This post is part of a series on some of the key aspects of the leadership culture we are seeking to create at The Well. These are the concepts and ideas that we have found help guide us and lead us towards being an adaptive and creative community that is able to push the bounds of what it means to be the church while still having a sense of organization and structure. This series of statements is some of what we’ve learned along the way and is still a work in progress. But, I share them here in the hopes that our experience will help others and also with the hopes of learning from what you have learned along the way as well.

#3 – We are a leadership team and a community in process. The church today is not the finished product.

One of the biggest struggles with how church leadership and the church itself is expressed is the unrealistic (and often unsaid) expectation that what we have today is a finished project. Far too often, when people visit a church, they look at the current expression as if that’s how the church will be for all time, and they they critique accordingly.

We learn to be “okay” with the fact that we have shortcomings. It’s not that we are ambivalent to these short-comings but rather, that we realize we will always have short-comings of some kind and we must constantly be seeking to improve. We must therefore exercise patience as we move toward the future God has for us. With this in mind therefore, we are free to be ourselves as we interact with the congregation. We do not need to put on a “professional” or “polished” face, rather we can be who God has us at the current time and continue to grow in the ways that God has before us.

I can’t tell you how many times someone has visited our community and decided we were “not a healthy church” (whatever that means) because of something we did or didn’t do.  The assumption was that we intended it to be this way.  Often, when they mention whatever they were talking about my response is, “yeah, I know. I agree.”  It seems as if they expect us to solve all our shortcomings and that someday we will never have any.  Sometimes, I am aware of shortcomings and prioritize advancing strengths or other shortcomings over and above those. The fact is, we’re not perfect. We never will be. When we fix the problem in front of us today another will arise. It’s just the nature of an imperfect community struggling to live out the gospel.  I think this is where we say something about grace. 🙂

#4 – We lead with a highly adaptive approach by allowing for quick decision making and adaptation in culture that is defined by discontinuous change.

These days, the world changes faster than we can even imagine. Notoriously the Church has always had a hard time keeping up because we have created heavy and slow moving organizations that make it impossible to make decisions quickly. “Discontinuous change” can be defined as “change that breaks for the normal progression of things or change that take place that is completely unexpected.” (I think I stole that definition from Alan Roxburgh but I can’t remember where from).  We live in a world that is almost defined by unexpected change. The financial markets and 9/11 are good examples of this. I this kind of world, we must be willing and able to turn on a dime and move a different direction if we need to. For far too long, the church has been unable to adapt to a changing culture.

#5 – We must be willing to hold each other accountable.

While we allow grace, failure and freedom we must counterbalance this with the willingness to ask each other hard questions surrounding the commitments we have made. This does not mean we can never go back on a commitment or change direction, we’d just better have good reason to do so. And, we must be willing to graciously walk through why things did or didn’t get done.

I’ll tell you from experience, this is one of the hardest things to live out in a church community because we are mostly working with volunteers and we think that in the church culture we’re supposed to be nice all the time.  Holding someone accountable means that we have to have hard conversations about reality. This isn’t something we’re necessarily good at in the local church and we need to get better.

#6 – Accountability will only happen if it is intentionally sought after. When we made a decision there needs to be an intentional process to make the decision:

At The Well we have a four questions that lead us through the decision making process”

1. What kind of decision is this?

  • A level decisions – Big, key objectives in the next 3-5 years. (Very few decisions) / Many people involved (Long range planning team + congregation) / 1-3 months to decide
  • B Level Decisions – Supporting key objectives this coming year / Some people involved (Board) / 1-3 weeks to decide
  • C Level Decisions – Midrange decisions on a month-to-month basis / Few people involved (Task forces, temporary groups, working groups) / 1-3 days to decide
  • D Level Decisions – Week to week decisions that help us move forward in incremental ways. (many decisions) / One – Two people involved (individual persons) / 1 minute to 1 hour to decide

2. Who is best equipped to lead us through this decision or challenge? This goes back to the idea that we lead out of our giftedness, not from some arbitrary hierarchical organizational chart.

3. What are the set specific goals for the project or task (the person/people goals are set by the one leading the project or task). Here we let the person who is responsible set the goals themselves. After all, they are the ones who have the most knowledge or expertise on the issue in the first place. I think this is really important.  Far too often goals are set by “some one in charge” just because they are in charge.

4. Who will commit to following up to hold this person/people accountable to the goals that they themselves set? This is a key part of the process and something we’ve added recently.  Far too often in our history we have gotten to #3 and then the ball dropped because we didn’t have a plan for follow-up.  This piece provides a way for us to make sure what has committed to being done gets done.

Note on this one: We’re still working out how this four question process works out in reality. I realize that it’s a tad wooden and it looks a lot more fluid when worked out in reality.  Despite this, I think this serves as a good guide for the decision making process even if we don’t walk through this exactly as it appears above.

#7 – We must rarely make once-and-for-all decisions, rather we re-make them on a continual basis.

It’s not that we are afraid of commitment, but we realize that we live in a rapidly changing culture that requires us to constantly reevaluate our commitments. Looking at this positively, what we do is we continually reaffirm our decisions as the future unfolds. This applies to organizational structure as well as some aspects of our non-central theological commitments.

There seems to be the thought in some teams that if someone worked really hard on something we should do it, even if its not the best way forward anymore.  Those on the outside of a situation will often be able to see the ridiculousness of this approach, but those on the inside will be too closely attached emotionally to their friend.

For example, for the last four years we have had a bi-vocational staff model. Before that, when our last pastor was around, we had a full-time staff model. Four years ago we made the decision that it would be better to move forward with two-part time pastors on staff. This is a decision we had the freedom to redefine four years ago. Therefore this is a decision we constantly “re-make” as we look at our current situation and the direction we are moving as a church. In fact, since we just sent my co-pastor off to plant a church, we just made the change to move my role to 3/4 time and we currently only have one pastor on staff.

There are many other decisions we constantly “re-make” every year and we have to understand that this is okay. When we do this, it is not that we aren’t “being true to our word.”  One of the words I hate most in church situations is: “precedent.”  We are afraid of “setting a precedent.” I don’t think we ever set precedents in adaptive communities.  Precedent’s usually mean we are making a decision for all time.  We don’t do that so setting a precedent should never be a concern. We always make contextual decisions in a specific time and place.

Part III on Risk and Failure comes tomorrow…