It requires courage to voice your vision, to stand up for it, and to battle the resistance you’ll inevitably face in return, because an effective vision by definition has to be original, and therefore to some degree be provocative, maybe even slightly controversial, according to Rob-Jan de Jong in his book Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead. That is one of the reasons why leaders are often reluctant to espouse a compelling vision, and yet vision casting is one of the key components of effective leadership.
Unfortunately, the history of the human species suggests that all too often groups fail to live up to their potential. Many groups turn out to be foolish; they bet on products that are doomed to failure; they miss out on spectacular opportunities; they develop unsuccessful marketing strategies; their investments and strategies go awry, hurting millions of people in the process, according to Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie in their book Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter.
At the most basic level, leadership succession and transition is a continuous process of organizational transformation: a people decision, an organizational decision, and a strategy decision all rolled into one, with not infrequently a crisis call thrown in for good measure, according to Noel Tichy in his book Succession: Mastering the Make-or-Break Process of Leadership Transition. Leadership succession and transition is simply the most politically and culturally charged, technically challenging, and critical leadership assignment of all the many judgments that business leaders are obliged to make in the course of doing their day jobs.
In our schools and workplaces, groupthink is rewarded. Those who question decisions and advocate for different ways are often ignored, ostracized, or fired. Yet without rebels, our systems, companies, schools, churches, government agencies, and healthcare organizations become rigid and sometimes even dangerous, according to Lois Kelly, Carmen Medina and Debra Cameron in their book Rebels at Work: A Handbook for Leading Change from Within.
Christian leaders who stay in love with God embody something that the world deeply needs; they possess an ethos characterized by love, servanthood, and sacrifice that is distinctive and more important than other skills or insights that leaders acquire; they may not have all the latest leadership techniques, but quite often people will follow them anywhere, according to Tom Berlin and Lovett Weems in their book High Yield: Seven Disciplines of the Fruitful Leader.
The seven leadership disciplines recommended by the authors are:
Build trust, which includes the importance of attending to people in their time of need
Lead the journey, including engaging the past, naming the present and envisioning the future
Set high standards, by insisting on excellence, expecting accountability without being controlling, and counting people carefully
Communicate, communicate, communicate, which includes speaking the whole truth and preaching well
Redeem conflict, by getting comfortable with uncomfortable conversations and being assertive while remaining humble
Cultivate leadership practices, including teamwork, appropriate delegation, and consulting wise counsel; and
Keep growing, by finding mentors, seeking and using feedback, and staying in love with God
Unlike many leadership books which are written from the perspective of a megachurch senior pastor, this book considers leadership from the perspective of everyday non-superstar pastors. It is a short book, easy to read, and should be a source of great encouragement to those who are called to lead a church in the current difficult times.
Like our world today, Roman citizens were bombarded with new cultures, new commerce, new foods, and new ideas, as well as new philosophies, cults, and religions; theirs was an era of massive disorientation, and at the same time, it was exactly the right environment for Christianity to emerge and thrive, according to Christine Chakoian in her book Cryptomnesia: How a Forgotten Memory Could Save the Church.
The author’s thesis is that the church today could work out how to respond to the current difficult times of change and crisis if only we could recover our memory of how the early church managed to thrive.
Technology is causing massive disruptions today, just as the new Roman roads and technologies were causing disruptions in the ancient world.
The shrinking world has brought religious pluralism, just as the Roman roads led to a melting pot of many foreign religions.
The early church had to decide which parts of the faith were essential and which parts were not, and we have to deal with similar questions today.
The early church had to struggle with finding authority in community, and we face similar struggles in today’s authority-questioning environment.
The early church had to find ways to reach out to a non-Christian culture, and we face a similar task.
There are plenty of interesting ideas in this fairly short book. Most readers will probably find something to disagree with, but in my view this book does a provide a helpful context for the thoughtful consideration of a number of important and controversial issues.
In order to overcome the natural resistance to change within an organization, a systematic approach must be taken; this approach must deal with the whole system, which includes people, processes, and systems; it must begin with defining the organization, developing the vision, and detailing the steps along the way, according to Greg Howes in his book Business Optimization: Six Steps to a Sustained Performance Culture.
Knowing how to connect with those who have chosen to ignore churches, how to successfully invite them to engage with a community of faith, is a challenge that eludes simple, step-by-step solutions, according to George Barna and David Kinnaman in their book Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect With Them. The authors aim to provide insights that enable churches to create deeper, more enduring relationships with unchurched people, leading to their positive introduction to and lasting relationship with a Christian community of faith.
The book is based on data from a number of surveys conducted in the US by the Barna Group between 2008 and 2014. According to the 2014 figures, 47% of American adults are “actively churched”, 8% “minimally churched”, 35% “de-churched” and 12% “purely unchurched”. Most readers will be unsurprised to learn that secularism is on the rise and churchgoing is losing its role as a normative part of American life.
What can churches to do win back the unchurched? Unfortunately the list of strategies and tactics that do not work corresponds fairly closely with what churches actually try to do: direct mail, TV advertising, unsolicited phone calls, billboard advertising, sermons on CDs, etc. The things most likely to succeed were: older adults who provide life lessons to younger adults, helping the needy in the community, and interesting public events that are hosted by the church.
To reach unchurched people, you need to understand how they think and what their priorities are, which is why this type of book is useful. However, it seems to me that cultural diversity is becoming too great to allow any particular generalisations to be drawn about the characteristics and preferences of “the unchurched”.
We all have unexamined cultural baggage that has the potential to distort the gospel message; whether we are reaching a new culture, or trying to bring the gospel to our own in a more biblically faithful way, we need to understand the nature of the gospel, learn how to interpret culture and discover how gospel and culture interact to produce a contextualised message, according to Tim Foster in his book The Suburban Captivity of the Church: Contextualising the Gospel for Post-Christian Australia.
The evangelical church in Australia has largely confined itself to ministry in the suburbs, and its gospel message has unwittingly acquired suburban middle-class cultural values. The gospel message wrapped in those values does not connect with the culture of inner-city people, who reject suburban values. Contextualisation is an important part of missiology, but how does it play out in the context of inner-city Australia?
Rather than just proclaiming the need for contextualisation, the author provides his own analysis of two different inner-city cultures, the “Urbanites” and the “Battlers”, and he describes what he considers to be a suitably contextualised way of presenting the good news to each group. Key gospel themes for the Urbanites include the environment, the marginalised, social justice, peace and reconciliation. Key gospel themes for the Battlers include: Jesus is one of us, a world for the rest of us, and security.
I found this to be a very interesting and helpful book. Most churches in Australia are not doing well in connecting with their local communities, but they fail to notice that their lack of success is at least partially attributable to unnecessary cultural baggage which repels the people with whom they are trying to connect. This book provides some very useful cultural keys and fully worked examples which will be of great assistance to local churches.