Leadership and Keeping Up

Note: This is not a post about 1) Toxic Busy-ness, 2) The Kardashians, or 3) Frantic Anxiety about Falling Behind.

This is a post about Keeping Up for the sake of the Gospel.

When I was traveling for two years with a church gig, one of my handlers (the person who picked me up and made sure I got to where I was supposed to be) was driving me to a meeting. Once he got onto the highway, he merged into particular lane created for people with more than one person in the car.

We call this the HOV lane,” he said, “And it stands for ‘high occupancy vehicle.'”

He didn’t offer this explanation s-l-o-w-l-y as if I was intellectually challenged. He said it matter-of-factly as if this was a bit of information that was simply not well-known. This man was younger than I was.

I thanked him and shared that I had lived in the DC area with lots of HOV lanes.

And then he told me about some of the churches in their Presbytery. He shared that one of their churches had a tutoring program and he expressed that fact with an exclamation mark, as if tutoring programs were rare or unique in churches. He mentioned that another church was thinking about starting a computer training program. This was 2018.

Again, a computer training program is neither rare nor unique on church campuses. But they were new to that leader. And as we drove together it was clear that he was also unfamiliar with churches who welcome refugees, host after-school programs, and take mission trips. He mentioned all those ministries as if he’d just heard that they happen, when actually most of the thriving congregations I know of all faiths offer similar ministries. This lovely elder who had offered to drive around was simply unaware of what was going on in his own community.

Imagine if a church person came up to you and said, “There’s this thing they do in St. Dymphna’s Church down the street called Lent. We should try that.”

One of the things I notice in many of our churches is that we are slow to learn new things. We hear that there’s a new resource called Nooma videos and while we are pumped to try this new resource, we don’t realize that Rob Bell created Nooma videos in 2002. We wonder if we should introduce “contemporary music” to worship although much of what we call “contemporary” is 40 years old.

Speaking as a late bloomer who is often the last to know, I offer this word to my colleagues in ministry: please let’s hone our tools. Read secular materials to see what cool things are happening in other organizations and ponder how we might benefit from new ways of thinking. Read through the latest editions of Fast Company, Wired, and the HBR if you are pondering entrepreneurial shifts. For ordinary trends read Monocle, Riposte, and Positive News. Read poetry. Listen to podcasts that your kids recommend. Attend conferences that you’ve never attended before.

One of the common questions parishioners ask me is about encouraging their pastors to work on their preaching, pastoral care, leadership skills. Especially when a pastor’s been at it for over a decade – much less several – we don’t think we need to upgrade our proficiencies. Several times a year, I’m asked by a different church leader, “How do we tell our pastor (who thinks he’s good preacher) that he needs to attend a preaching conference?” And I’m not talking about criticism from the parishioner who is still furious at the pastor for something that happened in the 1990s. I’m talking about what happens when the leaders of a congregation all agree that their pastor could use some coaching on better ways to moderate a meeting or offer authentic pastoral care.

Leaders: if we believe in lifelong learning, this is the perfect season to venture into some new skill set building. It’s not about keeping up with every cultural icon or racing to attend every cool event. It’s about breathing different air, seeing with new eyes, staring into space and letting the Spirit speak. Ask people you trust what you need to do to be a better leader. And then do that thing.

We have too many leaders who are okay with coasting on the big things while being busy with a million little things. May Lent be a season when we can breathe deeply and ponder the big things, perhaps prompted by what’s going on over at The Creative Independent.

Note: We need you and you need to be at The National White Privilege Conference here in Charlotte next week: March 9-12, especially if you indeed want to grapple with new things. Info and registration here. Deadline for registration is March 7.

One response to “Leadership and Keeping Up

  1. For 21 years I taught at a very large inner-city high school. I was good at my job, both in the classroom and in leadership roles. Then I retired and lost track of many of the educational practices until I was asked to read stories to first graders. Although a teacher with many skills, I had to learn new ones to work with these small students. It was good for me and for the students. Never stop learning, never stop growing, no matter what you do in life.

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