“From Assuming the Goods to Delivering the Goods”

Continuing in my series of reflections from reading Anthony B. Robinson’s Transforming Congregational Culture, today we turn to chapter four which he titles, “From Assuming the Goods to Delivering the Goods, Part One:  Worship.”  This chapter offers some thoughts, perspectives, challenges, and questions around what is worship.

Robinson makes a number of assertions in this chapter and asks some very important questions.  I was particularly struck by the missional challenge he posed in writing the following:

“To be in the presence of God is to be in a zone of risk, of change, of reorientation, of new birth.  This is what is centrally at stake in the worship of the church today.  Will our worship be a lecture about God?  Or will worship help us enter into that risky and life-giving dimension of God’s presence where anything can happen, where we are not in control?” (42-43)

Worship is about coming together as the body of believers in the presence of God, to praise God and offer thanks.  A pastor friend of mine describes this kind of worship “where anything can happen” as “authentic worship,” because it is risky, and despite the planning that might go into worship, anything can happen when we admit that we are not in control.

This can be freeing when we admit that we aren’t in control of ministry, but rather we are trying to discern where we are being led together by the Holy Spirit.  Even though it is freeing, for the type-A people in the world, it can be rather challenging if not seemingly impossible to give up the sense of control necessary to release in order to really enter into the riskiness of God’s presence. But only by doing so are we able to really discern together what God might be up to, what God might be calling us to do, and how God might be creating, recreating, and reconciling both within the congregation and within the larger world.

Worship includes confession and forgiveness, as we acknowledge our shortcomings before God, but also are redeemed by God and remember our baptisms, our “new birth” as Robinson suggests.  We are reoriented each week in worship by dwelling and centrally focusing on God with praise and thanks.

So often we focus on the little pieces of worship, or the questions of “did we feel moved?” or “did we like the music?” that we miss the point of why we worship altogether.  It’s not about us!  It’s about God.  The challenge then is to figure out how do we worship in such a commercial and consumer culture that we live in?  Or, is our worship meant to be counter-cultural, and when it is, is this perhaps when we are most centering ourselves fully on God outside of focusing on ourselves?

Robinson drills this point home,

“Rather than asking, ‘Was God glorified and truly and rightly praised? or ‘Was the church reminded of its source and identity and destiny?’ or ‘Did we encounter God?’ the questions become, ‘Was I pleased? Edified? Entertained? Were my needs met?’  At some level, however, the gospel does not wish to meet our needs so much as to redefine them.  The gospel does not intend to ‘connect’ to our world, but to change our world.” (45)

When we overcome ourselves and are willing to look beyond ourselves we can begin to see how worship is the beginning of mission.  As we remember our baptisms and remember that we are given a new identity as God’s children, we remember that we are created as a new people to be a part of God’s work in the world (49).  This has huge implications.  It connects worship not only with God and ourselves, but with all of creation across all time and space. When thinking like this, and remembering that liturgy means “the work of the people of God,” worship is not just then a one hour block of time once a week (46).  It’s more than a time of re-centering and going out.  It’s about both the head and the heart, the emotions and the senses.  It’s all of this, but so much more.  It’s more than just about us, its about God.

The question then is, how do we overcome the temptation to just make worship about us and entertaining for us, and rather pleasing to God?  Something to consider, and I doubt that there is just any one easy answer.


Anthony B. Robinson, Transforming Congregational Culture, (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003).

“The Challenge We Face, Part II”

Continuing in the series of posts that began with the previous post, I continue to offer reflections as I read and reread Anthony B. Robinson’s Transforming Congregational Culture.

Robinson’s second chapter lays the groundwork for how difficult cultural change can be.  He brings Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky into the conversation with their vocabulary of “technical work” or “technical changes” and “adaptive changes.” Its within this understanding that he makes a couple of points that I whole heartedly agree with.  Robinson writes,

“But sometimes, when facing adaptive change, it is the role of the leader not only to orient but to disorient people, to challenge the accustomed roles and expectations, and to dislodge people from their well known roles.” (21)

In the midst of change and transition that comes during adaptive change or are examples of adaptive changes, it is the leaders’ responsibility (and I say leaders’, recognizing that there are multiple leaders within an organization or congregation) to be willing to raise and lower the temperature given people’s anxiety and stress level and tolerance.  With new situations and contexts, an old way of doing something may no longer be as effective.  Of course, the level of change or transition depends on the actual situation, and perhaps the amount of conflict that may arise as a result.

Leaders deal with conflict.  It comes with the territory.  One of the biggest mistakes though is to try and avoid conflict.  Conflict can be a very healthy thing as it brings things, assumptions, ideas, emotions, challenges, etc., to the surface.  Without bringing them to the surface past mistakes and problems may continue to be perpetuated as the status quo preventing growth, healing, or at the very least the best chance of success or improvement to be realized.  Robinson writes regarding a church where conflict is hardly ever seen or experienced,

“It just so happens that, if you ever find a church where this is true all the time, chances are very good that lots of stuff is being swept under the rug, and illusion of harmony is just that.  Human groups, even churches- perhaps especially churches- have conflict.” (21)

To use language some of you regular church goers might find familiar, “if we say that there is no conflict, we deceive ourselves.” I believe its best to admit this and to face the conflict head on.  You do not need to always have an answer as a leader for conflict, but by allowing it to come out, you allow people to express their fear, anxiety, and concern, and hopefully by doing so a constructive conversation can happen or begin which might help open eyes and possibilities for the future-  immediate, on-going, and far off.

“Getting a particular conflict out on the table can help people air important issues.  Rather than panicking at the first sign of conflict, an effective leader will help people take it out, look at it, and see it for what it’s worth.” (22)

Often what is perceived to be the conflict or problem is just one little piece.  In a church it is often reflective or points to some other change or changes which can be understood better through an appreciation of “systems theory.”  I will say more about this in upcoming posts.

For now, let me close this by saying unequivocally, conflict is not a bad thing.  What makes it good or bad is the way its dealt with, communicated, and worked through.  It’s an adventure, and that’s part of the fun of being a leader in an organization and or congregation (24).  What do you think?


*Anthony B. Robinson, Transforming Congregational Culture, (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003).

“The Challenge We Face, Part I”

I have decided to pick up and read a decade old book, Transforming Congregational Culture, by Anthony B. Robinson.*  As I move through this book, I intend to write a few posts along the way about either quotes that resonate with me, or about pieces I see that have especially changed (good or bad) since Robinson wrote this.

So, in this line of reflection, from the beginning chapter which he entitles, “The Challenge We Face, Part I,” Robinson offers a good opening summary of some of the more recent challenges which mainline Christianity has faced.  Most of these are still the reality today, and some of them have become even more pronounced.  But one quote in particular really strikes me. He writes in unpacking the challenge as he sees of “new religious pluralism”:

If mainline Protestant congregations did a good job, by and large, of welcoming the newcomers and making a home for them in America, these same congregations were less successful in helping their own members do what any pluralistic situation requires:  giving a credible account of one’s own faith and one’s reasons for holding it.  Inevitably, the presence of “the Other” raises questions about who we are and what that means. (Robinson, 7)

I am not going to focus on the idea of the other here. (That is something that you will no doubt see as this blog continues, being an important piece to understand in a theology of neighbor love.) Rather, I am going to focus on the role of the church and the identity of the individual.

When facing someone who is different than you, someone who holds a different perspective or understanding, in order to converse with them on a deeper level, you are forced to come to terms with: 1) who you are; 2) what do you think?; 3) what do you believe?; and perhaps the more important question, 4) why do you think and believe that?

Mainline congregations have not done so well in preparing people to answer these questions and Robinson was recognizing this in 2003.  Now that it is 2013, I believe this is still a challenge the church as a whole  struggles mightily with.  But particular congregations and contexts have come up with unique ways to address this.  They do so with one definite similarity in my mind, a goal of depth. To tackle such questions as “who are you? and “what do you think?” requires an ability for one to open themselves up and be vulnerable, but also to dive deep below the surface into who we are and what we believe. For some congregations this is part of a “Faith Formation” program, ministry, or vision. For other congregations, this is part of an “Animate” or a “Build Your Own Personal Theology” program.  For others, this is part of their understanding of stewardship and vocation.  There does not seem to be necessarily a “one size fits all approach,” and I actually think that is a good thing.

The important fact is that more and more congregations recognize this.  To really engage with the stranger or neighbor, whether its someone who is “like us” or not, who might share similarities in some ways or not, we have to have a sense of the depth of who we are. Otherwise, that relationship and connection with one another will never get past the surface.

Depth matters.  Some congregations have figured this out.  Others I fear are so focused on doing things, and perhaps way too many things, that only breadth seems to matter.  But what good is breadth, if its all left at the surface?

My gut reaction is that each of these things must be forced to answer the question of depth, “why do we do what we do?” so we can better articulate who we are, both for ourselves and for others.

* Anthony B. Robinson, Transforming Congregational Culture, (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003).

Revisiting Multi-Layered Leadership

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post about “multi-layered leadership.” Given the transition the congregation I am employed at is in, I thought it might be worth another look.

Reading this 2002 article, “Multi-Layered Leadership:  The Christian Leader as Builder, Shepherd, and Gardener,” almost convinces me that its author must have been in conversation with Peter Drucker.  It’s not that hard to believe that this would be possible, since Scott Cormode, its author was the chair in Church Administration and Finance at the Claremont School of Theology, about a 5 minute walk from the Peter F. Drucker School of Management.  Plus, it would explain the references to Peter Senge, Max DePree, and Ron Heifetz.

Aside from this pondering, a number of things are going through my head.  This model which Cormode proposes of the “Gardener,” is what other leadership people would seemingly call connective leaders.  In that, they recognize that there are different leadership skills required for different situations, and that they are able to meet these situations with the appropriate skills or know how to let another person with the certain required skills, frames, or training take the lead.  It’s an example of shared and empowering leadership, which is able to make meaning.  When Cormode writes that “the good pastor will begin to acquire skills to work with each of the models.  At this point, the models stop being styles and become ‘frames'” I wonder, if he was aware of the connective model?  (If you click that link, you will be taken to an explanation of it, and to its diagram showing the interdependence and interrelationship of the different areas of leadership.)

The case study which is discussed about a congregation facing a difficult situation would be a useful example of how to implement my tweaks to the Connective Leadership model below.  When there is a situation or challenge, an organization, group, or person will be faced with needing to respond.  When there is no challenge, and life is in a state of “status quo,” this might be a state of “routine.”  When ideas or assumptions are challenged, rebuilding or remaking one’s approach or understanding might be called for.  This is where leadership as a way to cultivate meaning is so important.  Recovery then, is a way of responding to a challenge, and restoring order.  The extent of the challenges might categorize them as “simple, chaotic, complicated, or complex.”  I, with the help of the work done by Jean Lipman-Blumen and David Snowden and Mary Boone, hypothesize that these states of challenges might require different leadership skills or sets. [1]  [2]


A direct approach (what Cormode would likely call the “builder” approach); an instrumental approach (what he terms the Shepherd approach); and a relational approach (closely resembling his conception of the gardener).

Cormode closes his article by writing, “The important point here is that none of the models should stand alone.  Each has something to contribute because each addresses a separate layer.  The Builder model helps the congregation define roles and set a clear plan for action.  The Shepherd model enables a church to nurture relationships and address interpersonal concerns.  And the Gardener model points to the beliefs, values, and mission goals that form the spiritual core of a faith community.  Each model is necessary because every ministering situation has organizational, interpersonal, and theological layers.” [3]

I definitely agree with him that none stand alone.  For a church in transition then, I think all of these types of leaders are necessary. The interim pastor and transition team need to help the congregation define who it is, and to plan based on this discernment, like the builder model.  During any transition, relationships and interpersonal concerns are magnified, so the interim pastor and human resources committee needs to be adept shepherds. And, also the interim pastor needs to be able to function simultaneously as a gardener along with the council and transition team to really help the congregation define and discern what its beliefs, values, and mission are which shape and frame the work and ministry of the congregation.

What do you think? Do these frames of leadership help you in understanding leadership’s complexity in a setting you find yourself in, in your daily life?

The writing and model contained in this blog post may be shared, as long as proper credit is given to the author, Timothy Siburg. Please respect the intellectual property contained here. 


[1]  David J. Snowden & Mary E. Boone, “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making,” Harvard Business Review, November 2007, pages 68-76.
[2] Jean Lipman-Blumen, The Connective Edge:  Leading in an Interdependent World, (San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1996), page 112.
[3] Scott Cormode, “Multi-Layered Leadership:  The Christian Leader as Builder, Shepherd, and Gardener,” Journal of Religious Leadership, Vol. 1, No. 2, (Fall 2002), 69-104.