“Kaizen” is a Japanese word that translates roughly, “to change or correct for the better.” What are the traits, qualities and characteristics of effective clergy? Is it possible to transform an average local church pastor into a highly effective and growth-oriented pastor? Leadership is not defined at birth. All of us can grow and develop into more effective leaders and we can do this at any time during our careers. Spiritual Kaizen works from the best secular and ecclesial models of leadership in order to draw out the best leadership practices available for current and future leaders of the church.
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About the Author
Bishop Grant John Hagiya is a graduate of the Claremont School of Theology, where he received his M.A., M.Div., and D.Min. degrees. He recently received a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership at Pepperdine University.
Grant has served as a full time Professor at the Claremont School of Theology, teaching in the area of Religion and Society and Urban Ministries. He has remained as an Adjunct Professor at Claremont for the last 15 years. Prior to his election to the episcopacy, he served as the Senior Pastor at churches in Berkeley, Gardena, and Los Angeles, California, as well as the Los Angeles District Superintendent and Dean of the Appointed Cabinet of the California-Pacific Annual Conference. His most recent appointment was as the Executive Director of the Center for Leadership Excellence, a joint position between the California-Pacific Annual Conference and the Claremont School of Theology, where he served as the Director of Leadership for the annual conference and a faculty member at the Claremont School of Theology.
Grant has served as a General and Jurisdictional Conference delegate since 1996, and was the head of his annual conference delegation to General Conference in 2000. He most recently has served on the Committee on References for the 2008 General Conference. He is a trained mediator, receiving most of his training through the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center. Grant has been an active member of the Nikkei Interfaith Group, a community-based coalition of Christians, Buddhists, and Shinto Ministers. He was also the ecumenical representative of the California-Pacific Annual Conference to the Los Angeles Religious Leaders, consisting of all the ecumenical leaders of the greater Los Angeles region. In 2008 Grant was elected to the Episcopacy by the Western Jurisdiction and was assigned to the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference and the Alaska United Methodist Conference. He serves on the Board of Higher Education and Ministry and the Ministry Study Commission. He has recently been assigned to the denomination’s Call to Action Steering Committee that is tasked to study major changes in the denominational structure in light of the current economic downturn.
Grant is married to Janet, a high school librarian, and they have three children, Lexie, an accountant for ABC Studios; Jamie, a professional basketball player in Europe; and Trent, a student at the University of California, San Diego.
Read an Excerpt
How to Become a Better Church Leader
By Grant Hagiya
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2013 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
Spiritual Leadership 101
Knowledge is happiness, because to have knowledge—broad, deep knowledge—is to know true ends from false, and lofty things from low.
—Helen Keller Author and lecturer
The Unremarkable Pastor
He was a mid-career pastor with an unremarkable history. Neither great nor ineffective, his past service record demonstrated maintenance of local churches at which he served. From year to year there were slight fluctuations in worship attendance and membership statistics but no remarkable losses or gains.
Educated in a mainline Protestant seminary, he was trained in the basics of a standard theological degree: the formal disciplines of theology, biblical studies, church history, and ethics, and the practical arts of ministry—preaching, worship leadership, pastoral care and counseling, Christian education, and church administration. Because of the stability of society and church life at this time, there was a "cookie cutter" approach to preparing clergy for their careers. The prevailing pedagogy of almost all seminaries of his time was to provide a generalist degree program, touching briefly on all the basic subjects, and to produce a pastor who could step into almost any church and provide the basic programs for ministering to its congregation.
He was an average student while at seminary, progressing through the required curriculum, interning at a local church as a youth worker, and graduating with a Master of Divinity degree. He was neither at the top of his class nor at the bottom, a pattern that would follow him in the first four churches that he served.
To his judicatory supervisors, everything in his file and past service record pointed to "average, nondescript, unremarkable." The average tenure of his appointments at local churches was also fairly standard: four to six years at each local church he served. Now, facing the possibility of a fifth move, his judicatory supervisor, in consultation with colleagues and the bishop, proposed a lateral move. His reputation as "average" meant he was not going to hurt another church, but his gifts and graces did not suggest a promotion to a larger church, either.
Thus, these judicatory leaders, following a more subjective pathway rather than objective data, decided to move this pastor to a church about the same size as the one he currently served. The pastor at the new location was retiring, and the congregation had requested a replacement with experience rather than someone right out of seminary.
There was one important difference between the pastor's current church assignment and this new one: the demographics of the surrounding neighborhood of the new church were rapidly changing, and a new, large housing development was being completed that would attract thousands of first-time homebuyers and young families.
Unfortunately, this change in demographics was not the main driving force in the judicatory leadership's decision to assign the replacement pastor. Because the church was a small to average size congregation (an average of ninety in worship attendance), the appointment was not given a great deal of time and attention. The change was more a matter of expediency than strategic placement.
During this period there was also a huge outpouring of research and information on church growth and development of local congregations. Books, seminars, and workshops on the subject exploded on the church scene. This information was both inexpensive and accessible, and almost any pastor and congregation could immerse themselves in the literature.
The unremarkable pastor began to read and study the new information. As he learned, he became more and more excited and passionate about the concepts of church growth. Knowing that he would be taking on a new church assignment, he committed to remaking himself and his ministry. He studied the literature and best practices. He attended every local seminar and workshop and even traveled to other well-known training events outside the area.
Because demographic analysis was a key strategy in congregational renewal, he studied the population reports and projections for his new church's surrounding community. He learned of the new housing development and that young families would be moving into the area of the church. Realizing the potential of a younger demographic, the pastor made plans based on this information and projected new outreach programs designed to attract these age groups.
Because not much was expected of the congregation, it was off the radar screen of the denomination. This reduced pressure on the pastor and gave him considerable flexibility to try new things. He began to experiment, trying out new church growth ideas and programs. As expected, some of them did not work, but others were successful. The congregation began to grow, slowly at first; but with each new concept or program, more people started visiting and participating.
Far from making random or arbitrary decisions about how to increase growth, the pastor learned in real time that there must be a systematic foundation for the church's growth. Again, from both the research and best practices and his own application of the information, he developed a fundamental plan based on four key systems: welcoming, discipling, outreach, and leadership development.
At first, the laity of the church reacted passively to their pastor's new directions and passion for growth. However, over time, as he enlisted more and more key lay leaders in new ministry pathways, new directions became contagious. Workshops and seminar sponsors asked that the church send ministry teams to the events. The pastor learned that if he could get 20 percent of the laity committed to a specific church strategy, their passion would pull the rest of the church forward. A paradigm shift took place in his ministry. He realized that in the past he had seen himself as the sole leadership voice of the congregation, sometimes "bottlenecking" decisions and actions. Now he saw his job as empowering the laity to carry out the work of ministry. This proved to be a huge personal realization about his past ministry. If the church were to grow past a "pastoral size" (approximately 150 in worship attendance), he would have to empower the laity to take authority and responsibility. Over the next three years, as the laity took on more of the ministry, the congregation grew to the "program size" (more than two hundred in worship attendance).
The pastor also realized that his learning curve had to continue rising to push beyond the two-hundred-in-worship attendance plateau. He had to reinvent himself and his leadership to reach the "corporate level" (more than 350 in worship attendance). He continued to study new church growth models, and he learned and grew.
He was allowed to stay in this appointment for a long term (sixteen years as he neared retirement), and this helped sustain the church's growth. By not moving this pastor, his supervisors enabled his new skills to develop. Combined with an energized laity whose social context the pastor understood and a positive demographic, the church continued in growth and vitality.
When the judicatory leaders began to recognize the new skill sets of this pastor, they asked him to move to even larger local churches a couple of times. He wisely resisted and retired as the beloved pastor of the church. After more than twenty-four years of ministry, the pastor had seen his church's attendance more than triple to become one of the strongest and most vibrant in that district.
There is much to be learned from this particular story, but let's start with the most obvious: how is it that an average local church pastor can turn into a highly effective and growth-oriented pastor? Obviously, he was not born with innate leadership skills that suddenly kicked in when he reached middle age. Nor was there some dramatic event in the pastor's life or the life of the congregation that catapulted the church into a period of accelerated growth.
While a lot of interlocking factors aided the success of this pastor and his local church, the premise of this book is that leadership traits are not set at birth and that all of us can grow and develop into more effective leaders at any time during our careers. In the following chapters I work from both secular and ecclesial models of leadership, comparing and contrasting the two, in order to draw out the best leadership models available for current and future leaders of the church.
Spiritual Leadership Kaizen: Continuous Improvement
The title of this book applies a Japanese business practice to the spiritual leadership of clergy and laity. The Japanese word kaizen derives from the root words kai, translated in English as "change," and zen, translated as "good" or "better." The concept that Japanese management created was "continuous improvement," and major companies such as Toyota Motors developed a management philosophy that enabled them to become highly successful worldwide leaders in their business area. Such Japanese companies believe in steady and continuous improvement over time rather than big, flashy innovations.
As I hope to apply it to your personal spiritual leadership, spiritual kaizen means slow, steady, yet continuous improvement. In practical terms it means that every day I learn one new thing, work on improving one behavior, or try to apply one new skill set. It means an intentional focus on a specific leadership learning, behavior, or practice. It also involves evaluative self-reflection. Such practices do not have to involve huge, ambitious, drastic changes or objectives but rather require small, incremental, positive ones. If every day I learn, grow, or develop in my leadership capacity, over time I make a huge leap.
I wish I had known about the concept of kaizen on my own spiritual journey. I was ordained a deacon in the former two-step United Methodist process as a twenty-four-year-old student who was only halfway through seminary. With my limited understanding of John Wesley's doctrine, I was greatly troubled by his conception that spiritual perfection was attainable. I was fine with the spiritual movement from justification to sanctification and truly believed that I would continue to work on my spiritual life in this process. However, I had trouble believing that anyone could attain the state of spiritual perfection that he called "entire sanctification." Personally, I was just too flawed a human being, and my study of history pointed to the only empirically verifiable Christian doctrine: sin!
I was to be ordained at my United Methodist annual conference—the first time I had ever been to an annual conference! We ordination candidates were briefed that the bishop would read the classical examination questions from John Wesley, and we were to answer our affirmations in a loud and enthusiastic voice. We went over the questions and there was the dreaded question about perfection: "Are you going on to perfection?" I was okay with all of the other questions, including an embarrassing one about not being in debt. But how could I answer that question when I really didn't believe I could attain such perfection? When the time came for the historical questions, I was going to say "no" but chickened out at the last minute and merely remained silent as my ordination colleagues answered "yes."
Since that time I have come to understand Wesley in a deeper way, and the concept of kaizen has helped that understanding. If I intentionally grow in my love of God and neighbor a little bit more each and every day, then I am going on to a form of perfection. It is much like the Mahayana Buddhist concept of satori, or enlightenment, in which attaining such a state in a momentary occasion in this earthly life is possible, but maintaining it is elusive. However, intentional and daily practice of the spiritual disciplines (Wesley called them "the means of grace") will provide the grounding for continuous spiritual improvement.
I firmly believe that any spiritual leader who does not practice spiritual kaizen, or the observation of daily spiritual disciplines, cannot remain effective very long. The rigors of ministry are just too intense to survive without a regular connection with God and the spiritual replenishing that follows. Spiritual kaizen is absolutely essential if we are to grow as spiritual leaders.
The Secular Leadership Literature
Leadership literature is not very old as academic disciplines go, and it began with the more focused examination of leadership traits. The earliest psychological study of leaders, attributed to the pioneer Lewis Terman, focused on the personality traits or qualities of individual leaders. Originally dubbed the "Great Man" approach, it was the foundation for leadership studies. This theory reached its height of popularity between the 1940s and 1960s, and is still used to assert that leaders become effective by utilizing their innate abilities. "Traits are considered to be patterns of individual attributes, such as skills, values, needs, and behaviors, which are relatively stable in the sense that they tend to repeat over time." The most common traits associated with this leadership style are intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity, and sociability. Such abilities are characterized by attributes that set people apart from their organizational counterparts or peers: educational levels, physical health, social standing and upbringing, communication capacity, cognitive ability, masculinity, decision-making aptitude, and what is now known as emotional intelligence.
The original foundation of the "Great Man" theory of leadership shows its sexism in the misguided assertion that individuals are born with innate traits that make them great leaders. Modern research has pretty much debunked the idea that leaders are born, not made, but the general public continues to cling to this myth.
The church is not immune to this lack of enlightenment. In fact, theologically, the "Savior-Hero" complex of the Christian tradition reinforces the "Great Man" theory of leadership.
Because of post-critical atonement theories of Jesus' soteriological significance (his saving power), many Christians still relate to Christ through his saving power alone. There is no doubt in my mind that I am saved through the power of Jesus' grace. However, the complexity of Jesus underscores how much we can truly learn from him. Here, Christology, or the study of who Jesus was, is critical to the theme of leadership.
As I study the Gospel reflections of Jesus, there is a strong case that he rejected the opportunity to become the earthly savior-leader of a worldly political movement. He consistently let down those who wanted a political messiah to liberate them from Roman domination and oppression.
A key example comes from the Gospel of John's account of the feeding of the five thousand. In John's account, Jesus takes more initiative as compared with the Synoptic stories of the same event. However, it is the concluding verse fifteen that draws our attention: "When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself" (John 6:15).
There is no question that Jesus has fulfilled one of the prime characteristics of true leadership: he has followers, and these followers wish to give him power over them. As biblical scholars Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh comment on the nature of "kingship," "Kings are not simply a political equivalent of a 'president' with rights of hereditary succession. Rather, kings have total control of and responsibility for their subjects; they are expected to provide them with fertility, peace and abundance."
That the people believe in Jesus so much that they wish to actually force him to become their king is telling. In his earthly ministry he rejects the savior-hero complex that the people wish to thrust upon him. Later, in John 18:36, he declares that the only kingdom he seeks is a spiritual one, not an earthly one. However, it is not a stretch to project onto Jesus his intuitive understanding that dabbling in any earthly power will eventually let the people down. His mission from God was not one of earthly power and political domination, so he withdraws alone away from the crowds to escape their misguided intentions.
Jesus: What Kind of Leader?
So, if Jesus rejected the role of worldly political leader, what kind of leader was he? I believe he was the ultimate model of "spiritual leader" and so remains for us the prime example of how to lead in the church. In this sense, he was teaching us how to learn, and he continues to teach us, as we are led by the Holy Spirit, to deal with new situations and contexts in the present.
Take for example his interaction with the disciples in their quest for more power and recognition as reported in Mark 10:35–45. The brothers James and John ask Jesus a loaded question: "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you" (v. 35). Jesus responds with a simple question: "What is it you want me to do for you?" (v. 36).
The brothers wish to be elevated above the other disciples and sit at the place of honor on Jesus' right and left side. Jesus responds as a true leader by defining reality for James and John: "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" (v. 38). In other words, are you willing to follow God's will to die with me? Foolishly, they answer, "We are able" (v. 39).
Instead of demoralizing them and questioning their abilities, Jesus graciously affirms them by acknowledging that they will follow him down the path of costly discipleship that leads to eternal life. However, once again, he refuses to play the role of savior-hero and in honesty tells them that he does not have the power to grant their request.
Excerpted from Spiritual Kaizen by Grant Hagiya. Copyright © 2013 Abingdon Press. 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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Table of Contents
1 Spiritual Leadership 101 1
2 Our Present Reality 25
3 The Big Three of Spiritual Leadership 37
4 Additional Qualities and Traits of Highly Effective Clergy 91
5 The Critical Role of Church Culture, Systems, and Organizational Development 107