Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Following Jesus, Church Leadership and The Lord of the Rings

Yesterday I wrote about the unpredictable nature of being a disciple of Jesus, about how followership never happens in a straight line. I saw this as I was watching The Two Towers. Click here to read this post.

Today, let's look at this in the light of leading the church. The typical pattern usually works this way: First, the leadership sets a vision for where it wants to go. Second, they identify where the church currently is in relationship to that vision. Third, they set out a strategic plan that will get them from point A (the current state of things) to point B (the vision).

Sounds logical. Sounds like responsible leadership to me.

However, there are huge problems with this very logical approach to leading the church. Let me name a few.
  1. It assumes that leaders are in control. Namely, it assumes that leaders are in control of people. I've seen so many God-fearing leaders who developed a great vision—one might even say that their vision actually lined up with the heart of God more than what the church had been doing in the past—but the people did not go along with them. And it was not because they were in rebellion. It's just that the leadership assumed that they could control how people responded to the greatness of their vision.
  2. It assumes a predictable environment. We live a world of that is experiencing radical, traumatic transition. Things are changing so fast and so unpredictably that any concrete strategic plan will have to be thrown out within the first six months. 
  3. It assumes "technical change" not "adaptive change." In technical change, the problem is clear and the solution is clear. So we know what we need to do. But in adaptive leadership, the problem might or might not be clear and the solution is rarely if ever clear. For instance, if you want to develop a healthy small group system that will close the back door of your church, this is a technical change issue. We know the problem and we have lots of resources to help us deal with that problem. But if we want to develop missional communities that incarnate the creative life of the Spirit in our neighborhoods, we are talking about adaptive change. We cannot go and copy the missional community plan developed at another church.
I could say more, much more. If you are interested in going deeper with this topic, check out Missional Map-making by Alan Roxburgh and Leadership without Easy Answers by Ronald Heifetz. With regard to adaptive change and small groups, I talk about this extensively in both Missional Small Groups and MissioRelate.

All I can say here is that if we are going to lead the church into a new era, if we are going to follow the winds of the Spirit, we cannot assume that the path with be a straight line from A to B. It will be like sailing. The course we take will look like we are going in the wrong direction from time to time. But this is what it means to follow the winds of the Spirit. 

This does not mean that we don't have a plan. Just as in The Lord of the Rings, the primary characters had a plan. They knew what they had to do. And the had some basic steps lined out. However, the story works because it is adaptive. It takes unpredictable situations and the characters respond to those situations in unpredictable and redemptive ways. We must lead the same way in the church today.

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