Dr. Keith Walker is Professor of Educational Administration and Leadership at the University of Saskatchewan where, with colleagues, he is launching a new professional doctoral in educational leadership: grad.usask.ca/programs/educational-leadership
In our work with flourishing organizations, especially schools and congregations, we have wondered about the “behind the scenes” dynamics, mechanisms and under-the-surface infrastructures that support flourishing. In the flourishing schools-learning community research (mainly in the work of Cherkowski, Kutsyuruba, and Walker, as in their model below), we’ve seen a number of factors emerge from our case studies that may (or may not) connect with contexts of the Flourishing Congregations Institute’s similar work.
Without going into the obvious differences and similarities between congregations (and across traditions) and schools-as-learning-communities, these are some of the findings. Where we saw flourishing schools at their best they showed evidence of having leaderful mindsets, being adaptive communities, and giving attention to subjective well-being. The leaderful mindsets were manifest where formal leaders considered the possibility that every member of the community ought to be invited to become leaders and to be recognized as such, according to their respective willingness, abilities and maturities. Relationships and responsibilities were distributed and shared; efforts were made to develop aristocracies of everybody (as Benjamin Barber once called these). These were places where everybody was appreciated as a somebody, with both a personal significance as well as a belonging identity; whether a person was acting in role of follower or leader. The adaptive capacity of the community was expressed as being collectively resilience to and welcoming of change when the change made sense and where the capacities and equipping for change were not assumed. Concurrently, these adaptive communities were firm and focused on core mission, values, certain cultural practices and particular priorities. There were often stories of meta-learning (learning about their learning: what had worked, what had not and how to adjust next time). These leaderful communities often had those who were good at helping others in their social networks to make sense of anticipated change and the formal leaders were particularly good at helping people to name (rather than ignore or deny) realities (both hard and soft realities); as well as to thank people for adjusting their habits and old ways to make way for new wine. The core operations were steady, strong and routinized but some of the large list of non-essential ways and means were in states of regular recalibration, without sense of fatigue. The attention to subjective well-being was characterized by simply, but profoundly, caring about how each person and all people were doing (with a system of people-barometers and communications so as not to miss anyone). These pieces together with providing encouragement and practical support where being well wasn’t easy were norm. A wide-awakeness to the mixed economy of life’s ups and downs, as a collective priority, was felt by most through recognition, celebration, practical care and mutual lament.
We found that there were three “hosting virtues” in these flourishing places: the virtue of trusting and trustworthiness; the virtue of hope-fostering and anchoring; and the virtue of ready compassion and empathy. Much might be said about these expressions and the perceptions of each as manifest “in place” virtues; but perhaps the key insight occurs as we think about leading as hosting. Where the formal leaders facilitate or take on responsibility for making space for trusting relationships (sustaining and restoration of same); purveying hopeful perspectives on preferred futures (grounded in warranted beliefs); and reinforcement by example and stories of authentic caring for both insiders and “strangers.”
Wondering out loud whether or not there is any resonance to these sorts of characterizations (constructs) in the experiences of parishes, where and when flourishing is experienced? What are the dynamics, mechanisms and descriptions that congregations see beneath the surface and behind the scenes?
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The Missing Ingredient in Discipleship
Ron Johnston is Director, Small Church Connections
A common definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. If that is true, then church leaders often demonstrate a little bit of insanity.
You have seen the scenario played out. Leadership in a church become concerned about some aspect of church life. They go looking for the program that will bring new life to that area. They act on the belief that there is a program for every aspect of church life. They just have to find the right one.
Sometimes it is evangelism. The leaders become concerned that no one has become a Christian in a long time and they look for the program that will turn people into passionate evangelists.
Maybe it is worship. They find a website that offers new ideas and they encourage the worship team to introduce these new ideas into the Sunday service.
Perhaps it’s fellowship. They are concerned about developing a deeper level of fellowship and they look for a program that will enable them to start small groups.
Whatever form the program might take, the results are predictable. There is an initial excitement when the program is introduced. There may be some training involved and people are fired up enough to attend classes. Then after a while, the program fizzles out and everything goes back to normal.
I was speaking with a pastor who told me about an evangelism program that they tried in his church. He offered training classes and people attended. They seemed excited about the possibilities but when the time came to put their training into practice, no one showed up.
The missing ingredient
The problem is that most churches begin at the wrong starting point. Imagine the following scenario:
A small church has not had a baptism in which someone from outside the church community was baptized for the past five years. The pastor becomes concerned and decides that the church needs to do something about the lack of evangelism. He grabs onto the latest program and tries to convince people to join up.
He sets up a training program for anyone willing to be involved. Then the church plans a special Sunday to which the members can invite non-Christian friends and family. The big day arrives and to the disappointment of all concerned no one comes.
The leaders wonder what went wrong. Why don’t people want to be involved in evangelism? The question that they should be asking is why anyone would expect that the program would work?
Think about it!
People in that church have not been involved in evangelism for five years. No one has become a Christian as a direct result of the people in the church. Why should the leaders expect that suddenly, because they introduce a new program, people are going to do a complete turn around and become active evangelists?
The people don’t need a new program. They need a change of heart. They need God to do a supernatural work in them that will make them want to share their faith.
Discipleship and the small church
The first direction that people must take if they are doing to become disciples of Jesus Christ is an upward direction to a deeper walk with God.
In Acts chapter one we find an important statement made by Jesus to his disciples just before he returned to heaven. They are asking questions about the future kingdom and Jesus tells that that is not the issue. He tells them that the Holy Spirit will come upon them and when that transforming work of the Spirit occurs, they will be his witnesses right there in Jerusalem where they are living and beyond Jerusalem to the furthest corners of the world.
What is interesting in these words is that unlike the Great Commission in Matthew, there is no command here. Jesus isn’t telling them what they should do. He is telling them what they will do. When the Spirit has come into their lives, they will be witnesses. It is a natural progression. Their relationship with God deepens and that spiritual dynamic overflows to those around them.
What does this have to do with the small church? Small churches are built around relationships, the most natural setting for discipleship to occur. At the heart of small church life needs to be a commitment to seeing people grow. Church leaders need to worry less about how they can increase the attendance in their churches and more on how they can grow the people God has already entrusted to them.
So the challenge is how to use those relationships that are at the core of small church life to do more than just provide an enjoyable place to worship. The challenge is to use those relationship as a means by which people grow deeper in their walk with God. It is that deeper walk that will make a difference, not the latest program.
What We're Reading…
A few months ago I had the pleasure of being at the International Leadership Association annual conference (ila-net.org) in Ottawa. A couple of former Prime Ministers (Kim Campbell, Paul Martin), Senator Murray Sinclair and former Governor General David Johnson had key roles in the event. I must say I was proud to be a Canadian and to have such wise and articulate elder statespersons presenting their perspectives at this international gathering.
I immediately ordered, then devoured, David Johnson’s Trust: Twenty Ways to Build a Better Country. When I finished that book I knew that this was one that might be purposefully shared – so I’ve already given away copies to leader-friends. I love the fact that this is a “made-in-Canada” book and that I’ve watched, from a distance, many of the illustrations and “tales told from the inside;” there is a high relate-ability factor even though I don’t travel in the circles of the David Johnsons of the world.
The book is divided into three sections: make yourself worthy of trust; build trust around you and create a trustworthy and trusted country. The esteeming forward is by Right Honourable Beverly McLachlin, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. I loved the stories, the personal vulnerability and perspective of David Johnston who has led two universities (McGill and Waterloo), been Dean of Law at Western University and lived well as organizational leader and statesperson. He wears his certain Faith on his sleeves and provides refreshing, principled ways of communicating what seem so common sense; especially after he has said it and done so with his well-told stories. This is a simple but well-forged book about being full of courage, living in loving and respectful ways and standing in as a trust-broker. The twenty ways are easily applied to any reader’s life and articulated in a fashion that, in turn, can be offered second-hand to others. Might be the book of the year for me..
Buy The Book
The 2020 Pastor’s Conference in partnership with The Flourishing Congregations Institute at Ambrose University- Life Together: Discipleship in an Age of Distraction, February 19, 2020. Click here for more information and to register.
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