Friday, March 21, 2008

Navigating the Future

In the movie Chariots of Fire Scottish Olympic runner Eric Liddell is talking with his sister Jennie. He is trying to convey to her why he is putting off his missionary work in order to run in the Olympic Games. He says, "God made me for a purpose -- China. But he also made me fast. When I run I feel his pleasure."

Colin Welland, who wrote the screenplay for the movie, captures the essence of what it means to be called by God and given gifts to achieve what God sets before you. The Diocese of Texas has a God given purpose to proclaim the Gospel. The bishop and your diocesan staff are there to help.

Sometimes bishops and staff undertake this work, commanding us into the future. It can look like this advertisement for Silva Navigation tools: . While parishes often feel like the lighthouse, we at the diocese can be perceived as the battleship. Power used in this commanding way typically hits a wall (or a lighthouse). People can only take so much dissonant communication. This leadership style uses a pace like a sprint, and does not take into account that we have long-term ministry goals that require pace setting like a marathon. Also, commanding styles of leadership require the expenditure of great amounts of influence to keep everyone in line. If you step out of line in this model or don't keep the pace, the leadership will assume there is something wrong with you and not question the system.

I served a small parish church that grew from 40 to 140 in average Sunday attendance as a restart by the diocese. Having been on the front lines, I remember what it was like to wonder what was going on down there at the diocesan center. I know that some of you think we operate more like this commercial for Becel Heart Health Makeover: After speaking to some of you I know you think that we are ineffective and can't really see where we are or where we are going (or not going).

What I know and understand is that our work is your work -- our purpose in spreading the gospel is getting you the resources you need. We must be about ensuring that you have the right tools for navigating your mission field, and not try to navigate it for you.

In the last four years, the diocesan staff has faced very serious issues that were inherited or that grew out of current events. In 2002, our attendance began to drop. Then came the anxiety and conflict flowing from General Convention in 2003. Following this was the embezzlement of nearly $1 million from the diocese. As fallout from General convention, we had a church plant leave the diocese (St. Barnabas, Austin), another church shrink from a healthy mission down to a restart (St. Philips, Austin). We also had to come up with the funds to build three new churches. Increasing conflicts in parishes, along with rising deployment needs, have created instability in parish leadership. We are not in the flush nineties anymore and the challenges, conflicts, anxiety, and hurdles are coming more often and with greater force.

Despite these events, in the same four and a half years, through the dedication and hard work of the diocesan staff, we have been able to launch the Iona school, Crosspointes, begin the diaconate, increase bi-vocational priests for small churches, move the diocesan center, completely restructure and computerize our finances, and keep unity within the diocese. Having deployed 55 new rectors -- almost 1/3 of our congregations. 80% of churches with new rectors are growing. (A large number of the 20% have not been in their places long enough to see trends develop.) We have doubled the number of clergy under the age of 45. We have almost tripled the number of female clergy who are rectors and priests-in-charge, while loosing a number of very key women rectors to retirement.

What is next?

In 2007, the people of the Diocese created new vision, mission, and core value statements. In the first year of the next episcopate I want us to lay out specific strategies and goals for meeting this vision head on. Because of my resonant style of leadership that values listening and collaboration, once these strategies are developed, I want to take them out on the road. In each convocation, I want to meet with the clergy and laity to get input. I think the bishop should personally roll out the goals and strategies, listen, and engage in the larger conversation. The bishop has to be prepared to make adjustments based on the directions given out by our lighthouses.

One thing I've learned is that leadership can come up with a lot of good ideas and then command them to be undertaken; but, unless these ideas are taken out into the mission field, and those in the field take ownership of the great ideas, nothing will come of it. The bishop diocesan must listen and provide programing, resources, and curricula that are going to impact your work in the field in a positive collaborative way.

Church life is not going to get easier or any less challenging. I have been in the system just long enough to see how we can do things differently and better; but, not so long that my reply to new ideas is "well, we've never done it that way before". I will continue to lead us in striving towards greater efficiency and effectiveness. We also must be in dialogue with the people of the diocese. A vision can be a good thing, but it has to be YOUR vision, YOUR goals, and YOUR strategies.

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  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
  • "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
  • "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
  • "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
  • "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball