Weekly Links

Some of my favorite blogs provide regular posts with a simple series of links and brief annotations.  In this vein, and in the spirit of sharing information and collaborating I would like to begin to provide my own links regularly about once a week.  I need to come up with a good name for this regular post, so any ideas are welcome.  My hope is that if I come across anything particularly interesting and worth a read in relationship to any of the core areas of this blog over the week I will provide them here if I do not myself blog about them in a separate post.

To make things easier for you the reader, I will work to categorize the different types of links so you can more easily and quickly peruse them and see what (if anything) might be of interest to you.  Hopefully this will be an interesting and positive contribution to our conversation. As always, feedback and comments are welcome.

Congregational Thoughts  

Have you ever thought that Sunday School might be a thing of the past?  You wouldn’t be alone.  This blog post by MaryAnn McKibben Dana offers something for faith formation and education ministries to ponder, especially as we enter the summer and high time for planning for ministries for the fall and upcoming academic year.

It may be hard to believe, but the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.  In honor of this, and in an effort of providing a day for local congregations to participate as part of the larger church and commemorate the occasion, the church is organizing “God’s Work Our Hands Day.” They are setting aside September 8th for the occasion, and this might be a nice connection piece for congregations to tie in to their traditional rally day. Plus, it provides a wonderful opportunity to look outward on a day traditionally more inward focused.

One of my friends and advisers, Dr. Terri Elton, maintains a fabulous blog.  This past week she offered a reflection and venue to dream and converse about what the church is and what its possible future(s) are.  I offer it as a welcome conversation starter and imagination spark-plug.

My favorite tweet of the week came courtesy of the Huffington Post Religion (@HuffPostRelig).  It stated the quote from Pope Francis, “The Church is a love story, not an institution.”  Perhaps this was the pope’s initial response to Terri’s questions?  (Quoted 6/6/13 at 3:30pm CT).

Friend and colleague Pastor Diane took up the question this week on her blog of “what does evangelism look like?”  What do you think? Personally, I think she is right on that “evangelism is a lot of things,” and can be many different things for different people.

To close out this week’s congregational thoughts in the links, for those of you who are in the ELCA or familiar with the ELCA, you know that we are in the midst of many synod assemblies.  My home synod, the Southwest Washington Synod held their synod assembly this past weekend. Like the NW Washington Synod Assembly, they elected anew bishop.  Congratulations and blessings to Rev. Richard E. Jaech, and blessings to Rev. Robert Hofstad who will be retiring from being bishop later this summer.

Innovation and Collaboration  

I expect to have more thoughts within this category moving forward. But for this week, I offer a potential example of innovation and collaboration.  Thrivent has decided to branch out, and will no longer just serve Lutherans.   I think this is a wonderful move not just for the organization’s long term health, but also as an ecumenical move towards cross collaboration.

Within an organization, innovation and collaboration often depend greatly on the practices of the organization and the relationship and compact created by employers and employees.  Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh have provided a helpful offering in this month’s edition of the Harvard Business Review

In an example of collaboration, Monty Rainey offered a look at the importance of how one puts their words together, a post that relates and builds off of this post about asking the questions from last week.

Neighbor Love  

I mentioned previously last week about the conference on diakonia by the Lutheran World Federation.  I want to call special attention in case you missed it to some reflections and discussion and the relationship of faith and service.  As I will often ask on this blog in theological reflections, what does it really mean to love your neighbor?

Pope Francis has seemed to make service and care for the impoverished and under-served an integral part of his ministry and office.  This week he came out with some thoughts on food waste.  When we waste food he says its like we are “stealing from the table of the poor and the hungry.”

Leadership for Today and the Future 

Since its graduation and commencement season, I couldn’t resist sharing at least one commencement speech.  In case you missed my earlier post last week, take a 15-20 minute break and watch this speech.

Jim Wallis, the CEO of Sojourners offered a timely and thought provoking reflection of 10 decisions that one can make that can change the world.  I greatly appreciate his call and goal to serve the common good, and I personally share it, in-spite of the obvious challenge as to what the “common good” means when everyone seems to define it differently.

History  

Though history may not be an obvious component of this blog, I do believe that leadership is built on things we have learned from and in the past. So occasionally, if I see something of interest with a historical ring to it I will share.  In Southern California there is a proposal in place to restore one of the more historical places in aviation history. There is potential here for this to be kind of a cool private-public collaborative partnership thanks to Disney’s plans.

Some Extra Food for Thought

Not the most encouraging food for thought to start off with, but this look at signs one might be overqualified but underemployed is worth a read if you are just out of college/grad school, will be graduating soon, or have family or friends at that point in their lives.  What do you think?

Finally, when I find a piece that combines leadership, theology, and collaboration I enjoy giving it a read.  Out of Iowa last week came an op-ed responding to current politics and popular culture.  It is always interesting (and usually refreshing) to read in today’s print that the truth and Biblical narrative is often more complex than one can always claim to understand.  Perhaps you will find it somewhat thought provoking?

I hope you have enjoyed the first weekly edition of the links.  Look forward to these about every other week, and if you have feedback about what this post should regularly be titled, or what type of stories would be helpful to include, please do not hesitate to let me know.

Blessings and best to you on your week!

Timothy

Asking the Questions

For me leadership involves a constant willingness to be asking the questions.  One of the challenges though that comes with this is figuring out what the questions are that need to be asked.

You can always start with the standard questions that shape and form any story:  who, what, where, why, and how?  But after those starters, I have a few that I have found work well in many contexts.

1) Why do we do what we do?  This gets to the ideas and questions related to mission, purpose and values.  If this question cannot be unpacked easily it might suggest that there has been either some sort of mission drift, or most definitely a lack of focus.  Some time for reflection and evaluation is needed.

2) What do we want to do, and why? This is a question that gets to the values of the organization and the values of those involved with it.  It is also a future oriented question.  What is our purpose? What need or needs are we responding to?  What service(s) do we provide in response to that need or needs?  Do we need to pivot from what we are currently doing in order to more closely do what it is we want to be doing? (See:  Ries, 149ff).

3) What do we need to learn and discover to make this possible? By asking this question you are admitting that you aren’t the expert at everything.  Not only is this a good thing, it enables collaboration.  It also allows one or one’s organization to play to its strengths.  Where are we lacking in knowledge that is important for us to be successful at doing the work we want to do? How can we go about either gaining that knowledge or reaching out to those who have that knowledge? How can we collaborate with others with other expertise?

4) Who is my customer and what do they value?  For congregations or nonprofits perhaps a better way to phrase this might be, “Who do we serve, or who participates with us, and what do they value?”  It is important to recognize that an organization is not solely about those who work for it.  It is also (in fact probably more so) about the people it serves and intends to serve.  However these questions are phrased,  I need to note that I take them directly from Peter Drucker.  I highly recommend that if you have not read, or do not own his book The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask Your Organization, that you quickly lay your hands on that book.  It is so simple and succinctly lays out the importance of the questions in constantly evaluating your work, mission, purpose, values and organization.  (See:  Drucker, 23ff).

5)  What is my plan? Again this is a Drucker question.  But any one who wants to tackle something whether a small term challenge or a long term vision must do so with a form or an idea of a plan.  What is your approach? What is your strategy?  Admittedly, this will change over time and need to be reevaluated based on one’s learning and experience.  But the need for a plan persists.  (See:  Drucker, 63ff).

What other questions come to mind as go to questions for leadership?  Are there others that you would add to the list of imperatives?

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READING RECOMMENDATIONS, REFERENCES AND SOURCES:

Peter F. Drucker, The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization, (San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass, 2008).

Tom Rath & Barry Conchie, Strengths Based Leadership:  Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow, (New York, NY;  Gallup Press, 2008).

Eric Ries, The Lean Startup:  How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, (New York, NY:  Crown Business, 2011).

Diakonia Conference Resources

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) hosted a virtual conference on Diakonia* today (June 5, 2013).  The conference included participants from around the globe (including from the Philippines, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, Mexico, the United States and many other locales). For purposes of shared learning and collaboration, I wanted to catch some of the resources from today’s conference.  I have linked to a few that particularly stood out to me below and provide brief annotations.

The opening keynote address explaining the purpose and scope of the conference was presented by Martin Junge, the General Secretary of LWF.  The complete schedule is also provided to see the breadth and depth of the topic(s) explored.

I found the following of particular interest:

1) Training for Volunteers

This discussion included some reflections on how to engage and integrate volunteer work and leadership into a congregation and the church’s practice of diakonia.

2) Utilizing Communities of Practice

This discussion offered reflection and conversation on how to engage active learning and sharing resources globally to discern best practices for the work of diakonia.

3) What Makes our Diaconal Action Different

Given my prior research and current research interests, this was an engaging discussion on some of the things that differentiate the church’s work of service in comparison and contrast to other non-faith based NGOs.

4) Faith in Action

Dr. Kjell Nordstokke reflects on what the relationship between faith and service is, and how they combine to be part of the mission and work of the church.

5) Diakonia and Spirituality

This was a helpful discussion on how service and spirituality are intertwined.

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If you have any interest in NGOs, the global church, and ministry and service in the world then these resources and discussions from this conference may be of interest and service for you.

Thank you to Lutheran World Relief for putting on the conference, for sharing, and creating areas for collaborative thought and work.

*Note:  For clarity purposes, diakonia is a Christian  term from Greek which encompasses the call and vocation of serving the those in need.  

The Future, Authenticity, and Hope

A little under 9 years ago, I visited Claremont, California for the first time.  I visited in order to see and tour the campus of Pitzer College.  I had read and heard that Pitzer might be a great fit for me as a liberal arts college with a focus on the whole person and on the person being a part of the world as a global citizen.  Pitzer accepted me, but I ultimately ended up choosing to attend Pacific Lutheran University and the rest is history.  I have no regrets about this, but in hearing this speech, I am reminded of how I was picking between some wonderful places- any of which would have been a great fit and would have opened countless doors.

I encourage you to watch this speech.  I believe that it really gets to what I feel and think about the current situation of our society and the world.  I share the speaker’s hope for the future and agree with the need for authenticity and a willingness to to risk to call things what they are, and to risk to be wrong.  What do you think?

Courtesy to Mary Hess who blogged about this video first.

Assimilate and Integrate

A pastor friend of mine posted the following question today. 

“With regard to new people coming to church: Do we want to assimilate or integrate? Assimilation means that ‘you’ will come and become like ‘us’ (or the other way around). Integration means that we will both be transformed and the Spirit will create something new among us.”

The post went on to have an extensive and positive conversation.  I think posing this question is imperative.  It hits at the true challenge of community and identity.  When we invite and welcome others into our midst do we do so with expectations that they will join us in what we do and in the way we do it?  Do we anticipate that we might be changed somewhat in the process of the invitation and new relationship(s) within the community?

Systems theory suggests that by introducing someone new into the situation, there will be change, it is inevitable.  The question is, will this change be welcomed and what might this change (or changes) be and lead to?

Let me offer an example.  With assimilation in a congregation this might be like an older Norwegian Lutheran congregation expecting new visitors and potential community members to come to accept and acknowledge the importance of Ole and Lena jokes for the community.  (As a Norwegian American who happens to be a Lutheran, I do know the importance these jokes play in community and as the occasional sermon illustration.)  This acceptance is basically an acknowledgement that “this is the way it is, like it or leave it.”

With integration, perhaps the Ole and Lena jokes would continue, but they would be augmented and occasionally supplemented by other jokes which might have better understanding and resonance with particular emergent communities.  Or, in an effort to avoid challenges of ethnicity perhaps jokes that are removed from particular ethnic limitations and contexts would be used (such as illustrations about “Jane and John”).

I offered this brief and far too simplified example because such a scenario hints at a potential barrier for new members or participants in the community.  If someone cannot understand the purpose or rationale behind why things are the way they are, how are we to expect them to engage in the community?  How are they expected to be participants in the life of the work of the community and church in the world?

The goal for a congregation should be not to just have people present, but to have people engaged in the life and work of the church.  This only happens when they themselves feel connected to the mission and work that the church does and is part of, and are invested in it.  So, if Ole and Lena do  not make sense, it might behoove the congregation to try something that crosses over ethnic barriers.  I am not advocating for abandoning the Norwegian roots, but perhaps look for more meaningful ways to support and acknowledge that history (such as exposure to some tasty treats like Krumkake and Lefse and hopefully avoiding the Lutefisk.).

If you are trying to really get to the question of whether something is a barrier toward someone joining, participating or being integrated and engaged in the community, ask yourself the question, “why do we do what we do?”  Ask this question about any and everything you notice and can think of.  If you yourself can’t answer the question, ask others.  If you still struggle to answer the question, perhaps that particular thing whose meaning is hard to explain, might be okay to let go because its importance is apparently not that great.  Importance comes with meaning.  To allow others in to participate in the community, a risk is taken to share the meaning with them.   That meaning must be able to be translated, taught, understood and lived.  The risk also comes through recognizing that by sharing, the one who is sharing may also be changed by the conversation and its response.

What do you think?  How does assimilation and integration work in your communities?  In your congregational community?  How might it work?  How would you like it to work?

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By the way, a helpful read on this topic (no doubt among many great works written on this theme and question) which I commend to you is:  Churches, Cultures & Leadership:  A Practical Theology of Congregations and Ethnicities, by Mark Lau Branson & Juan F. Martinez.  (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 2011).