The Witness of Unity

John 17:20-26
20”I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one,23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

We just celebrated World Communion Sunday on the first Sunday of October.  On that day, we lifted up our unity as Christians in the church universal by sharing the sacrament of Holy Communion along with thousands of other Christians worldwide.  There is an urgent need right now for Christians to be a witness through unity, especially in our American political climate.  First and foremost, Christians are fundamentally called to demonstrate our faith guided by Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, during this season of presidential politics many of us seem to guided more by our commitment to political ideologies than the teachings of Christ.

Let me give you two examples.

I have a good friend who is a Christian and a Democrat. She started visiting a new church in the community where she lived.  While she thought her faith and politics lined up, she learned very quickly that the people in her new church did not agree.   In a Sunday school class conversation, several seemed to imply (and one person directly stated), that one cannot be both a Christian and a Democrat. She liked her church and knew everyone did not feel this way, but here she was in a congregation where leaders of her class were telling her that her political views were not Christian. What kind of church would say such things?

I know another man who shared with me his pain around faith and politics. He is a Christian as well and a faithful member of his church. He never told me his political affiliation, but he expressed some deep pain from friends and congregation members who sent out partisan emails. He is the kind of guy who studies the facts and whenever he would try to point out the errors of certain emails (of which most were partisan lies), the response back to him was not exactly in keeping with the kind of love Jesus modeled. They responded to him harshly and he had not even asked to be sent those emails! Someone just included him in all the FWDs. One man said to him, “Don’t talk to me anymore!” What kind of church would say such things?

Actually, both of these people attend the same church.  And the church these two people attend is the church I pastor.

I appreciate some aspects of both parties and disagree with others. I have voted for persons in both parties. Jesus would not perfectly fit either political party. The truth is we Christians have damaged our witness when it comes to how we participate in partisan politics.  I know many people of strong faith who become very un-Christian in their behavior when they begin to talk about politics.

In John’s gospel today, Jesus is talking about unity. As we gather around the table to celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion, we celebrate unity in the Body of Christ. Our faith teaches that we are one body and Christ is the head. This does not mean we are all the same or that we all see the world the same way. We struggle in our differences; I get that – I struggle as well. But we must remember that just because we are commanded to be ONE doesn’t mean we have to all be the SAME.  Unity is not the same as uniformity.  In this section of the gospel of John, Jesus teaches us that our unity is rooted in our faith and that our witness to the world will not be about “right belief” but rather about “right living” – Jesus models the Father, and he calls us to model him. Our love of God and one another, if it is true and authentic, should rise above any difference in our political ideology.

Let me encourage you to be a faithful witness to the love of God in these coming days and weeks. Remember the teachings of Paul from Ephesians 4, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another.”
I want you to be involved and engaged in the political arena, but I want you to remember that you are an ambassador of Christ first and foremost. Our faith should not be trumped by our loyalty to a political party. If it is, we compromise our witness to the world.

Are you a witness to the cosmic power of Christ in our unity? Or is your witness of Christ compromised by our lack of love and unity?

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.”

Reflections on General Conference…from the Porch

“In Scetis a brother was once found guilty. They assembled the brothers, and sent a message to Moses telling him to come. But he would not come. Then the presbyter sent again saying, ‘Come, for the gathering of monks is waiting for you.’ Moses got up and went. He took with him an old basket, which he filled with sand and carried on his back. They went to meet him and said, ‘What does this mean, Abba?’ He said, ‘My sins run out behind me and I do not see them and I have come here today to judge another.’ They listened to him and said no more to the brother who had sinned but forgave him.” – Sayings of the Desert Fathers

A brother sinned and the presbyter ordered him to go out of church. But Abba Bessarion got up and went out with him, saying, ‘I, too, am a sinner.’” – Sayings of the Desert Fathers

We are more like Nicodemus than we care to admit. We try to interpret Jesus too readily and respond too quickly. We come to the living Jesus and the first words out of our mouths are “we know” (John 3:2). Unfortunately for those of us who love facts and truth and logic and clarity, Jesus is more untamable than we care to admit. Instead of coming to Jesus with “we know”, we should humbly come to Jesus that we might “experience Jesus”. For as Jesus told us, the wind blows where it chooses and we do not know from where it comes or where it is going, so it is with the Spirit (John 3:8). The experience of Jesus is the very essence of discipleship, not knowledge. Disciples are followers not because of what they “know” about Jesus. Disciples are followers because they “imitate” and “experience” Jesus.

John 8:7-11 says, 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ 8And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ 11She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’”

As I watch and reflect on the United Methodist General Conference, I am struck at how poorly we imitate Jesus in our deliberations. Every side of every disagreement claims “we know”, but I wonder if any side really does? No one is innocent here. Every side is influenced by their own religious zeal as they interpret what they “know” about the “love”, the “truth”, or the “word” of the Lord.

I have to admit; I am left wanting. If we really want to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world, we need to begin by modeling discipleship ourselves. General Conference reaffirms for me something I have believed and preached for a long time: “We would rather be right than reconciled.” Winning the day, even if my so-called “position” triumphs, leaves me wanting as I watch General Conference this year. We can change all the structure we like, but until we, as a church, really begin to experience Jesus and begin to imitate Him, we will be nothing more than a clanging cymbal or a noisy gong.

Is it possible that we have it all wrong? In all of our effort this week to save our church, our witness in how we did our work together, many times, did harm. The irony of it all is that we will all agree that harm was indeed done… those who disagreed with what “we know”.

Reflections on General Conference. Pt. 1: Are We Who We Think We Are?

In his book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, Peter Senge lifts up a timeless evaluative tool for organizations.  This evaluative process helps us to see if we are who we say we are, or if we are something else; something we do not intend to be.

General Conference is going on in Tampa, Florida, as I write this.  This is the chief legislative body of the United Methodist Church and meets every four years to decide matters of polity, theology, and practice.  For many United Methodists, watching General Conference online can be an uplifting and sobering experience.  At moments one can be proud to be United Methodist, and at other times ashamed.

Let’s engage in this little test.  If a group of outsiders watched General Conference online, what kind of church would they say the United Methodist Church is?  I’m not sure our leadership really thinks strategically about how our actions line up with our beliefs, as Peter Senge defines them.

Senge points out that Espoused Theory is what we say we are, what our mission statement says we are, what we profess to be, and what we profess to value.  Theories in Use are what we actually do, how we model ourselves through action,  and is reflected by the actual decisions we make.

My espoused view may be that people are basically trustworthy, but I may never lend friends money and jealously guard all my stuff – obviously my theory in use (my deeper mental model) differs from my espoused theory.  We all have gaps between our espoused theories and our theories in use.  This is a consequence of vision, not hypocrisy.  The problem is not in the gap, but our failure to tell the truth about the gap.  We are not always what we say we are.

As I watch the online business sessions and worship services of General Conference, I am left to wonder if we really value what we say we value.  The talk leading up to General Conference was primarily about our decline and inability to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  I wonder whether “what we do” and “what we actually lift up” at General Conference reinforces what we say we value.

While “making disciples for the transformation of the world” may be our espoused theory, is it really our theory in use?  Is it really what we do?  Does the whole denomination embrace it?  Is the vision shared?  Or, are we a collective of differing interests and priorities?

Yesterday, I shared a list of news items from General Conference, both business and worship items, with a friend who does not go to church and who is not a Christian.  I asked him, “based on what they are doing and talking about, what do you think the United Methodist Church is all about?”

He simply said, “Your church reflects what is wrong with America.  I hear what you say the church is supposed to be about – what you call making disciples.  I would never know that based on what is going on down there.  From reading this list of stories and hearing about these worship services, you value a lot of things, but I would never guess it was making disciples of Jesus Christ.”


It’s not over yet.  I am hopeful for our church and for General Conference!  I am reminded what John Wesley used to say about conferencing together as the church.  You should leave more passionate about making disciples of Jesus Christ than when you arrived.

Ask a delegate how this conferencing is inspiring them to engage in what we say we value.  Are we who we think we are?

Making Disciples by Keeping Our Heads Down

Wesley before Easter 10:45 worship 2010

That old cartoon image of the ostrich with his/her head in the sand whenever danger is around is always used as an image of someone who just doesn’t get it.  When your head is in the sand, you are unaware of the challenges and dangers around you – you are oblivious as the world passes by.

In a lot of blogs and articles about making disciples, there seems to be a lot of discussion about what disciple making actually is and how disciple making actually occurs and where disciple making takes place and who it is that actually makes good disciples.  Then there are those that don’t like the term “make” disciples.  They want to form them or mold them or spontaneously combust them or magically cultivate them like a ch-ch-ch-chia pet.

There are also a lot of voices out there discussing how older Christians over 50 don’t know what it takes to make young disciples under 40.  There are those who insist “traditional” worship can’t reach new, younger disciples.  There are those who say the church isn’t “missional” enough, or “emergent” enough, or (insert-latest-catch-phrase-word-here) enough.

I read the blogs and the articles and the critiques all over the internet regarding making disciples and the United Methodist Church and Call to Action, and to be honest, most of them actually create in me the desire to stick my head in the sand. When did making disciples become nuclear particle physics??

Author Robin Sharma recently posted,  “The amateur adores complexity, the professional cherishes simplicity.”  So is my head in the sand, or am I keeping my head down?  They mean two completely different things.

Reading blogs and articles online, one would think that only new, emergent, contemporary churches are growing and successful.  I will admit, I am bothered by this assumption many people have in the United Methodist Church.  I don’t have anything against new churches.  Many are growing at amazing rates making many new disciples.  I am concerned about what we are modeling to our clergy and churches.  Are we communicating that we are ‘incapable’ of making disciples unless we throw out tradition?

Many traditional churches are growing and making disciples effectively.  For example, the vast majority of new members joining Wesley United Methodist Church at Frederica on St. Simons Island where I serve (a traditional church) are under 40 years old.  While we are a traditional church, we are not “conventional” to use Thomas Merton’s term.  We strive to be authentic, relevant, creative and relational.  I wish I could tell you we were trying to be “different”, but we’re not.  In essence, we just do what we do.  We are not trying to over think it or over analyze it.  Can we do better?  Sure!  But we learn more through trial and error, which is a more dynamic yet simple way to learn than policy statements, strategic models, and prescriptions.  Statements and prescriptions are merely secondary reinforcing mechanisms.  They merely reinforce culture that already exists.  If a church isn’t making disciples, you can have all the mission statements and strategies you want, they won’t really change anything.  People have to model making disciples – it happens person to person, in real time…in real life.  Sorry, but that’s the only way it works.

What we do at Wesley isn’t flashy, but it’s working.  Of the 70 new members who joined in 2011, almost 60% were under 45, and most were under 40.  We are learning from our mistakes.  We are loving one another.  We are caring for one another.  We are growing in our knowledge of Christ.  We are growing in our service of others.  We are meeting in nurturing groups.  We are inviting others to participate.  That’s it.  That’s the list.

I’m going to keep my head down.  If you want to say its in the sand, that’s okay.  I don’t mind…really.  I just hope we will all keep in mind that if we are truly concerned about the transformation of the world then let us recapture the beauty of simplicity.

Stewardship of the Leader: Modeling

Leading organizations is a great responsibility. The essence of leadership hearkens us back to the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. Jesus tells of a master who leaves three servants (stewards) in charge – the scripture says, “entrusting all of his property to them.” The significance of that one line cannot be understated. When the master entrusts all of his property to these stewards, they literally become the regents of all the master owns. They become significant leaders. We tend to forget that they have responsibility for everything.

Leaders must understand their level of responsibility within organizations. When we are called and set apart to lead, we are entrusted with shaping the culture of the organization – including tending lives of those we lead. This is no small task. Leaders must be willing to grow, learn, and model out of core values of faith and morality.

Let me focus on one aspect of leadership stewarding that is critical – modeling. Modeling is the most important shaping force of the leader. Leaders who don’t understand modeling and the power it has in shaping the culture of organizations do a disservice to those they lead. These leaders also violate the basic principles of biblical stewardship because they do not understand the great ‘talent’ they are called to invest.

I use the term modeling, but it has broad meaning. Edgar Shein in Organizational Culture and Leadership uses the term “primary embedding mechanisms” and he lists the following: what leaders pay attention to, measure, and control regularly; how leaders respond to critical incidents; how leaders allocate resources; how they teach and coach; how they allocate rewards and status; and how they recruit, promote, and excommunicate. I see all of these mechanism connected. Effective leadership must understand the shaping forces and how important they are. The leader models through these mechanisms and communicates significant information that defines who the organization is and how it goes about its work.

All leaders model all the time. They must be aware of this and they must be conscious of the messages they send. Leaders must also be adept enough to recognize the defensive routines at work in their organization. All organizations (congregations are organizations) have defensive routines. Defensive routines are behaviors and attitudes that inhibit learning and growth. Defensive routines may be violations of formal policies, but usually they are more subtle. Defensive routines are subtly found rooted in any mismatch between what the leader proclaims is important and how the leader actually engages in action (espoused value vs. theory in use, Shein). This type of disconnected modeling actually works against the formation of the very culture the leader is attempting to craft. When the leader’s actions of promotion, rewards, coaching, and excommunication don’t line up with what they have told us are core values, increased stress is introduced in the organization as people try to make sense of the mixed messages. Learning is stifled and natural defensive postures appear.

What is required to confront defensive routines? Two things must occur for the leader.

First, the leader must be push to become more self-aware in understanding why they do what they do. They must understand it, but understanding it alone is not enough. The leader must also be able to articulate their understanding. Without the communication component, they once again fail to model learning and positive change in the culture. The articulation of self-awareness and growth is modeling. Think for a moment how powerful it is when a leader fails, reflects on the failure to understand their role in it, and then has the ability to articulate their learning to their team. There is a sense of confidence that the leader has the capacity to learn and grow and they model this for their team.

Second, the leader must allow his/her managerial team to give feedback regarding their modeling. We are unable to see our modeling objectively. Without a willingness to hear from those who help guide the organization, the leader may not realize the mixed messages that are sent. By allowing the managerial team to assist with the leader’s self-discovery, the leader not only learns, but the leader once again models organizational learning.

If they leader is not willing to hear critique because of embarrassment or threat, then once again there is a mismatch in modeling. These issues and events become ‘undiscussable’. As the level of undiscussable items grows, the inconsistent messages grow. The managerial team is not allowed to discuss freely this disconnect with the leader. The organizational culture begins to reflect this distortion of mixed messages. Ineffective decisions of mismatch become covered up and obfuscated as the leader and managerial team attempt to make sense of the mixed messages to others in the organization. The rest of the managerial team begins to model like the leader, teaching the values yet acting differently. As this process grows and reinforces itself, cover-ups begin to be covered-up even though one of the core values may be openness. Next, the undiscussable previous actions now cannot be discussed. Chris Argyris calls this the “undiscussability of the undiscussable.” The managerial team begins to collude to keep the mixed messages covered-up. The managerial team now expects others to distort and manipulate as well. A new sub-culture is born.

Finally, the leader who sincerely believes he/she is utilizing their gift of stewardship for the good of the organization will find a deep and disturbing set of defensive routines in place that promote ineffectiveness, rather than effectiveness. Dysfunctional managerial teams are created. The leader becomes frustrated with outcomes without realizing why the outcomes are there. The leader fails to see and accept that the organization is learning to function in the same way as the leader and managerial team. The leader is subconsciously reinforcing the defensive routines through rewarding/promoting a managerial team that respect the “undiscussability of the undiscussable”. All the while, the leader doesn’t see he/she is rewarding such behavior. If we return to the parable in Matthew 25, we find now a leader who truly believes he/she is investing their five talents for the master’s return, while in reality they have buried the true talent and are doing the work of the Kingdom with monopoly money – nothing of value, nothing that lasts.

How does all this change? Unfortunately, it is difficult to change. Since defensive actions are so highly skilled, they are executed without hesitation and they are automatic. The defensive routines are enacted without any reflection. Chris Argyris states that at our core, our defensive actions come from our early life and are ingrained in us. It is how the leader learned to deal with embarrassment or threat. When the leader uses these defensive routines, they model this behavior in the organizations they lead. The organizational culture then begins to follow the model of the leader and adopt these defensive routines. Then, once the leader sees the ineffectiveness of the organization, the blame goes to the organization itself as the leader assails all the organization’s defensive routines. It becomes, as Argyris concludes, a “circular, self-reinforcing process, from the individual to the larger unit and back to the individual.”

The only remedy I can point to is the importance of “ruthlessly, compassionate truth-tellers”. If the leader has the capability for self-reflection and learning (or even if they do not), the repeated lifting up and naming of the defensive routines can be helpful in changing the culture. Think of how Jesus consistently shed light on the inconsistencies of his day. The difficulty is in the character of the leader who may decide it is too difficult to listen to how their modeling contributes to the problems they are attempting to overcome. If the leader can trust the managerial team to assist them, change can occur. This also requires self-awareness and maturity of the managerial team, which is another issue altogether.

So let us pray for all our leaders. Let us pray that they may be self-aware. Let us pray that they would receive feedback from us all and listen carefully. Let us pray for their spirituality. Let us pray for their talents – that what they invest in the Kingdom may be valuable and eternal.

Which is More Difficult? Starting a New Church or Revitalizing an Existing Church?

I completely understand that most people either already have an answer to this question (and feel strongly about it), or they will be angry I even asked the question. The query has been around for a while, especially since the rise of the new congregational development in mainline churches. Many feel that time, money, and energy is best spent in starting a new congregation, not in trying to revitalize an existing congregation. But that was not the question. Whatever your initial opinion on the matter, let me approach the question from the discipline of organizational theory and see if your assumptions/experiences are affirmed or challenged. At its core, the question is about culture, and more specifically, culture formation.

New congregations do not have a culture until some kind of common history is built among the initial members. Once that common story, or history, is proven to be stable enough to share with others through learning experiences (discipleship plans, methodologies, or organizational thoughts), then the new group will “develop assumptions about itself, its environment, how to do things to survive and grow.” (Edgar Shein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, Kindle location 2488-94). This developmental step is the formation of a culture by its very definition. In this culture formation, the founders are critical to the new congregations. If they are strong leaders with high levels of self-confidence and a lot of self-determination (which is what we look for in new church planters), then they will not have a problem imposing their worldviews on those who make up the new congregation. This is not a problem at all unless something the founder does or decides is unworkable, the congregation fails, or it breaks up. The members will clearly understand the direction and they will be able to keep a clear identity as long as the founder’s participation and leadership in the congregation continues. Again, a strong founder is vital. As long as they continue to stay at the head of the congregation, and as long as their decisions are deemed ‘workable’ (keeping the congregation from failing and staying connected to their defined identity), then the new congregation will continue, and more than likely be successful. Their culture will be unified – what the founder and the founder’s key leaders teach.

On the the other side are congregations that are at a different stages of their culture development. A congregation in its mid-life, maturity, and declining stage has drastically different dynamics and cultures than young, emerging congregations. Attempting to shape culture in these congregations requires a completely different type of leadership. Ask any pastor if they will go into a new established church and say, “Okay everyone, here’s how we are going to do everything.” You see, once the founders depart, new leaders rise up. Those in the original ‘founder’s circle’ usually continue to attempt to influence based on the emergent culture, but new voices are now heard. New eyes bring new goals. New leaders may see things the founders did not see. Founders are vital to emerging churches, but that doesn’t mean they are perfect. In subsequent generations, there are competing cultures at work with competing goals. This is why new pastors in established churches find charter members, newer members, and disconnected members who all have their idea of how things should be done. The culture of older congregations is more complex. There are groups and sub-groups (i.e., Sunday school classes?). Subcultures grow and develop. They have different viewpoints. Differing viewpoints bring conflict. Conflicts and challenges are more complex. And, in turn, the answers to those problems, more complex. As the subcultures increase, “it becomes increasingly difficult to coordinate their activities.” (Shein, Kindle 3144-50) This causes the need for more layers of control (committees, hierarchy, etc.). As the subcultures grow, they differentiate themselves more and more. Thus, you arrive at your new church with older adult Sunday school insisting that the new pastor needs to nip this new contemporary worship service in the bud! And the new members of the contemporary worship service insist that they need the older adults Sunday school room for their fellowship cafe.

Different congregations require different leadership needs. They also need different strategies for how to go about managing and changing the culture.

  • · In new, emerging churches the new culture is strongly adhered to because the culture creators (founders) are present. These systems usually have a model, a strong belief in its effectiveness, and will not deliberately deviate from the model unless something from the outside threatens their survival. These systems, while growing rapidly, change slowly and deliberately.
  • · In mid-life, mature, or declining congregations the threats come from outside and inside. Internal power struggles, loss of vision, divisions, lack of energy, and economic stress are all internal factors that threaten the congregation. The leaders in this stage have more sub-cultures to wrestle with. A more complex style of leadership is required to both identify the culture and sub-cultures, and to be able to manage positive change by carefully managing the amount of anxieties to introduce (to motivate change) and psychological safety to promote (to keep from losing identity). This, in my opinion, is a more complex style of leadership and is more difficult to master.

I will readily admit that starting a new congregation is extremely hard work. I, for one, do not wish to do it. I will also readily lift up the need for new congregational development – it is central to our mission and we must engage in birthing new churches. My thoughts are in no way trying to demean new church development – rather my thoughts are attempting to help us lift up revitalization.

I want us to recapture the beauty, importance, and intricacy of leadership in existing congregations. From an organizational perspective (you did hear me say from an organizational perspective, didn’t you?), revitalizing an existing congregation is more difficult than starting a new congregation in that it requires a broader range of leadership capabilities.

Mid-life, mature, and declining United Methodist Churches make up the overwhelming majority of our churches. We need to develop and train the next generation to understand the complexities of leading the cultures within existing churches.

Reflective Practices and Mental Models: From Peter Senge

Matthew 7:21-28
21 ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” 23Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.”
24 ‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 26And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!’
28 Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, 29for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

From Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization
On Reflective Practice and Mental Models

  • The most important mental models (our internal picture(s) of the world, i.e. our worldview) are the ones shared by the key decision makers. They must be constantly reexamined. Managers also must develop reflective and face to face learning skills. We must become “reflective practitioners”.
  • The problem with most managers is they are ultimately “pragmatic” – they are generally “reactive”, not generative. If we are going to be a true learning organization, people at every level must surface and challenge their mental models BEFORE external circumstances compel them to do so. (Proactive approach)
  • Espoused Theory vs. Theory in Use: Espoused Theory is what we say we are, what our mission statement says we are, what we profess, (the manifest culture) : Theory in Use is what we actually believe, our mental model, and dictates our actions (the latent culture)
  • My espoused view may be that people are basically trustworthy, but I may never lend friends money and jealously guard all my stuff – obviously my theory in use (my deeper mental model) differs from my espoused theory.
  • We have gaps between our espoused theories and our theories in use. This is a consequence of vision, not hypocrisy. The problem is not in the gap, but our failure to tell the truth about the gap (remember last week and dealing with the structural conflict??) The first question is: Do I really value the espoused theory? Is it really a part of my vision? Truth telling is vital here. One or two people might really value the espoused theory, but does the whole embrace it? Is the vision shared?
  • As we strive to develop our reflective skills, we need ruthlessly compassionate partners who will tell the truth.
  • Truth Telling
    o Learn to Recognize Leaps of Abstraction: these slow our learning when we jump to generalizations so quickly we never test them. For example, coworkers say Laura doesn’t care about people: she rarely offers praise, she stares into space when people talk to her, she cuts people off when they speak, she never comes to parties, THEREFORE her coworkers conclude she doesn’t care much. Without testing the generalizations, they became truth – actually Laura has a hearing impediment. While based on facts, her coworkers drew inferences and they were never tested. Key: We must test generalizations directly. Inquire the reasons behind people’s actions.
    o The Left-Hand Column: This reveals how we manipulate situations to avoid dealing with how we actually feel and think. When we are interacting with people regarding a situation and it is not working (not producing learning or moving ahead), we form a script of our conversation with two columns. In the right hand column I write down what I am saying. In the left hand column, I write what I am thinking but not saying at each stage of the exchange. It always brings forward hidden assumptions. Usually, rather than face the subject, we talk around the subject. Knowing this, how can we both learn? Key: We must honestly look at how we undermine learning opportunities by not being honest.
    o Balancing Inquiry and Advocacy: Most managers are advocates – they fight for their areas and their people! If they don’t learn to push the inquiry skills, they cut off learning. Advocacy without inquiry begats more advocacy. My way is right, my way needs to win – we push and push, while other managers push back with their advocated issues. Escalation. Rather than ask what brings one to their position? Or, Can you illustrate your point? (Questions of inquiry) We get more vehement and more threatened. Key: When we balance advocacy and inquiry, we are open to disconfirming information as well as confirming information – because we are generally interested in finding flaws in our views.
  • The Goal??
    o The best mental model on a particular issue is supported. We focus on helping that person/mental model succeed.