Leadership and Ethics […] 5 – What Does This Mean in Practice?

In a comment on the last post on leadership ‘Emerger’ asked: “What does this mean in real life? The most I can draw out so far is that we facilitate conversation. I don’t think that in itself is enough.” He/she then goes on to propose some thoughts on work by Carver and Bell (“John Carver talks about this with a seemingly modernist view of clarifying Policy Ends and Executive Limitations. Bell refers to the binding and loosing in the church as an important to help clarify people’s freedom.”)

I wanted to respond to the thoughts in a separate post, as as I’ve mulled on things some wider things have come up… which I guess I could summarize as: we are part of Corpus Christi, not ChristCorp™.

Firstly, I would entirely agree that facilitating conversation is not enough as a leader. But it is a big aspect as it carries with it an important sense of leadership style that carries people beyond the fruits of the actual conversations facilitated. The very act of giving space to such action sends a clear message of intent: that as a leader, one is not going to dictate, but resource. But, more importantly, what I have been trying to get across is that there is not going to be just one such leader. The key to this model is that leadership is distributed, and different people will be taking a lead in different situations. This has two big implications:

1. People who are currently ‘do-it-all’ leaders are going to have to initiate some sort of process by which they step down from fronting the majority of things.

2. People who are currently members of congregations or groups are going to have to consider what roles they ought to be taking a lead in, and doing so.

With reference to this second point, I think (and thanks to Jon for flagging this again yesterday, over some excellent tea and cake) that resources such as Belbin ought to be used far more widely than they currently seem to be by churches. For those who don’t know, Belbin’s Team Roles is a tool for working out the role that you most naturally play within a particular group. The emphasis is clear: for a team to run effectively all the roles need to be present and functioning. I know of a case recently where the management of a large Christian organization did Belbin and found that there were loads of ‘plants’ (creative thinkers) but no ‘completer-finishers’ in the group… Which explained fairly well why they were having loads of good ideas, but were getting nowhere fast.

Beyond Belbin I think that as churches in a context of ‘self discovery’ we ought to be helping people to discover ‘who they are’ beyond the often shallow tags of ‘child of God’ etc. By using tools such as Belbin, Myers-Briggs, The Enneagram and such-like, people ought to be being helped to realize their potential as members of a living community… not left to fester in pews doing very little. The great thing about these tools is that they bring with them affirmations of belonging, and help people to realize that even though they are not the charismatic, do-it-all leaders they have seen up-front, they do have a vital part to play in the maturing of the community.

Returning to ‘Emerger’s’ question about ‘what it all means in real life’, I would say, as I have in the book, that we need to be careful not to define models too closely. To do so, I believe, returns us to the problem of ‘hey, let’s do it like Willow Creek/HTB/Vineyard/Solomon’s Porch’ etc, and what we end up with is a beast not suited to its environment. The beauty of an emergent solution is that it is exactly designed for its local situation. So beyond the ‘governing dynamics’ which I’ve tried to outline above, I wouldn’t want to give an ‘out of the box’ example of what things would look like in any given situation. You want to find out? Then risk it and do it. Praxis.

Secondly, while what I’ve read of Carver’s work (and I’m very happy to hear some better expertise than mine on this) seems very good, it does seem overtly focused on the business environment, with its emphasis on purpose, ends, expectations etc. We need to remember that we are part of Corpus Christi, not ChristCorp™. I’m not sure churches should have ‘goals’… As living systems they should ‘be’ and mature and grow (and die)… but they are not in a market economy situation, and not trying to maximize profits for shareholders. They are more like a family which, if anything like mine, does not have board meetings and strategic planning groups… but low-level communication and regular feedback between members, not mediated by anyone else. This is perhaps a difficult idea to swallow, as we seem so caught up in success: are enough people coming, is the presentation slick?

As Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost have written, we should not be about ‘attracting’ people to church. Rather, church ought to be a resourcing place for us to ‘get out there’. And this, finally, is something all leaders ought to keep as a touchstone: that it’s about ‘out there’, not ‘in here’. Too often the lion’s share of church resources, prayer-time etc. are spent on the leaders  on the ‘inside’. They need instead to be constantly pushing away the focus and serving people to help them ‘be’ Christ immersed in the culture/local situation they are in.


4 responses to “Leadership and Ethics […] 5 – What Does This Mean in Practice?”

  1. Great read, Special K…

  2. I am not familiar enough with your work to know your perspective (though I am looking forward to learning more) but I want to come back at you on something. I am curious as to why Carver’s approach is Modernist? What I read you to say was that because it focuses on goals and outcomes that it is too corporate and too Modernist. What I think you may be describing is the J vs P dynamic of Meyers-Briggs. J’s want to bring things to a conclusion and bring order. P’s want to keep things more open ended and see what emerges. What I am reading (and very possibly reading into) is that having a drive for closure and order equates to being Modernist.
    I am an INTJ, “Mastermind” (Also Enneagram 5, “Scientist”) I am by nature a strategist. Yet what I seem to read and sense in many Emergent circles is that because I tend toward strategy I am a modernist. (Even though the INTJ is the one most inclined to see reality as the pawn of ideas and seeing present cultural arrangements as arbitrary pragmatic structures.)
    We are called to be a community but we are called into community for mission. Jesus has several statements about things like the tree that does not bear fruit will be thrown into the fire. We are to organically produce fruit. I have always loved Paul’s paradoxical statement in Philippians 2:12-13: “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Is it us doing the work or is it God? I think Paul’s answer would have been “Yes!”
    Many who want to keep things open ended and undefined suggest that they want to wait on God to reveal to them what to do next. Dependency on God. I would suggest that one of the ways that God helps a body discern actions is by gifting some in the body with strategic understanding. God is giving direction but we have dismissed the messenger as a passé modernist (i.e., clarifies objectives, categorizes, etc.) It is like the old story of the guy on his roof in rising flood waters who is visited three times by rescuers. He rejects their assistance all three times saying he will trust in God. Finally, the waters take him and he drowns. When he gets to heaven, he asks God why he didn’t save him. God responds with “What do you mean? I sent you rescuers three times!”
    I strongly agree that our church cultures are way over programmed and regimented. They are about control instead of empowerment. I believe that churches as we know them are contextual configurations that may no longer serve a purpose. I also think that Carver’s stuff can be taken to extremes. However, the basic philosophy of discerning mission and setting minimal boundaries accomplishes what Chesterton called, “Making room for good things to run wild.” I see this as anything but modernist. I think it strikes a healthy balance between focus and responsiveness.
    Anyway, I hope I am not coming across negative. Just wanted to push back a little. I look forward to reading more.

  3. Thanks for this Michael. Not negative at all!
    Carver and modernism: was a quote from another commenter. Not sure I know enough about his work in depth to be able to state whether he is or not!
    I think what you are saying is great actually. Nothing but balance between forces: no extreme is good, and you put that across well. I’m reminded of a quote by Eric Hoffer who said:
    “When we invite people to do as they please, they usually imitate each other. A society which gives unlimited freedom to the individual, more often than not attains a disconcerting sameness. On the other hand, where communal discipline is strict but not ruthless… originality is likely to thrive.”
    Getting this balance right is one of the key tasks of leadership. And, going back to what I’ve covered in previous posts on this, what is key is that this task is a shared one.

  4. Hmmm. Something about this thread makes me squirm. I guess I’d need a definition of communal discipline, but all this talk of personality types and roles feels a little corporate, even institutional. My immediate response is to tear it down. Wonder what personality type that makes me, LOL. I’m not well-versed in modernism vs. post-modernism, but I think there’s a tendency to spend too much time defining and intellectualizing. I’d like to better understand the need for so much structure in communities.