As Fast As the Last

The work of adaptive change requires an open heart to respect and appreciate the pains of change that you are asking people to sustain. – Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky
 (“Leading with an Open Heart,” Leader to Leader, Fall 2002, 33.)
I have attempted to step back now and then, as I move a congregation through revitalization, to make sure I am bringing people along.  My brain is wired to think far ahead but I know that is not the case for everyone.  I am usually thinking two years ahead and then working back from there to see what steps or direction we need to be heading as a church.  I can get so caught up in my steps and planning that I forget to tell people what is happening.
For United Methodist Pastors it can be hard to remember the pain we are putting people in as we create and move a congregation into change.  We may be moving into a better form of Church and keeping what are core values are (see previous post for more) but do we recognize the pain associate with that.  Do we respect it?  Do we honor it?  Do we ignore it?  Do we speak to it?
One of the greatest moves I have witnessed in my congregation was the willingness for our senior’s Sunday School to move classrooms.  In other congregations, I have witnessed a vise grip on classrooms and they have been seen as sacred space.  Our nursery needed to move.  It was tucked into the corner of the first floor of our Education building.  It was way in the back and hard to get to.  There would be no way a guest would be able to find it.  We also (with the addition of my two kids) had more children in the nursery at that time and the space was too small for the amount of kids we had.  When I approached the class about possibly moving to give more space for the nursery, they did so happily and with pride.
They moved to another room right off the Sanctuary, which is smaller and doesn’t provide limited noise buffering from anything happening in the sanctuary.  There have been some pains since that transition and I admit there are times when I don’t give it much thought.  But their class has grown and they are filling up that space now.  The question I have to continue to ask myself is how can I continue to serve and honor them as we change?  My worry is that they will feel we are pushing them again with more change.  They might feel left out, ignored, or cast aside.  Yet they are a core of who we are and they are doing vital ministry within our congregation.  I cannot ignore them nor the pains we are asking them to endure as a class.

Change is a lot like hiking with a group of people.  You can only go as fast as the last person.  As a church leader we have to continue to look backwards and see who is at the back of the pack.  How are they doing and how are they reacting to the journey we all are going on.  This doesn’t mean you stop moving forward but it does mean you are doing it together without leaving people behind. 
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Change and a Better Me

People will change only if they believe that a new insight, a new idea, or a new form helps them become more of who they are.  Margaret J. Wheatley(Leadership and the New Science, 2nd edition (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1999), 148.) 

This quote comes from Lovett H. Weems, Jr’s pdf called “50 Quotations to Help Lead Change in Your Church.  I am going to use some of these 50 quotes to spur some blog posts on leadership and change from my experiences in Revland.
Often time in the midst of change people fear that it will change who they are.  Change does this but not at a core level.  What makes us who we are at our core is essential to who we are and that is what we fear might change when something new happens. 
When I became a father I really wasn’t nervous about the change coming to our family.  My wife and I were excited about this “something new” coming into our lives.  I had no clue what was in store for me as a new father but I knew I was excited about it.  Now, having two children, I tell soon-to-be fathers and mothers that the best way to describe it is to put your life down on a piece of paper.  Take that piece of paper and get in your car.  Drive your car down the highway at 70mph.  Then open your window and throw your paper/life out the window.  Once a child enters your life, it is never the same.  Everything is different but you never want it to go back.
The act of change scares many people because they are worried it will effect everything.  The truth is though, while everything changed for me when I had a child and now children, I am still me.  I have different roles to play now.  Life is different but I am still me.  In fact I feel I am more me now then when I was single or newly married.  When the kids move away and it is just my wife and I again, things will change but I will still be me. 
As a congregation moves through change one of the biggest things that clergy should pay attention to is what makes that church…that church.  What is its core values.  What draws people in and connects them to God.  When you define those core values then you can freely do different things, reminding people along the way the core values never change it just may be done differently.
Too often this gets left out of the conversation or pushed to the back burner.  Instead we should concentrate on those values, preach them, celebrate them, honor them and then remind them, preach them, celebrate them, honor them as change happens.  This will allow the church as a whole to take the journey together and not feel like they will lose themselves along the way.  Then they will be excited about the new thing because it will help them become more of who they are.

Defining our End Product – What is a Disciple

Bob Farr, in his book Renovate or Die: Ten Ways to Focus Your Church on Mission, states “When you renovate something, you have a pretty clear picture of what you want the end product to look like.” (p.67)  Without that end product in mind how can you achieve what you hope to achieve.  An athlete already knows what she hopes to achieve.  If a volleyball player has a dream to win the gold in the Olympics that is the end product of her hopes and dreams.  From there she can back up to understand what steps it will take to achieve her goal.

The trouble is I am not sure many churches have an end product in mind.  I do not think many local churches have a goal in mind of a person who joins their congregation.  If I would ask I am sure the answer would revolve around, attend worship regularly, give, and volunteer.  These are not necessarily bad intentions but they are not defined.  Farr’s comment has stuck in my head after reading it and I have been wrestling to come up with what the end product of my congregation would look like.
This past week we accepted into membership a woman who has never been a member of a church.  She grew up catholic but now in her retirement she has decided to become a member of our church.  What is the end product or vision for her as our newest member of our congregation?  As I chewed on this cud I attempted to think what our end product looks like.
The answer is easy a Disciple of Jesus Christ…but how lived out….how do you communicate that in real and tangible ways to a congregation…there lies my sticky wicket!
Our mission has been given to us by Jesus Christ at the end of Matthew’s gospel, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you.” (CEB) This is what we are to be doing but how does a person come into a community of faith and live this out.  What does a true disciple look like?  This would be our end product. 
The words echoed in my head from this last Sunday, “As a member of this congregation, will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your witness?” (UMH p.38)  Our end product as United Methodists is living out these five areas of discipleship.  A true disciple is one who prays, is involved and present at worship, gives generously of their gifts, both money and talents, serves as God’s love in this world and tells others why.
What would happen to a congregation if everything they did had one of these components in mind?  If every event, worship service, meal, fellowship, small group, mission project, all that this end product in mind, how would this change the congregation?
If someone lived out all five aspects of their membership vows their life and the life of the congregation would be drastically different.  I bet everyone who knew this person would call them a true Disciple, including God.  Dream of a church where every individual worked to live these vows out consistently and with a cheerful heart. 
To get there would we have to reorganize what we did as a congregation?  Rethink what we deem as important?  Renovation would have to take place!

Am I onto something here?  Is this a valid end product?  When I think of what Jesus called his disciples to do, I find echoes of it here in our membership vows.  Do they miss anything?  I would love to know your insights.

Strategies and Values

In Bob Farr’s book Renovate or Die: Ten Ways to Focus Your Church on Mission he explains how churches need to approach ministry to their community.  This was an eye opener and gave me language to use as I move my congregation forward.

What Farr does is explains the difference between a church’s values and its strategies.  Here is his definitions of both: “A value is something of the heart and a strategy is a method for carrying out the value.” (p.52)  He goes on to give the example of Sunday School.  Sunday School is not a value it is a strategy.  “The value is to teach children and adults life teachings of Jesus.” (p.52)  That is the core value of why Sunday School is done.  Does that mean to keep the value the same it has to happen during the 10:00am Sunday school hour?  Does that mean the value can stay the same but small groups are started at people’s homes instead of at church?

This was my ‘eureka’ moment.  People cherish the values and they are wonderful values we need in our local churches.  But people confuse the strategy for the value all the time.  What some congregations even do is they take a beloved strategy and melt it down into a golden calf.  These strategies turn into sacred cows that they worship.  Defining values and strategies is so important to both the congregation and the minister/staff.  We need to look at our core values and the strategies we use to implement them.

Let’s take worship for example.  I would say the value of worship is a time to gather together to glorify God through music, God’s Word, offerings, and the message.  How this is accomplished is the strategy.  One strategy to accomplish this is the Order of the Word found in the beginning of the hymnal and led by a beautiful pipe organ.  Another strategy is a modern worship service with a band which plays for 30 minutes before the preacher/teacher comes out to give the message.  Both accomplish the same value but two different strategies are implemented.  Is one better than the other?  NO because they both accomplish the same value.

Recently my wife and my kindergartner got in an argument on who to write a lower case ‘a’.  My wife and I learned that you make a circle and then draw a line down on the right side.  My son learned to draw a magical c and then a line down the side.  His ended up looking more like a ‘d’ and that is what we were trying to remedy.  Now whether you use a ‘o’ or a magical ‘c’ to write an ‘a’ doesn’t matter.  Those are the strategies being used.  The value is that a pencil is hitting paper and a legible ‘a’ is written (the value).

I have started to look at the ministries of my church with different eyes.  What is my congregations core values?  What are our current strategies we are using?  Which strategies have turned into golden calves?  What strategies may we do differently to keep our values going?

Delicious food for thought.

Assess Your Leadership

In 2008 I wrote a post after reading a book by John Maxwell.  In the book, Developing the Leaders Around You, he gives 25 questions to assess the leadership around you.  As I am approaching the 4th quarter of my first year of this appointment, I stumbled on this post.  It is worth a read because it gives some keys to identifying great leaders verses emerging leaders.

Too often in the local church we place emerging leaders in places where great leaders are needed.  Emerging leaders have passion and a lot of heart but may not have all the skills needed to follow through with a project or task.  Especially in the UM system which demands working within a structure/polity, it may be too much for emerging leaders to tackle. 

The ability to name where leaders are in their growth is beneficial because it provides a way to name the abilities of your leadership.  There is nothing wrong with emerging leaders, but they need coaching.  Great leaders and even good leaders can be left alone to use their talents and gifts but guidance is needed for those honing their leadership abilities. 

As Chairpersons of the Nominations Committees of our churches, leadership assessment tools are great assets to have in our tool box.  Please read (link above) it can be enlightening. 

All I Need to Know about Church Leadership I Learned from My Massage Therapist – Part II

Many times in church leadership I have run into a problem where the symptom is different than the cause.  Someone is upset, frustrated, or concerned about an issue but the way it comes out or is expressed (the symptom) is very different from the true reason (the cause).  Another word for this is passive aggressiveness.  It is an art form in some people but a royal pain to people in leadership as they try to root out the cause while having to deal with the symptoms. 
Massage Therapy has a couple of terms for this as well, trigger points and pain referrals.  By definition, active trigger points are tender to touch and have a signature referral pain pattern.  This referral pattern explains why the pain is often in a location removed from the trigger point.  Where it hurts is not always where the problem is. Each muscle has its own pattern of pain referral.  Knowing these patterns is essential to troubleshooting soft tissue pain.  Referral pattern knowledge also helps distinguish between the cause and the symptom. 
For example, I suffer from seated chair victim.  Since I end up sitting at a desk for hours at a time my hamstrings shorten.  They become shortened because my legs are bent, which is the natural position they are in when you sit with your feet on the floor in a chair.  After a while those muscles are naturally shortened, or tightened, because of this position.  What happens is these tightened muscles then add pressure or pain to my lower back.  The cause is my shortened hamstrings and the symptoms is lower back pain.  Do you know of anyone who suffers from lower back pain and sits in front a computer screen for hours a day?  To learn more on Seated Chair Victim clickhere.
A keen and knowledgeable Massage Therapist will work the cause of the problem not only the symptom.  When my massage therapist works on my hamstrings it hurts and it is not a relaxing massage BUT my lower back pain diminishes.  If she only worked on my lower back, the pain would return soon enough.  Knowing the trigger point and its pain referrals allows massage therapists to diagnose the cause of the soft tissue pain to gain a longer and more permanent solution for the client.
There are books and books about trigger points and pain referrals because they do have a set pattern.  The key to those in church leadership positions is to learn the trigger points and pain referrals of their congregations.  Although there is no book on this subject specific to your congregation, there usually are patterns that evolve which can be diagnosed over time.
For example, Mrs. Betsy doesn’t show up for worship any more.  She attends her Sunday School class but then goes home instead of to worship.  She doesn’t attend any of the meetings of the committee she serves on either.  It seems, to the pastor, that she has given up on her church except for her Sunday School class.  She assumes the cause is because of something she said or did.  Her lack of attendance and participation are her pain referrals or symptoms.  As the pastor sits down with Mrs. Betsy and gets her to open up about why she has pulled away, the pastor learns that she is truly upset.  With more digging the cause is revealed.  It seems that in a grocery store months ago, another church member was very rude to her.  Something happened and an argument broke out.  This fellow lay person sits in her section at worship and sits on the same committee as she does. 
Finally the true caused is understood and discovered.  Now the pastor can spend time dealing with the cause of the problem, mending the relationship, and working through this conflict.  Whether that will heal that relationship or not may still be up in the air but at least the cause was addressed and not only the symptoms.  Plus the pastor learns it is not about her, which relieves some pressure and worry in her own soul. 
It is hard work, pain staking work at times, to get to the root cause of an issue.  It is especially difficult if people do not want to tell you the true cause of their frustrations.  Once those causes are flushed out good Church Leaders will recognize the referral patterns and start to think ahead.  They will recognize situations or decisions that may cause these trigger points to flare and work hard to lessen the blow.  The important thing is not to get so caught in the web of symptoms that the cause is forgotten or ignored.  If the cause is ignored the problem will not go away.  Just as a good Massage Therapist, a pastor has to work the cause to build a healthy and vibrant Body of Christ.

All I Need to Know about Church Leadership I Learned from My Massage Therapist – Part I

My wife, Alycia, is a very talented and gifted Licensed Massage and Bodywork Therapist (check out her Facebook page).  She knows the muscles of a human body more than anyone I know.  Just as a brief testimony, during our recent move I did something to my back.  I literally could not stand up straight and almost couldn’t walk.  An hour later I got off her table and felt much better.  The pain had subsided and I could move again.  Is she a miracle worker?  That day I would have said YES! 
I recently was on her table again getting some work done on my shoulders and neck when I realized the link between Massage Therapy and Church Leadership.  These series of posts will demonstrate some links between the two professions and what we, as Church Leaders, can learn from Massage Therapy.
Quick stop on my soapbox: The profession of License Massage and Bodywork Therapists (LMBTs) gets linked to the sex trade very easily because of the ‘massage parlors’ around the world that offer ‘happy endings’.  My wife is not a sex worker, nor are the vast majority of LMBTs.  But a few rotten apples always ruin the reputation of every apple.  She takes her profession, her calling, very seriously and handles her business with the utmost professionalism.  Please leave all gutter thoughts in the gutter.  We can be grown ups and move beyond the thought that whenever a human being touches another human being it always leads to sex.  These posts have nothing to do with any of that and the mere mention is truly offensive.  This profession has worked very hard to move beyond that notion, let’s help them continue to move forward.
With that said, my first post on “All I Need to Know about Church Leadership I Learned from My Massage Therapist” has to do with letting go.  As Alycia worked my neck muscles, trying to loosen up the knots, she kept giving me instructions to ‘let go’.  As she held my head in her hand and manipulated it side to side to access the right muscles I kept trying to control it without realizing it.  The best way for her to tilt my head in the right angle would be to simple relax all the muscles in my neck and let her do the work.  By ‘letting go’, I enabled her to do the work she needed to do. 
Many of us in the ministry have a problem with control.  We like it and we don’t want to give it up.  This fact can have implications in either direction.  It is a good thing because we can help steer a church or committee in the direction we see fit.  It can be bad because we take away the power from the laity to do the work they need to do, not to mention taking power away from God.  The art of Church Leadership is found in knowing when to lead from the front and when to lead from behind.  When do we allow others to do the work and when do we step forward?  How we answer that question tells us a lot about our leadership skills and mindset.  But to walk that line and know when to do one verse the other is tough.  Then there are the other times where we need to get out of the way all together.
“Let Go!”  As my wife’s voice echoed in my ears as she stretched my head towards my shoulders I was reminded that I am not the savior to my church.  My congregation already has a savior.  My leadership, my vision, my pride, my desires are not the things to be concerned with.  Let go.  God has placed a calling upon this congregation and that is what I need to be searching for, that is what I need the people of my congregation searching for.  We need to remove the I, me, my, we, our, out of the conversation and listen to God instead.  We need to let go.  I need to let go.
When we let go and enable ourselves to be pushed, stretched, and manipulated by the hands of God we open ourselves up to true discipleship, transformation, and sanctification.  Even the smallest notion that we can do it on our own removes our full faith in God.  We need to let go more as Church Leaders.  We need to let go the ideas we hold dear in our minds because we want to build ourselves up, seek credit and accolades, or look good to our bosses.  We need to let go and rest our hearts, our ideas, our trust in the hands of God.  Let God lead us to where we need to be and stop attempting to tell God how it should be done.
We can see the process of letting go and then attempting to take control back in the people of Israel.  They would follow God and then slip away, be called back and then slip away.  Letting go of our power and relying on God is a process.  Letting go is a journey towards holiness and to be made Christ-like.  May you be able to let go in your ministry and in your walk with God.