Yearly Archives: 2006

The Power of Empowerment

I am always fascinated by those who study trends and are able to discern the shape of the future. Their findings often allow me to see things I have not noticed before and to pay attention to things that matter most.  I had that experience recently as I was browsing through one such study, Megashift by James Rutz [Empowerment Press, 2005.] While I tend to be a bit skeptical of raw, global statistics, I was surprised to read his report that: in 1960, there were 24 nonbelievers for every believer in the world. Now there are only 6.

Now, I am not sure how to verify those statistics [especially when I weighed them against other claims made in Megashift], but it did cause me to look beyond the Canadian border. There has been some limited growth reported in North America. Reginald Bibby recently reported of encouraging signs in Canada,. But our experience hardly sets the global lead. However, it’s true that there are significant pockets outside North America that are experiencing phenomenal growth. Wherever it may occur, that growth has set the stage for a trend – a Megashift – that is affecting the face of leadership in the Church.

"Empowerment," Rutz writes, ".empowerment of what used to be called "the laity" is the greatest paradigm-shattering event since the rise of the priesthood class in the second century. What we are seeing today is the greatest mega shift in the history of the church: a transfer of momentum from the steady hands of the leaders to the fleet feet of the followers. Empowerment of non-professional Christians is . rapidly revising Christianity."

That is certainly reflected in the rapid-growth areas of the world. Talking with missionaries, whether from the Philippines or Columbia or Nigeria, I’ve detected a common theme. Growth has required empowerment. Often the needs of ministry are filled by laity regardless of training or certification. Ministry happens, and in the words of Larry the Cable-guy, men and women of God "get up and get ‘er done."

The idea of empowerment, however, is not as simple as it may sound. One of the best books on the subject appeared in 1996, written by Ken Blanchard of the "One-Minute Manager" fame. Like many, I had read a number of his "One-Minute" books: The One-Minute Manager, Leadership and the One-Minute Manager.The One-Minute Manager meets the Monkey." The title of his book in 1996, now reissued and updated, was a message in and of itself:Empowerment Takes More Than A Minute [Barrett-Koehler, 2001.]

As I reflect on my life in ministry, and my experiences with congregations, I have to admit, empowerment is not necessarily easy. The "paradigm-shift" is a challenge to familiar structures, roles and responsibilities. The idea of empowerment is as much a mentality as it is a method.

Over the last three years as I’ve been focused on creating initiatives that would enable congregations to develop emerging leaders from within. At the heart of leadership development lies the spirit of empowerment. As I’ve reflected on this, I’ve come to some conclusions that are both Biblical . and obvious . that define empowerment:

Conclusion 1: Empowerment recognizes the inherent giftedness of God’s people. One word that could describe a more conventional form of ministry management would be Delegation. The difference between the two is that delegation is about giving power to people. Empowerment is about releasing the power that already exists in people – and getting out of their way.

In Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 the source of power behind empowerment is the Holy Spirit. If one of the tenants of our faith is based on the "priesthood of all believers" it would seem reasonable to assume that God’s people are invested with knowledge, experience and power that awaits release. The mentality of empowerment begins when we look at each other through God’s eyes and realize that we are able.

Conclusion 2: Empowerment requires honest, candid communication. The first of three principles presented by Ken Blanchard is that for empowerment to occur is that Information must be shared by everyone. For whatever reason, it seems that there is a hesitation to risk free speech.

Bob Nelson [of FirstMoves.com] wrote that "traditionally, managers have been reluctant to share financial information." Yet there is truth to the principle that "while people without information cannot act – people with information cannot help but act."

Conclusion 3: Empowerment honors people by wedding authority with responsibility. Blanchard calls itautonomy within boundaries. General George Patton was a bit more blunt in saying "never tell people how to do things.tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."

Conversely, people who willingly accept responsibility but are prevented from making decisions or executing actions because they lack the authority become quickly and sometimes deeply demoralized.

Conclusion 4: Empowerment produces partnership. The third principle of empowerment presented by Blanchard is that old hierarchies are softened and replaced by energetic teams though empowerment. We often take a certain level of pride in the term "servant leadership." Empowerment actually turns the term into a reality. Again, Bob Nelson concludes that the structure of an empowered organization experiences a 180o shift . from being a triangle with bosses at the top with people working beneath, to become a triangle with the employees on top and leaders at the bottom working for them..

Final Conclusion: any congregation that aspires to become an environment where people grow and leaders emerge must learn the lessons of empowerment . to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the Body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:12-13.

The Leadership Body

Consider the following episode. In an effort to start a small-group ministry, one church encountered a familiar problem: identifying small group leaders. Inspired by an example, the pastor invited everyone interested in small-groups to a dessert evening. As people arrived, they were seated around tables in small groups. They were each given a very simple piece of paper: a Bible verse, followed by a few questions … and instructed to “have at it…”

After about an hour of conversation, the pastor called the room to attention. Thinking that they were going to have a chance to share their insights, everyone was surprised when the pastor said, “Now, could I ask you to please put your papers and Bibles aside. I really hope you enjoyed your study, but I invited you here this evening for a different reason. Could I now ask you to do one thing as a group. At the count of three would you please, all of you, point to the leader in your group… one, two, three…”

The results were stunning, In every circle the fingers were all pointed in the same direction. While the people began to laugh, the pastor quickly added, “Now please keep your fingers pointed at your leaders while we take down names.” That night, the leaders were revealed.

Over the last few years as I’ve focused on leadership studies, I’ve come to the conclusion that leadership isn’t so much about leaders – but about community. At last count, I have reviewed 12 different instruments used to identify leaders – “Psychometric tools” like the DISC profile, Ministry Match, Spiritual Gift Profile, MMPI-2… They all provide a measure of insight into the types of personal strengths and weaknesses that pave the developmental pathway for an emerging leader. But, according to the pattern of Spiritual leadership, I have to believe that they only reveal a narrow band of discernment.

In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul instructed Timothy and Titus to identify leaders according to character traits, and I have to believe that such traits were detected by the community. When it came time for Titus to appoint elders in Crete, my imagination pictures the scene. Titus joins the Christians of the village at their weekly meal, and then stands before them. “Brothers and Sisters, I now ask you to do one thing as a group. At the count of three, would you please, all of you, point to the person who is blameless, not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain…the one who is hospitable, who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined…who holds firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, is able to encourage others by sound doctrine and able to refute others who oppose it [Titus 1:7-9] Got that? Okay, one…two…three! All that was left to do was to take down the name of the new “overseer.”

Again, I have to think that when it comes to leadership it’s not so much about leaders…as it is about community.

Leith Anderson argues that spiritual leadership is more about “the matrix of followers.” Peter Senge expands that thought by saying that “we are coming to believe that leaders are those who “walk ahead” people who are genuinely committed to deep change in themselves and in their organizations. They lead through developing new skills, capabilities, and understandings – and they come from many places within the organization.” Combining those comments, Warren Bennis writes that “we…move into an era in which leadership is an organizational capability and not an individual characteristic that a few individuals at the top of the organization have.” [Taken from Leadership Next by Eddie Gibbs, IVP, 2005]

In essence, the discoveries turn the attention back to the church where leadership is not so much about leaders … as it is about community.

As I’ve continued studying leadership development, I’ve drawn some conclusions based on this discovery:

  1. While it may be true that a good leader can build a healthy congregation, it is almost certainly true that a healthy congregation will give birth to good leaders.
  2. While it may be true that a good leader can build a healthy congregation, it is equally true that an unhealthy congregation can damage a good leader.
  3. It is certainly true that a healthy congregation in which all members: find personal significance in intentional relationships, develop to their full spiritual potential, and are able to weave their distinct contributions into the fabric of fellowship – continually produce great leaders.

The balance of concern in leadership development rests squarely on the quality of the congregation. Over this last year, we produced the course: Heart for Ministry as the first course in an initiative to provide a process for emerging leaders to be trained toward mature ministry. Within the month, I hope to build on this initiative with an announcement of a diploma program for emerging leaders. It is momentous initiative … but will only have limited value if it isn’t coupled with initiatives that make leadership not just about the leader … but about the community. The concern expressed by Fellowship Baptist churches … by your church … concerning leaders needs to be addressed with questions about community.

In the next issue of Leadership Connections, I intend to present news about a new diploma program AND an instrument for Church leaders shaped by the retreat in May: Best Practices for a Church Leadership Culture.

The Good to Great Church

In 2001, Jim Collins produced the book Good to Great. His book was drawn from the world of business and intended to answer the question "Can a good company become a great company and if so, how?" The fact is that some companies have continuing, sustained growth in comparison to similar companies in the very same field. This factor captivated Jim Collin’s imagination. “Why are there companies that defy gravity and convert long-term mediocrity or worse into long-term superiority? What are the universal distinguishing characteristics that cause a company to go from good to great?

Good to Great has become a defining management study beyond the world of business. It didn’t take long for people to discover that the key discoveries had a direct application to Church life. As an example, the first discovery that they made was that a “great institution” was built upon a unique sort of leader – the Level 5 leader – marked by a blend of two distinctive traits: personal humility and utter persistence. It’s not hard to read the description of a Level-5 leader and see the epitome of a servant leader. As Jim Collins writes: Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company.

In researching Christian Leadership Studies, I have encountered a number of presentations drawn around the outline of discoveries presented in Good to Great. It’s no surprise that in the five years since the publication of his book, Jim Collins was to pick up on that similar discovery. As expected, his study produced a significant number of invitations to address leaders in business – at conventions, in board rooms. What came as a surprise was the sheer volume of interest he received from what he calls “the social sectors”… in particular, the Church. Most notably, he was invited to participate as a speaker at the Willowcreek Leadership Conference. What he discovered was that while he was generally categorized as a business author, over a third of his readers came from the non-profit sector.

This interest intrigued him and prompted him to look beyond business and into the world of “the social sector.” What he discovered was that within the social sector [read: the Church] exists the possibility of true greatness. Simply stated, he discovered that “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.”

That statement is made in his latest writings, an appendix to the book: Good to Great … and the Social Sectors. He begins his monograph with a statement that may bring a smile to many: We must reject the idea – well-intentioned, but dead wrong – that the primary path to greatness in the social sectors is to become “more like a business.” Most businesses – like most of anything else in life – fall somewhere between mediocre and good. Few are great … why would we want to import the practices of mediocrity into the social sectors?

While his study heads in a different direction, what he discovered touches on the truth. There is a resource of motivation that runs deeper in the Church than it does in the world of business. It is in the enterprise of ministry that people go beyond product lines, production quotas, and the accumulation of net worth. It is in the Church where work is worship, and service is substantial. It is through ministry where people activate the new creature that is coming [II Corinthians 5:17] It is in the “business” of ministry that Gifts are expressed, passions discovered, purpose defined, and God is honored. And, it is through the labor of ministry that eternal transactions are made, and the “product” endures forever. At least that’s what it could be, should be, and would be if we employ another discovery.

As Collins reflected on the difference between “the good and the great” he uncovered a critical element, a culture of discipline created by conscious choice. He called it a relentless culture of discipline – disciplined people who engage in disciplined thought and who take disciplined action. Greatness comes from a culture that transcends business practices, and one that is created by the conscious, deliberate choice made by people of conviction.

Over the last several months, I have been doing research to prepare for the Convention Workshop: Best Practices for Leadership Culture Churches … and the Pursuing God’s Heart Workshop expanding the same issue. Over the last year it has become evident that Churches struggle with leadership development. Among the churches that have participated in the Best Practices for Church Boards, Leadership Development was the third most common issue identified as a critical concern.

As Churches seek to unlock the potential for greatness that God has invested in His people, this element of discipline becomes the key. Certain words keep appearing as Churches with a healthy leadership culture. Words like: Conscious – well-understood, commonly acknowledged values; Deliberate – well-planned, well-resourced processes; and Intentional – focused commitments. When disciplined people are galvanized by disciplined thought – it produces disciplined actions – that’s not just the theory described by Good to Great. It’s a pattern designed by God where People who are Disciples are galvanized by the teachings of Discipleship which produce a world inhabited by more Disciples. After all, isn’t that the definition of the Church’s mission: Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit., and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you… [Matthew 28:19-20] The big questions: How well is the Church taping into this well of greatness? How intentional is your Church in creating deliberate processes to empower Disciples? How conscious and aware are the people of the processes designed within the Church that would allow them to go as far as God leads them? Churches with a healthy culture of leadership development are churches aimed toward something great.

Alumni: John (1980) and Debbie (1975) Harris

Debbie completed a Certificate in Christian Studies in 1975 and John completed an M.A. in Christian Studies in 1980 —focusing on Soren Kierkegaard. John and Debbie have been married for 30 years and have 3 married Children and 3 grandchildren.John and Debbie Harris

In the years since graduation, what kinds of ministry has God led you both to be involved in?

We are thankful for multiple opportunities for music ministry and the integration of the arts into worship in several local churches, at TWU and in Kenya, as well as taking turns as an elder and a Sunday School teacher. As we have traced the fingerprint of God’s influence in our life, we have found that God’s calling is not just the discernment of a detailed “12 point plan,” but rather, (following Os Guiness) that a “call” implies a “caller,” e.g. the relational reality that we are first called to “Someone, rather than something or somewhere.” Another important lesson we have learned is that a Christian calling also implies that – at a foundational level at least – there is not a radical disjunction between being a “paid church worker” and working in a “secular” job. Whether we possess a label as a “pastor” or a “teacher” is not the crucial issue; rather the key question is our response of love to God, of love to others and of denial of self. We have been significantly impacted by Paul’s related sentiment in 2 Cor. 4:11: “We who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.”

I have noticed your name, John, in several local papers in recent years in regards to something called “U-connect”. Can you explain what that is?

One of the positive developments in the BC public school system and Langley School district is the priority given to developing schools of choice; there is a recognition that a diverse student population requires diverse learning opportunities. A number of years ago we were given the opportunity to implement a program (now called U-Connect) which is designed to support home-learners. If a home-based learner agrees to meet provincial learning standards and to be supervised by a teacher, we give them a number of great resources including vast curriculum resources, virtual computer-based learning options, kits, accreditation and testing. We also have a building in South Langley where most families come for one or two days a week for a variety of core subjects and innovative electives. The atmosphere is informal and family-based with core specialties in fine arts and technology. Because of the inherent flexibility of our model of home-school partnership, there is ample scope for students to aggressively pursue their educational interests. Many of our students have traveled the world by entering international competitions in internet software development and robotics technology. For example, last year a team of budding engineers won NASA’s design in excellence award at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston as they competed against other teams in the neutral buoyancy lab, replicating the repair of the Hubble Space Telescope with a sophisticated underwater robot they designed.

While I have been involved with U-Connect, Debbie has been teaching many piano students. This provides an opportunity for her to help young people to not only develop valuable character qualities such as diligence and a desire for excellence, but also to resist the trends of the commercialization of “pop-culture music” by inculcating a love for the classics. She has found that children do love the “Beethovens” and the “Bachs” if they are properly challenged. Music also provides an opportunity to connect with the church – regardless of their former exposure.

What led you to develop this vision? What do you think it is accomplishing in the lives of young people?

For many students, our model allows them to thrive educationally; for example, those who find that learning comes easily can move more quickly through the grades. Conversely, those who have learning difficulties have the advantage of much more “one-on-one” interaction at home and small class sizes at our school.

As you reflect back over your ministry experience, can you discern general or specific ways in which your education through Northwest has assisted you in pursuing God’s call?

John – Seminary is a valuable investment to enrich the quality of our spiritual lives. In the midst of the hectic demands of a typical career, it is difficult to find time to think about and connect with God and to contemplate the crucial questions of life. Like most domains of knowledge in the last few years, the volume of research in biblical studies has exploded. I benefited by having the sharp literary “eyes” of trained theologians to help distill the truly important data and to provide the interpretive tools necessary for life-long Biblical learning. Secondly, seminary was a time when we could discern our giftedness as we interacted with mentors who helped us discern the “shape of our souls.” Thirdly, our relationships with our peers extended from exciting classroom stimulation to lifelong friendships. The crux of the matter is this: without this experience, the Bible would have remained for us a two-dimensional book; seminary added that illuminating third dimension. It is tragically easy for my mind to cruise year after year in a conceptual “auto-pilot” mode. Seminary gave me an opportunity to step out of the “mental ruts” and see the bigger picture of God’s purposes and person.

Debbie – From the vantage point of “looking back” I am thankful for the influence of my year at Northwest in shaping my Christian faith. The call to love God with all my mind was shaped by courses such as New Testament Survey which taught me that the Bible is more than a few well-known verses. I was drawn into what has become a lifelong thirst to know how God is dealing with the whole of human history as well as in my personal life. The call to love our neighbours as ourselves, in my role as a wife, mother, and music teacher, was shaped by other courses such as Foundations for Christian Living with its emphasis on the agape principle. And living in residence created a great balance between studying and loving people.

We are now well into the first decade of the 21st century. What has changed in the way Christians look at their surrounding culture and seek to engage it, since you graduated?

I think Christians are more interested in the social dimensions to discipleship than they were three decades ago. Also, Christians are putting a great deal of thought towards harnessing the internet communications revolution. Any technological revolution is always a “double edged sword.” In our era technology greatly multiplies the number of communicative choices, yet church leaders are finding that expanding choices seem to be correlated with lower levels of church commitment. Also, while the internet gives access to a virtual “universe” of knowledge in our back pockets, the internet style of communication – with its millions of disassociated “searches” and “clicks” – tends to fragment knowledge, disseminating it in short, sketchy, entertaining bite-sized bits. Many pastors are finding that the “bite-sized” mentality creates a less than receptive audience for serious expositional sermons!

Many people think that Seminary education only relates to people who are thinking of becoming pastors or missionaries. Obviously, this is not how God has led you, yet He has given you a very significant ministry. Do you think seminary education has relevance for Christians whose calling lies outside these traditional areas of vocational service? Why?

Some would argue that “real-world” experience is a more important rubric of success than the theological understanding implied in a seminary degree. My question for this attitude is this: Why do we need to choose between the “understanding” of seminary and the “experience” of the real world? Regardless of whether you are a pastor or a missionary or a computer programmer, you are called to become a certain type of person – an image-bearer of Jesus. Part of being an image bearer involves a deepening understanding of Who you are imaging. Seminary provides a unique setting and opportunity for this to occur.

Intentionality – The Key Ingredient

In the process of researching leadership development programs, I’ve discovered that one word keeps appearing. In Building Leaders, Aubrey Malphurs defines the term “leadership development” as the intentional process of helping established and emerging leaders at every level of ministry to assess and develop their Christian character and to acquire, reinforce, and refine their ministry knowledge and skills [p. 23].  In Leadership Baton, the creators of the Center for Church-Based Training describe an intentional process of Discipleship Training and Leadership Development [title.] In The Equipping Church, Sue Mallory talks about the equipping culture of a church as having systems that intentionally change lives [p. 51.]

Intention…Intention…Intention… It’s the critical ingredient that breathes life into ministry. It’s what takes inert programs and fills them with purpose and meaning.

When I first started as the director of the Northwest Centre for Leadership Development, a number of wise advisors warned me: Lyle, whatever you do…whatever you do…don’t fixate on program. Make sure you understand process. Don’t obsess on curriculum. Make sure you grasp the plan first and foremost. Great advice! Wise counsel!

Too often, in ministry, the pressures of the moment demand an swift, effective, and urgent response. I have to confess the tendency to look for products that work without asking the question “why.”

With the warning, my advisors provided a word of assurance: Lyle, when you understand the appropriate process that connects what God wants, how God’s people are designed and how the Fellowship Baptist systems work…then finding curriculum won’t be a problem.  It’s true. Over the years, I’ve been exposed to over 50 programs for leadership development, seen more books on leadership development than I can read, and discovered a world full of glossy courses and classes. The easy thing for anyone in church leadership would be to simply open a checkbook and start buying.

But, that just fulfills an old Chinese proverb: If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.

Intention…Intention…Intention. I can’t read the Bible without realizing how important that word is to God. He created the world by design. He created humans for a purpose. He guides lives with a will. He fills life with meaning. He conducts Himself according to Intentions…and it’s no surprise that He would expect the same from us.

I love the way Phillips translates God’s command in Ephesians 5:15: Live life with a due sense of responsibility, not as those who do not know the meaning of life…but as those who do!

Every step taken toward Spiritual Maturity has to be “on purpose. Becoming a believer is an intentional act: if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord”, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.. Romans 10:9. Forming Spiritual disciplines is an intentional process: …make disciples…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded… Matthew 28:18-20. Learning to serve demands intentions: …each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms…I Peter 4:10.

In Ephesians 4, Paul speaks of Leadership Development as process intended to prepare God’s people for works of service. It’s not hard to look at leadership development and expect it to be guided by required learning objectives and measured ministry experience. But, the fact is, that’s not where Intentions begin…it’s where they continue.

Over the next few months, I will be producing a number of initiatives from the Centre. After working with a design team representing 11 churches over the winter, I will be circulating the first template of a template for an in-church certificate in Christian Ministry: The Next Step. In April at the Convention, and then in May in a Centre-sponsored workshop, I will be initiating a leadership conversation network with church leaders. As I prepare for each initiative, I am duty-bound to focus on process first…and an intentional process at that.

I’ve discovered that the churches who provide the very best environment for leaders to grow are churches who don’t wait until it’s time to train leaders. That’s not where their intentions begin…it’s where they continue. In fact, the churches who have become the best culture to raise leaders are those who have made every step of discipleship a clearly understood path of purpose and meaning.

Turning the Chinese proverb around, they are churches who “know where they are going, and pave a road to get there!”