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.

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.

Passing on Blessings

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What does it take to bless future generations?

I have been pondering this question quite a bit lately. And there are many reasons, I suppose. One reason could be because of the conversations my husband and I now have with our parents. They are healthy and active “senior adults” – still very active in their communities and present in our life. But they, and consequently we, are aware of the gift these years are and don’t want to take them for granted. So much can change quickly, as we have witnessed with their friends and other family members. So we find ourselves appreciating the moments and savoring this chapter of our lives together. What will life be without them? A question we don’t want to delve into too deeply, but one that could be over the horizon sooner than we’d like. They have been such blessings to us in our lifetime, in profound and ordinary ways. How do we tell them of our gratitude? How do we thank them for their love and support? How do we let the blessings they have bestowed on us flow to others?

Another reason could be the frequent reminders that I am not as young as I use to me. In fact, I’m getting old. If I am average (something I’ve never been accused of) I have more years behind me than ahead of me. I don’t remember if it was the trifocals or the AARP application that first tipped me off to this reality, but I do know my visits to the gym and 5K running times have let me know I’m in a new age bracket. Mostly I don’t mind being in my 5th decade of life. I’m certainly more comfortable with who, and whose, I am. I’m glad for a family to ground me and for work that is meaningful. But I also live with a greater sense of urgency and desire to make an impact. I have less patience for the mundane and more interest in the meaningful. And sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. I want to make good choices, for me and for the people I love around me. What does that look like? Does that change any of my priorities? What do I need to step back from? What do I need to step into more deeply?

The final reason, and the reason that most often captures my attention, is parenting young adult children. How do I treasure these years without over, or under, parenting? What does that look like? When do I listen and when do I speak? How do I grow to love what and whom they love? What can I learn from them, as I also remind them of what’s important to me? I am appreciating the days we have together, sharing living space, talking about the daily, helping each other navigate the twists and turns of adult life. And I see their confidence in who, and whose, they are grow. But I also know there will be hard times ahead, times I can’t be there or protect them from or even experience for them. I’m hopeful these “good days” provide the soil from which abundant living will grow – in good seasons and difficult ones.

So today, I wonder…how do I pass on gratitude, values, leadership, and the blessing of family? And how do I open myself to new ideas, accept help, move aside, and accompany? On a journey…learning as I go.

Anyone, and everyone, can lead!

This afternoon I have the privilege of spending time with the camp counselors at Green Lake Ministries. For those who don’t know, Green Lake Ministries has three camp sites, two in southern MN and one in northern MN. Over the years I have known many people who have served in this ministry in some capacity. They entered with a role, short-term or long-term, a heart of Jesus, passion for serving God and eager to be a leader in outdoor ministry. The completed their time of service, months or years, more deeply rooted in faith, with Christian community supporting them, and with enhanced leadership skills for serving God’s church.

What can I say to these 50 adults preparing for another exciting summer of ministry? What difference can I make? What word can I share that, sometime in July when they are tired or next October when they are lonely and questioning faith, will be remembered and matter?

Bottomline – nothing! So rather than be profound, or offer the top ten things outdoor ministry leaders need to know, I’m going to say this – You are already a leader! You have already received a call. Now live into it! Everyone is called to be a leader, because in our world today living a Christian way of life, following Jesus and loving our neighbor and caring about the world God created, is being a leader. Sure some of us lead on a small scale and others lead on a larger scale. Some of us see ourselves as leaders, others of us just call it being a disciple of Jesus. And leading can happen anywhere – at any time.

I’m hoping, at the end of my 90 minutes, a growing number of people in the room believe they are called to lead and that it is not about them, but about God working in and through them. And it might seem odd, at times, or it might feel awesome. That actually doesn’t matter. Leading is seeing an opportunity, an opening to make the world more like the world God imagines it to be, and then going for it. Doing something, being with someone, recognizing someone, praying for peace even in the midst of suffering or violence. All of us, 15 months, 15 years, 50 years, can lead. Will you?

As I was doing some last minute prep, I opened my computer and Facebook came up. I scrolled through and stumbled on two videos that made this point real. If you need encouragement, or a push, today, take some time and watch these stories of two people offering up a bit of themselves for others. It’s amazing.

Your story could be next!

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FCBS5AZ%2Fvideos%2Fvb.175637412461671%2F1411639895528077%2F%3Ftype%3D3&show_text=0&width=560

The other is about a man who was having a bad day and was moved to buy a women sitting in her car in the parking lot flowers. (If you can find the link, post it or send it to me.)

And if you want the notes from my presentation, you can get them here:

http://wp.me/P3aRO2-rD

 

 

refine

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For the past several years I have decided on a word that would guide me throughout the year. Based on that word I set goals – annually, quarterly, and monthly – and each day I record one or two things I did that day to advance my goals. At the end of each month, each quarter, and the end of the year I reflect on my actions in relationship to my goals. It’s not a public practice (although I’m currently letting the cat out of the bag), but every now and then I find it helpful to talk about it with other leaders. Today is one of those days.

My word for 2016 is refine. There are several questions I use to make decisions about things that will have longer-term effects on my life. The questions are nice to have because often times I have to make important decisions in a short amount of time and from these questions I can easily rule out some opportunities and just as easily say yes to others. (It’s the middle ones that I struggle with – and often that alone is a sign it’s maybe not the right thing.)

In the past two days I have exercised my questions and made decisions that helped me refine my work. Ironically, the work is not in my paid job, but centers around places I volunteer my time and gifts. One was a yes to a new role, which meant leaving another role; one was a decision to simply step away. One decision I knew was coming, another came unexpectedly. Both feel good and align with my goals for this year and the places I want to make an impact.

I share this with you not to brag or build myself up, but as a leadership lesson I am working on. To truly lead, leaders have to have a sense of direction. For many of us, that direction use to come from external sources – employers, community organizations, family expectations. Today we lead in a world that has flattened and become more complex. Many of us know our employers will be only one area where we can make a difference, so we also invest our time and energy in other places. Many of us see our homes and families as places to experiment and reimagine family life and meaning. And many of us know that our world provides opportunities to lead outside of our work and our homes, and we capitalize on those opportunities. But in that, we can become confused, overwhelmed, and stressed. Having focus certainly helps us navigate all the arenas in our life with purpose and meaning.

I don’t have a neat and tidy way of making decisions. But I have developed some habits for making short-term and long-term decisions that allow me to lean into the places most meaningful for me as a leader, as a mom, and as a person of faith.

I’d love to know if you have developed some simple processes or tools that help you. Share them in the comments below and we can all learn from each other.

 

Safe Containers

I have been working on a book project studying congregations and nonprofits innovating and experimenting. What a great project in these changing times. I love hearing the stories of leaders and congregations/nonprofits leading with faith and hope.

One of our findings was these communities gave a lot of attention to cultivating community and attending relationships. It sounds so simple, and perhaps obvious, but this finding highlights both the importance of relationships in our lives and how we hunger and thirst for such spaces in our lives.

Brene Brown and her work on vulnerability lifts up the importance of not only relationships, but also spaces, or as she calls them safe containers, for us to be our selves. Be it our home spaces, work spaces, or schools, we need safe spaces to discover who we are, our ability to lead, and for us to learn.

I invite you to watch this great video on safe containers and then commit to cultivating some safe container in your life.