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.)

Friday, September 21, 2018

Change Your Habits, Change Your Life

Our lives are controlled by habits.  They are the default settings that guide our behavior.  Unfortunately, it seems easier to learn bad habits that good habits.  The length of time to form a new habit has been a topic for much debate.  In a study conducted at University College London, Dr. Philippa Lally determined that it takes more than two months before a new behavior becomes automatic--66 days to be exact. However, the length of time varies for individuals and can be anywhere from 18 days to 254 days!

In the text from Nehemiah 9:16-31, we learn that the people of Israel tended to fall into bad habits rather easily.  Although God continued to walk with them, they persisted in going their own way.  One way to look at the history of the Israelites is to see it as a struggle between God and God’s people.

Nehemiah 9:28a (NIV) observes, “But as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your [God’s] sight.” They were trapped in a cycle of bad habits and needed to break that cycle by adopting a new way of following God. 

 James Clear suggests that there are three steps to adopting a new habit:

1.  Reminder--the trigger that initiates the behavior;
2.  Routine--the behavior itself; the action you take;
3.  Reward--the benefit you gain from doing the behavior.

The writer of Psalm 119:103 (NIV) seems not only to have discovered the trigger for a good habit--immersing himself in God’s Word--but developed a routine of practicing that habit and perceiving the reward as well: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”

The people of Israel had a choice and so do we.  The good news is that we do not have to be controlled by our habits; we can choose to follow another path and adopt new ways of acting and behaving in our relationships with God and humanity.  

(This originally appeared on the Center for Congregational Ethics Facebook page on August 28, 2018.)








Friday, September 07, 2018

Back to the Future: What Bivocational Ministers Need from the Seminaries

With bivocational ministry emerging as a necessity for many churches and denominations, most theological institutions still focus on preparation for full-time congregational ministry and tend to ignore any other ministry model.

Sharon Miller, director of research at the Center for the Study of Theological Education at Auburn Seminary, was questioned about the role that seminaries play in preparing students to assume bivocational or biprofessional ministry roles. “The bivocational [model] by necessity is rarely, or never, talked about even as more and more graduates find themselves in this situation,” she says. “This is the arena where I think schools and students really need educating.”

What are some ways that seminaries can address this opportunity?

First, seminaries should acknowledge biprofessional ministry as a valid calling. Ministry has been done in many ways over the history of the church including tentmaker, worker priest, farmer pastor, and circuit rider models.  The common denominator in all is the vocation of ministry.  A practical way to address this in a seminary setting is to spotlight bivocational ministers in seminary programming rather than always calling upon full-time clergy as chapel speakers and class guests.

Second, all students, not just those who will be bivocational, need to develop time-management skills.  Good use of time is especially important for those whose time is divided between ministry and another area of work, however. Classes could address things like efficient use of time in Bible study and sermon preparation.  Familiarization with digital study tools, accessing online library resources, and effective use of social media for communication are necessities.

Third, students need to learn effective people development skills such as identifying and equipping lay leaders, how to lead meetings, and how to encourage and show appreciation to lay leaders. Good pastors, full-time and part-time, need to be mentors, coaches, and facilitators.

Fourth, students who know they are going to be biprofessional needemployment coaching.  This includes writing a resume that clearly communicates their skills, networking with potential employers and others in their field of interest, and interviewing preparation.  

Packard Brown also provides another possibility for employment, the “gig economy.” He writes, “The ‘gig economy — contractual or freelance jobs in which workers set their own hours and fees — also offers possibilities for secondary income streams. Hundreds of sites exist online where bivocational pastors can post their skills for hire (like tutoring or writing reports) or apply for short-term work assignments.”

As the need grows, some seminaries, such as Central Seminary in Shawnee, KS, are adapting to the reality of biprofessionalism in ministry in creative ways.




Thursday, September 06, 2018

Back to the Future: How Bivocational Ministers and Churches can Thrive

In 2017, 68 percent of the 156 congregations affiliated with the Maine Conference of the United Church of Christ had no full-time clergy.  Darren Morgan, the associate conference minister said, “They recognize their reality that they can’t afford a full-time pastor, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to have a ministry. . ..  The leadership within those churches is strong. They say, ‘We’re not going to be a weak church. We’ll be a strong, small church.’”

Whether a church has always had a biprofessional minister or is shifting from full-time to part-time, members should consider some guidelines for helping to make their pastor successful so that the church can thrive under his or her leadership.

First, there should be a clear understanding about time commitment.  The church and the pastor should clearly state boundaries including when the pastor is available for calls, how much time the pastor will be “on the field,” and time off for holidays and vacations.  This is especially important when a church shifts from a full-time minister to a part-time or bivocational minister. Often, members expect the same time commitment.  Respect the pastor’s time.

Second, pastor and church must develop a fair compensation package.  Each situation is unique.  Often the bivocational has his or her own insurance which helps the church, but this is not guaranteed.  The pastor’s other income may come through self-employment or part-time hourly work where no insurance coverage is provided.  If the pastor has to travel some distance to the church, the church might consider mileage reimbursement.  At least for the present, the church might designate all or part of the pastor’s salary as a housing allowance to avoid taxes.  Tax professionals and denominational leaders can be helpful in negotiating a compensation agreement.

Third, lay leaders must understand that they have to share more of the load for administration, building supervision, and pastoral ministry.  Although the pastor will still want to visit members and do hospital visitation, trained and committed leaders can share those ministry opportunities.

Fourth, a congregation with a part-time pastor should not think of themselves as a “second-class” church.  In most cases, the church is getting a shepherd who is highly committed to ministry and willing to make sacrifices to serve the congregation.  By entering into this relationship, church members have the opportunity be innovative, flexible, and more connected to the work of God in their midst.

Clear communication and shared goals will allow both the church and its biprofessional pastor to thrive.


Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Back to the Future: Bivocational Ministry

Chuck Strong, former biprofessional pastor
 of Olive Branch Fellowship
In a recent article, United Methodist Bishop Ken Carter shared three New Testament models of stewardship: the beggar, the patron, and the tentmaker.  He asked, “Can we re-imagine these roles for a new age?”

The one that caught my attention is the “tentmaker,” also known as the bivocational or biprofessional approach.  Carter points out that about one-third of UMC churches have 35 or less on Sunday mornings.  Some are served by ministers with two or three charges, but many are also served by ministers whose primary income is from another source.

In my work with Baptist churches affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention (now the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board),  I found that out of 3000 churches almost two-thirds had bivocational pastors.  One observer wrote, “About 10,000 bivocational ministers were working in the Southern Baptist churches in 1998. By 2004, that number had doubled, to 20,000.”  This is almost half of the churches affiliated with the SBC. This trend seems to be true in other denominations as well. Over half of Mennonite pastors are biprofessional.

Although some of these pastors lack formal theological education, many have advanced degrees. In fact, one article points out that the October 2017 issue of Colloquy, the newsletter of the Association of Theological Schools, reports that 30 percent of graduating seminarians anticipate entering into bivocational ministry.

Although some may see this as a step back, this model was very common in the nineteen century in rural and frontier America and has never really gone away.  Some of the most effective pastors that I have known made their primary income in other professions.

Carter notes, “Rediscovering the ancient-future practices of a missional movement, and re-imagining the roles of beggar, patron and tentmaker in our own time, may help us to support and sustain the renewal of our congregations and institutions.”  I think this is particularly true when it comes to bivocational pastors.

How can churches make the best use of their bivocational pastors and how can seminaries support them?  We will look at that in the next two blog posts.









Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Making the SHIFT from Member to Disciple

In A New Kind of Christianity, Brian McLaren writes, “It is worth noting in this regard that the word ‘Christian’ occurs in the New Testament exactly three times and the word ‘Christianity’ exactly zero. The word ‘disciple,’ however, is found 263 times.”  It is also interesting that “member” is only found 45 times in the New Testament and 9 times in the Gospels. Of the 263 references to “disciple” in the New Testament, 235 are in the Gospels.  This seems to have been Jesus’ preferred term for His followers.

Being a church member is not necessarily the same thing as being a Christian disciple. The SHIFT process takes this emphasis into account by challenging the 21stcentury church to move from the idea of church membership to Christian discipleship.  We don’t need more members, we need more disciples who are responding to the call of God into the world.

How do churches go about addressing this and encouraging the movement of individuals from membership to discipleship?  Let me suggest some ways.

A first step is understanding all that a disciple is or will be is grounded in that individual’s relationship with God. This reality changes one’s values and priorities.  This might be called a “whole life stewardship” approach. Whatever God has placed at our disposal--spiritual gifts, time, relationships, finances, the created world--must be used as good stewards or managers.  The life of a disciple is not meant to be fragmented but unified under the leadership of God’s spirit.  This concept empowers the church to address not only the disciple’s spiritual formation but the implications of discipleship for all areas of life--family, work, service, hospitality, creation care, and so many more.

Second, many churches are developing and calling disciples to practice a rule of life. In Soul Feast, Marjorie Thompson describes a rule of life in this way: “A rule of life is a pattern of spiritual disciplines that provide structure and direction for growth in holiness . . .. It fosters gifts of the Spirit in personal life and human community, helping to form us into the persons God intends us to be.” Communities of faith are recovering this ancient practice to encourage growth in disciples and provide accountability.

Third, “disciple” and “discipline” come from the same root.  Following a certain practice or discipline helps one to grow in his or her vocation.  This is true of the vocation of being a disciple as well.  Many ancient practices of the Christian church such as centering prayer, lectio Divina, fasting, and meditation encourage disciples to grow in their faith. Churches are reclaiming these disciplines as means for Christian formation.

Fourth, as believers join together in disciple development groups, they support and encourage one another in their spiritual growth, service, and relationships.  These groups go further than the usual Sunday school or Bible study groups by focusing on intentional growth and application of scripture.  Members hold each other accountable for their individual progress as disciples.  The Disciple Development Coaching© process of Pinnacle Leadership Associates can inform and resource these groups.

As we move the emphasis from “member” to “disciple” in our churches, we open up our congregations and ourselves to new ways of being on mission for God in the world today.  We are no longer simply voluntary members of an organization but an essential part of the Body of Christ.

(For more information of the shift from member to disciple, read Mark Tidsworth, SHIFT:  Three Big Moves for the 21stCentury Church.)






Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Leading Innovation

We cannot motivate others.  We can provide an environment in which people can become motivated, but real motivation comes from within.  

In the same way, a leader cannot make people into innovators.  If this is true, then what is the role of the leader in innovation?  How much can a leader do to foster innovation among others?  

Alec Horniman is the Killgallon Ohio Art Professor at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, teaching in the areas of ethics, strategy and leadership.  He suggests three actions that a leader can do to foster innovation. 

First, invite people to join the process of innovation.  The innovative leader invites others along on the journey. He or she is not only a role model but a resource, sharing experiences and opportunities.  An innovative leader invites others to be part of the process and to learn together.  An innovative leader does not just attend conferences and explore opportunities. He or she invites others to be part of these experiences as well.

Second, the innovative leader includes a diverse group of people in the innovation process. Horniman points out that by including people of different backgrounds, experiences, and skills, we can leverage their strengths to create something unique and unexpected.  Innovative leaders are proactive in developing a team that is both diverse and inclusive.

Third, inspiration is an important part of innovation. The innovative leader is optimistic, enthusiastic, and hopeful that something will emerge from the process that will make life better for all involved.  The innovative leader not only has a vision but he or she seeks to pass that vision on to others in such a way that they can own it themselves.

Are you on track to be an innovative leader?

(This post originally appeared on this blog on May 11, 2017.)


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Agile Church: A Review

Although the author rarely uses the term, The Agile Church: Spirit-Led Innovation in an Uncertain Age is a useful resource for assisting a mainline church to become more missional. The book incorporates the key ideas of missional theology but also provides insights about what a congregation must do to provide innovative and effective ministry in a complex, fluid culture.

The writer is Dwight J. Zscheile, an Episcopal priest who teaches at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota.  He draws on his personal experiences in a local congregation as well as concepts such as trinitarian theology, adaptive leadership, design thinking, and organizational development to provide a path for the local church to respond to the leadership of the Spirit in the 21st century.

A key point is his description of the apostles’ ministry in the book of Acts: “The apostles don’t typically understand what kind of witness God wants to bring forth until they are in the midst of it; it is much more improvisational.”  In other words, they were making it up as they went along.  This perceptive comment reminds us that we can only do effective ministry when we listen to the Spirit of God and join the Spirit on a sometimes chaotic journey.

As a result, rather than prescribing a rigid framework for becoming an agile church, Zscheile describes an organic process:

  • Innovation grows out of close listening relationships with neighbors.
  • Innovation involves iterative small experiments.
  • Innovation requires a high tolerance for failure.
  • Innovation is about improvisation. 


The is not a primary source on the missional church but a text designed for congregations to read and study together and then enter into a process of spiritual discernment.  The author affirms that every congregation has the potential to become missional if they are receptive and ready to do the hard work involved.







Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Anticipatory Leadership

“A good hockey player plays where the puck is.  A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” --Wayne Gretzky

At the recent Global Leadership Summit, pastor Craig Groeschel addressed the idea of anticipatory leadership. He said, “Good leaders react. Great leaders anticipate.”  This reflects the Wayne Gretzky quote above.  As leaders, we may be where the action is now, but the action may not be there for long.

In our volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous culture, what works today may not work tomorrow and the church often plays catch-up and misses opportunities.  There is a time for doing due diligence and allowing the process to work, but our present context requires us to exercise creativity and imagination, becoming early innovators in ministry.

Groeschel suggested that there are three D's of anticipatory leadership: Develop, Discern, and Disrupt. Here is my take on each.

First, develop.  We need to be seeking out and encouraging new leaders and new ministries.  As leaders, we should be doing two things:  surrounding ourselves with people smarter than we are and preparing someone to take our place.  We develop new leaders not through delegation but by giving them responsibility.  

When it comes to new ministries, if someone came to you tomorrow with great enthusiasm for a new way to reach your community, how long would it take to work through your church’s process to make it happen?  There are advantages to taking a risk by trying something small and learning from success or failure quickly.  Perhaps we should be doing more “holy experiments” in our churches.

Second, discern.  We have to avoid becoming insulated and learn to “read the signs of the times” (1 Chronicles 12:32).  This requires dialogue with newcomers in our churches about their experiences, listening to people in our larger community, and developing new networks.  As we listen to other voices, the Spirit often speaks to us.

Third, disrupt.  We have to be willing not only to think outside the box but to do away with the box.  Bill Easum wrote a book titled Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers.  Sometimes we have to kill some sacred cows (accepted ways of doing things) and harvest what is left to create something new.  By so doing, we honor the old.

Anticipatory leadership is risky, but it can provide the opportunity to be in front of change rather than being left behind.

(Go here for Craig Groeschel’s podcasts on Anticipatory Leadership.)