What's on my reading list this summer?
On the fun side, last week I picked up one of John Grisham's newest novels. I used to read everything he wrote. It was great for summer mental escapes and his command of prose for everyday readers is excellent. Since I am on sabbatical, I asked some people in my field to recommend some good reads on the subject of my sabbatical focus: fresh expressions of Christian faith communities. I have read three of their suggestions so far. I find that having this set aside time has enabled me to consume books and imagine new possibilities. First, I read DISRUPTION by Mark Deymaz. This author states that the role of spiritual leaders is to disrupt the status quo within the lens of the Gospel of Jesus. He insists that authentic Christian communities will always represent the diversity of their community - economics, social, generations, race and culture. He reminds us that people under 50 expect the church to be like this and if we are not, they dismiss us as exclusive, not relevant or inhospitable.
Deymaz identifies 5 factors that can lead to an organization thriving in our changing world or bring about its demise. First is bureaucracy. It is essential for any growing organization yet must always be adapting and evolving with the times. This speaks to schools, companies, government and churches. Existing policies only serve the now - these must adapt constantly for what is next. Innovators languish and leave wherever control is centralized andnot shared.
Many in the mainline churches think our biggest challenge is the issues around sexuality and the changing moral standards of our culture. I assert that these are systematic of a system that is not responsive and evolving. Our leaders do not lead - they maintain station and wait. This is deadly. The structure of mainline churches doesn't fit the reality we are now in. Appointments do not meet local needs. Local leaders feel left out of the process of choosing spiritual leaders where they worship and raise their children in the faith.
Boards of Ministry do not look long-term at our needs for ethnic pastors and persons with specific callings and talents. We should go out and recruit the leaders we need for the future. Instead, the UMC opens the door to whomever is interested and then interviews them based on a system of selection that is not getting the desired results in Kingdom creativity, faithfulness and response.
Second, Deymaz tells us that arrogance gets in the way of healthy disruption in systems. Insecure leaders see it as a threat to their earned privilege. Many times this is a dependence on intellectualism or degrees and titles. My office is seeing that local pastors and bi-vocational leaders are usually the most effective in developing new faith communities in unusual places and ways. Yet they can be rated as unqualified and left out of the structures and voting procedures. The fact is the Methodist Church started declining in the 1850's - the same time it started insisting that all pastors be seminary trained, become elders, wear academic robes and earn titles. These are resources, yet they are not guarantees for effectiveness in the field.
Next Deymaz writes about "tired executive blood." I can identify as a59-year-old leader with 34 years of tenure. It takes a lot of energy and drive to stay current and relevant in our culture. In any system controlled by managers you will see a declining vision and output. Often age will trump vision in leadership and then stagnation sets in no matter how much energy the managers exert.
Poor planning is the fourth factor that our author introduces. By the time consultants are called in, often the planning they see is short-term, safe and a repeat of past successes. The organization must be realigned around planning that is long-term, risk taking and radical to keep the system in front of the curve. I often tell pastors to make sure you have at least 2-3 staff around you that are under 30 and edgy and ask them to hold you accountable to new waves and trends. Also, make sure your planning includes laity who are already doing this in the secular world. Use their experience - don't limit yourself to the folks who only think, look and pray just like you.
The fifth one is a factor I often deal with as a conference administrator. Organizations in decline do not think with a mindset of abundance and possibilities for the future. Investments of resources (time, finances, and energy) are caught up in short-term, quick fixes to save "our place and seat." Don't let the budget drive your vision. Let the vision give rise to a future of hope and action. People will respond generously of their resources when they believe in the cause and see hope and movement.
Deymaz gives us 10 signs to determine if you are a Disruptive Innovator. I think you have to be a master of at least 6 of these to be an innovator in business, a church planter, someone who will revive our education system or lead our present, stagnant government.
-Are you ever called a maverick by a supervisor?
-Are you driven to prove others wrong when they say it can't be done?
-Have you ever had to leave a job because your innovation was threatening to someone?
-You've missed being promoted and the spin placed on the reason did not make sense or did not match who you are?
-You're not afraid to respectfully question and challenge those in authority?
-When someone gives you a "to-do list," you decide which items are priority and which are not.
-You've been in the middle of implementing a major change that you were excited about when a superior asks you to slow it down.
-Good enough is not in your vocabulary. You want to perfect it and get it right!
-You have had the experience of suggesting new ways of thinking, being and doing and others just smile and move on.
-You've stuck with a vision that others doubted could ever occur, and lived long enough to hear them say, "I wasn't sure this could be done yet you did it. You proved me wrong."
Organizations need dreamers and realists. The problem is we often favor the realists and the folks who think like us because we want stability and security. The 21st century world does not allow for just one or the other. Make sure you nurture your dreamer side and keep visionaries and innovators close by and empowered. That's the best way to have true stability and security.
Deymaz tells the story of a young man who started volunteering in one of his faith communities. His case worker had required it as part of his parole. The actions and beliefs of the people he served with started impacting him. After his 60 required days were completed, he kept coming around to listen and serve. Someone asked him why and he replied, "Jesus has ruined my life."
Jesus does that. He disrupts our complacency and easy answers. His kingdom is about innovation, new directions and resurrected hopes. When I see the broken world around me, I pray for disruptions in my heart, the church and in our culture. The now is not enough. I am ready for the next and I think our culture is hungry for organizations that will help us all get to a better place. Lord, let it be....