Leadership That Matters

I scanned through this 1999 article by Anthony B. Robinson a while ago. My eyes paused more on the practical points he was making on the lessons on leadership. I’m not particularly worried about the concept of leadership in the same way I’m not overtly reactive to any concept. (even though they may abused by many).  I think a re-active pose in an either/or posture doesn’t move me forward, and then we’re spinning in circles. Somehow, I feel the need to distance any expressions which pull me to the “bitterness” pole when I simply just want to take steps to the “better” way.

1) Give responsibility back: Early in my ministry I would listen closely when people said, "The church should be doing this," or "The church ought to do that," and I would immediately put the idea in my pastoral backpack. After a while the load became so heavy that I collapsed. I began to learn to give responsibility back. I found myself learning to say things like, "That’s an important need all right. How do you think you can respond to it?" If I wanted to be even more blunt, I would say, "I am not especially interested in hearing what you think the church should be doing, but I am very interested in hearing what you believe God is calling you to do."

I like that “What do you believe God is calling you to do?”.  After serving through the local church, the wider denomination, and multiple other contexts (more than I ever expected), I hear it all the time whether it’s about the church or about society in general. You could throw in family and company in between! “The (fill in the blanks) should do this or that, and after it’s said, I wonder who is going to take some responsibility and do something about it .  a loud silence, and eyes looking another way.

It’s refreshing when someone steps out even a small step and say, “Perhaps I could contribute with this small effort.”  A small effort makes a big difference in the long run!

2) Expect trouble: I found myself puzzled that new ideas or challenges to the status quo proved so upsetting to some people. I thought, "Gosh, I’m not an evil person. Why are some people so angry, even vicious?" I laid my complaint before a friend, who said, "If you aren’t making some enemies, you’re probably not doing your job."

Most clergy want to be liked. But if we make being liked the overriding rule for our ministry, not much is likely to happen. This is not to indulge a persecution complex or to delight in opposition. It is to recognize the paradoxical wisdom of the aphorism, "No good deed goes unpunished." It

is to recognize that in the church, just as in the world, power is zealously guarded, and not all that glitters is gold.

Who likes conflict? Who enjoys upsetting people?  When I was younger (which is not too long ago! LOL), the need to make sure people like me is greater.  Then again, it’s not so much of people liking me, than it’s I only sincerely hope every effort that I did in whatever way, could contribute to our mutual growth as people. 

I think this ideal must not be shoved aside. Reality someone said is what you get when your head knocks on the wall.  People are complex, and like a good friend reminded me, they are mysteries too.  Hey, I’m one of them!

Thankfully, I don’t think I have that many enemies.  Maybe, I’m not doing such a great job? Or mercifully, God is gracious to spare me from such persecution.  Or I’ve mastered the art of avoiding bullets like Neo in the Matrix? The bullets are still shot, but somehow I can bend? How about freezing time?

3) Value small steps: The long-term vision may be one of fundamental change, but you get there by looking for and valuing small steps along the way. Sometimes very small steps. For example, you may hope to see your congregation develop a full-orbed teaching ministry for adults, giving as much or more emphasis to adult education as to the Sunday school for children. Keep the vision dive, but look for small steps — for example, the church board studying a relevant book, key leaders beginning to share the vision, a special task force grappling with the ideas, and individuals in the congregation who long for serious biblical study openly articulating their hope. The Exodus did not just happen one day. There were a host of steps, over a number of years, that built toward it.

Ewan is learning how to walk now.  He’s slower than some of the kids around his age.  But that’s okay.  Small steps.  You can see the joy he has when big brother Gareth holds him to take one step at a time. One day he will run, but for now it’s baby steps.

What next for us?  What’s the next baby step we can take?

4) Plan: Both long-range, strategic planning and an annual calendar planning can help a congregation as well as clergy to focus energies and avoid getting distracted. Planning that is done well will begin with the question, What are we trying to accomplish? Periodic strategic planning (every five years is about right,) followed by action and accomplishment, heightens congregational energy and self-confidence. On the other hand, nothing dissipates congregational energy more than discussing an issue year after rear without taking action.

I’m looking forward to May.  The new gardeners will be relooking at our catalyst and cultivation ministry! 🙂 I think calling our new council gardeners will do us much good.  Helping us see the longer-range planning with the shorter-term labor.

“What are we trying to accomplish?”  I’m pretty focused on the eternal perspective (I prefer the term eschatological perspective!) 😛 Now, how does all that translate to the here and now, the tomorrows and next weeks?

5) Identify the vital few: Part of good planning is asking the question," What are the vital few things we must do in order to get the job done? Often congregations try to do too much and resist asking, What is really critical? What are the vital few things we must do if we are to be a faithful Christian congregation? The "vital few" question can be employed with boards and staff, as well as with the congregation as a whole. It helps to sort out the major from the minor, to create a sense of being mission-driven. Most groups and congregations are better off trying to do less and doing that well than trying to do a lot and doing it poorly.

The “vital few” is also a key question I’m asking myself. It’s been quite a ride especially the last 2-4 years.  The intensity, the proximity, the complexity of life and society has totally overwhelmed me.  It’s amazing how I’m still standing up, and I think sane (to some degree).

A friend commented that just listening to me, he wonders whether he’s burn out doing exactly what I am doing. Another comment I heard last night, which I’ve been hearing repeatedly is whether I’m doing too much. 

Well, I can only say there is a season for everything (which is a tough lesson I’m teaching my kids).  And like it or not, back to lesson number 1, I’m not the “just complain no action type”.  I’m well aware I’m not the messiah.  So no messiah complex, really I don’t have any.  The most is there is a self-emptying (in theological terms “Kenotic”) dimension which I’m conscious off.  I do believe there is that element in following Christ and serving him.

The danger of burn out is real. Times like this reflecting through blogging, the solitude a while ago, meditation on the scriptures, and prayer are crucial.  Yesterday, meeting with my two “comrades” was non-negotiable.  I’m looking forward to hang out on Skype with another wiser companion across the ocean.  These are gifts I treasure so much, I would have long turned into smoke if not for them.

But still, the “vital few” question remains.  And baby steps towards that is happening now.  I paid a price for making some choices the last few years.  I don’t expect many to understand.  Some do. Thanks.

6) Don’t overvalue consensus: Many people take great pride in saying, We do everything by consensus here. That often means, We never take a vote. Sometimes consensus is the best way to operate and really does occur. More often, it ends up meaning that the long-winded win, or that veto power is held by those who resist change. Not every decision requires or should be made by a vote. But voting does help a group move forward. Waiting for consensus means disempowering those who are willing to take risks, who in many cases are precisely the people you want to encourage, not discourage. After a vote is taken, leaders need to work for cohesion, reminding all parties of a unity and identity that transcend the particular issue.

Consensus and cohesion.  Hmmm.. some extra food for thought. I can see the practically of what the author is saying.  Field test this again when the time comes.  So far, consensus is working on our end.  But the cohesion part after decisions are made  towards the wider church family is always a constant challenge.

7) Count the yes votes: This strategy is another way of empowering the risk-takers. Sometimes there is not a need to take an up-or-down vote on an issue. Simply let the interested and enthusiastic go ahead — that is, count the yes votes. Barely will a majority take part in a new ministry at the outset. Counting the yes votes enables the creative minority to take action.

Where are the yes votes in front of me?  I think I’ve spent a little to  much time thinking about the no votes lately. Bless you risk-takers!

8) Create a new working group for a new job: Five years ago the church I serve began the groundwork for a sanctuary renovation project. If this project had been sent to the administration, property, finance, worship or other established board, it would have languished and died. When it comes to significant new directions or coloring-outside-the-lines work, established boards are good at saying no. If you want the idea to live, create a special task force or committee. It is likely to be more invested in the work than an existing board would be and much more likely to bring the project to fruition.

What’s a new working group in the pipeline? I can think of at least 3.

9) Change by addition, not subtraction: It is always easier to get support for adding a project than for eliminating one. Even the most moribund program will have its loyalists. If you try to kill it off, you will mobilize the supporters and sap energy from new ventures. You’ll get where you want to go more quickly by focusing on the new project. If and when the new ministry takes off, people will gradually gravitate toward it, and in time the need for the old forms will cease to exist. People are much more likely to let go of the old when they have something new to embrace.

We’ve added quite a few ministries or projects the last year.  The Alternative Worship on 1st Friday of every month is one of them.   There’s also a need to reboot quite a few ministries.  Baby steps again.

10) Be persistent: Change, no matter how much needed or how valid the motivation, happens slowly and engenders resistance. Those called to leadership should expect conflict and resistance; be prepared to value it and to learn from it, and to persist as gracefully as possible in the face of it. When it is clear that the leader will be persistent, the dynamics do change. Don’t give up too soon. It takes about five years for a new pastor to be trusted and accepted as the pastor of the church, and seven to eight years before his or her efforts begin to bear fruit. If your time line is a lot shorter than that, congregational leadership will prove to be a disappointing line of work.

I think there were times we gave up too soon on some practices which deep down I know it’s the right way to go. It’s good to review the timeline.  And I think our expectations need to be adjusted, and we need to let go more of our assumptions based on past experiences. The world is changing rapidly, we are changing too and it’s better to let the old models go. God is doing a new thing. Learn from the past, but don’t get stuck in the past. Move the future with a persistent heart!

8 years huh? So, we have just begun!

About Sivin Kit

man of one wife, father of four kids
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