INNOVATIVE LEADERSHIP FOR RENEWAL

Leadership in the mainstream church will need to be just as innovative as leadership at the edge.

Edward Vaughan - Arrow 2 and Arrow Facilitator
Rector - St Johns Anglican Church Sydney 

 

Part Two 

4. WHERE THE AIR SMELLS SWEET

Every leader knows they need to be able to articulate a vision. But being a leader of vision can be a very daunting task when you walk into a situation that feels chaotic and messy. The language of ‘vision’ can be intimidating, especially when the future looks uncertain and no one (least of all you!) knows exactly where they are going! It’s possible that we might feel like a failure if we are not able to articulate a crystal clear picture of the ultimate destination.

In the book The Fellowship of the Ring, there is a scene where Gandalf is leading his followers through the series of forbidding and scary tunnels that lie beneath the mountains of Moria. At one point Gandalf seems to be lost, but then announces confidently ‘Oh! It’s that way!’. One of his followers says with joy, ‘He’s remembered!’ ‘No’, Gandalf says, ‘but the air doesn’t smell so foul down there’

We have to admit that our knowledge of the future is highly provisional. We don't know what the church or organisation of the future will be like. We know it will be different from what we have now, and we have some hunches about what it may be like. The reality is that when you are groping your way through dark tunnels, it’s impossible to know exactly what your end point will look like. So maybe instead of starting out with ‘The Vision’, we need to be able to work out where the air smells sweet, and follow that lead.

When we first came to Darlinghurst, it was obvious to me that one key goal for our church would be the development of ministry to families. That sounds obvious, but in our setting it had been years since the church had engaged in family ministry, and indeed when we came there were absolutely no families or children in the church. Some people were surprised that in an area which has one of the highest proportion of apartment dwellers in Australia that there might actually be families to be found.

There definitely are families and children in our area, but they operate as ‘urban families’. The standard form of suburban family outreach seemed unlikely to reach anyone. We have been experimenting with ‘Messy Church’ over the last few years (Google it!), and we have been excited to see it slowly grow into a great outreach ministry. Our aim is to develop a regular congregation on a Sunday with a ministry to families. Our steps towards that have been faltering and slow, but after five years, it looks like we might be getting closer to that goal. We didn’t have a clear picture of how it would all unfold at the beginning. We just followed a tunnel where the air smelled sweet.

So follow the tunnel where the air smells sweet. 

5. DEAL WITH UNFINISHED BUSINESS

Before you read this section, you might like to read 1 Kings chapter 2.

As David dies, he hands his kingdom over to Solomon. In particular he asks Solomon to deal with his unfinished business. David invites Solomon to act ‘in accordance with your wisdom’ in knowing how to resolve situations that have lingered on for many years.

So Solomon moves to establish his throne. He takes seriously the charge given to him by his father, and also acts on his own initiative to confront potential threats to his kingdom.

Solomon kills Adonijah, his rival. Adonijah tried to set himself up as king after David (2:13-25), and when that  failed he asks for Abishag in marriage. Solomon realises that by his request, Adonijah seeks to take hold of the status and prestige of David. It’s an attempt to set up a power base, in preparation for a later strike against Solomon himself. The young king acts swiftly and decisively!

Solomon banishes Abiathar (2:26), who conspired with Adonijah, but had served his father David faithfully. Out of respect for Abiathar’s previous loyalty, he removes him from power, but spares his life.

When Joab hears of Solomon’s actions, he flees to the tent of the Lord and takes hold of the horns of the altar (2:28). Nonetheless Solomon acts again without mercy, having him killed where he stands (2:28-35). Joab had killed two men, Abner (‘a fine and loyal man’ 2 Samuel 3:22-39) & Amasa (2 Samuel 20:1-13). David himself had failed to act against Joab because of his own weakness (2 Samuel 3:39). Solomon deals with David’s unfinished business with brutal justice. 

When David was in retreat from Jerusalem, Shimei cursed him, pelting him with rocks, showering him with dirt and calling him a man of blood (2 Samuel 16:5-14). David, still wracked with guilt about Bathsheeba and perhaps still reeling with self-loathing, lets him get away with this. In his dying words, David asked Solomon to kill Shimei (2:9), but Solomon initially holds back from this. He has Shimei put under house arrest with strict conditions (2:36-38). When Shimei breached these conditions three years later, Solomon has him struck down immediately.

By the end of the chapter, we are told that the kingdom was now firmly established in Solomon’s hands. (2:46)

So what’s the point?

Let it be said, quickly and firmly; you are not Solomon! And no one at Arrow is suggesting you kill anyone!

Rather, think about the way Solomon acts to establish himself in his role. The situation that he has inherited is highly dysfunctional, ultimately because of the moral failure of David with Bathsheeba and the leadership inertia that subsequently cripples the once great king. Solomon has to act decisively or else allow those dysfunctional patterns to undermine his own leadership.

When we are called upon to lead into renewal, we will have been handed a legacy, which will almost certainly be a mixture of the noble and the dysfunctional. The story of the past will be filled with that which is worthy, and that which is cowardly and dark.

The past cannot be ignored because it constantly informs the present and the future. Solomon’s response to history is sophisticated, intelligent and decisive. He has the courage to deal with unfinished business. He does not treat every situation that he has inherited in the same way. He has the wisdom to deal with people differently. He attempts to act with grace where possible. He deals with dysfunctionality with courage.

Henry Cloud has written an excellent book called ‘Necessary Endings’, in which he argues that to begin something new in life, we often have to have the courage to end something that has gone before it. For the past couple of years, this book has been my guide and encouragement. In ministries which are in decline, there are all sorts of legacies from the past. Sometimes it’s activities which have long past their use by date, but struggle on painfully, taking up time and resources. Maybe it’s people who have found their way into positions (either paid or volunteer), to which they are not really suited. It could be difficult decisions that need to be made, which have been avoided because they are painful or hard.

For renewal to take place, we will need to confront the legacies of the past. I counted up twenty ‘necessary endings’ that have taken place in this church over the last few years. No doubt, I could have handled some of them much better than I did. But in each case I am convinced that something needed to end, to allow a new thing to grow.

So learn from the wisdom of Solomon. Deal with the past carefully, intelligently and decisively.

6. THE BENDY TREE

A friend of mine described one church as being like a ‘bendy-tree’. A leader tried to change things in the church so that it operated differently. It was as if they grabbed the top of the tall tree and pulled it over to one side. But once they left, the bendy tree sprang back into place again. The change didn't outlast the leader.

Genuinely changing culture is one of the hardest challenges when leading for renewal. I once chatted to a speaker at an Arrow residential in the UK. This man specialised in change management in global corporations in the UK and the USA. He asked me, ‘Do you want to know the secret of change management?’. I said ‘Yes!’, excited to hear this rare truth.

He said, ‘The secret is, more often than not, change management attempts don't produce lasting change!’

One again, we can learn from the wisdom of Solomon. Chapter 4 of 1 Kings is one of those eye glazing lists of obscure names, that is clearly important to the writer but which tends not to grab our attention, at least on first glance.

Yet when we understand what it represents, we realise it warrants our attention. 1 Kings 4 is the list of the new officials and governors Solomon puts in place. In verse 7, Solomon develops a new administrative system by creating twelve districts that will become instrumental in supplying the royal household. Domestically speaking, Solomon’s fabulous wealth will be based on this innovation. Solomon innovates a new administrative system that becomes the foundation for the empire that he will create. Without this development, the expansion of Solomon’s kingdom would have been unsustainable.

There are hints that ultimately this new system becomes a burden on the nation of Israel, and, decades later, contributes to the fracturing of the kingdom into north and south (1 Kings 12:3). Nonetheless, the systemic reform that Solomon initiates brings about a permanent change. While David was a warrior poet, Solomon creates a world empire that is based on a sophisticated system of bureaucratic government.

Here is an opportunity to learn again from the wisdom of Solomon. One of the hardest things in leadership renewal is creating genuine culture change.

Change becomes institutionalised by the introduction of appropriate and functional new systems.

What kinds of systems are we talking about? To bring about lasting change we especially need to focus on systems that influence decision making, power sharing and change implementation. It is unlikely that genuine renewal will take place without new leadership. At very least, the existing leadership will have to develop new ways of making decisions, new ways of including people in key conversations, new ways of dealing with challenging issues.

In practice, this means things like rethinking our organisational architecture. Why do we have the staff we have? Why are decisions made in this way? Why does communication operate in this way? Finding new answers to these questions embeds lasting change in the organisation.

You deal with the Bendy Tree by instituting new systems.

7. PUSHING THE MERRY GO ROUND

The park near our house has a children’s playground, and one of the most loved pieces of equipment is the merry go round. Kids love to hop on, and feel the excitement as it circles around faster and faster.

Of course, if you are the adult pushing the jolly thing, it doesn't feel exciting! It just feels like hard work! The first revolution is excruciating, the next is slightly easier, then the following one is easier again. By the time you’ve pushed it though five or six revolutions, it’s a breeze to keep going. But the first ones were really hard.

Bringing about renewal is hard work. Genuine change comes from consistent effort in the same direction. After pushing hard in the same direction a number of times, eventually we see results.

As we seek to lead into renewal the temptation is to pine for the one magic thing that we can do which will turn everything around. We search for the one great event, the one fantastic programme, the one magic staff member. In reality, it does not exist. What is needed is consistent hard grind in the same direction, which will lead to momentum and results.

In any church or organisation, there is no one decision or one action that will turn everything around. We may well look back and see that certain actions or decisions, certain staff appointments were critical to success. But even they still needed to be accompanied by persistent effort directed to the same end.

In leadership for renewal, overnight success is a myth. It comes from consistent effort applied towards consistent goals. Turn up again tomorrow and work hard again.

So keep pushing the merry go round!

SEVEN STEPS FOR INNOVATIVE LEADERSHIP FOR RENEWAL

  1. The challenges of leadership in the Church are immense at this time. We will not be able to engage in renewing the Church unless we are engaged in renewing our soul.
  2. Making things look different will make people think things are different

And then they may start to be!

  1. Renewal can only come about as we wait upon the Lord and discern his calling.
  2. Follow the tunnel where the air smells sweet.
  3. Learn from the wisdom of Solomon. Deal with the past carefully, intelligently and decisively.
  4. You deal with the Bendy Tree by instituting new systems.
  5. Just keep pushing the merry go round.