Tag: baptists

15 Traits of Innovative Leaders

A few days ago I had the opportunity to participate in a leadership conference with Dr. Greg Jones, former dean of Duke Divinity School, and Dr. John Upton, president of the Baptist World Alliance and the Virginia Baptist Mission Board. Next week, I’ll share Greg Jones’ thoughts on leadership, but today I thought you might like to hear what John Upton had to say.

Dr. Upton listed 15 characteristics of innovative church leaders, which he has observed in his global contact with Baptist leaders, and leaders from other Christian traditions. Dr. Upton said that these are not ranked by priority, but are observable in those leaders he has met in countries where the Church is thriving.

1. Leaders create opportunities. Dr. Upton remarked that leaders live in a context of discovery, exploration, and learning. Out of that inquisitive context, leaders open spaces for new things to happen.

2. Leaders say “I don’t know.” Acknowledging honestly that you as a leader do not have all the answers opens the way for others to explore, experiment, and discover things that even you as a leader might not have thought of. Dr. Upton contends that saying “I don’t know” gives permission to others to “figure it out” while the leader offers wisdom and supports those who are exploring new possibilities.

3.  Leaders are rarely the best performers, but rather are talent developers. Upton used the illustration of an orchestra and conductor. While the conductor may not be skilled enough to occupy the first chair of any section, she brings together all of the talent of those who do occupy the orchestral sections into a beautiful blend of harmony and energy.

4. Leaders cast the vision of hope. While “vision-casting” has come to mean the leader presents a program or concept all neatly tied up, Upton contends that great leaders like Churchill and FDR cast a vision of hope. From hope others rise to the occasion, innovate in their situations, and produce more and better results than one leader alone could hope to.

5. Leaders thrive on paradox. Great leaders are able to hold two opposing views in mind, and come up with a solution that considers all possibilities. A good resource is The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking by Roger L. Martin.

6. Leaders love a mess. John Upton observed that good leaders always have a symbolic supply of duct tape handy, which I thought was a good metaphor for fixing things on the fly. Upton observed that leaders are “comfortable in the craziness,” which is not the same in my opinion as comfortable with lack of focus.

7. Leaders do and then they re-do. There is no absolute solution in any organization. Today’s solution may become tomorrow’s obstacle. Leaders recognize the need for revisiting and re-evaluating an organization’s goals and accomplishments, however those are measured.

8.  Leaders know when to wait. Timing can be just as important as vision. Learning to wait patiently for the right moment, the right atmosphere, the right people to be on-board with a project can be critical to the success of that project. Patience is a virtue, not just in theory, but in leading churches as well.

9.  Leaders are optimistic. Optimism means leaders “believe that this can be a better world, we can make a difference” according to Upton. Optimism is not blind disregard of reality, but a long-range attitude of hope.

10. Leaders convey a grand design, but attend to details. Grand schemes are great, and folks need an over-arching vision. But, as the architect Mies van der Rohe is alleged to have said, “God is in the details.” Apparently, this applies to churches as well as architecture.

11. Leaders make mistakes, but create blame-free cultures. “I’d rather reward a great failure, than a mediocre success,” Upton commented. Failure without blame is not a bad thing for organizations, and part of the learning curve of innovative cultures.

12. Leaders are talent fanatics. Great leaders, according to Jim Collins, surround themselves with highly-talented people, and exhibit personal humility when talking about their group’s accomplishments. Great leaders attract, nurture, mentor, and reward talent, according to Upton.

13. Leaders create networks for peer-learning. Really good leaders are not the only generators of ideas or information in their organizations. Peer-learning networks which connect across organizations, departments, or other organizational boundaries create a culture of curiosity and exploration.

14. Leaders know themselves well. This may be one of the toughest qualities of leadership to master. Self-knowledge, coupled with self-regulation, separates the good from the best in leadership. Acknowledging that “I’m not in charge” of everything, which is the cousin of “I don’t know everything” enables others to succeed and communicates that the leader understands his or her own limitations.

15. Leaders take breaks. There are no rewards for pastors who say, “I never take a vacation.” Leaders need a break from the pressures of leadership in order to rest, recharge, and re-evaluate. Think of preventive maintenance for pastors, and you’ve got the idea. Great leaders step away, have other interests, pay attention to their relationships, and recognize their need for perspective.

Those are John Upton’s 15 characteristics of great leaders, based on his experience and observation. What other traits or practices would you add to this list? Or, how would you rank these in order of priority for your ministry setting?

Why we Baptists need a creed

I am about to break an unwritten rule in Baptist life.  Granted, it won’t be my first transgression, and probably not my last, but this one is becoming more important to me the longer I’m in ministry.  We need a creed.  There, I said it!  We Baptists need a creed.

Now, for those who don’t know much about Baptists (and why would you if you aren’t one?), Baptists don’t believe in creeds.  We give no cred to the creed.  When it comes to the Apostles’ or the Nicene or any other creed, we just say No.  Baptists base this aversion to creeds on the idea of the priesthood of the believer.  We define that as meaning that any individual believer has the right to interpret scripture for him or herself, and to follow the dictates of his or her own Christian conscience.

Of course, we really don’t want people doing that, so we write and rewrite documents we call “confessions.”  Confessions in Baptist life go back hundreds of years, and are very, very long creeds that no one could ever memorize or say in unison in public, so they’re okay for us.  Right now in Southern Baptist life we have churches that follow the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message, and we have churches that have adopted the more recent 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.  For folks who place a lot of stock on the priesthood of the believer, we sure get mighty precise when we write our confessions.

One of our seminary presidents is calling for a “Great Commission Resurgence.” I want to throw in my two-cents and call for an “Apostles’ Creed Resurgence.”  I am serious.  (Some of you thought I was kidding, didn’t you?).  Well, I am quite serious.  We need a creed, and here’s why.

Let’s take the Apostles’ Creed, for instance.  First, I like the legend, which I am sure has little basis is fact, but it makes a nice story.  The legend is that each of the 12 apostles contributed one phrase each to the statement that came to be known as, well, the Apostles’ Creed.  Of course, that’s legend, not reality, but I still like it.

But more importantly, I think we need some basics to agree on.  We’re supposed to agree on The Baptist Faith and Message, but now it’s become a matter of which one, 1963 or 2000?  Plus, some Baptist institutions have added more theological criteria for employment than either BF&M covers, so that’s become an issue. I think a return to the Apostles’ Creed could solve that problem.

The Apostles’ Creed is a basic, general statement of the beliefs (the Latin credo means I believe) held in common by all Christians.  Here is a version I like:

I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
Born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried:
He descended into hell;
The third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
And sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From there he shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit;
The holy catholic church;
The communion of saints;
The forgiveness of sins;
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting.

There are other versions of the Apostles’ Creed which change “he descended into hell” to “he descended to the dead” or leave it out altogether.  Theology comes and goes, I suppose.  And, of course, to say “I believe in the holy catholic church” is blasphemy in a Baptist congregation, where we don’t want anything to do with anything Catholic.  Except in the Creed, “holy catholic church” means the universal church, the church in all its constituent parts, not the Roman Catholic Church.  Still, we Baptists often choke slightly on the “catholic” part.

But, back to my point — we need a creed.  I am so convinced we need a creed that I’m going to take 12-weeks and preach on each point of the creed this summer and fall.  Think of this as a doctrinal series, using the Apostles’ Creed as my outline.

So, that’s it.  What do you think?  Of course, some of you creedal folks nodded off to sleep several paragraphs back.  To you, this is not a big deal.  Believe me, for Baptists this is a big deal.  I do take some comfort in the fact that in 1905, when the Baptist World Alliance convened for its inaugural meeting, all of the attendees joined in one mightly voice to say together The Apostles’ Creed.  Maybe we should do that, again.

Why cows are not Baptist

I am not making this up.  According to Reuters, scientists have discovered that cows line up with the North-South magnetic axis of the earth when grazing.  Here’s how they figured this out:

The researchers studied 8,510 satellite images of cattle and deer herds derived from Google Earth from around the globe, including 308 pastures and plains.

Before Google Earth, who knew?  This information brings lots of important uses to mind:

  1. Large hairy compass. If you are ever lost, find a cow and you’ll know which way north is.  Unless of course, it’s pointed south.
  2. Okay, actually I can’t think of any more uses for this information, but I’m sure there must be some.

But, wouldn’t it also be interesting to know which way most church buildings face?  Or, better yet, if left to their own devices, how deacons would organize themselves.  I would be amazed if they were all pointing in the same direction!

Of course, research like this would never work with Baptists.  Before Google Earth could snap a photo of a herd of Baptists, we would split to form another group moving in the opposite direction.  Which is proof positive that cows are not Baptist.  Thank you.