Wednesday, June 27, 2007

It's Easier To Take Out Than To Put In

Two weeks ago, I mentioned a book that the Cabinet and I read together last year, Marcus Burkingham and Curt Coffman, First, Break All the Rules, (Simon and Schuster, 1999, the Gallup Organization). The Cabinet is charged with the deployment and development of our pastoral leaders. First, Break All the Rules makes the rather surprising assertion that people are not equally talented and that it is easier to match people’s talents to specific job responsibilities than to teach people to do things for which they have no talent. In other words, it’s easier to develop the talents that are there, than to put in qualities in a person which God has not seen fit to give them. We found all of this challenging so I give you a synopsis of some of the ideas we’ve been discussing:

Talent is what managers look for in an employee. Talent is defined as a pattern of thought or behavior that can be developed and productively applied to the good of the organization. Talent involves recurring behavior. Behaviors you find yourself doing all the time. (Ability to remember names, ability to think on your feet, etc.)

Seniority systems tend to think that experience is what makes the difference, maturity, rather than talent. Some people say that brainpower makes a difference. Smart people just do better than others. Or sometimes people think that willpower, determination and hard work make the difference. Grit. Now all of this is true. But the right talents are the prerequisite for success in any role. You cannot teach talent. You can only select talent. Talents are the driving force behind an individual’s job performance.

The cardinal principle is that people don’t change that much. Rather than trying to put in what is not there, try to develop what has been put in. Although you cannot teach talents, you can teach skills and knowledge. Good managers try to teach skills and knowledge. There are two kinds of knowledge, factual knowledge--things you know. And experiential -understandings that you have picked up along the way. (For instance, I think I have a talent for love of worship, for transforming moments, the acquisition of new skills).

There are relating talents, collegial talents.

Two of the most pervasive management myths are: Talents are rare and very special. But this isn’t true. Talents are recurring patterns of thought, knowledge, and behavior. Your job is not to teach people talent, but to match their unique talents to the role. You have to pay attention to the unique aspects of the role. You must never assume that some roles are so simple that they require no talent, that is the second management myth.

As a manager you need to know exactly which talent you want. You need to be adept at recognizing talent. When you are interviewing someone, he or she will represent his or her talents to you in the rosiest way possible (she will say she is “ambitious” rather than “aggressive”).

There are temptations for the manager. One is to believe that we can make perfect people out of people’s normal imperfections. Managers must resist their attempt to come up with rules and attempt to control people’s imperfections. They must match imperfections well with the role and help turn those imperfections into virtues. Managers sometimes make mistakes into thinking that anybody can perform a given role. They don’t realize the unique qualities that are acquired by the role. They therefore hire the wrong people

I think these management thoughts, from the world of business and commerce, have implications for those of us who are called to management and the ministry of administration in the church. I’ll let you draw out the implications that you see. The Cabinet and I have found these thoughts most challenging.

William H. Willimon

Pastors as Visionary Leaders

Lovett Weems lists the phases of thriving and declining organizations: original vision, growth and building the organization, maintenance, decline, recognized decline, crises or death. I feel that in the United Methodist Church we are in the period of at last recognizing our decline. I hope this leads to a crisis that provokes change and growth.

Vision is not created, but it is discovered, or more truthfully discerned.

“The genius of visionary leadership is in recognizing those clues, putting them together with other clues, and then testing those clues with others to make sure that one is seeing and hearing correctly or that one is putting the different clues together in a manner that makes sense.” (p. 84).

The leader listens to everything in order to get clues and information, fact, opinion, and gossip are all helpful. The leader is willing to listen to negative clues, as well as positive clues. One must build a future on more than negative clues. One must foster enough stability within the congregation, stability that is beyond stagnation and rigid status quo, so that one can have a base from which to move creatively and experimentally. (p. 90).

Every church must have a mission--that is what God calls the church to do, the overall purpose of the church, its reason for being.

And derived from that must be a vision, that to which God has called the congregation to do in the near future to advance that mission. Vision is “What is God calling this church to do next?” We take identity, assessments of our internal context, as well as our external context, to move mission towards vision.

We must identify three to five key values that are essential part of the visionary work of the congregation. These must be defined in writing, with some definition of what these values mean to the life of the congregation. And then they are to be prioritized, because they have degrees of importance.

In order to take the next step, we must understand change.

“If the goal is to write a new chapter in the congregation’s story, that it is essential that the story be thoroughly understood and respected, and that the new chapter pick up and advance the plot.” (David Clewell p. 112).

Weems gives “seven unchangeable rules of change.” People do what they perceive to be in their best interest. The change must have positive meaning for them. People thrive with creative challenge, but wilt under negative stress. People are different, there is not one single key to all change. People believe what they see and previous deceptions can lead to present suspicions. The way to make effective long-term change is first to visualize where you want to go, and then go ahead and inhabit that vision till it comes true. Change is always an act of imagination. (p. 114).

All change is easier when people think it is their idea. Too much change within a short period of time can lead to explosion. Change is disturbing when it is done to us, but it is exhilarating when it is something done by us.

Great leaders are good storytellers. Most of what leaders do is to communicate--to preach, to tell stories, to keep reminding people of the best of their history, and not to worry about repeating themselves or being redundant. Good leaders must talk a vision, before their vision can be lived. Finally, good leaders must persevere. It takes time for a vision to become reality, and one of the most difficult times is the mid-point, right before the vision blossoms. Good leaders are those who persevere.

-- Lovett H. Weems, Jr., Take the Next Step: Leading Lasting Change in the Church (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003).

William H. Willimon


At this year’s Annual Conference, Dale Cohen, our Director of Connectional Ministries, gave us a great look at the work of our Conference by focusing on some of our statistics, particularly in the light of his leadership in our Natural Church Development work.

"You only count what’s important and whatever you count becomes important,” is one of our guiding principles. We Wesleyans are inveterate collectors of numbers. In fact, the Annual Conference was invented by John Wesley, in great part, to focus upon numbers. Wesley didn’t call it “statistics.” He called it “fruit.” The numbers show how well (or how poorly) we are allowing God to use us to produce fruit for the Kingdom.

We ended the year of 2006 with a membership of 151,792. This represents a net decrease of 1,864 members; however, there’s more to the story!

3,067 people were removed by action of their charge conference, which means that most of those people have not been active in worship in three years or more. Another 766 withdrew their membership. 2,220 people were removed by death. These three areas total 6,053 persons removed from the membership of our Conference.

In 2006, we transferred out 3,423 with only 1,134 people transferred to another denomination--less than one third of the total transfers; two-thirds of the transfers out went to a United Methodist Church. This speaks to a sense of loyalty to the United Methodist Church.
Despite the net loss, the North Alabama Conference is growing! We received 2,341 members from other United Methodist Churches and 2,069 members from other denominations -- a thousand more members from other denominations that we lost to other denominations. Another 581 people sought membership by restoring their previously withdrawn membership. This means we brought 4,991 existing Christians into the membership of the North Alabama Conference.

In 2006 the number of Professions of Faith rose to 2,621, which is 89 more than in 2005. These are NEW Christians brought into the work of Christ’s Kingdom. Our efforts to make MORE NEW disciples are having results!

A total of 7,612 people were added to the membership of the churches in North Alabama.[1]

There are two other statistics that demonstrate a positive trend. Some argue that worship attendance is a better indicator of growth than membership. If this is true, then we are growing because the average weekly worship attendance in the North Alabama Conference increased by 2,359 persons. A large portion of this increased attendance was in our newest congregations.[2]

Even more exciting is that we saw an increase of 10,500 people who were participating in Christian Formation opportunities in our local churches. More people are making themselves available for discipleship training and we should see the impact of this increase in three to five years.[3]

My joyful conclusions from the Numbers: Growth Is Happening. The Cabinet’s initiative to stress increased attendance, Dale’s work with NCD, Dick’s work with New Church Development is working. God is giving us fruit!

We Just Need to Step Up the Pace of Growth. We’ve got to have every pastor and every congregation moving in step with our priorities. Let’s make this coming year the best ever!

Will Willimon

P.S. Do you know what your congregation's vital stats are? Click here to search for your congregation's statistical table and get a picture of your fruitfulness.

[1] If you backed out the 3,067 people removed by charge conference action we would have shown an increase of 1,203 members. We need to keep paring down our rolls and even though this may lead to continued losses on our “books,” the statistics are promising in that we’re seeing growth in those areas that will lead to membership growth on down the line.

[2] Dick Freeman indicates that the number of people worshiping in our new congregations that are not yet constituted (and therefore not counted in membership totals) would more than compensate the 1,864 net membership loss.

[3] The numbers don’t just indicate more people but also more ministry. This year we had the highest amount contributed to the work of our Conference than in any year past. Mission is the fruit of fruitful efforts to make more disciples!

Friday, June 08, 2007

It's About The Mission!

This week, we’ve had our Annual Conference. We tried to have a greater focus on our vision statement and priorities in order to stress our mission:

“Every Church challenged and equipped to grow more disciples of
Jesus Christ by taking risks and changing lives.”

Tom Bandy, in his new book, stresses that we must keep the mission of the church ever before us, that the mission gives significance to our work as church leaders, and that the mission puts us in our place. It’s so easy, in the church to lose sight of the mission, to get distracted by attentiveness to the clergy, or by other factors. By keeping focused on the mission, everything else of importance stays in focus, says Bandy:

Over the centuries of Christendom and modern living, people have gotten the false impression that it is the holiness of the individual that gives authenticity to the mission. In both ancient and contemporary times it is the other way around. It is the authenticity of the mission that gives holiness to the individual. The sacrament is not a sacrament because the priest is a priest, but the priest is a priest because the sacrament is a sacrament.

The fact that modernity has gotten it backwards is the reason why clergy today are both deified and vilified at the same time. On the one hand, modern Christians glorify the clergy, believing that their moral perfection and spiritual purity guarantees the efficacy of God’s power. On the other hand, the inability of clergy to live up to impossible standards is easily blamed for the corruption of society and pervasiveness of sin. No wonder modernity can’t recruit clergy! Who wants to be glorified and vilified all in the same day, seven days a week?

The more you persist in thinking that your calling is all about you, the more you set yourself up for this double deceit of clergy glorification and clergy vilification. You will never survive it, my friend! At the very beginning, you need to understand it never has been about you in the first place. It is simply about God’s mission, and for better or worse you happen to be in the way of it. So if you have low self-esteem, you had better get over it if you want to be in Christian ministry. If God has chosen you, then God is giving you high self-esteem whether you like it or not. The last thing God’s mission needs is somebody like you alternately strutting like a peacock and then lamenting “Poor me, poor me”!

I suppose that is why I have always liked John Wesley’s covenant. It is reminiscent of the covenant of ancient pilgrims, medieval monks, and postmodern spiritual entrepreneurs. At the conclusion of his Watch Night liturgy, he writes:

I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.

If you can say those words without feeling a rush of self-esteem, then the problem is not that you do not like yourself very much but that you do not really like Jesus very much.

Unfortunately, covenants like these have been honored by intentional neglect. Modern churches have done everything possible to guarantee that clergy will be ranked with the best, never suffer, always have income, never be empty, have the closest parking spaces to the entrance … and also be responsible for every visit, blamed for every mistake, and crucified for every triviality. Avoid the heartache by getting this through your head: It’s not about you in the first place. It’s about God’s mission.

Excerpts from Mission Mover, Beyond Education for Church Leadership, Thomas C. Bandy, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004, pp. 39-40.

Will Willimon