About terrielton

Associate Professor of Leadership

One Year Anniversary

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Impact One Year Later: A Conversation between Authors and Editor about Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People, and Purpose

Sarah Stanton, Senior Acquisitions Editor at Rowman and Littlefield for Religion, asked us to reflect on the impact of our book, Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People, and Purpose on its one-year anniversary. We invite you into this conversation by leaving your comments on our respective blogsites (Hayim –facebook.com/rabbihayimherring and www.hayimherring.com and Terri – https://terrielton.com), and by purchasing copies for you and your leadership at a generous discount of 40% (available only on Rowman and Littlefield’s website when you click on the book link.

Sarah: How has the book been received over the past year?

Terri and Hayim: As co-authors, we naturally want to say, “the reception has been fantastic,” and we think that’s accurate. We had hoped that clergy, professional and volunteer leaders of congregations and nonprofits would purchase the book and invite us to present our insights. But what we didn’t expect is volunteer leaders whose day jobs are running a business wanting to purchase copies of the book for their businesses. We realized through them that some aspects of our book, which is about 21st century leadership, had broader application. We’ve also heard clergy from both of our respective faith traditions say the blend of theory, story about churches, synagogues and nonprofits, and practical tools and resources enabled them to turn concepts into actionable steps for their organizations. Thankfully, our presentation schedules have been quite full, and we’re gratified that we can support clergy, professional and volunteer leaders who are facing some unprecedented challenges around transparency, engagement with the broader world and innovation–all while trying to deepen involvement of existing constituents.

Sarah: What is the question you wish more people would ask about the book?

Hayim and Terri: One of our key findings was that both established and startup organizational leaders lacked any kind of formal process for planning beyond a year at a time. They all engaged in planning, ranging from what we might call “adhocracy” – planning when needed – to strategic planning on a regular cycle. However, we would like to hear much more interest from them in using existing tools that that they can adapt for congregations and nonprofits to distinguish “the trendy” from trends that they can anticipate and shape to further the impact of their work. Even agility isn’t enough because that still implies a mindset of reactivity albeit at a quicker rate. Learning to anticipate trends is not a luxury but a necessity because of the velocity of relentless change that we’re experiencing.

Sarah: What is the question you’re most frequently ask about the book?

Terri and Hayim: Not surprisingly, questions about membership and dues or finances frequently arise in discussions. However, we try to reframe that question to one of openness and engagement, that is, how open is your congregation or nonprofit to the world, and how does your mission engage people’s hearts and souls with a diverse but like-minded group of individuals? We don’t dismiss the real financial concerns that congregations have, but if that’s their first question, they have already indicated that they are thinking as an Organization 2.0, from the top down, about institutional survival, instead of what we describe as Organization 3.0, which is structured as a mission-focused platform where people can pursue and express purpose and communal meaning.

Sarah: What part of the book have readers reacted to most strongly?

Terri and Hayim: Innovation and entrepreneurship resonate with leaders right away. We believe that is because today’s organizations know they need to grow these capacities and the four pathways to innovation that we identified helps leaders find their way through innovation and entrepreneurship in tangible ways. The concept that surprised us the most was engagement. Often invited to help organizations think differently about “growing membership,” our work reframes questions about membership into questions of engagement and we think innovation and engagement work together. Engaging the talents and gifts of individuals within congregations and nonprofits is a great strategy for innovation, as it creates shared ownership and produces better results. Using the resources and worksheets in the book, leaders can practice some of the ideas during presentations and bring them home to use with their staff, board, or constituents.

Sarah: Have any questions surprised you over the past year?

Hayim and Terri: Just last week, when presenting a to group of ministers, a participant asked if there was an innovation and entrepreneurship self-assessment tool for congregational and nonprofit leaders. The two academics who invited us to teach were also present, and are very knowledgeable about innovation. But none of us were able to immediately think of a tool that was specifically targeted toward those issues. Certainly, there are some excellent tools that assess personality types and attributes that relate to innovation and entrepreneurship, and corporations and international consulting companies have developed their own instruments, but we invite those reading this blog to let us know if they’re aware of one that would fit a nonprofit or congregational context.

Sarah: Is there something you had to leave out of the book you wish you’d been able to include?

Terri and Hayim: What we couldn’t include in the book were the stories of individual members and constituents of participating nonprofit and congregations. Our groundbreaking research methodology invited members and participants of organizations in our study to directly contribute their insights. A central theme of the book was about engagement, and we realized that we had to engage directly with members and constituents of organizations participating in our research. And we credit the nonprofit leaders for enabling us to find ways to do so. However, we promised confidentiality, so we can only generally say that the work of the congregations and nonprofits in our study is filling those who are involved in their communities with deep purpose.

Sarah: How has the book’s message informed your own work?

Terri: I am different today because of this work. Learning from and with the congregations and nonprofits we studied has convicted me to boldly lean into this new paradigm in my own leadership. One year later the path forward is not clear, but the rewards along the way have been rich. In the past year I have named and reflected on the assumptions I bring into leadership and opened myself to other possibilities. Teaching future congregational and nonprofits leaders I am introducing new ideas and experimenting with new teaching methods and assignments, and these efforts are making a difference in the church. Most importantly, I am widening my circle of learning partners. As Hayim states below, working on this project he and I developed an unlikely friendship. Today we have expanded our relationship by introducing each other to colleagues and friends, all during a time when society was becoming more wary of “the other.” I am convinced that a core capacity of future leadership is the ability to leave one’s comfort zone and create spaces for genuinely encountering strangers. While that work was not the central message of this book, it is trajectory of it. If leaders of congregations and nonprofits live out these principles, that is where they will find themselves. And for that, I am grateful.

Hayim: Before we started researching and writing, Dr. Terri Elton was a complete stranger to me. But we went from potential co-authors, to colleagues and now to family friends. Why? Call it serendipity or providence, but my original co-author realized that he was unable to work on the book, so I decided to look across the Mississippi, to scholars at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, instead of reaching out to familiar colleagues. Our book was published immediately before the 2016 presidential election, when we were already feeling the toxic effects of political messages that warned us of the dangers of trusting “the other” (and I heard these messages from the extremes in both parties). By refusing to believe those messages, our reciprocity of trust in an “other” not only helped to better inform the congregational and nonprofit world about leadership, but transformed me personally. And, thanks to the encouragement of some great professionals at Rowman and Littlefield, I’m well into researching and writing a book on an issue that will be relevant to congregations and nonprofits, but transcends those sectors and reach into our broader communities. That’s part of my ongoing transformational journey that began with Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People, and Purpose.

I don’t have words!

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I don’t have words. Whenever I try to put words together into a sentence to share about my experience in Tanzania, words fall short. I’ve tried several times, with several responses each geared for a different group of people, but each time the sentences trail off…and then I try to end with a story to illustrate my point. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Like there is the story of the college student who waited for our group as we traveled to our partner congregation. And when our can broke down and needed attention, we had a chance to have an extended “unexpected” conversation. The heart of his message was his gratitude to Prince of Peace for the 6 years of scholarships that helped him move from primary school to secondary school and now into the University. Soon, after a time student teaching, he will be a teacher giving back to another community because of the investment this congregation made in him. As a professor and member of Prince of Peace, it was awesome to see the joy in his face and the thanksgiving in his heart.

There is the string of stories that highlight the Bega Kwa Bega – Shoulder to Shoulder – partnership between the Saint Paul Area Synod and the Iringa Diocese. We signed guest books filled with familiar names from MN, we met Tanzanians who have worked on projects with our friends (i.e. Fred Bergsrud, my childhood neighbor, working with them in agriculture) and we made instant connections, like finding out our interpreter went to seminary with one of my PhD colleagues. With so many ambassadors going back and forth between MN and Iringa, many conversations found common ground very quickly even though I could not speak Swahili or get around town on my own.

Pictures do a better job at communicating, but they too can be flat. The relationships cultivated between members of our group goes beyond the smiles seen in our pictures. The appreciation for church leaders in Iringa is hard to capture in the “group shot” at the DIRA office. The pictures of faces of children, mothers, and farmers are beautiful, but hardly capture the full essence of their lives and community. And the sunset photos do not begin to shed light on the stunning views we had from the top of the mountain, say nothing about the ones of elephants, lion, and giraffes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Relationships provide the best avenue. So many – new and old – and so diverse. Traveling with a group ages 15 to 76 provides it’s own richness. Add to that the vast array of experiences of the people we encountered that surfaced in conversations around meals, in worship, in celebrations, and in times of trial. The book of Romans reminds us we are one body with many members…and to see that sameness and difference at play over the course of two weeks was amazing.

At the end of the day, I’m grateful to be part of a global church that is rooted in relationships, cares about the world, and takes seriously its call to love God and neighbor. My heart of full. I learned a lot, and have much to reflect on. And my web of ministry partners has expanded.

I’m home from Tanzania, but my experience in Tanzania is still living within me.

Ready for 2017 – Tips from 2016 Bike Rides

We have had a beautiful spring, inviting people young and old to get outside!

I, of course, had to get my bike out early and have already taken in some gorgeous days biking. After my #BikeMN52 goal last year, biking 52 different rides in MN, several people have asked for tips on finding places to bike. So today I’m sharing my top resources for finding bike routes…and a little commentary to go with each.

#1 – Traillink is a great resource to check out. You can search around the country, state, city, or by trail name. This site is helpful describing the details of the path (like where it starts and ends, the length, and the trail surface). Here is a link to the Metro area. It is run by a non-profit and the site has more than 300,000 miles of trails. (That’s enough to keep you busy all summer!) Some of my favorites are: Brown’s Creek Trail near Stillwater (it is attached to the Gateway Trail which is also awesome), The Elm Creek Park Reserve in Maple Grove, Cedar Lake Trail (with its beautiful view of Minneapolis and lush green space), Lake Minnetonka Regional Trail (starting in Hopkins and heading out toward Excelsior), the Samuel Morgan Trail along the St. Paul side of the Mississippi, and of course the Midway Greenway (and the Minneapolis Lakes). (I placed this app on my phone!)

#2 – The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources also has a good list, and they note what types of recreation is available at each park. Trail length ranges from 4 miles (Goodhue Pioneer Trail in Zumbrota) to 100 (Paul Bunyan Trail between Brainerd area and Bemidji). If you want to make your ride more than an afternoon outing they have great ideas for adventures.

#3 – Bikeverywhere has a great physical map that I used, but they also have resources online. (For example, if you are interested in doing a century ride – 100 miles – there is route around Forest Lake.)

#4 – Know the trail you want? You can also check if they have their own site. Like the Cannon Valley Trail, the Mesabi Trail, Root River Trail, and Central Lakes Trail. Often these sites have more detail, for example if you are looking for housing nearby or places to stop for lunch.

#5 – The StarTribune ran an article last summer and has a nice map for metro AND state trails.

And “just in case” I always used my Google maps app on my phone. Just turn on the biking option and it will highlight bike routes and paths. This app helped me do get lost many times!

Also – one more resource – I highlighted some of my favorite rides at the end of the summer in this blog. Check it out. 

If you are interested in following my rides, I’m posting again under #BikeMn53 on FaceBook and Instagram.

So, here’s to biking another season!

What Target can Teach Religious Leaders

Like many Minnesotans, I am a regular Target customer. There are several that I visit on a regular basis – one near my house, another near work, and another “on my way home.” It use to be that I could visit a Target store in Apple Valley, MN or Fargo, ND or Anaheim, CA and easily find my way around because the layout of the store was basically the same. Sure they had different items (especially seasonal ones), but overall there was, what seemed to me, a universal pattern.

Recently that pattern has changed. For example, the Target by my work in St. Paul added a liquor store at one of the entrances. And the one “on my way home” had the home decorating items laid out in a display similar to someone’s living room. While I can still find the groceries and cosmetics, sporting goods and books, over the past several years I have begun to seen changes…most of them subtle, but some a bit more dramatic.

Last night I had to get groceries (and a few other things), so I went to my local Target and noticed more changes. In addition to the redesigned self-serve check-out lines there were several displays “between departments” that integrated various items from across the story and created “real life” scenarios. One scenario was all things “heading to the beach” and another was “what you need for your office.” It was interesting because they took things from different sections of the store and they put it together in a way that made sense to me. It was how I use their products at home. (A chair from the furniture section, with a pillow and rug from home decorating and a book from the book section with a Mother’s Day card sitting right next to it.) Not only that, but they put them at intersections or places that I would pass for various reasons. It was like they had mapped people’s travel patterns and were creating hubs throughout the store. While I noticed this new feature, I didn’t think much of it the rest of the night, as I had groceries to put away (along with the other items – planned and not planned – that I had purchased).

Having also been to worship this weekend, another place I visit regularly, I paused today to reflect more on my visit to Target. Maybe there are lessons religious leaders can learn from Target? And in fact, I think Target is embodying several of the principles Hayim Herring and I discovered in our research. Let me offer two thoughts:

  1. From departments toward “real life scenarios” – The universal pattern that I have come to appreciate at Target had all of the products separated into departments. If you want to be efficient, that’s a great plan, right? Well maybe. It is what I grew-up with and what I was use to, but sometimes the separation isn’t the most helpful. Take this example – Let’s say it’s summer and I’m having people over for a backyard BBQ and I forgot the marshmallows, chocolate bars, and graham crackers for S’Mores. That’s a lot of running round to get three items. And some time, like before the 4th of July, I’ll find S’More stuff in a display together, but mostly these three items live aisles apart. You see departments cluster things with the idea that like will be with like. But often times, things don’t fall neatly in those categories and/or items that are often used together are separated. But Target is taking the “S’Mores display” a step further. What if items where both/and? What if putting things together, rather than separating them, was most useful? And what if, like the S’Mores display, these “integrated” displays changed on a regular basis? Like Target, congregations have believed departmentalizing was the best way to help people navigate ministry opportunities. But maybe those days are changing? Maybe what is most helpful for people wanting to engaging in ministry is “putting the pieces together” in a way that reflects their everyday life? Target didn’t throw out all their departments as they began this new approach, and congregations don’t have to either. What I learned from Target is that a shift is taking place, from segregation and efficiency toward integrated and “real life.” And for now, we live in a hybrid.
  2. Tending to flow and intersections – I personally don’t mind numbered aisles and orderly traffic patterns. In fact, I love being efficient. But what I noticed when Target created these new “real life display areas” is that they caught my attention. I slowed down, stopped and looked at several items. And not only did my pace change, my mood did as well – I didn’t feel like I was in a warehouse, but rather in a more “intimate setting.” Sure, this might seem like an exaggeration, but think about the difference between going to a large chain store and a small boutique. What if you could create a bit of both in one? Tending to traffic patterns, or the people’s patterns, congregations create create smaller meeting points that brought people together from various “departments.” If you could create such an intersection, what would you do in that space? What might invite people to slow down their pace and have conversation? What Hayim and I did discover is that intersections, hubs, help not only information flow, but also are meaningful in cultivating relationships.

I’m not ready to say congregations should become Target. What I am suggesting is that there are lessons to be learned from a variety of places on how people can gather in meaningful ways. We as congregational leaders need to pay attention. It is time to rethink our patterns, because people’s patterns are being reshaped in all areas of their lives. And changing patterns is not about being novel, it is about realizing that the way congregations remain faithful is by engaging people in ministry. Therefore, stepping back and reflecting on what we are doing and while is so important.

Who knew. Paving a path.

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)

So this happened today, an article I co-authored appeared in an online Jewish publication.

Seriously. If you would have told my younger self that such a thing would happen, I would have thought you were crazy. Me? Cradle-Lutheran and seminary professor of leadership. What conditions would ever be right for such a thing to happen?

Well it did. Today. And the path from my childhood to this moment was not linear, and frankly the article was more about an opportune moment than a strategic plan, but today Rabbi Hayim Herring and I have an article published in the The New York Jewish Week. “Toward Paving A Path Between Religious And Cultural Wars” is a response to Peter Beinart’s “Breaking Faith” (an article that appeared in the April edition of The Atlantic) but it is also a testimony to the partnership we develop in writing Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World (our new book).

SUCH A TIME AS THIS

As our country seems to be separating into enclaves and seeing difference as division, Hayim and I were quietly talking with leaders of Jewish and Christian congregations and nonprofits who were discovering innovative and creative ways of cultivating communities of meaning and purpose. These communities operated with a posture open to difference and used practices that created dialogue and nurtured relationships. As we learned from each of them, we (as researchers, authors, and religious leaders) were doing the same ourselves – opening ourselves up to a particular other and discovering practices that created rich dialogue and nurtured a deep friendship. All while the national commentary, in the shadow of the presidential election, was highlighting divisions and trying to instill fear. There was a disconnect from our lived experience and the national rhetoric. There have been more times then I can count this past year when I have said, “There has to be another way.”

And then two weeks ago, as Hayim and I are both entering each other religious spheres and co-leading learning events, this article starts circulating around social media, and we decide to offer our voice.

PAVING A PATH 

Today I taught seminary students, current and future leaders of Christian communities, about how God calls us to open ourself to others – both known and unknown. This call from God is counter to what I have learned and been taught as a person who grew up in Western culture; a culture where individualism reigns and personal happiness has replaced visions of shalom and working for the common good. I believe these words, but I must admit, I am a novice in living them out.

Today I share with you, others known and unknown, my commitment to be part of the movement of paving a path to a new future. I will, in my spheres of influence, be a curious neighbor, open to hearing the stories of people I encounter, and working for justice and peace. And I am grateful for a conversation partner outside my usual circles who is also on such a path. And I invite you to consider ways you too can be part of this movement – a movement where difference does not have to lead to division and otherness does not have to be feared.

Love > …

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Old Lutheran is up to it again. This time they are reminding us, anyone who loosely considers themselves a church person, of the power of love. Love is greater than many things. It is certainly greater than hate, but it is also greater than status, than tradition, than money, and fear and jealousy (you get the point.). Old Lutheran has asked church leaders from around the country to write short reflections that draw us into discussion with one another on the power of love, and in particular God’s love. (You can search them with the hashtag #loveisgreater.)

I had the opportunity to write one on Love > Grief. Check it out. (Here are other short reflections  on Love > Hate – Go to the bottom of the page.) And my greater invitation is for  you to be part of a movement that spreads love, God’s love in the world. Read these reflections, talk about the power of love with your friends, get yourself a T-shirt and spread the word, or simply let love be your driving force today and in the days ahead. Remember #loveisgreater

Created in God’s Image

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We often read passages that note humans are created in God’s image, and we might even find ourselves repeating these words, but how often do we really stop and ponder what an amazing reality and gift that is?

Art is one way my ordinary routine of daily living is disrupted. Art in its final form is amazing and an take my breath away. As an observer, not as an artist myself, I’m drawn to art that helps me see the world in new ways or exemplifies the beauty already present. Here I am taken in by the imagine of the artists vision.

But art in it’s becoming form has a different impact on me. Art “becoming” transforms materials of this world, materials I often see as ordinary, and makes them into something more than…more than what they were and more than what I could see. Observing the process of art becoming captures my spirit differently than art in it’s final form. This video is an example of art becoming. Watch it and see what you think.

Leading in a Connected World

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I’m tired and jazzed as I wrap-up my week. Eleven of us, all leaders in God’s church close by and far away, wrestled with what it means to lead missionally for five whole days. We came together having read, written, blogged, posted, and wondered about it before we arrived. We entered the conversation having engaged in conversation with other church leaders, people in our congregation, and even people outside our faith communities. And with all of that “pre-work,” say nothing about our years of experience leading in ministry, you’d think we would be leaving with some concrete and well-defined understanding of missional leadership. But we did not.

Instead we left with…

– a renewed appreciation for God’s presence in the world, and in us (personally and as a group)

– an awareness that our similarities and differences are gifts we offer each other

– a curiosity for exploring the familiar and “strange”

– an assurance of the costly nature of leadership and

– a reminder of how connected we are, even as we live in different places.

It was not obvious who played the role of the teacher and who played the role of learner, because teaching and learning was shared and spilled out from our assigned room and scheduled times into parking lots, lunch tables, and evening conversations. It was truly a shared learning experience, gracious and generative, with each person in the room mining the gems they most needed and best suited for their context and leadership role.

In the weeks ahead, other communities will join into this learning, as student engage in their projects, and the learning will flow not only in and through their congregations but also back to the whole. Research will be done and papers will be written, but the real fruit will only be known, truly known, years from now. Thanks to my co-collaborator, Steve Thomason, for doing this organic dance with me. And thank you students for joining in the dance with us.

As I wrap-up my day, I will linger in the music from our closing worship and the stories we shared, grateful for a narrative counter to the one broadcast in society these days. My heart is filled with hope. God is up to something in this world. Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

Engagement

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I’ve been thinking a lot about “engagement” these days. The first reason is personal. Two days before Christmas, my daughter and her boyfriend got engaged. As you might imagine, it created a lot of buzz in our house; there were calls to aunts and uncles, Facetiming cousins, and face-to-face visits with grandparents. Today, several weeks later, conversations around being engaged continue, as does their discovery of what it means for them.

The second reason is professional. Having just co-authored a book with Hayim Herring on leading in this digital age, we discovered that engagement is a very important issue for congregations. As the ways of thinking about congregational membership (giving money and regularly attending worship) become increasingly out of sync with societal values, leaders are wrestling with new ways of thinking about what it means to be connected to and associated with faith communities. Pastor Greg Meyer of Jacob’s Well, MN said it well. He said, “Of all the things we are stewards of with our community, their attention is one of the biggest, and it is almost the hardest. It is almost easier to get people to give than to get their attention.”

Leaders shared with us that the ways they had “always been doing things,” like committee work, passive communication, and assuming loyalty accompanies membership, didn’t have enough holding power to keep people connected to the congregation’s mission. However, when they shifted their focus from membership to engagement as an organizing principle it not only changed key practices, but it had a ripple effect throughout the organization and changed the culture as a whole. What would it mean to have an engaging culture?

Let’s step back and think about the word engage. One understanding of being engaged is a promise or pledge of one person to another. But there are other understandings according to Merriam-Webster – they include to take part in something, give attention to something or to come together. (Merriam-Webster definition – https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/engage) Shifting toward engagement as an organizing principle is to become a community where people come together or take part in something that is meaningful to them; it is a community where passion or purpose hold the community, not membership status. The shift may seem subtle, but this slight change in focus made a big difference in these organizations.

Engagement is multi-faceted and is not easily measured. Yet engagement in the congregations and nonprofits we studied had themes. One was about how they creatively connected with people within their organization; another was the unique ways they were in relationship with people and organizations outside their organization. Amongst these themes were three sets of practices: valuing process over procedure, integrating and relying on collective intelligence, and telling stories. In the end, congregations and nonprofits developed an ethos of openness – where the mission was clear, the work meaningful, and the boundaries messy.

There is no formula for establishing such a culture, but there are communities doing it. And we can learn from their experience. After fussing with this work for ten years, Jacob’s Well is clear about who they are – not fixated on creating members or model Christians, Jacob’s Well is a church focused on helping people create meaning in their lives. They believe a Christian understanding of God, a community willing to wrestle with this understanding, and awareness of contemporary culture is the way to approach this work. Everything they do is filtered through this mission and identity.

We share more about engagement in our book, Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People, and Purpose. For more information, go to Amazon or Rowman and Littlefield. You can also check out Hayim’s latest blog on Innovation.

Disruption

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Snow days are disruptive. You can’t write them into your planner, and you can only get so far being prepared. Yesterday we had our first snowfall and life was disrupted. Several inches blanketed my driveway (meaning someone had to shovel) and the roads weren’t plowed (making me late for church). To say my day didn’t go as planned was an understatement. Being the first means there is more to come, and since I am a Minnesotan it will be fine, but yesterday I had to readjust. Hurrying, or working harder, doesn’t change anything on snow days, you simply have to adapt, reframe your expectations, and live in the moment. For those of us from places where snow and winter go together, we accept this reality and learn to lean into the season (maybe even finding ways to enjoy it).

Households can be disrupted. This week last year our household was. We were finally empty-nesters (and even the dog was living in DC with our daughter). We were happily figuring out a new pattern of living together and were just beginning to remodel the house when we received two phone calls (one from each daughter). Before we knew it our young adult children were moving home, with all of their possessions. With no kitchen or living room, dust all over, and a basement full of “extra stuff” four adults (and one dog) were faced with figuring out how to live into “a new normal.” As parents of young adults know these opportunities happen, and such disruptions are both challenging and gifts. Today I will say this disruption falls more on the side of gift, but it did take all of us being open to change and learning to live with new patterns.

Our world is being disrupted. In many ways, and on multiple fronts, society is experiencing disruption. We can no longer rely on our once predictable patterns. Frustrations, and even hurt, comes when situations play out differently than we thought. Spending habits, leadership decisions, healthcare, the way people learn, and even how we “rent movies” are all areas experiencing disruption. Living into these disruptions takes energy, often energy I don’t have, and challenges me to open myself to new ways of understanding. Navigating disruption is hard, because like snow days, it is hard to predict and the magnitude of the disruption matters. (One inch of snow is very different than 12 inches!) Unlike the disruptions in my household, I don’t always have the patience to endure the transition of the disruptions in society or have the will to do the hard work necessary to find a way forward.

For Christians, Christmas is disruptive. Jesus’ birth disrupted people 2,000 years ago and the message of God’s radical love for the world has been doing so every since. We as people of faith are invited into a new way of being in the world, one which frames our lives and our communities in ways differently.

As leaders of congregations and nonprofits, many of us see and have experienced the disruption in our time, yet knowing about disruption doesn’t always help us understand what it means for us. And with so many things on our to-do-list, it is easy to simply work harder. But such an appropriate does not getting us to where we, and our organizations, need to go. For the sake of the missions we are called to, it is time we slow down and open ourselves to adjusting our expectations.

In Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People, and Purpose, my co-author (Hayim Herring) and I name this disruptive moment organizations are experiencing as a paradigm shift. Paradigm shifts require, among other things, rethinking leadership and examining our frameworks for seeing the world. Like other disruption, we believe there is life on the other side, and it can be rich and abundant, but getting there means reflecting, reframing, and creating new patterns.

So today, and in the days ahead, I hope you will join us in learning about this disruptive paradigm shift and wondering about what it means for you and the organization you are called to lead.