Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Take the Next Step

As I continue the journey through my reading for the first of the two courses I'll be taking in May, next up in the rotation is Take the Next Step: Leading Lasting Change in the Church.  This is the second of the two books I'll be reading written by the professor who'll be teaching this course, and...thankfully...this one proved to be both informative and eminently readable.  In Take the Next Step, Weems leads his readers through the concepts and practical steps required to help a congregation explore it's purpose for being, and to determine what vision it is called towards.  It's a solid and practical journey through the visioning process, one that provides the tools any change-agent-leader might need as they help a congregation move towards a new state of being.

As I reflected on how the straightforward concepts and processes laid out by Weems have interfaced with my own ministry work, two key concepts popped for me as being particularly relevant:

Relationships and Trust:  In order to lead effectively and to influence change within an organizational system, a leader must be trusted.  (p. 27-28)  Developing trust is absolutely essential, and Weems lays out three interlocking ways in which trust is built.  First, individuals must manifest character in such a way that they are seen as a person of their word.  Second, they must demonstrate clear and sustained competence in necessary areas of expertise.  Third, they need to be a personal presence, someone who is there in times of crisis, and with whom key decision makers within the organization have a chance to develop a sense of connection.  (p. 32)  Once trust is established across those three interlocking spheres, an individual can leverage that trust towards building an organizational vision.

Within my own ministry, I've seen the necessity of developing trust across all three of these areas.  When I was initially called to serve my congregation, which was struggling, aging, and highly conflicted, my judicatory saw how desperately complex the situation was and turned down the call.  From a pastoral care standpoint, it was a perfectly reasonable decision.  But call is call, and so within the bounds of what was permissible, decent and orderly, I chose to remain.  I simply wouldn't leave.   Even in the full knowledge that the merger my congregation hoped to undertake as it revitalized was an outside shot, I was perfectly willing to make a principled stand to remain even if it meant taking a significant risk.  

The net effect of this choice, as I experienced it, was to radically develop trust within the congregation.  I was their pastor.  I would stand with them as they worked towards joining with the Korean Presbyterian church with which we shared a building.

As the congregation began taking the gradual steps towards merger, however, that dynamic changed.  A large infusion of second generation Korean Americans joined the church all at once, but as they fused, two things occurred that changed the trust dynamics.  First, the new arrivals brought with them a culturally distinct set of expectations about what constituted pastoral competence.   Secondly and more significantly, the new cadre of young adults also brought with them their own pastor, a lay youth pastor with whom they all had a longstanding relationship and who was a central part of their tightly knit social circle. 

He was and is a decent and good hearted Christian soul, but the structural implications of that longstanding and ongoing relationship meant that providing pastoral care and relational presence...essential to building relationships of trust...was simply not part of the new congregation's expectation of me.  If one of the new members of the congregation required pastoral care, it rarely made it past the filter of that pre-existing pastoral relation, which was an organic part of the community.  Efforts to establish one-on-one relationships simply didn't change that dynamic.

With a shifting expectation of competence and dynamics that precluded my ability to forge interpersonal relationships, it became clear that I didn't have the social capital to effectuate the change necessary to establish a vital ministry.

Vision is not Made, but Discerned:   The insight that new congregational vision exists implicitly in the unspoken places of the church (p. 83-84) was another insight that strongly resonated with my own experience.  In the recognition that my ability to lead effectively was structurally compromised, and with the collapse of our partner congregation, I began working with the new young adult group to help them develop a sense of the purpose of the congregation that would lead them after I'd moved on.

We went through a series of visioning exercises, and what struck me powerfully during those sessions was the degree to which the new leadership shared a vision of the congregation.  The community they envisioned was not static, and did not resemble the ethnic community culture in which they'd grown up.  A vision of the community as a "multi-church," meaning "multi-ethnic," "multicultural," and "multigenerational" had not been formally articulated before, but rose out of the group almost unbidden.

This "vision" was not a product of the exercises, but something that the visioning work revealed.