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.

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.

Reflections

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I promised to share some of my favorite bike rides from summer 2016. So on this beautiful fall day, let me share 5 new rides I did this summer that I’d recommend.

#1 Spring Lake Regional Park to Hastings, MN – Bike #44 was a lovely Friday evening ride along the Mississippi River, corn fields, rolling hills and bluffs. For those of us that live on the southside of the Twin Cities, it’s a gem right in our backyard. Trails take you through the regional park and Hastings and this fall the trail opens going north. For more, here’s the link: https://www.threeriversparks.org/parks/spring-lake-park.aspx

#2 Carver Park Reserve – Bike #32 combined the popular Lake Minnetonka LRT Regional Trail and exploring the Carver Park Reserve. While I knew about the trail, I had never been to this expansive reserve before. It was a quiet park on a lovely day. Walk it, roller blade on it, and even go to the nature center if you have the time. For more, here’s the link:  https://www.threeriversparks.org/parks/carver-park.aspx

#3 Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge – Bike #36 and #46 started from the parking lot of Stagecoach Road and Highway 101 (close to ValleyFair by the Highway 169 bridge). One ride took me over the Minnesota River to Bloomington, the other ride brought me through Shakopee in the woods near the river to Chaska. It is a great ride, but note these trails are impacted by flooding, so check the website for updates – https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Minnesota_Valley/map.html

#4 – Elm Creek Park Reserve and Rush Creek Regional Trail – Bike #50 not only raised money to support Pancreatic Cancer, it helped me explore the Elm Creek Park Reserve and the Rush Creek Regional Trail. A few days later I did part of the Rush Creek Trail from the Shingle Creek Trail. And on Bike #52 – my century ride – I returned this time coming at the trail from the Coon Rapids Dam and then exploring Maple Grove and Rice Lake trails. Elm Creek has many miles of trails and they are in great shape. It’s a gem for those on the northwest corner of the Cities, but it is also worth the drive for those who are not. Rush Creek has more intersections, but it is well maintained and a good ride. For more, here’s the link: https://www.threeriversparks.org/trails/rush-creek-trail.aspx

#5 – Paul Bunyan Trail – Rides #8, 9 and 10 took place on this popular trail. One ride was on a Sunday afternoon. The trail was busy, but it was still a great ride. The other rides were early in the morning on weekdays, so the trail was not very crowded and I could set the pace I wanted. (One more I rode with two of my brothers and my sister-in-law and we got moving pretty fast.) I explored the end south of Brainerd and north of Brainerd. If you want to do it all it is over 100 miles long. Many sections are wooded, so the wind wasn’t too fierce. Here is a great map of the whole trail, with details for various sections – http://www.paulbunyantrail.com/trail-maps/

I could go one, but will stop for now. To see pictures of these rides, go to my Instagram account and search for #BikeMn52.

Here’s to memories and anticipating!

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.

Turning

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As the leaves on the trees begin to turn vibrant shades of yellow and orange and the sun sets on September, I’m reluctantly letting go of summer and reflecting on these past few months, in particular my 51 biking adventures throughout Minnesota.

Some of you know what I am talking about; I’ve done a lot of biking this summer and conned many of you into joining me. But for those that don’t know, here’s the scoop.

In June, days before my 52nd birthday, I was out riding my bike and was reminded of all the great places we have to bike here in the Twin Cities. So I decided, on a whim really, that it was time to explore these many and varied bike routes in the state of MN. So the next day I called my parents and invited them to join me and my daughter for a ride. That day we rode the Greenway and Cedar Lakes trails, I took a photo, posted it in Instagram, and bike #2 was in the books. The adventure had begun.

My goal was 52 different rides, and my only rule was I had to bike different routes each time. Because my “normal” mode of biking was training for races (usually on the same course) this goal seemed pretty lame, maybe even weak, but starting simple I figured I could build from there.

The first few rides were easy, as I tried out some of the paths I knew but hadn’t ridden for awhile. But it wasn’t long before I needed to expand my horizons. So, I did two things: got some maps – one of which I marked each route after my ride – and I talked with people. To my goal and rule, I discovered I needed to add something else – a postureexplorer mode! Explorer mode was about being open, and required both doing research and trying new things along the way. Sometimes explorer mode helped me find new trails and beautiful park reserves, sometimes it was forced on me by construction and detours. At times it was the result of being at a fork in the road “and taking the one less traveled.” A few times it brought me to a dead end. Overall explore mode opened up new territory and the desire to visit again.

This goal, rule, and posture helped me develop a new skilladaptability. Adapting became central to everything and helped me reframe all kinds of situations. For example, I learned to adapt my expectation of time – what started as “oh this route will only take me an hour” often turned into 90 minutes plus travel time. Therefore as the summer progressed I learned to leave the end time open so I didn’t feel pressure. I also learned to adapt to the surroundings – a popular trail on a Saturday morning has more traffic than a less popular one on Monday morning; roads are slower than paths; and feeling rain in the air usually means a storm is brewing. And biking with people and by myself are different, so I learned to adapt my pace to be in sync with those I was traveling with. Some days I pushed it with hard core bikers and other days I had a leisurely ride with people more interested with what’s going on around them. The whole continuum was fine with me, because in the end, it was great to bring people into the adventure with me.

Practicing this skill help me name a second rulehave fun! Be it a solo ride along the river on a 90 degree day or an outing with relatives “up north” or chatting with a friend while going around the lakes, I wanted, personally and for my fellow adventurers, to enjoy the ride and remember something good about the adventure. (And I learned it is really OK to have fun be a rule!)

Saturday is bike #52100 miles around the greater Twin Cities. Most of the trails I will already have been on sometime this summer; a few connecting roads/trails will be new. A few of you may see me in your neighborhood, feel free to join in a few miles if you like, but know this…Minnesota is a great state for biking and invites us all into various adventures. This summer, biking was mine.

I’ll share more about the lessons I learned this summer…and give some links to great trails near and far…but until then I invite you to enjoy the turning of summer into fall and to wonder about your own adventures.

Reset in New Jersey

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For the past 3 days, over thirty church leaders from Lutheran and Episcopalian congregations reimagining confirmation. We explored our driving questions as ministry leaders, we wondered about the driving questions of God’s people in the past, and we named the brokenness and joys of our world…all before we started talking about confirmation. Then we engaged theconfirmationproject.com research, especially the portraits of multiple approaches to confirmation with various purposes and talked with youth themselves. We prayed together, celebrated the Lord’s supper, gathered for conversation over food and drink, and became one expression of Christian community.

Today, we return home. On one level, not much will change. Many will lead confirmation ministry tonight in their home congregations. Many are preparing sermons for Sunday. And then there are the committee meetings, administrative details, and pastoral care needs to attend to. On one level it will look the same.

But on a deeper level, we leave knowing the church is changing and believe God is in the midst of it. We are renewed for another week, month, season of ministry. Scattering across the Northeast this afternoon, we know there are kindred spirits wrestling with similar ideas, praying for the real needs of the world and our churches, and open to God’s promises breaking in. And on that level, we are not the same. Hope lurks like spring on our doorstep. It longs to find a home in us. And we long for it, just as we are uncertain that the winter winds are done with us.

Today, I invite all of us to pray for our youth, our world, and our churches as we navigate this change of season.

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Let the Summit Begin!

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We are the church and today we are living into our calling!

Today I join 40 people, from 40 networks, to discuss, imagine, and pray for faith formation within the ELCA. Our goal for the next two days is to connect, align, and collaborate existing initiatives in the ELCA around faith formation ministry working with children, youth, young adults, and their families in order to cultivate a culture of faith formation within our church, congregations, and ministries.

We have been having formal and informal conversation about this for years. We have prayed for coordination, leadership, and support around such work. And today…we take these conversations a step further. Please pray for us in these next two day…and the months and years ahead.

Follow the conversation online – #formingfaithelca

And then … LIFE

Here I sit, on the other side of Easter. No more Lent, no more focusing on despair, no more walking to the cross. So now what?

The theme for our Easter sermon on Sunday was life, like living…actual heart-beating in our chest living. Before worship I went on an early morning walk and noticed life – spring sprouting, worms on the sidewalk, grass turning green. It’s hard to miss it, yet we do, rather I do, all the time.

So what would living, like really living look like in your world these days? If death had no hold on you, what would change in your life?

I’m not sure I know what that looks like for me yet, but I do know I’d risk more, I’d spend more time working together with others for the common good, and I’d listen to other people’s stories (because most people have very interesting stories).

Each of these ideas surfaced as I surfed Facebook and these videos caught my attention. Maybe, on this side of Easter, they might get your attention too.

http://blog.ed.ted.com/2016/03/24/how-educators-can-apply-innovation-methodology-in-everyday-projects/

 

Is it time?

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Many of us leadership know the value of stepping back from the immediacy of leading (be it in our homes, workplaces, or volunteer work) to see the bigger picture of what is going on. The new year, and/or new seasons, often nudge us into such reflection.

What you may or may not know is that this reflection type of reflection has a name. According to Ronald Heifetz it is called “Getting on the Balcony” and he names how critically important this practice is for leaders.

Today one of our Luther Seminary students shared this blog with me, a reflection on this engaging this practice. It’s worth a read…and worth the time to practice this type of reflection yourself.

Leadership Insights Blog by Wesley Dorsett