Some voices linger like echoes in the chambers of the church. We hear them again and again, sometimes with greater clarity than we heard at first. The voice of Loren Mead should continue to echo among us who care about the mission of congregations and seek to be people of faith in the world.
In a time when polarized opinions are rampant and vigorously defended on social and other media, we need to intentionally invite each other to show up at congregational meetings with more than our opinions.
I remember the moment a clergyperson said, so matter-of-factly, during a retreat: “If it weren’t for the congregation, I’d be a great leader.” We all broke into laughter. Most of us wanted to believe it. But as pleasant as the fantasy of leading without anyone else interfering may seem, we can’t lead without a context and followers. We lead imperfect people in imperfect institutions—imperfectly.
An organization director I once worked with was asked, “What do you do?” He replied, “I attend meetings.” Sadly, this was true. The “meetings and meetings-about-meetings” culture was pervasive in that director’s organization. Once while sitting in a meeting with people flown in from around the country, I started estimating the travel and staff time expenses for the people sitting around the conference table. I asked myself, “Are the results of this meeting worth the thousands of dollars it took to gather for it?” I didn’t have to wait until the end of the meeting to come to my conclusion: No.
We live in a “VUCA” world—a world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. A recent Harvard Business Review article called VUCA “a catchall for ‘Hey, it’s crazy out there!’” Religious leaders can engage these “crazy” times intentionally by cultivating practices that I’ll describe here. Though there can be no guarantees of success when dealing with volatile change and uncertainty, I offer these practices as a starter list—you’ll add your own.
Congregations love the drama of arriving at a vision. Unfortunately, most visions go nowhere. One way to avoid this pitfall is to use Appreciative Inquiry.
When we are attentive, mid-career can be a time for us to deepen the “conversation with the elements” of ministry.