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Much has changed since the first edition of Lovett Weems’s seminal work Church Leadership appeared in 1993. In that time a substantial literature about leading the congregation has appeared, written from a broad variety of perspectives. But in some ways, little has changed in that time. The need for leadership in the church—defined as discovering the faithful future into which God is calling the congregation, and walking with the congregation into that future—is just as pressing as it ever was. And for that ...
Much has changed since the first edition of Lovett Weems’s seminal work Church Leadership appeared in 1993. In that time a substantial literature about leading the congregation has appeared, written from a broad variety of perspectives. But in some ways, little has changed in that time. The need for leadership in the church—defined as discovering the faithful future into which God is calling the congregation, and walking with the congregation into that future—is just as pressing as it ever was. And for that reason, the need for clear, insightful thinking about leadership is just as great as it ever was.
In this revised edition, Weems draws on the best new ideas and research in organizational leadership, yet always with his trademark theological grounding foremost in mind. Anyone who guides the life of a congregation, be they clergy or laity, will find Church Leadership the indispensable tool with which to follow their calling to be a church leader.
Foreword Rosabeth Moss Kanter ix
Preface: Evolving Thinking about Leadership in the Church xiii
Introduction: Leadership as a Channel of God's Grace 1
Vision: Discern and Articulate a Shared Vision 21
Team: Build the Team Without Whom the Vision Cannot Become a Reality 55
Culture: Embody the Vision Throughout the Church's Culture 81
Integrity: Ensure the Leader and Church Are Aligned with the Vision 107
Conclusion: Leadership as a Gift of God 131
DISCERN AND ARTICULATE A SHARED VISION
Where there is no vision, the people perish. Proverbs 29:18 KJV
The soul never thinks without a picture. Aristotle
Vision is the single most common theme in leadership studies. A. Bartlett Giamatti's distinction between management and leadership makes this theme clear:
Management is the capacity to handle multiple problems, neutralize various constituencies, motivate personnel.... Leadership, on the other hand, is an essentially moral act.... It is the assertion of a vision, not simply the exercise of a style.
A study of many leaders from different fields of endeavor concluded that "of all the characteristics that distinguished the individuals in this book, the most pivotal was a concern with a guiding purpose, an overarching vision."
"Cheshire-Puss," [said Alice,] "would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?" "That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat. "I don't much care where—," said Alice. "Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat. "—so long as I get somewhere," Alice added as an explanation. "Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough." Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Why Is a Vision Necessary?
Leadership is about change. It is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are. A prayer from the African American church puts it well: "Lord, we're not what we want to be, we're not what we need to be, we're not what we are going to be, but thank God Almighty, we're not what we used to be."
Without significant change, there is no genuine leadership. Christians know there is a strong theological grounding for change. We must change. The way things are in the world at any moment is never synonymous with God's ultimate will. There is always a "not yet" quality and an incompleteness about things as they are. God is always pulling us into the future with a call for an order far different from the current state of things.
The capacity for preserving an organization, its values, and its mission lies in continuous renewal and regeneration. There is a simple and familiar cycle through which organizations tend to move: from initial vision to maintenance to decline. In the early days, the vision is very pure and is the dominant characteristic of the organization. There is passion about purpose and mission. Later comes a time when the organization takes on institutional characteristics, without which it could not continue to make significant social impact. However, in this stage there is enough distance from the initial vision that maintenance of the organization comes to the fore, and vision often wanes. Then, when the organization becomes cut off from its source of power, its initial purpose and vision, it moves into decline.
Is this cycle inevitable? No, but it can change only if there are moments of recapturing or renewing the vision. In this way a new cycle begins. The new vision is connected to the original vision but is enough of a new manifestation of the vision that renewal is possible.
In the lives of healthy organizations there is an "endless interweaving of continuity and change." The scientist is an example. What appears to us as change and innovation is only possible because the scientist is a part of a tradition and an intellectual system; it is a system that provides for its own continuous renewal. According to Giamatti, "We do best when we remember institutions change so they may endure with a sense of their purpose and dignity, which sense is what differentiates endurance from mere survival."
The only way to preserve values over time is to be involved continually in renewal and change, thus finding ever fresh expressions for those values. When any organization decides it will seek to save its life by building walls against change, that organization is destined to lose its life, its vitality. It is through such concepts as "continuity and change" and "stability in motion" that we may find the path that leads to ever renewing organizational life.
Ongoing visioning becomes the means for this renewal. If a compelling vision is not present or if the organization is not seeking a vision, then a vacuum is created. The result will be either no vision or, more likely, the presence of many small competing visions. In either case, the result is decline.
What Is a Vision?
What is a vision? It is a dream. It is a picture of what is possible. Perhaps the best way to think of it is a picture of a preferred future. Rosabeth Moss Kanter believes that such a picture must be in place before people can let go of the past and permit change to take place. As Aristotle put it, "The soul never thinks without a picture."
Rueben P. Job defines and describes a vision for people of faith.
Vision is a gift from God. It is the reward of disciplined, faithful, and patient listening to God. Vision allows us to see beyond the visible, beyond the barriers and obstacles to our mission. Vision "catches us up," captivates and compels us to act. Vision is the gift of eyes of faith to see the invisible, to know the unknowable, to think the unthinkable, to experience the not yet. Vision allows us to see signs of the kingdom now, in our midst. Vision gives us focus, energy, the willingness to risk. It is our vision that draws us forward.
Two Views of Vision
Margaret Wheatley distinguishes between a traditional "linear" view of vision and a "circular" view, which she sees as more compatible with today's world.
The linear view points to a destination in the future, and the vision serves as a magnet pulling everything toward the dream. The classic illustration of this type of vision is President John F. Kennedy's announcement early in his presidency that the United States would send a man to the moon and bring him back safely before the 1960s ended. The things needed for that accomplishment were not in place when Kennedy made that declaration. However, the dream caught on and brought with it the money, innovation, and technology needed to achieve the great feat. The situation was illustrated in Kennedy's speech at Rice University in Houston on September 12, 1962, when he said that the astronauts would travel in space ships "made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented." That is the character of a linear view of vision.
The circular or spiral view of visioning sees the process beginning with small, next-step visions that become "fields of energy" out of which larger visions emerge. The final destination may not be known. If the mission stays clear as the guide point, then instead of the energy spiraling into unrelated activity, the energy builds from one vision to another. Destinations are reached but in a much more self-organizing pattern. Both approaches are sometimes fitting for churches, but my experience is that the second view more often suits congregations. If we are faithful in the smaller visions God gives us, we are given greater visions.
Machine Age and New Science
Wheatley's view of visioning comes from her study of "new science" and gives attention to how nature innovates. Peter Senge says that the underlying shift that is needed "is to think of our organizations as living organisms rather than machines." Senge, Wheatley, and others remind us that the Machine Age was built on the ability to control; whereas, no one controls living systems. They suggest that proper leadership should allow for surprise and for the power of the impact of small changes. Just as chaos theory teaches that small changes can have big effects in physical systems, the same concept can be seen in human systems.
The historical worldview shaped by a Newtonian paradigm assumes that the world is like a machine. The parts of the whole are finite in number, and they are related in simple and repetitive ways; one cause has a direct effect. The new science paradigm assumes that the parts are interdependent; whatever affects one can change all others. This approach can help shape how we understand vision and other elements of leadership as well.
Characteristics of a Vision
The cities and mansions that people dream of are those in which they finally live. Lewis Mumford
"The very essence of leadership," says the longtime president of Notre Dame, Father Theodore Hesburgh, is that "you have to have a vision. It's got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You can't blow an uncertain trumpet." As we examine a number of elements that characterize a vision, it is crucial to remember that the vision must be one for which the leader and the people have passion. Church leaders will understand well the admonition of John Mason Brown: "The only true happiness comes from squandering yourselves for a purpose."
1. A Vision Is Related to Mission but Different
A vision must be clearly related to and grow out of the mission of an organization, but it is also different. The most severe limitation of most local church mission statements is that they are so generic it is hard to use them to know what to do next. They often are of little help in making choices among the good alternatives always before a church that seek a claim on time, energy, and resources.
One way to think about the distinction between a mission and a vision is to think of the mission as "what we exist to do" and a vision as "what God is calling us to do in the immediate future (next year, next three years, or some other time period)." The mission may be "to bear witness to Jesus Christ in our community and beyond," and the vision that emerges may be "to move from what people experience as a cold and impersonal church to a warm and caring church."
2. A Vision Is Unique
Mission statements also tend to be so general that they could be used for any number of churches.
A vision is different in that it is unique. It should fit only a particular church at a particular moment in history. It is that specific. A vision such as "We need to engage, get to know, and develop ministries with the immediate neighborhood of our church between Third Avenue and Jefferson Street" would be hard to apply to another church.
3. A Vision Focuses on the Future
A vision honors the past, indeed is made possible by the past, but focuses on a preferred future. The object of attention in a vision is the future. The two previous vision illustrations not only reflect current problems (cold church, no neighborhood involvement); they more importantly hold out preferred futures (warm church, engaged church).
4. A Vision Is for Others
The focus of a vision is on outcomes, results, and contributions for others. A vision does not focus on some goal of success, such as being the largest church in the community, but it addresses needs related to the mission in challenging ways. Any institutional successes emerge as a result of the fruitfulness of our ministry. The vision always relates to meeting needs. While the institutional needs of the churches are likely to be served through our two vision illustrations, the primary concern of the visions is for people who are currently not being served by the churches.
5. A Vision Is Realistic
A vision should be realistic because it is rooted in the people who make up the church and in the reality of the current historical situation. If a group develops a vision well (in the midst of the people and facts), then the vision will be realistic. A vision needs to be sufficiently realistic for there to be some reasonable hope of success. Otherwise visions become fanciful imaginings or pipe dreams. These serve the interests of no one. No matter how compelling is the need for evangelism, a vision "to double our membership in one year" is unrealistic for nearly all churches.
6. A Vision Is Lofty
Equally important is the need for the vision to be lofty and inspiring. It should set a high standard and a target not easily attainable. The vision should be values-filled and show that the group has made a choice among values. Visions finally become questions of values. Visions come from the heart and represent our strongest values and commitments.
Remember that visions represent dreams about preferred futures. One way to discover a sense of your own vision and the values that undergird it is to complete the statement made famous by Martin Luther King, Jr., "I have a dream that ..." How would you complete that sentence for your church? How would others in your church complete the sentence? The answers are the beginning of a vision.
7. A Vision Is Inviting
A vision should be an attractive, clear, compelling, and appealing picture of what the future can be. Vision is a "see" word; it is a picture of a preferred future. It should be inviting and should claim the minds and hearts of persons in the church. Passive and ho-hum visions will not inspire people.
The famous football coach Vince Lombardi said that the best coaches always know what the end result of a play looks like. Even if you have never seen the play run perfectly, you never lose the picture. "If you don't know what the end result is supposed to look like," he said, "you can't get there." It is such a picture toward which good coaches coach. So it is that a vision provides a picture toward which leaders and groups move together.
In our illustrations, the prospect of a warm and caring church or a community-involved church should represent a desirable future for current church members, even those who may be part of the problem in the current situation.
8. A Vision Is a Group Vision
An effective vision is a vision shared by many persons. A vision is not a collection of individual visions with the leader simply collecting ideas and putting them together; nor is it an imposed vision in which the leader comes with a personal dream and seeks to make it become a reality. The vision needs to ring true for most of the people.
The vision of a warm and caring church will not motivate anyone unless there is a broad realization of the need for such change.
9. A Vision Is Good News and Bad News
A vision holds in it both promise and judgment. It is the promise of a better future. However, within the promise is some degree of judgment of the past and present. This means that what is received as good news by some will be received as bad news by others. The vision of a neighborhood-involved church may reflect judgment on years of clergy and lay leadership.
We are called to help ourselves and others remember that the reign of God is not yet. The incompleteness of our times always calls for recognizing limitations and moving toward that preferred future to which God is calling us. Although there is always some degree of judgment of the past, a good vision is so rooted in mission and history that persons who genuinely care will come to identify with the new vision.
10. A Vision Is a Sign of Hope
A vision should inspire hope. A vision says in a dramatic way what is possible if people work together. It is a way of saying, "Look at what is possible for us!" It represents a belief that people can make the difference.
To this extent it is a great sign of hope. When there is no hope within a congregation, there is despair and a lack of motivation and energy to accomplish the mission.
To help create and identify with a compelling shared vision is one way the leader expresses hope in the future. If a leader genuinely has no hope for the future of the congregation, there can be no vision and no motivation for leadership. Pastors who have reached a point of despair about the future in their present assignments need, for their sakes and for the sake of their church members, to find a way out of that situation as soon as possible.
Excerpted from Church Leadership by Lovett Weems Copyright © 2010 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted February 2, 2012
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