Minot, ND is June. What could be better? For the next two days I have the privilege of being with church leaders in the Western North Dakota Synod. I love the theme: Jesus. Everyday. Everywhere. I also have the opportunity to share about Faith+Lead Academy, Luther Seminary’s online theological education for church leaders, everyday disciples, and spiritual seekers. If you want a peek at what’s coming – check this out.
Today I had the opportunity to engage leaders in the ELCA around questions that guide our candidacy processes and practices. I’m grateful for the opportunity and thankful for the work candidacy committees do on behalf of our shared ministry in the ELCA.
Please pray for all those involved in candidacy as we remember our call to steward leaders for God’s church and together discern a faithful way forward in today’s dynamic environment.
Here is my presentation, for anyone interested.
After almost 6 months of silence, I thought I’d return to posting.
Here’s something I did on Friday – was a guest on Leadership Happy Hour with Chip Lutz. Check it out if you are interested in leadership and innovation in the church.
Is it possible to have joy in the workplace? I believe so, in fact, as Christians God hopes so. Here are some things to consider.
Did you know?
- In the US, working adults spend a significant percentage of their waking hours working. Of the 43.6% of adults that work, the average hours per day is 8.21. (For men it is 8.66 and women it is 7.67 hours.) American Time Use Survey (2017) https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/atus.pdf
- 33 percent of workers are engaged in their jobs, 49 percent are not engaged, and 18 percent are actively disengaged. (US and Canada – Gallup Study)
- The Gallup Organization defines the categories as follows:
- Engaged employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. They drive innovation and move the organization forward.
- Non-engaged employees have essentially “checked out.” They sleepwalk through workdays, They put in time but don’t approach their work with energy or passion.
- Actively disengaged employees aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness. Every day,, these workers undermine what engaged co-workers accomplish. (https://news.gallup.com/poll/165269/worldwide-employees-engaged-work.aspx)
- Employees who use their strengths, skills, and abilities every day are 6x more likely to be engaged at work, 8% more productive, and 15% less likely to leave their jobs. (Gallup)
What is the difference between Joy and Happiness?
- Happiness relates to what is happening outside – externally – and centers on me
- Joy comes from inside – internally – and connects with something outside of me
Faith and Joy
- Faith anchors our life in something outside ourselves – God.
- Living a life of joy recognizes faith as a living relationship with God and opens one’s self up to God’s activity around and through us.
- We are created to be relationally connected.
- We find purpose when we have meaningful work to do.
- We find joy when we use the gifts God had created us with.
As you work tomorrow, be it caring for your kids or engaging in a business deal, think about joy, engagement, and God’s desire for you to be relationally connected and to share your particular gifts with others.
Failing Boldly: How Falling Down in Ministry Can Be the Start of Rising Up
By Christian Coon
Do you know how to fail well? My guess is most of us don’t. In fact, our culture doesn’t talk much about failure, and the church is not that different from society in this regards.
Pause and think about the last time you sat and talked about your failures in ministry with colleagues. What was it like? What were the circumstances? What if this was a regular practice?
Ministry can feel very competitive, making it hard to share when things do not go well.
Yet talking about and learning from failures is an important leadership practice, one especially true for church leaders in this time of disruptive change.
Christian Coon, a United Methodist pastor, speaks into this reality in his book Failing Boldly. As a church planter, he has had to learn how to set his ego aside and develop a framework for failing well. Framed theologically and theoretically, he invites church leaders to step into this work not so they become better pastors, but so God’s church may embrace it’s calling in a deeper way and discover hope that only God can provide.
Filled with great stories and metaphors, Failing Boldly is accessible and offers an honest look at ministry. Coon’s informal style is inviting, but don’t let it overshadow the challenge he is placing before you. Failing well is hard. It takes practice, intentionality, and humility. Facing failure does not guarantee long-term success, but it does remind us of our humanity, call us to grow and learn with a community, and invite us to hold fast to God and God’s mission.
I recommend church leaders read Failing Boldly, or at least have it on their shelf so when God’s nudging you to embrace failure, it is ready for you.
I cannot watch TV, check social media, or workout at the Y without being reminded of the pain and suffering in the world these days. Stories I cannot believe to be true, images I would rather not see, and political debates I am surprised our country is engaging in. I am often overwhelmed, and sometimes paralyzed by the depth and breadth of brokenness in our world.
Each day I also find joy in my work, discover grace is unexpected places, and encounter love among friends and family. These ordinary moments, ones I use to take for granted, sustain me and ground my life. Without them, it would be hard to face each day with hope and compassion.
Our world is filled with paradox. The thing with paradox is that two realities are true, one truth does not cancel the other. The love I receive, for example, does not negate the pain of others. Some days I forget paradoxes are all around me and I try to make sense of them, reconciling one with another. I hold on to one truth and dismiss another. Yet when I live with this either/or posture, I find myself disregarding a truth I need to hear. Sometimes the truth I am overlooking is that good exists all around me – at the grocery story, in my neighborhood, on social media. Sometimes the truth I am ignoring is people suffering – in places I have never been, in homes where friends and family live, in the congregation I attend. Living aware of multiple truths, of paradox, is a necessary, and fruitful, part of life.
Our identity as Christians is paradoxical – we are created in God’s image – with all the capacity to love as God does – and we are of this world – broken and in need of healing. Discovering what it is to live based on this Christian identity means discovering how to live a paradoxical life. We know God’s love prevails in the end and God’s preferred future has not yet fully come to be. How can this be true? Because God, in Jesus Christ, came to earth and rewrote the end of the story. He told us about the kingdom of God and promised us a forever future with God at the same time he named the pain and brokenness. Living “in between” means claiming these promises, at the same time we participate in the folding of God’s future on earth.
This week this paradoxical life is going to become visible in Houston, TX. 30,000 ELCA Lutherans are gathering under the theme “This Changed Everything.” Those gathered will claim once again their identity as children of God and name the pain in the world. They will hear God’s promises proclaimed and accompany people suffering. Preparation and planning for this gathering has been taking place for over three years. Congregations, youth and adults, have been getting ready. Houston is excited to receive the sojourners. Prayers have surrounded every aspect. It has not been easy. There have been obstacles – natural disasters, staffing changes, endless to-do lists, and unexpected changes, just to name a few. But now, as so many of us make our pilgrimage to Houston, the planning and preparation shift to welcoming, embracing, learning, serving, praising, and embodying. Now guests also become hosts, speakers also participants, those served also teachers. And one idea will guide it all – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ changes everything. This truth is what creates a paradox in our world. It is what makes possible God’s kingdom to be unfolding in our midst today. And this week we get to see ways our participating in is paradoxical and makes a difference.
Please pray for everyone in Houston this week. Pray that this gathering may be a witness to the hope, love, and joy of God. Pray that light shines in dark places and God’s love is experienced in meaningful ways. And look for ways you can be part of God’s unfolding future wherever you find yourself. (To follow the ELCA Youth Gathering on social media see #elcayg2018)
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
Some of you have asked again about how to get the discount on our new book, Leading Congregations and Nonprofits in a Connected World: Platforms, People and Purpose. The 40% discount is running until Christmas on Rowman & LIttlefield’s website using the code listed above. (Or follow this link: https://rowman.com/Page/RL40LC16)
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!