Tag: vision

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?

Leadership as Watchfulness

Gannon Sims offers excellent insight on watchfulness over at Duke’s Call and Response Blog.  He says  of watchfulness:

It’s a good word for the church. In his instructions to the church at Colossae, Paul asks his readers to be watchful. Leadership trades more often in words like ‘vision’ and ‘future.’ These are not bad words. But sometimes our attempts to vision the future blur the world right before our eyes. Vision and future allude to coming events. They’re like marks on a trajectory. Watchfulness is more than that. It’s a constant state of being and becoming.

Read the entire post.  Good thoughts on this Friday as you and I prepare for Sunday.

Small church mentality?

There is an idea floating around out there that small churches are inherently resistant to change.  This is often called a “small church mentality” because the conventional wisdom is that every church will be growing numerically if it has the right attitude.

However, small churches should not be disparaged because they are small.  Size is not a determinant of faithfulness, authenticity, or effective ministry.  But small churches get labeled (or should it be libeled?) as having a “small church mentality.”  Don’t believe me?  Here’s an example from Twitter just today:

“Moving from small church mentality and accepting the pain and disagreement that brings.”

I am not trying to pick a fight here, but I have several problems with this comment (I realize that this is the digital equivalent of eavesdropping, but you’ll just have to forgive me).

First, I am assuming this is a pastor talking about trying to transition his church from a small one to a bigger one (I have deleted the identifiers from Twitter).  My question would be, “What is the mentality that you label ‘small church?’ Is it a reluctance in the church to do what you want to do, or is it a resistance to be the church God intends?  Because there is a difference.  I have led churches to do what I wanted them to, and most of the time it turned out okay.  But I fully realize now that some of my vision was not anywhere close to what we should have been doing.

Secondly, why does the idea of change in a small church assume the presence of pain and disagreement?   Just for the record, I’ve experienced my share of congregational discord.  I’ve been there and done that often because what I represented as God’s will was simply my willfulness.  Not attractive in a pastor, by the way.  Pastoral willfulness is a kind of religious “my way or the highway” all dressed up in spiritual language to justify it.  I know this is true because I’ve done it before.  Everything from Sunday School reorganization to selecting pulpit furniture, I let it be known that I had the right answer.  I’m not saying this pastor-tweeter is guilty, but that attitude does tend to create some pain and disagreement.  However, my more recent experience is it doesn’t have to be that way in a church, small or large.

Finally, do we as pastors have the right, much less the calling, to insist that our congregations follow our vision, which might fundamentally change something about the church that some members value?  Or let me put this another way: Are we like the U. S. Army commander who said of the Vietnamese village they had just leveled, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it”?

Church change will create some anxiety.  But change (read, conflict) can be managed positively.  When it is, then both pastor and people come out in new places neither had dreamed of before.

Before we start invoking the myth of “small church mentality” we as church leaders need to examine our own approaches and motives.  If our attempts to bring change are instead bringing pain and disagreement, it could be we need to take a step back and listen, love, and learn from the faithful folks who are part of this expression of the body of Christ.  What do you think?  Am I completely wrong here, or do you agree?

5 Lessons I Did Not Learn in Seminary

Browsing in a Barnes & Nobles today, I saw a book titled, Lies My Teacher Told Me.  Apparently the author takes issue with some historical stuff he thinks is misrepresented in public education.  The title of that book got me to thinking about my seminary experience.  While I would not accuse my professors of lying to me,  I did learn that there are some lessons seminary never teaches you.  

  1. Ministry can be lonely.   Nobody prepared me for the isolation of single staff ministry.   Seminary campus life provides a rich mix of faculty, students, and organizations in a collegial atmosphere.  But when I left seminary to take my first church, there were long afternoons when I wished I was on the campus again.  
  2. You can’t please everybody.  I guess I knew you couldn’t please everybody, but I thought good pastors tried to.  Or at least tried to get along with everybody.  I quickly ran into agendas about church, community, and family that I never anticipated.  We made lots of friends in those early churches, but we realized we couldn’t please everybody.
  3. Not everyone sees your vision.  I had lots of ideas for my first full-time church, and we put a lot of them into practice.  But not everyone thought new people were a blessing to our church.  Not everyone thought we ought to spend money to improve our Sunday School. Not everyone was thrilled when we set new records on high attendance Sunday.  Not everybody got it, but enough did that we made significant progress.
  4. There are not enough hours in a day.  Or days in a week.  Or weeks in a month.  As a new pastor, I tried to do it all.  I made pastoral promises for my time and attention that stretched me too thin.  Some days I resented the intrusion into what I thought was my “personal” life.  It took a long time to find a rhythm of public ministry and private life that was both challenging and encouraging.  
  5. You have to manage yourself.  Managing time is one thing, but managing your emotional response at times of great disappointment or opposition provides a real challenge.  I don’t think I ever heard a professor talk about “self-management” in difficult moments.  I learned some of those lessons the hard way.  Fortunately, churches are forgiving of a young pastor’s missteps.  However, those lessons need to be learned early, as later pastorates might not be so generous.  

Well, there you are.  Five things I never learned in seminary.  I’m sure there are more.  What are some of your post-seminary lessons?

Leadership is changing — are you?

“It is no longer the time of the heroic leader — the leader who walks in and takes up all the space in the room.  The job of today’s leaders is to create space for other people — a space in which people can generate new and different ideas…”  The Changing Nature of Leadership, p. 19

That’s one of the conclusions in a report from The Center for Creative Leadership.  The bottom line:  leadership is changing and leaders that adapt to the changing times will:

  1. View leadership as a collaborative process.  The lone visionary is out, the collaborative leader who listens and empowers is in.
  2. Recognize that 21st century challenges require adaptive, not technical, changes.  Adaptive changes are systemic, and require new solutions that we may not have thought of yet.  Technical changes are improvements or adjustments to strategies we already know.  Sunday School might be a good example.  Does Sunday School need an overhaul (technical change) or is there a better strategy for teaching the Bible in the 21st century than “classes” on Sunday morning (adaptive change).
  3. Develop a new skill set for leading.  Participation, building/maintaining relationships, and change management replaces the old skill set of resourcefulness, decisiveness (“lone-ranger decision-making”) and doing whatever it takes.  
  4. Reward teamwork, collaboration, and innovation.  Collaborative, participatory teamwork emerges as the preferred strategy of the future and successful leadership will reward shared team efforts.
The CCL report is geared to secular organizations, but the same principles can apply to churches.  Typically, churches are behind the curve in understanding and incorporating new leadership strategies.  Eighty-four percent of leaders surveyed by CCL agreed that the definition of leadership has changed in the last five years.  Several months ago I wrote about “Vision: An Overblown Concept” because I thought church leadership needed to move from the “visionary leader” model to the “collaborative model” of leadership.  Looks like someone else agrees with me.  What do you think?

3 Things Churches Must Do in 2008

Now that we’re 8 years into this millenium, here are the 3 things I think churches must do in this pluralistic, postmodern, post-christendom world —

  1. Tell the story.  Read both the Old and New Testaments and the constant practice that emerges is that God’s people tell God’s story.  The great story for Israel was the Exodus.  Still is.  The great story for the church sweeps from creation to recreation witnessed in the person of Jesus.  I am convinced that we need to tell the story of God over and over.  We need to tell it in our worship, our teaching, our daily living.  I’ll say more about this later this year, and I’ve created a new category, The Story, just for that purpose. 
  2. Invite others.  This is called evangelism, outreach, and witness.  But the kind of inviting I’m talking about is not invitation to join the church or get baptized or even make a decision for Christ.  It might include all those things, but has a unique perspective on the mission of God.  And, I’m convinced if we learn how to really tell the story, then inviting others will not be the struggle that evangelism, outreach, and witness are now.
  3. Bless the world.  God called Abraham and blessed him to be a blessing to all the nations.  Service to others, visiting the prisoners, healing the sick, doing justice for the poor, being peace to world in strife — these are ways of blessing the world. 

Simple, Biblical — tell the story, invite others, bless the world.  That’s what I’ll be doing in 2008.  That’s what I’m going to lead my church to do.  I’ll post our progress — successes, and failures — during this year.  For me, these are the basic practices any church should do.  What do you think?

Top 10 posts of 2007

Debbie and I have been visiting our daughters and their families between Christmas and New Year.  Hope your Christmas was wonderful and you spent it with those you love, too.   As we close 2007, here are the Confessions of A Small Church PastorTop 10 Posts of 2007″

  1. My Five Rules for Pastoring a Small Church — Technically this was posted in 2006, but it was the lead-off post here, and had been revisited many times. 
  2. Don’t Quit — This is my story of quitting the ministry for 12-years and why you should not.  Lots of comments and off-line conversations about this one.  Share this with your friends who are thinking about quitting. 
  3. The Day I Went To A Strip Club — This gets lots of hits!  And it’s a true story with an unusual twist. 
  4. This Easter Outreach Idea Works — True story of an outreach idea we used that is simple, effective, and involves everybody.  Let me know if you try it and how it works for your church. 
  5. Where Is God in Our Tragedy? — This post is the sermon I preached to our church following the tragic mass murders at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007.  Our church is about 2-hours from VT, many of our members are alums, and we are part of “The Hokie Nation.”  Christianity Today picked up a portion of the sermon on their Leadership website. 
  6. Vision: An Overblow Concept — Lots of response to this post and my view of the “vision-thing” as George H W Bush characterized it. 
  7. Community Center Groundbreaking — This happened in June and marked two years of work to get to this point.  40-kids from the Boys and Girls Club donned “hard hats” and grabbed pint-sized shovels to turn the dirt for construction to begin.  We’ll move in April, 2008, so it’s getting closer. 
  8. Five Ideas for Repurposing Your Sunday School — This post got picked up and passed around among some denominational Sunday School leaders and thinkers. 
  9. Willow Creek Study Says Church Programs Don’t Work — This is the all-time leader with thousands of views and lots of buzz.  Why are we so taken with Willow Creek?
  10. 6 Shifts in the Church and How Your Church Can Benefit — Thanks to those who picked this up and bandied it about.  If anything 2008 will prove these shifts to be even more true.  Question is, do we get it? 

So there they are — the top 10.  And there were some of my favorites that didn’t make the cut, particularly the stories of people in my church and community.  Browse around for some more stuff.  And thanks for stopping by every day or once-a-week or once-in-a- while.  I appreciate it and hope 2007 has been a good year for you.  See you next year!