Being Braver, Being Objective, leading from deeper within

Ive been thinking a lot about the future impact the current situation will have and is having on church and how we as leaders need to respond. There is no doubt that current models of ministry and mission will need to shift as resources become more limited and how local ministry can be effectivly supported will hugely be impacted. I am for the neighbourhood, in many ways 100 years ago I would have been for the parish but most people don’t know what a parish is now. But for me the importance of the local, the rooted, the grounded is paramount, it’s one of the things I like about the local church – it’s about the LOCAL. Our greatest local resource is the people, the local community, and the response about how to allocate resources as they become scarcer will ultimately impact the local. So I am interested in thinking through the decision making processes that help us work out how we release our greatest local resource.

At a basic level decision making is easy and there are several key steps – Identify the decision needed, Gather Info, Identify alternatives, Weigh evidence, Choose among the alternatives, Take action and Review.

HOWEVER there is a whole lot going on under the surface, our bias, our known knowns, our known unknowns, who is in the room, how we shift and filter information (see Nigels post). My hunch is that throughout the process we never really know ourselves as well as we think, we don’t always have the right people in the room, and we always see the context through a particular lense. In Reinventing Organisations Laloux right at the starts talks about humanity evolving through sudden leaps, and he borrows from Wilber’s colours identifying 6 paradigms and the breakthroughs that helps us move through paradigms. You can view a short video here. For Wilber modern western society has a pathological focus on the exterior or objective perspective, and whilst I tend to agree, many of us “think” we are objective but in reality less so.

One of the things that has been encouraging is seeing many leaders become braver and more objective. People who have been questioning stuff for a number of years around the edge of missional approaches are choosing now to step up or out. People are becoming more vocal about personal views that don’t chime with the institutional line. Yesterday in Greenbelts Wild At Home workshop Brian Mclaren spoke about the Institution (institutional religion) being caught in the middle between Progressive and Regressive approaches. So for me as a progressive it encouraging to see people becoming braver in leading out of who they really are. At the same time countless studies show it is almost a universal that in times of stress institutions and people tend to regress from innovation and creativity. SO what might the key for leaders as we move on. We know from hard evidence (see the day of small things etc) the impact FX has on developing local ministry, the value for money it offers, and the way it helps develop a broader innovative and missional culture in the church. So how might we regression that inevitably seems to come with the pressure on resources etc.

There are two the key issues for leaders moving forward. Firstly I think we need to revisit what it means to embrace leading out of who we are (see Simon Walkers The undefended leader). Institutions place in the middle between Progression and Regression means in all likelyhood the key leaders have come through and are shaped by the institution, so leading out of who we are is questionable. To counter this we need to make sure that different voices are in the room and lead in teams with an undefended stance allowing that team to help us take the really hard look at ourselves needed and what is shaping us and the decisions being made.

I have been around the institution long enough to hear Einstein quoted time and time again that “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” but too often this saying is rolled out without any real change happening, precisely because the of the points raised in my first point. So the second issue, is that because of the inevitable predisposition to regress, any regressive decision needs to be seriously wrestled with, it should never be taken at face value, but held to a more serious and rigorous scrutiny. In fact I would go further and suggest that any regressive decision is simply shelved or binned and a process developed to facilitate make sure that more innovative responses are considered. Perhaps a simple process could be an adaptation of De Bonos Thinking Hats. We know from creative thinking our predisposition to travel down well worn paths and these will seem particularly inviting at the moment. But by using the Thinking Hats, perhaps with the Blue Hat (chairing hat) being particularly tasked to spot and stop regressive ideas, we can counter our regressive inherent mindset.

The call of the pioneer and ecclesiastical hypothermia

A final post from Nigel and it reminded me of a conversation I had with my good friend Mark Berry recently who I hope might write more fully on ecclesiastical hypothermia at some point! When above the death zone on a mountain, we know that to survive we need to be mobile and get off the mountain but our body wants to pool resources to protect what it believes are the vital organs… so it shuts down the very things that could make survival possible… it tells us to sit down and sleep, to pull energy back from the limbs into the centre… in an attempt to keep the core alive as long as possible it shuts down and sleeps itself to death!!!

Nigel writes…

The call of the pioneer: hoisting sails in the storm of crisis, chaos and uncertainty
This is the last of my reflections about what we can learn from fresh expressions of church in the current season. It invites us to draw on the sense of adventure that pioneers and those curating fresh expressions embody; hoisting sails in the current trinitarian storms of crisis, chaos and uncertainty.
As I begin, I want to acknowledge that it’s rough out there. The storms of illness, bereavement, unemployment, fear and anxiety are raging. The waves are big ones and the winds fierce. Whilst this is a sobering and challenging assessment, we would be foolish to pretend that conditions are anything other than turbulent and threatening.
It would be understandable if we looked to the gods of safety and certainty as antidotes to the crisis and chaos threatening to engulf us. Indeed, I argued in a recent session on ‘crisis leadership’ that our very first response needs to be to protect people and try and get an element of stability in the situation. That is the priority. However, once we have done some of that, I believe we need to look to the future, rekindling our purpose, vision and mission. We need to develop where we are going, revitalising where necessary – hoisting sails so we get to where God needs us to get to. To fully catch the winds, we may need to start doing this while the storm is still raging.
There is an Irish proverb that I resonate with – ‘the seas may be rough, but the rocks have no mercy’. Perhaps it is my Irish ancestry that engenders the appeal, or maybe the pioneer in me that wants to recognise the value in seizing the day, taking the risk and venturing into the unknown. Whatever the reason, I like the thinking. I know that if I don’t hoist the sails, I risk perishing on the rocks.
Institutions usually play it safe; especially church institutions. Conformity, regularity, longevity, consistency and certainty are the cultural narratives of many. Thankfully, for those of us committed to hoisting the sails, many fresh expressions of church have broken free from the shackles of inertia typified by these constraining cultural values. Many fresh expressions and pioneer folks are risk takers; they are prepared to take a chance and hoist the sails even in the most stormy of seas.
I’ve been thinking about taking chances quite a bit of late. I’ve been asking myself if our best chance, is to take a chance. Might we be better served taking some risks and exposing ourselves – deliberately – to chance, especially when we don’t know what to do or where to go? Might this be the best chance we have of allowing God to meet us in the sea that is the ambiguity of our uncertainty? I say this in the firm belief that when we have no idea where it is we are supposed to be going or how we are going to get there that it is better to set off on the adventure and allow the voyage to determine what outcome subsequently results.
Perhaps we can learn afresh from those who have pioneered new forms of church and once again create an ecclesiological culture that celebrates, mandates and honours those who hoist the sales for God. Once out on the waves, tasting the salt, and being guided by the sun, moon and stars, we may need those who might be considered more a safe pair of hands and who can steady the ship. However, if we align ourselves with these good folks and allow them to influence our initial thinking too much, we risk never setting sail in the first place.
For the pioneer, the hoisting of the sails is something that may come more easily than for others. For my wife, Sue, and I this is something we are actively doing right now. We have left the church we have been part of for 7 years, Sue has given up her job as a senior school leader, and we are in the process of applying to be foster parents. We don’t know where this journey will take us or what the outcome will be, but we’re hoisting the sails and setting sail.
In doing this, we are not being reckless. Preparations for our journey are meticulous. We are preparing according to our well-defined values, being true to our core purposes and seeking to do the right things in terms of what we believe in. We’re undertaking training, engaging in learning and development and committing everything to God in prayer. We may stumble upon crisis, encounter chaos, and be confronted with uncertainty. To borrow a thought from Richard and Lori Passmore, we may find dragons as we sail into uncharted waters, but I hope we continue to have the courage to hoist those sails.
I also hope those who are thinking about what church might look like beyond the pandemic, might stop looking to the rocks. I hope they look beyond asking questions about when they might re-open buildings, how they can do communion, and when they can sing together again. Such questions betray a lack of adventure and display inertia and malaise. Instead, I hope they look to pioneer, to go where they have not gone before and venture to the vast and wide-open oceans. Hoist the sails and explore uncharted waters. Bon voyage …