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.)










Saturday, August 11, 2018

A Future for the Global Leadership Summit?

Craig Groeschel, the founder and senior pastor of Life.Church.
The Global Leadership Summit which began as a project of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, and its founding pastor, Bill Hybels, over 25 years ago was held this week without Hybels. For several years, the GLS has been now produced by the Willow Creek Association, a spin-off organization and a loose network of churches but Hybels has been its driving force.

Attended by thousands at the church facility in South Barrington and broadcast to thousands more at satellite locations, the annual meeting brings together not only evangelical leaders but outstanding speakers from business, charitable organizations, politics, and business.  For the first time, Hybels did not appear due to allegations of sexual impropriety brought against him over the past year by former employees, staff members, and business associates.  He has already left the church and resigned from the board of the association.

I have attended at least half of these meetings over the years--once onsite and at other times at satellite locations in my area.  For the first time last year, a church only a ten-minute drive from my house served as a satellite location.  In talking with a staff member of the church in May, I discovered that they had joined over 100 churches across the network who declined to participate as hosts this year. I found myself driving about thirty minutes to another community to attend.

The Global Leadership Summit is always a big event for me.  The meeting provides an opportunity to hear thought leaders from around the world. The Summit lineup is always diverse with a strong representation of women consultants and practitioners as well as ethnic and international speakers.  I have involved seminary students on various occasions and taught a class in connection with the meetings.  At other times, I have attended with colleagues with whom I have reflected, debriefed, and applied insights learned.

Several key speakers withdrew due to the Hybels scandal, one just a few days before the meeting.  Summit favorites such as Craig Groeschel, senior pastor of Life.Church; John Maxwell, leadership coach and author; and Bishop T. D. Jakes, pastor of The Potter’s House, stepped in and assumed added responsibilities.  Groeschel, especially, became the face of the meeting.

In the keynote presentation, Groeschel acknowledged the “elephant in the room.” He clearly addressed the charges about Hybels that have rocked the Willow Creek Church and the association. "Any abuse of power is sinful, it is hurtful, and it is reprehensible,” he said.  According to a Chicago Tribune article, he went on to say that “as the father of four daughters and the brother of a woman who was sexually assaulted, he supports the women who have accused Hybels and will work with the association to bring healing for everyone.”  (The power went off at the site I was attending, so I missed part of Groeschel's opening presentation.)

As usual, there were great speakers. In addition to Groeschel and Jakes, restaurateur Danny Meyer presented challenging observations on hospitality; researcher David Livermore addressed the need for cultural intelligence for leaders; consultant Shelia Heen talked about having difficult conversations with co-workers and family members; and speaker Simon Sinek presented strategies for making maximum impact in one’s organization.  It was worth my investment in attending.

Why did I participate in the Summit despite the problems associated with Hybels?

First, the Summit introduces me to people who are addressing important issues like culture awareness, social entrepreneurship, relationships, and organizational development. For a long time, secular leaders have been more proactive than religious leaders in engaging these issues which are vitally important for the future of our churches.

Second, I am exposed to a part of the Christian family that many moderates disdain--the evangelical churches, often megachurches that are willing to try things that are new and risky.

Third, although I may have theological differences with some speakers or participants, I love their enthusiasm and attitude.

Fourth, I don’t drop friends, even those I know only marginally, when they are having problems.

What’s the future for the Willow Creek Association and the Global Leadership Summit without Bill Hybels? I don’t know, but this may be the defining moment for leadership to decide if the WCA is just an organization or truly a movement of churches who want to encourage and learn from one another. This may be an opportunity rather than an obstacle for WCA.







Thursday, August 09, 2018

The Tragedy of Willow Creek Community Church

File photo of Steve Carter, Heather Larson, and Bill Hybels
As Christian brothers and sisters, we need to pray for Willow Creek Community Church. On the eve of the Global Leadership Summit, a worldwide conference sponsored by the church in cooperation with the Willow Creek Association, church leadership imploded as a result of further allegations against former pastor Bill Hybels.

Last year, Hybels introduced the team who would assume church leadership upon his retirement--lead pastor Heather Larson and teaching pastor Steve Carter.  Although the founding pastor planned to stay on to assist in a time of transition, reports of sexual impropriety involving Hybels surfaced early this year.  He accelerated his departure from the church and left the board of the Willow Creek Association.

When other charges emerged last week, teaching pastor Carter resigned. On Wednesday evening, Larson and the entire elder board--lay leaders who provide accountability on behalf of the congregation--resigned and “apologized for mishandling allegations” against Hybels.

Without addressing the validity of the claims or the actions of the church elders, we must recognize this as a tragedy not only for this church but for the work of Christians everywhere.  Although you may not be a fan of the megachurch, this affects how people see the church.

Whenever any part of the Body of Christ stumbles, every member of the Body is hurt by the fall. This is not a time to point fingers but to recognize the imperfection and fallibility of those who lead, show compassion for those who have come forward with charges, and encourage accountability.

There are some lessons here for all of us.

First, there is danger in putting too much trust in any one individual. Whether the person is the pastor of a church, an elected official, the leader of an educational institution, or the CEO of a business, too much power placed in the hands of one individual hurts the people involved, tempts the leader to excess, and can lead to organizational chaos.

Second, given the congregational polity of those of us in the free church tradition, we should recognize that this could happen in any Baptist church in the South.  Church leaders are too quick to ignore bad behavior by leaders and sweep problems “under the rug.”  

Third, leadership is a lonely place and every leader must guard against the abuse of his or her role. Every spiritual leader needs mentors, coaches, and friends who will challenge him or her and be ready to provide accountability and confront aberrant behavior. 

Willow Creek Community Church can survive this, but only with much prayer and soul-searching.  Let’s pray for them.





Asking the Hard Questions in Coaching

Having coached for almost ten years now, I have assumed that one thing that makes me attractive as a coach is my easy-going attitude.  For the most part, I come across as non-judgmental and supportive.  Some have termed it “Southern graciousness.”

At some point in a coaching relationship, however, I may find it necessary to set this persona aside if I am to effectively coach my client.  I was reminded of this last year when I attended a coach training event in California.  We were asked to identify skills we needed to work on to be better coaches.  I chose three:  challenging, intruding, and taking charge.

Now all of these run counter to my normal way of doing things, but our trainers pointed out that sometimes a coach should stretch and step outside of his or her comfort zone to serve the client more effectively.

Clients do not need a coach who is a “yes” person but one who will make them dig deeper and discover the abilities, determination, and initiative that is too often been dormant. Sometimes a coach needs to move a client into less comfortable territory.

Some questions that display these skills are:

“You have used this approach in the past.  What have been the results?”  When a coach has worked with a client for awhile, he or she has seen how the client addresses certain concerns.  The coach realizes that the client has an accepted modus operandi that probably should be challenged to determine its effectiveness in the current situation.

“Is this something you really want to do?  Your failure to follow through indicates otherwise.”  If a client has set a goal and fails to pursue it, the coach digs deeper to help the client identify motivation and assess commitment. Perhaps this item is no longer a priority for the client and there is a need to focus attention elsewhere.  On the other hand, the goal may need to be redefined or clarified.

“When are you going to ‘pull the trigger’ on this project?”  If a client has clear goals or great ideas but never acts, what’s the obstacle? Perhaps there is no sense of urgency or a fear of failure.  The coach’s role is to help the client get “unstuck.”

“What’s the real concern here?”  Often a client will talk at length about a situation, perhaps as a way of avoiding action. The coach can help the client to focus and move on by calling the conversation to a halt and challenging the client to determine the real issue and a plan of action.

Of course, these questions are productive only when one has developed trust and rapport with the client.  He or she must know that by asking these questions the coach is doing his or her job to help the client move to the next level. 

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Lost in Space: A Review

With all of the new science fiction series on the various forms of television, I have found one that is both family-friendly and entertaining.

The Lost in Space concept has appeared in three incarnations.  The original was a series that ran on network television from 1965 to 1968.  My son and I watched it in reruns, but it was basically a children’s show with one-dimensional characters.  The idea was resurrected for a 1998 motion picture that was dark and depressing and not well received.  The latest version on Netflix is a good family series that reflects our times and challenges.

The Robinson family is part of an expedition to settle the Alpha Centauri star system, fleeing an Earth in decline.  Maureen Robinson (an excellent Molly Parker) is an aeronautical engineer and mission commander.  John (a scruffy Toby Stephens), her husband, is a former Navy SEAL and biological father to two of their three children.  Eighteen-year-old Judy (Taylor Russell) is the mission doctor and is Maureen’s biracial daughter from a previous relationship.  Penny (Mina Sundwall) is the audacious, volatile 15-year-old with “spunk.”  Will (Maxwell Jenkins) is the eleven-year-old brother who always seems to be operating a bit outside his comfort zone.

Without giving away too many spoilers, the mission ship is attacked by an alien entity while enroute to their destination and the majority of the colonists find themselves marooned on a beautiful but unstable planet.

As the series develops, we understand that this is not your 1960’s “Leave to Beaver” family.  John, the father, had chosen to distance himself from the rest of the family by seeking out hazardous combat assignments.  Was it from feelings of inadequacy or fear of commitment?  

Maureen is strong, intelligent, and committed.  Her moral failing is in manipulating the system to get Will on the mission.  She can be a bit indulgent with her kids and a bit distant from her husband.

The children are facing the challenges of growing up.  Judy has been given significant adult responsibilities for a teen-ager and experiences a frightening near-death experience which makes her doubt herself.  Penny is the teen-ager going through all the challenges of growing up including taking impetuous risks.  Will has this thing with a robot entity who is sometimes a savior and often a threat.

The snake in the garden is Dr. Smith/June Harris (Parker Posey), a fragile and unstable personality, who is a continuing source of chaos for the family.

There are many levels to the story, but the series presents a number of issues for reflection.  Some are matters that the church should consider.

First, the Robinson family reflects the reality of family life today.   It is a blended family, one member is biracial, there are conflicts between Mom and Dad, and the siblings don’t always get along.  This pretty well describes families in our society.  They struggle to build family stability and coherence, and I must admit that I smiled as I watched the Robinsons overcome challenges both internal and external and grow stronger as a family.

Second, Maureen is a leader. She is strong and determined.  Her husband’s struggle to accept her in that role reflects where many men are today, including male church leaders.  On one occasion I thought, if a woman can lead a mission to Alpha Centauri, surely she can pastor a church!  Women’s gifts of leadership must not be denier.

Third, there are a number of moral questions for both the Robinsons and other colonists.   For example, how far would you go to both keep your family safe and assure family cohesion?  As we look at what is happening with family migration today, these concerns are very relevant.

Fourth, in this manifestation of the series, the Robinsons are not alone. They find themselves living alongside others.  Being in a larger community both enriches and challenges their relationships.  This certainly reflects the fact that we as parents and neighbors must find healthy ways to relate to others in our society.

I would recommend the series for family viewing.  Some of the happenings are a bit far-fetched, but it is science fiction!  There will be a second series, and it appears that the growing ties within the Robinson family will face new stresses.  It should be fun.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

All the Heroes in This Story are Heroines

Our Bible study lesson on Sunday came from Exodus 1 and 2.  The text presents the status of the Hebrews under a Pharaoh “to whom Joseph meant nothing” (Exodus 1:8, NIV), the attempts to marginalize the descendants of Jacob, and the birth and growth into manhood of Moses, the one who would lead God’s people out of bondage.

A key insight was provided by James Semple, the writer of the teacher commentary.  Semple points out that all the heroes in this story are women. The Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah,who are instructed to kill all the male children participate in an act of civil disobedience by ignoring the order.  When questioned, they simply reply, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” (1:19).

When Pharaoh commands the Hebrews to cast their male children into the Nile, Moses’ mother Jochebed complies but she does so by placing the child in basket that will float on the water, then leaves the rest to God.

Pharaoh’s daughter finds the child, recognizes his Hebrew origin, has compassion on him, and defies her father’s order by keeping the baby alive.

Miriam, Moses’ sister, serves as the means of connecting her mother with the child so that he can nourished until he becomes part of Pharaoh’s household.

When Moses flees into the wilderness after killing an Egyptian taskmaster, he encounters Zipporah and her sisters at a well.  She provides an entrĂ©e for this stranger into the home of her father Jethro, becomes Moses’ wife, and bears him a son.

The motivations of these women to take a stand against authority are varied.  Some do it out of faith in God, some for love of family, and others simply because it is the right thing to do.  Although they, too, are marginalized people in their society, they do the right thing when the time of testing comes.

Thanks be to God for faithful women with the courage to take a stand when it is crucial to the work of the Kingdom of God.




Monday, August 06, 2018

Are You on the Wrong Bus?

When I was in Mississippi several years ago, I heard the story of the driver who was pulled over by the Highway Patrol officer going south on Interstate 55 at 80 miles per hour. The officer asked, “Where are you going?” “To Memphis,” the man replied.  “You’re headed south.  This won’t get you to Memphis.”  “I know,” the driver said, “but I’m making such good time.”

I was reminded of this story when I read Seth Godin’s post about being on the wrong bus.  Yes, it was not easy to get on the bus, you are comfortable, and it’s getting dark outside, but you are still on the wrong bus.  You have made a mistake and you need to correct it. Godin writes, “If you really want to get where you set out to go, you're going to have to get off the wrong bus.”

The moral of these stories is that if you are heading in the wrong direction--in your professional life or with your church or organization, you need to admit it and change direction.

Changing direction is not easy.  You may have to admit that you made an error and lose face.  You may have to confront the powers that be and help them understand that your church or organization can invest all the time and energy they have available to continue along the same path, but it will not get them to where they want to be.

As Lewis Carroll wrote, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”  A wise person or organization identifies a preferred future and starts moving in that direction.  There may be detours along the way, but at least having some clarity about where you are going avoids wasting time, energy, and resources.