Remember my last post. We (Stephen Johnson and myself) were called out for proposing a view of leadership that this person said would be deemed “weak” or “gay” by the people with whom he worked. For him, leadership meant stating a direction and managing outcomes. He wanted to know if we realized how strange our proposals related to communal, spiritual discernment sounded.
We granted that we did know that we were working against the grain of cultural expectations. We’ve heard this before. It takes too much time. There aren’t enough early wins. We can’t tell people where we’re going or what the outcomes will be. Now, none of these complaints are actually true unless you have preset ideas of what counts as a win or how long cultural change takes or what counts as an outcome. Still, we’ve heard it before and a big part of what we do is help people reflect on these kinds of issues.
So here’s how I responded to him in our meeting a few weeks ago.
1) Direction and control theories of leadership work in certain circumstances. Namely, they work in environments where prediction is possible. This would require both a stable cultural environment and high degrees of accountability. If you’ve got that, then you might have some success with “managing” outcomes.
2) Churches have low degrees of accountability. They are volunteer organizations that welcome everyone regardless of their ability to contribute to a project. You can’t fire church members. And you can’t say that the only important persons around here are the ones who get things done. More, congregations have poor attention spans. Every congregation I know has a 20 year old church growth plan in a file cabinet somewhere with two of ten things checked off of the list of steps to take.
3) We are in a season of rapid cultural change. The reason why congregations come to us in the first place is that they are doing everything they know to do, better than they’ve ever done it before and with less than predictable outcomes. The relationship between action and outcomes is increasingly complex. We are not operating in a stable environment that allows us simply to direct and control.
4) We are pursuing God. We are not simply pursing becoming a bigger church or having an inspiring worship service. We are pursuing God, and measures of control are counter-productive related to that task. Now, I could say a lot here. Certainly, we want to begin with God’s holiness and the problems of idolatry in the church when we associate our plans with God’s will. But I also want to say something about the nature of the Kingdom of God. It is always coming. Therefore, we don’t look at the future simply as the predictable and inevitable outcomes of the past, or as the outcomes of our human potentialities. The coming Kingdom of God, present in the movement of the Holy Spirit, bears the possibility, even the desirability of surprise. The last thing you want in a system of direction and control is a surprise. In the Kingdom of God, it is the thing to which you pay most attention.
I would have also added a fifth if I had had the presence of mind in the moment, which is pretty much all the stuff I said in yesterday’s post. We are producing something. We are putting a particular form of power into play so that we can both recognize and embody the Kingdom of the Crucified One.
Finally, a sixth. None of the current literature on organizational change says that you get change through strategic planning. And if you don’t get change, you die. That’s so 80’s. Strategic planning as an imagination about leadership only makes sense if you think of your organization as a closed system, and there simply is no such thing. I’ve worked in strategic planning environments. I’ve done enough five year plans to know that they are poor predictors. They are helpful exercises, but they should not be confused for leading.