tactics to accomplish this and were constantly modified.

Strategies move us toward our long-term goals or vision while tactics are steps along the way.  Tactics change based on the realities on the ground.  New programs and ideas are tactics, but do they move us toward our ultimate goals or divert us from what we want to achieve?  Perhaps they are simply shortcuts to disaster.  We have to be wise in our choice of tactics.

One way to determine whether our tactics are compatible with our strategy is to consider both our vision and the values that undergird that vision.  One Japanese manufacturer adopted the vision statement “to make the world a better place.”  Inherent in this vision are values of respect for people, concern for the environment, and sustainable processes.  If the strategies and tactics used to accomplish this vision do not reflect those values, then there is a discontinuity. 

For Christians, the vision is to be the people of God on mission in the world.  The goal is clear but the methodology to achieve it has evolved over the centuries.  Some tactics have been effective for a while and then been discarded due to changes in the culture and the needs of people.  Others have been dead ends.  Often, things that have been useful in the past return to provide effective ministry in another time and place.

“Quick fixes” are tempting but real success comes from tenacity, patience, and commitment to our vision.  Do we need to change our tactics to achieve our strategies?  Yes, sometimes we do, but only when they are consistent with who we are and what we hope to become.  

Monday, April 24, 2017

Showing Hospitality

You are walking down the corridor of a church on Sunday morning.  A member of the congregation is coming toward you and you see him bend down and pick up a discarded candy wrapper off the floor.  He puts it in his pocket, continues walking toward you and says, “Good morning.”

What’s with this guy?  Is he obsessive-compulsive, a former custodian, or just a neat freak?  In reality, this may be his way of exercising the gift of hospitality. 

When it comes to welcoming guests to the congregation, we usually think about providing a warm greeting, clear directional signs, good childcare, clean restrooms, and convenient parking.  These are all important but the person in our story is sensitive to the little things like a neat building that make people feel comfortable.

This is the same person who will go out of his way to help a newcomer find a seat at worship or give away his worship bulletin to someone who failed to pick one up at the door.  This may not be radical hospitality but it is a good beginning point.

Why does someone do these things?  I think it is because they care about being welcoming.  We can talk about hospitality, train greeters, and make it a staff priority, but hospitality becomes real when each congregant sees it as their responsibility and privilege.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Manning on Coaching

Photo: Matt Kryger/USA Today Network)
As I begin this blog, let me share a couple of disclaimers.  First, former University of Tennessee and NFL quarterback Peyton Manning is not everyone’s favorite person.  Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.  Second, athletic coaching and life coaching are not exactly alike but there are some commonalities.    If you will allow me to proceed with those things understood, I want to share some comments that Manning made in a recent charity event in Indianapolis.

Manning was an outstanding quarterback but he is also a generous philanthropist, community leader, and businessman.  When questioned recently about his career, he had some very positive things to say about athletic coaching that also seem to apply to life coaching.

In talking about his former coach, Tony Dungy, Manning said:

“Coaches have been the best leaders I’ve been around. Tony Dungy was every bit as good a human being as he was a coach. Treated you like such a professional, like such a grown up, that you just didn’t want to let him down. It was a very effective way of leading. You respected him so much that you played harder for him.”

If you are an athletic coach or a life coach, you want to follow Dungy’s example--treat the person you are coaching as a grown-up and a professional.  This level of respect provides the trust upon which successful coaching relationships are built.  If the client perceives that the coach does not believe in his or her capabilities, there will be little or no progress made by the client.

Manning also explained that even after he and his brother Eli became NFL quarterbacks, they continued to train each summer with his former offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, presently at Duke University, on basic things like taking a snap, standing in a huddle, and calling a play.  Manning noted:

“Don’t think you ever got it all figured out because the little things matter. And if you ever think the little things don’t matter, and you can brush those aside, I promise you in whatever you’re doing, your game’s going to slip.”

No matter where a person is in his or her career, a life coach just as much as an athletic coach can help a leader make sure that the little things are covered--being true to one’s values, having a healthy work/life balance, achieving clarity in goals and purpose.

Manning was and is a lifelong learner who is currently looking forward to the next phase of his life.  I imagine that a coach will figure into that at some point.

Whether you are an NFL quarterback, a pastor, an entrepreneur, or the leader of a non-profit ministry, you can benefit from having a coach.