Five Fears That Make Change Difficult and the Ways to Address Them

Packing Boxes She placed one more faded greeting card into the brown box she’d bought in a package of boxes from the U-haul place. Afterward, she taped the box and left it sitting for the custodian to collect. It needed to go upstairs to the attic with the other faded greeting cards, old swatches of fabric, and stray skeins of yarn.

As long as she could remember—which, being eighty-five, turned out to be a long time—there’d been a women’s circle. For generations it had existed as the heartbeat of mission and outreach in her congregation, the most active group by far—organizing, fundraising, cooking, sewing, comforting, loving, ministering. But not long ago she’d said goodbye to her last “partner in crime” at a nice, if sparsely attended, funeral bathed in blue and pink lights and smelling of lilies. And now, bitter as it tasted, she was admitting defeat.

Scrawled in Sharpie on the top of the box it said, “cards.” But one word could never do justice to all that she’d packed up for storage.

She’d insisted on doing it herself. After all, she knew not only what the boxes contained, but also what they represented. And she couldn’t quite bear the thought of turning over stewardship of that legacy quite yet.

So, as she mopped her brow, she thought of the old offertory sentence from the Book of Common Prayer, bidding us all “with gladness” to “present the offerings and oblations of our life and labor to the Lord.” Looking up from the Sharpie-marked carton, she decided it was with gladness that she offered up the offerings and oblations of the life and labor of dozens of strong women to the Lord.

But she also had to admit that, beyond the odd ambivalence of claiming this heritage with one arthritic hand and passing it on with the other, there was something else. Deep down beneath the cobwebs and the doilies, beneath the gratitude and the disappointment lived something perhaps even more elemental.


Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .

Why LGBT People May Not Find Your Protestations of "Love" Convincing

Ninja My six-year-old is in training to be a ninja. Part of that training requires hitting me. A lot.

One of the problems with his hitting me, though—you know, apart from the fact that wayward blows strategically placed, even from a six-year-old, hurt like hell—is he misses sometimes and hits something hard, like my elbow or my watch instead. So, then obviously he gets mad at me because . . . screw you! That hurt.

All of which means that I have to apologize to him for hurting himself on me, when my biggest offense is just trying to watch a little Sportscenter after a long day at the office, which, in a just world doesn’t seem like too much to ask, given the fact that I generally don’t ask for that much, maybe a little peace and quiet now and then, which, as I say, seems like an entirely reasonable request in a world where six year-old ninjas can hone their craft on the unsuspecting with an impunity normally reserved for Wall Street Bankers and small town high school football stars . . .

Where was I? Oh yeah, I have to tell him I’m sorry for being the anvil he bruises his hand on.

And if I say, “Ha! Serves you right!” if I don’t say “Sorry” right away, I only compound the original offense of not being conveniently soft enough a target by heaping on the added indignity of not being sufficiently sensitive to his need to find someone else to blame for his pain.

And right now I see the bruised hand thing in the church. You know what I’m talking about, right? The company of the aggrieved is alive and well in the church when it comes to the whole LGBT thing.

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .

Tingling Masses of Availability: Changing Congregational Expectations

Jello Mold

Tingling Masses of Availability

I had a professor in seminary who told us that when he was a parish minister he used to require, as a condition of employment, four weeks vacation every year—which he took all at one time. He said that he required the better part of two weeks just to start feeling relaxed.

I hear that.

He also said that when he went on vacation, he would go to a cabin without a phone–this was, of course, before cell phones and email. He did that intentionally so that he would be hard to reach. His secretary knew where he was, but the only way to get ahold of him was by calling the state police, who would then have to make a trip out to the cabin. Not impossible, but difficult enough to dissuade casual contact.

Making himself difficult to reach, he said, was the point. He wanted his parishioners to have to make a decision about whether their need was urgent enough to have to call the state police in order to get it addressed.

I love that.

Seminary students were horrified–as were his parishioners, I imagine, when he first explained it to them. “What if someone needed you?”

“I didn’t go to the moon. I simply made them make decisions about what ‘need’ means. People often define urgency in ways favorable to their own understanding of the world. Is Aunt Gladys’s bunion surgery an emergency? Is the failure to locate the toner cartridge for the copying machine urgent? Is misspelling the matriarch of the church’s name on the Christmas Bazaar literature a reason to go to DEFCON 1? Maybe. But why should the ministeralways have to decide what’s urgent? By going away like this, I tried to help the congregation take on some of the responsibility for its own care, by discerning what truly needed my attention from that which merely ‘felt’ urgent to each parishioner.”

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .

Paracosm: Playing in a New World with a Different Set of Rules

When I teach Theodicy (i.e., the problem of evil and suffering) to my university students, I start out by playing a game of hangman. I draw out a random number of blanks, and start asking for letters.

“S? No.”

“R? Nope.”

“E? Sorry.”

I doesn’t take long before I have a couple of blanks filled with X or Q. I might randomly add another space or two. This usually brings cries of protest.

Finally, the figure fills out. They lose.

Now they’re really howling. “There isn’t any set of English words with those letters!”

“Do you want to know what the phrase is?” So, I start writing on the board:Lawlessness and Chaos.

Sheer frustration. Somebody, usually earnest and sitting in the front row, someone used to school making sense, yells out, “That’s not fair.”

So, I ask, “How do you like it when somebody doesn’t follow the rules? Hard to play the game when someone keeps changing them, isn’t it?”

They don’t like it … not one bit.

But then again, nobody does, do they? We like consistency and predictability. We don’t like the thought that lawlessness and chaos might insinuate themselves into the otherwise stable taken-for-grantedness of our lives.

One of the reasons, people have such a difficult time with the question of evil and suffering is that it usually represents a deviation from the way our middle class American lives are lived.

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .

What if Small Is the New Big?

small big

Bookstores and Our Relationship to “Bigness”

As a kid growing up, almost all of the bookstores I knew about were found in malls—B. Dalton and Walden Books. You could expect to find one (sometimes two if the mall were big enough) in almost every mall. These bookstores didn’t carry an extensive inventory—mostly best sellers, coffee table books, children’s books, magazines, and so on. The experience was about buying—browse if you must, but find what you want, buy it, then get back to the rest of your business at the mall. They had no chairs, no coffee. It was a place to stop in and take a break from doing something else. The strategy wasn’t about great selection; it was about ubiquity: “We’re everywhere, and if we don’t have it, we can order it.”

As the 1990s unfolded, however, the ubiquity of mall bookstores began to decline. People’s relationship to books and the stores that sold them began to change with the increasing popularity of a couple of new chains, Borders and Barnes & Noble, and their imitators. These stores carried much more substantial inventory, and they appealed to people’s book buying experience. These new bookstores made an attempt to appear like a cross between a retail library and a coffee shop—come in, browse, relax, read a little, and have a latte. They provided comfortable chairs that they actually seemed to want you to sit down in, new and interesting music softly played, grad students with tattoos and multiple piercings, and a crap ton of books that allowed you to discover new authors and subjects you didn’t know about. The strategy was about great selection and an inviting experience—”We’ve got stuff you didn’t even know you wanted, which you get to explore at your leisure.”

But as the Internet realized popularity, a new kind of book buying experience emerged—online shopping, led principally by Amazon. Amazon and the other online bookstores boasted a nearly exhaustive inventory that could be accessed from the comfort of your own living room. What they gave up in ambience, they made up for in convenience. Not only could you order books and have them shipped straight to your door, you could order just about anything else—from TVs to hernia belts. The strategy centered on almost unlimited selection available with unbelievable convenience—”We’ve got just about everything, and you don’t even have to put down your Mountain Dew to get it.”

Things really started to change, however, with the advent of e-books. Amazon introduced digital books that gave people the convenience of online ordering coupled with instant online delivery. There was almost no waiting at all. You could have a new book in seconds, no matter where you were.

Still, after the big chain bookstores almost crushed them, and after Amazon and e-books almost crushed the big chain bookstores, some local independent bookstores have managed not only to survive, but to thrive. How do they do it?

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .

Suffering, Sorrow, and Being Nine Years-Old

Baseball mitt

I had a baseball game that day, beginning and ending my career as a catcher for Dog ‘n Suds at the tender age of nine. I was nearsighted and my glasses didn’t fit beneath the mask. Every time I turned my head, the mask moved slightly, as did my black nerd glasses, which made every pitch a funhouse adventure.

After I got home, following yet another losing game, and parked my orange Huffy with the black and orange striped banana seat, my mom met me outside and said, “There’s been an accident.”

Not knowing quite what to say, I said, “Who?”

“Jamie,” she said. “He and Michael were playing with lighter fluid out in the woods, and Jamie was burned badly.”

I remember wondering how it might be possible to be burned “goodly.” But all I said was, “What happened?”

“I don’t know, honey. His mom just called. I think he’d like to see you.”

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .

Why We Shouldn't Treat God Like a Drama Queen

Rain on window

She stands there looking out the window. For what, she’s not sure. Perhaps it’s for the return of Spring or the love she lost to a job opportunity in Albuquerque. Or maybe she looks for nothing more than the arrival of the mail with another announcement that she “might be a winner!” Sometimes even she doesn’t know what she’s waiting for.

But wait she does. Looking through the window that frames the only world she really knows anymore—a few scrubby bushes and a sad tree that used to sport a tire swing, but now only seems insistent on dying one big branch at a time.

The kids have gone. They don’t get back to see her much now, since the older one took a job in Seattle, and the younger one followed a dream to New York. Maybe what she looks for as she stands there is them … the ones she loves … to come home. She’d like to think that whatever else it might mean—more than the memories and the knick-knacks, the stuff they’ll inherit one day after she’s gone—that home means her. She wants them to come back looking for her.

And so, there she stands, looking out the window.

I suspect it’s not easy being God. Lot of whining to put up with, I would guess.

Plus the grabbiness. Yikes! The grabbiness. “Lord, help me to make it to my pedicure on time.”

And then there’s the garden variety cussedness humans seem so adept at manifesting from moment to moment.

All of those things mount up to aggravations if you’re God, though. But, come on, you’re God, so you’re supposed to be the adult in the relationship, right? Part of the job.

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .

A Short Primer on Congregational Hostage Negotiations


Things had been rocky for a while. Anxiety had reached new levels. Long time members were getting twitchy. Then Tom announced that he wanted to see the executive committee in my office. (Yeah, it was just as officious as it sounds.)

“We’ve got problems,” Tom began. “We need to make some changes around here, and that starts with the minister.” (This wasn’t going well from my perspective.) “And I’m not giving another dime until those changes get made. I’ll leave it to you all to decide how that gets done.” And he turned around and walked out of my office.

That sounds like a deadly conversation to have just after worship on a February Sunday morning. And it was. Our mouths were all agape. The sheer audacity of Tom’s summons and eventual announcement was awe inspiringly brash. The executive committee sat there stunned, looking at each other slack-jawed. The whole thing struck me as almost cinematic in its dramatic sweep. The only thing missing was Barber’s Adagio for Strings.

Now, it could have been awkward, but funny. Had it been anyone beside Tom we might all have looked at each other and rolled our eyes: “Do you believe this guy? Sorry to disappoint you—what with your self-inflated opinion of your own worth—but just who the hell do you think you are?”

But we knew who he was. Tom was the guy who subsidized the congregational budget by close to 30%. Tom was the guy who one year offered to do matching pledges for the congregation so that they could retire some debt. He was the guy who “wanted to step back from leadership,” but who—when things got bad—could be counted on to show up and “redirect” the congregation toward a “more sustainable path.” Most major decisions required conversations centering on the issue of what Tom would think. He was, in the words of Reggie Jackson, the “straw that stirred the drink.”

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .

Top Five Reasons Why "The Parishioner Is Always Right" Is Wrong

Yelling into phone

Monday morning. My secretary buzzed me and told me that Janice was on line one. Janice had called to express her displeasure at some new liturgical innovation I had instituted in worship on Sunday. The passing of the peace leading up to communion, apparently, disrupted her eucharistic solitude.

The Tuesday prior to Janice’s call, September 11, 2001, had been a fairly momentous day. Heading into worship that Sunday, we decided as a staff to do something liturgically that would suggest a different path than the violent one we were certain was about to consume us as a nation. So, we decided to pass the peace on the way to the table of grace. Janice, who opposed the kind of noisy intrusion on her quiet time of meditation presented by the passing of the peace, was not amused.

Janice told me that she expected me “not to do that again.” I told her that I appreciated her concerns and the time and effort it had taken her to bring them to me, but that we were going to continue to pass the peace, at least until we were on the other side of the violence I was sure was in our near future.

She said, “I’m really opposed to this.”

“I can hear that, Janice.”

“No. I mean I’m really, really opposed to this.”

Annoyed at this point, I said, “Yes, I understand, Janice. But simply adding more ‘reallys’ doesn’t make your argument more compelling.”

Janice said, “If you continue to do this, then you’ll understand what I’m doing when I get up and walk out. And if I walk out, I’m never coming back.”

I told her that I would be sorry to see her go, but that I certainly understood why she might feel the need to do so.

True to her word, the following Sunday as we passed the peace leading up to communion, Janice put her hymnal into the rack on the back of the pew, excused her way through the throng, walked up the center aisle and out the front door. She never came back.

Upon hearing of my insensitivity, the largest donor in the church came to my office and asked me to reconsider my position on the passing of the peace. Didn’t I see that Janice really felt strongly?

Yes, I saw that.

Sensing that I was finally seeing logic, my rich parishioner said, “Good. So you’ll stop the passing of the peace?”

“No. First of all, I think it’s an appropriate theological and liturgical gesture, especially in light of what’s happened at the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Second, and only a little less importantly, if I caved every time someonereally disagreed with a decision I’d made, I’d be begging for more ecclesiastical blackmail.”

“But she feels, really REALLY strongly.” (Again with the extra “reallys.”)

“I understand, but again, no.”

Nonplussed, she said, “How did you ever get to be a minister without realizing that your job depends on keeping church members happy?”

That episode came to mind the other day as I was reading an article by Alexander Kjerulf, Top 5 Reasons Why ‘The Customer Is Always Right’ Is Wrong. In the article Kjerulf argues that the now famous saying from 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, “The customer is always right,” is bad for everybody.

And while I don’t want too easily to equate “customers” and “church members” (i.e., the church is not a business, selling a commodity to be consumed by customers), there’s enough similarity that I thought I might mess around with his “top 5 reasons,” and see how they worked as bit of wisdom for congregations.

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .

Five Things that Might Happen If Your Church Never Got Another Member

Walker (b&w)

My dad was six-foot-one—a fair sized man. As a child I thought he was pretty much what God intended when creating men. Big. Strong. Smart.

Obviously, my dad was a lot of things I wanted to be. But early on, what I focused on was height. Whatever else happened, I wanted to be taller than my dad. I’m not sure why that seemed so symbolically important to me. But it did.

I had dreams of playing in the NBA, so I practiced basketball all the time. I shoveled off the driveway, and played all through the harsh Michigan winters. I had a dream.

I obsessed about the fact that I needed to grow—and it wasn’t happening nearly as fast I thought it should. I didn’t do anything stupid, like hang upside down with weights strapped to my wrists, trying to stretch myself beyond six feet tall. But I sure thought about it. I could see the whole NBA thing going down the toilet if I didn’t outstrip my dad’s height.

But then one day, when I was seventeen, it dawned on me—as if out of the blue: “I’m five-foot-ten-and-a-half, and I’m not going to get any taller.”

Based on this difficult reality, I had to readjust my expectations. Yes, I grew up with all those messages about “You can be anything you want to be … as long as you believe in yourself.” But come on, that’s a load of crap. No matter how hard I wanted it, no matter how much I “believed” in myself, there was no way, given the limitations of size (and talent, if I’m being honest with myself) that I was ever going to play in the NBA.

We all bump up agains limitations about which we can do little or nothing at all. I’m not talking about those things we can do something about. There are some things that fail for a lack of effort, or smart planning, or good execution. If you can change something to help you achieve your goal, then, by all means, that’s what you should do.

But there are some things that no matter how hard you try, no matter how smart you are, no matter how badly you want it, chances are pretty good that you’re stuck.

So often, we take this “stuckness” as a sign of defeat, an indication not that maybe this thing is unrealistic for us, but that we’re somehow defective, incapable of succeeding. Rather than embracing our failure to do a particular thing, it’s so easy to default to “Of course, I didn’t succeed at that; I’m a failure.”

But what if we saw that failure not as an ontological statement about our fitness as human beings, but as just another data point in the struggle to do something important?

Once I realized that I wasn’t going to be playing with Magic Johnson, I experienced a great lightening of my load. It freed me up to do something else, to start to think more seriously about my writing.

So, I was thinking about the church this way, and it occurred to me to ask: “What are the unrealistic expectations that keep us practicing for something we’re never likely to see?”

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .

Living in Chicken Coops: A Guide to Producing Generous People


I found myself thinking about my grandfather the other day. Actually, I find myself thinking about him a lot. He’s been gone a little over ten years now.

Theodore Roosevelt Murray left a mark on the world as big as his name. A former Marine who fought in World War II, he faced life leading with his chin. Growing up, I thought that if for some reason grandpa had to face off against John Wayne … John Wayne was going to be in a world of hurt. Tough guy. Man’s man.

When traveling, he often slept on picnic tables in rest areas and cooked hot dogs on the engine block of his old blue Ford station wagon. He had fists like anvils and a glare that reduced grown men to stammering incoherence.

But the other side of my grandfather that impressed me even more was his faith. Ted Murray was devout. He not only cared deeply about his faith, he actually lived his life as though his faith mattered more than anything else in the world. Sell everything you own and give it to the poor?

Yeah. He and my grandmother did that. Without knowing any Spanish, they packed up a few things and drove down to Mexico to build a home to raise abandoned children. And the year that it took them to build that children’s home they spent living in a renovated chicken coop.

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .

The Problem With Assuming That It's the Millennials' Fault for Abandoning Religion

Exit Sign I used to work with a guy who had a gift for breaking up with girls. He was so genuine and kind that afterward the girls would invariably leave feeling affirmed and cared for, like George Clooney had just fallen apart on them, relating how unworthy he was of their affections. Masterful. He was the ultimate “it’s-not-you-it’s-me” guy.

If you’re going to get dumped, that’s the kind of person you want lowering the boom, isn’t it?

But most people can’t pull off that level of empathy. Most people struggle between the poles of blame, between “your fault” and “my fault” -- all too aware of the other person’s problems, but also painfully suspicious (if not quite aware) of their own complicity. It’s normal.

Then there are the people at the other end of the spectrum, unencumbered by the decided disadvantage of ever entertaining the possibility that they’re wrong. This is the “it’s-not-me-it’s you” person. These are the folks who believe that no problem is too big or too complicated that -- with the application of a little intellectual candlepower -- it can’t be successfully blamed on somebody else.

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .

Why Personal Responsibility and Charitable Giving Aren't Enough

Food Stamps (b&w) We've got a problem in the church that we can't quite get a handle on, and it has to do with charity. Who gets it? and Who gives it?

Christians tend to argue  most heatedly about the role of government—personal or charitable responsibility vs. governmental responsibility. Conservative Christians often argue that any commands Jesus made concerning justice and the compassionate care of other human beings ought to be expressed not primarily through the government, but through the church. Progressive Christians, on the other hand, generally view government as an important part of the solution in manifesting the justice and compassion commanded by Jesus. I’d like to take a look at the conservative argument, for a moment.

Conservative Christians tend to emphasize personal responsibility as the primary locus of Christian morality. That is to say, Christians are first of all responsible for themselves–"If you are travelling [sic.] with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.” Of paramount importance here is the state of one’s soul. After having secured your own soul, you are then free to “assist the other person.”

On a conservative reading of scripture, the assistance one provides ought to come through individuals, or at least through charitable organizations, preferably those associated with the church. Jesus, it is often pointed out, didn’t command his followers to prop up governmental institutions (even humanitarian ones) as a way of establishing justice and compassion. These kinds of good works are best left to those who answer first and only to God. (Of course, it should be pointed out that Jesus was Jewish, which carried with it an implicit understanding that governmental and religious responsibility were indistinguishable from one another–in ways that don’t admit of a modern American analog.)

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .

Why "The First Shall Be Last" Is a Practical Economic Obligation

Outstretched hand 2 "According to tzedakah, the people who have the means to help others, the people whose ability to choose what they want to do and with whom they want to do it it tracks the amount of money they have at their disposal, are the ones who have the least amount of choice when it comes to giving. That is to say, in the pursuit of justice the more you have, the less choice you have about giving."

Derek Penwell on Why "The First Shall Be Last" Is a Practical Economic Obligation — [D]mergent

Fake It Till You Make It: Reflections on Congregational Awkwardness

AwkwardFamilyPet4 I’m an introvert by temperament. According to the well-worn (at least among seminary types) personality inventory, that means I find energy in being alone. Interacting with other people, on the other hand, sucks energy from me.

Being an introvert, on this account of personality types, does not necessarily equate to shyness. Shyness has to do with feelings of awkwardness around other people, while introversion has to do with one’s temperamental preference for the inner-world.

But I’m shy, too. My default response to new situations and new people is awkwardness.

Being introverted and shy, as you might imagine, is a difficult combination when it comes to my line of work. Ministry requires me to be around people more than I would normally choose, if the choice depended upon my natural inclinations. In fact, in seminary the Pastoral Care professor who reviewed my Meyers-Briggs type said, “Derek, less than one percent of ministers have your personality type. So, if you want to go through with this, you have to be aware that ministry is always going to be difficult for you.” Because, you know, people.

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .

Never Let the Guy with the Broom Decide How Many Elephants Can Be in the Parade

The problem isn’t just that good ideas are always in danger of being shot down. In an unhealthy system good ideas often don’t see the light of day because everybody knows up front that bringing them up is a waste of time. I would wager that serial blockers have killed ten times more ideas in people’s heads than they’ve killed on the floor of meetings—just because everybody is convinced that bringing up an idea would be a waste of time, or because it would cause World War III . . . 

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .

Confessions of a Fraud: The Silence that Reveals Me to Myself

Scrub Tree (rev) I woke up this morning, and when I turned over and looked at the alarm clock, I knew the night’s sleep would be stolen from me. My mind raced like an undernourished Chihuahua on crack.

I staggered out of bed, and here I sit at the computer.

Life is suffering—at least that’s what the Buddha said is the first noble truth. In other words, if you don’t know anything else, the one thing you know (even if you don’t know it) is that at the heart of the human experience something is goofed up.

My students often get hung up on the word suffering, because to say that life is suffering strikes them as too morose. “I can see the sunrise. I sing songs. I love. Life isn’t all, or even primarily, suffering.”

But by suffering the Buddha didn’t just mean the kind of agony you experience when you hit your finger really hard with a hammer (which I did one summer when I was framing houses during seminary, and holy crap!) or when you find out that your blind date only knows how to talk about conspiracy theories concerning one wold governments run by intelligent cyborgs or the Illuminati … or both.

Dukkha, the Pali word for suffering, means more than just pain; it means stress, or disturbance, or dislocation, or the nagging feeling—often beneath the threshold of awareness—that something isn’t right.

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . . 

It's Time for Progressive Christians to Take a Stand for Marriage Equality

It’s time for progressive Christians to take a stand. With same-gender marriage once again making headlines, this time in Indiana and Oklahoma, it’s time that Christians in favor of making a way for people to marry whom they want to stand up and let their voices be heard.

It’s time.

Clearly, the ground on which we currently stand as a society has shifted with regard to the issue of same-gender marriage. As of this writing, 17 states (Utah and Oklahoma pending) now allow same-gender marriage. I’d like to see that number get increasingly larger.

It’s a justice issue.1 There are people whom God loves who are being deprived of the opportunity to spend their lives with the ones they love.

How, though? I mean, we’re normal people struggling to make it to the next paycheck. Most folks don’t have the kind of power necessary to influence the culture on a grand scale -- at least that’s what we tell ourselves.

And we liberal religious folks have too often ceded the cultural playing field to fundamentalist activists, who’ve organized themselves for the purposes of advocacy. Because we don’t want people to think that we’re those kind of Christians, we’ve tended to treat political issues as something better left to “secular” advocacy groups.

And, frankly, it’s understandable. Because the fundamentalists have been so loud, we progressive Christians seem to want to cultivate a contrast: They will know we are liberal by our... Volvos and subdued rhetoric.

But I think that’s a crock.

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .

Killing Church Management (Part 2): The Perils of Following from in Front


Last week, I talked about leading from in front —that vestigial assumption about leadership that comes to us from the industrial economy. Leading from in front assumes that leadership and management are synonyms, that what characterizes good leaders is an ability to have good ideas, and then get other people to help realize those ideas faster and cheaper than anyone else.

I argued that in a connection economy—preoccupied as it is not with mass-production, but with creating for smaller, more localized markets—the form of leadership necessary is leading from behind. Leading from behind, I suggested, attempts to liberate the creativity in others, providing permission and resources so that others can produce interesting things.

Today, I want to talk about something I consider a simulacrum of leadership, one that, without care, might be mistaken for leading from behind—but most certainly is not.

I knew a minister once whose default leadership style wasn’t leading from in front. It wasn’t even leading from behind. He followed from in front.

He refused to do anything until he was certain that the whole congregation was behind him. Of course, he called it “consensus building.”

The truth of it was that he found new ideas vaguely threatening, always afraid that any action might blow up in his face.

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .