Creating Conditions and Contexts

I have often heard leaders talk about the need to transform others lives (presumably followers).  While we might be able to comment on the leader/follower relationship within the above idea, it is what leaders can and cannot do that I want to comment on.  As I speak and consult with churches I am continuing to find churches challenged by the consumerist mentality that manifests itself in people leaving because they aren’t “being fed.”  This is without doubt the #1 reason given for leaving a local church.  While I often think that is an excuse and smoke screen for other issues let’s talk a second about what underlies such a statement.

My sense is that we, the leaders/pastors, are the guilty culprit.  We tell people come and be served.  We want you to be comfortable here.  We want it to be fun and safe and inviting and non-threatening and and and.  The list goes on and on and on.  In other words we will transform you if you just show up.  While we never say that directly, and I don’t think we believe it either, it is what that front end value offers people that implies to them “Just come!”  we will do the rest.

The truth is transformation, as tricky as it often can be, isn’t the leaders responsibility at all.  It isn’t the churches responsibility, the small group facilitator’s or the personal mentors.  Leaders and churches, at best, create containers of possibility where transformation can take place.  In other words leaders create and monitor ethos.  This was the thesis and burden of my first book Morph!  Leaders broker tools, create context, coach application and model the way.  But what leaders do not do is transform lives.

While that may be to state the obvious it is not obvious to the scores of people leaving the church.  This is a national problem. On the front end we do not make clear to people all we can provide is a context of possibility and a bevy of resources.  Other than that the work is theirs.  Of course the Spirit is involved.  But the Spirit doesn’t  work against or instead of or unbeknownst to the individual.  The Spirit works WITH.

This is one glaring example of what we “market” on the front end biting us hard on the back end (double entendre intentional).  When people get past the first blush of hearing new things, making a few easy applications, they wake up one day to the reality that growth in the early stages seems easy, but not so much once the preliminaries are out of the way.

Leaders can’t transform.  In the words of the iconoclastic business guru Tom Peters…’Nobody “transforms” anybody else! Instead we create opportunities for people…and then encourage them to apply their latent talents to grasp those opportunities.  Leaders do NOT….”transform people.”  Leaders instead construct a context in which…. Voyages of Mutual Discovery….can take place. Leaders provide access to a luxuriant portfolio of of projects.  Projects that challenge people to express their innate curiosity and to visit places that they had never dreamed of.’ (emphasis and punctuation Tom Peters).

I think we might need a brash business guy like Peters to sometimes wake us up to our own short sightedness.  Let’s get to work creating context.


3 Responses to “Creating Conditions and Contexts”

  1. Sometimes timing makes things more powerful. Your post popped up on my RSS feed less than a half hour after my husband and I were having a similar conversation.

    We were discussing the frustration with our inability to impact others’ lives. If Jesus came to “bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,” then why am I so completely powerless to do the same in the lives of those around me?

    I can pray for people. Show love to them. But I usually have no ability to truly alleviate suffering (emotional or physical) on a long-term basis or to make any immediate and lasting changes on the complexities of living in a fallen, hurting world.

    It deeply saddened me yesterday to pick up the Dallas Observer and read about the positive results of theta healing. But what am I supposed to do? If I were to call the writer up and invite her to church and have the elders pray over her, would that work? In my experience of Christianity, I haven’t seen that type of physical healing. Worse, as I look at the very difficult circumstances of some of my friends, I find myself desperately wanting to be able to deliver the emotional equivalent of “rise up and walk,” but I don’t seem to have that power.

    I generally prefer it when my blog posts wrap up with something witty or thoughtfully compelling, but I don’t have it this time. This conversation is one I’m still grappling with…

  2. Great stuff, Ron. Managing ethos is a primary challenge of the leader-pastor. Being at home with my role as mediator and not as the ‘healer’ is a clear challenge that has been amplified by the church’s expectations of its leaders. In creating containers of possibility where transformation can take place, exposure is important and risky. Hence, the importance of managing and modeling ethos. I guess transformation IS still the work of the Spirit. Walter Brueggemann, (The Word that Redescribes the World) cites Jacob Neusner who concludes Jews in practicing Sabbath, kosher, circumcision, etc. do so “in order that they may everyday imagine that they are Jews.” I never thought that spiritual disciplines like prayer and meditation and so on would serve a as reminder that I am dependent on Christ and the work I do is ultimately his work. Whether it is teaching or reaching out to someone or asking Jesus to heal, it is not about me. That’s comforting.

  3. You said, “create context, coach application and model the way.” If I could challenge the aspect of modeling. As someone who has thought numerous times about leaving church, I don’t, because I know it won’t help. God is processing me, like I need to stay on the pottery wheel. The hardness means God is using that church and that circumstance to get me closer to Him somehow. However, the thing I continually see a need for is modeling like you said. Discipleship is needed in all churches, and creating context is big part of that, so it coaching but there seems to be need for more modeling. What about when God transforms our leaders lives, even before our eyes? Anyone I’ve ever lead has looked for me to model what it is I’m talking about with my life. I don’t always do a good job. I am learning though, being processed. Just even allowing others to see me get processed can be great leadership sometimes, not to mention humbling. Nobody has it all together. It’s cool to see the Holy Spirit working on someone sometimes. It nice to see the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work on a leader. It’s real, makes you want to stick around because maybe you’ll catch some.

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