Leadership Ingredients: Courage

They told this story about Agatho. He and his disciples spent a long time in building his cell. When they had finished it he lived in it, but in the first week he saw a vision which seemed harmful to him. So he said to his disciples what the Lord said to his apostles, ‘Rise, let us go hence’ (John 14:31). But the disciples were exasperated and said, ‘If you meant the whole time to move from here, why did we have to work so hard and spend so long in building you a cell? People will begin to be shocked by us, and say: “Look, they are moving again, they are restless and never settle.” ’ When Agatho saw that they were afraid of what people would say, he said, ‘Although some may be shocked, there are others who will be edified and say, “Blessed are they, for they have moved their abode for God’s sake, and left all their property freely.” Whoever wants to come with me, let him come; I am going anyway.’ They bowed down on the ground before him, and begged to be allowed to go with him.

Courage is required of all leaders. Unfortunately, there is a lack of courage these days, which is one reason the leadership pool is so shallow. Every industry and profession is suffering from a lack of leadership and the United Methodist Church is no different. I was on the phone this morning with a mentor of mine and the topic of courage came up as it related to the United Methodist Church leaders. There are too few courageous leaders – laity, clergy, and bishops. Ironically, when one of our leaders shows courage and stands up for certain issues, they are castigated and called “out of touch”. It’s always easier to alienate those we disagree with rather than engage in an intellectual, reasoned conversation.

Our culture cultivates careful practitioners and while there is nothing wrong with being careful, we have confused care with the inability to lead. A leader cannot make everyone happy and to attempt it is futile and can be destructive to any congregation or organization.

I am not saying courage is bullying. Courage is not demanding your own way. Courage, as Agatho in the parable above shows us, is acting upon the vision God provides no matter what others may think. I love the way Agatho says, “If you want to come with me, come on. I’m going.” That is courageous leadership even when others want to call him crazy. And as the parable above enlightens us, our biggest fear is what others may think of us.

Courage is a key ingredient of leadership. Spend time in prayer discerning God’s vision for your life and for your organization and when God gives you a clear direction – move. I truly believe that Godly leaders of courage will not alienate their followers. After all, you are not really a leader if you take off and no one follows. What Agatho’s followers discovered is that a courageous leader helped them move beyond their fear of what others may think of them. Once they saw that fear clearly, they were ready to follow.

Joshua 1:9, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you may go.”

Is Adaptive Change What We Need? Reflections on the UM Leadership Summit

In the world of 24/7/365 social media, I realize I am a dinosaur in the amount of time that has passed since last Wednesday’s UM Leadership Summit. For the five people out there who are not aware of what the summit was, it was a collection of leaders in the United Methodist Church who led the entire denomination in a live web feed discussion concerning the issues and concerns regarding the Methodist church. The primary focus was the Call to Action Report which calls for confession from us all that we have not been as intentional as we should in making disciples. The study also spent $500,000 to define and identify “vitality” in vital congregations. You may decide if the money was worth it or not, that’s not what I want to discuss. I am more intrigued by the primary use of the word “adaptive” which is used significantly and defines the way in which we deal with the challenges. (Call to Action, pg. 22, pp. 25ff)

As a student of systems theory, organizational culture, and learning organizations, I was most fascinated by the leaders’ use of the word “adaptive”. Bishop Gregory Palmer uses it first when he states in the video (at 37:41 and 37:56) what our “adaptive” challenge is: Redirect attention, energy, and resources to increase the number of vital congregations. The actual report itself has an entire section devoted to “Adaptive Challenges” (pp.25ff)
I understand that anyone can define any word to mean anything they want, but I’m not sure what we need is “adaptive learning”. Maybe its what the institutional church and leaders desire, but its not really what true reformation is all about.
Peter Senge, noted systems theorist, learning organization guru and author of The Fifth Discipline, defines a “learning organization” as “an organization that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future. For such organizations it is not enough to merely survive. ‘Survival learning’, or what is most often termed ‘adaptive learning’ is important – indeed it is necessary. But for the learning organization, ‘adaptive learning’ must be joined with ‘generative learning’ – learning that enhances our capacity to create.” (The Fifth Discipline, pg. 14).
Adaptive challenges and adaptive learning are all rooted in the struggle to survive. There is nothing created or recreated in adaptive learning. Adaptive learning is kin to the old adage “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” Adaptive learning is reactionary and is motivated from fear of survival. Adaptive learning also usually comes from the top down as the institution or organization meets survival challenges and works diligently to stay alive.
Generative learning, on the other hand, creates something new – or recreates that which once was vital. Generative learning is closely connected to the scriptural word metanoia. Metanoia is in no way connected to adapting. It has always been connected to conversion and recreation. The great central truth of our faith in Christ is that the dead can live again and that mediocre living can be recreated to something abundant! Abundant life (vitality?) is our fundamental need which is why the word “vital” is central in the Call to Action Report. Unfortunately, as with any large initiative coming from the top, it is extremely difficult to step away from the drive to survive. The drive to survive (adaptive) is not the same and the drive to live creatively and abundantly (generative). This, in my opinion, is why the creators of the report feel the urgency to increase reporting and accountability. While rooted in something that seems generative, it is totally adaptive and rooted in the fear of death. “Maybe, if we watch our numbers more closely and measure everything more carefully, we will become more vital.” It’s like watching a pot of water waiting for it to boil but never turning on the heat.
In the Call to Action Report, they write “Adaptive change and leadership are not possible without an authentic purpose and vision; powerful, cohesive, guiding coalition; strong standards, and accountability.” In truth, adaptive change is entirely possible without purpose and vision. Dying churches engage in adaptive learning every day and it hasn’t really changed anything because they are not expanding their capacity to create! The essence of adapting is merely adjusting to the external factors to survive.
Do we merely need to survive? If that is all we are after, then I say the Call to Action Report is just what we need. More reporting, more dashboards, more numbers, and more measurables.
Or do we want to breathe new life into these dry bones? If that is what we are after, it will start in the local church, with local laity, and local pastors who will define vitality rather than live into definitions from Nashville.
So, do we really desire to live and create?