General Reflections – Sept 2017


ENGAGE     –     ENCOURAGE     –     EQUIP

What does it mean to live in a VUCA world?  How do you like living in a VUCA world?  Who do you want with you in a VUCA world?  What in the heck is a VUCA world?

The Alban Institute, as a publishing and consulting group, is gone.  But several of the Alban consultants we came to know and respect have formed other consulting groups over the last couple of years.  One of those groups is the Congregational Consulting Group.  They publish regular articles (one of those – “But Is It Still a Church?” – I linked to our presbytery Facebook page this last week).

Lawrence Peers published a different article Sept 5, entitled “It’s Crazy Out There: Practices for Religious Leaders.”  In that article, he declares that we do, indeed, already live in a VUCA world (a phrase he borrowed from Harvard Business Review).  We live in a world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity – VUCA!  The Harvard Business Review suggests that, if remembering what VUCA stands for is too hard, you simply substitute “Hey, it’s crazy out there!”  And futurists declare with a high degree of certainty that VUCA is not going away anytime soon.

Peers has a number of suggestions for religious leaders who would dare to embrace and engage these “crazy” times head-on (emphasis added):

  • Resist escaping to the familiar
  • Linger a little longer in not knowing
  • Move from explanation to exploration
  • Ask the right questions before acting
  • Recognize reactive tendencies
  • Distinguish creative competencies from reactive tendencies

Each or all of these suggestions would be enough for an afternoon’s conversation (or even a guest speaker for a future presbytery meeting).  But that is not my purpose today.  However, Peers offers some final advice – in times of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, we need to lead consciously.  He even offers guidelines for “not knowing” (emphasis added):

  • Am I making space for others to explore their similarities and differences?
  • Am I allocating enough time so that exploration rather than mere explanation can occur?
  • Am I filling up the space with my own ideas, reassurances, and brilliant suggestions?
  • Do I have ways of covering up anxious feelings in myself or others? What are they?
  • Am I willing to let myself and others go to [the] edge of our own knowing? Am I willing to allow space for the Spirit to reveal something new and to change us?

All of this is well and good – and, as I said, could be an interesting conversation for the presbytery and its congregations to have.  But I will suggest it’s already almost too late!  We have been living in a VUCA world for years already.  And Peers’ advice would have been nice before we wandered down this path. (I brought along a few copies of Peers’ article, for those who were trying to write all of that down.)

This presbytery is in the midst of substantial change!  The Council is working on a Futuring exercise which we will discuss more fully at the December presbytery meeting – it will focus on our ability to claim a vision of a presbytery in mission, doing mission, and helping congregations do the same.  This will have major implications for our allocation of the presbytery’s resources – both financial and personnel.

The Committee on Ministry is working on recreating itself to do the basic work of networking, while at the same time creating specifically trained teams of people to work on vacancies, congregational vitality, leadership development, pastoral care, and conflict resolution.  They see healthy congregations and healthy congregational leaders as the key to an effective presbytery.

And, in the midst of it all, we will be changing out the familiarity of our current staff for new people, new models, and new ideas.  The Stated Clerk Search Committee will is in the midst of their search and plan to have a nominee at our December meeting.  Then, they will outline the process for transition in the office of General Presbyter, as I will be retiring at the end of January of 2019.

The number of changes, the degree to which we have been examining who we are and what we might be, have not been accidental. Though today marks the official announcement of my pending retirement, the Council has known of my plans for over a year because we wanted to allow for a clear transition process and, more importantly, the time to ask some of the questions Lawrence Peers has suggested.  Valerie Young, our Synod Leader and Stated Clerk, is here today, not to tell us what to do, but to provide counsel and resources when we ask.  Our Presbytery Council and Personnel Work Group have already found her to be a wise and welcome presence.

It’s still almost a year and a half away, but you will see from the Personnel report that we have much left to do.  When that time comes, my family and I will have been here almost 20 years.  It has been a rich and rewarding time for us.  But there are even better times ahead – for you and for me.  Now let’s get to work!


General Reflections – March 2017

Engage – Encourage – Equip

I – Don’t – Know

Two sets of three words – two ways of describing the work of Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery – two ways forward for us as a mid council and as a denomination.

I don’t want to stay on this point for too long, for fear that you will all start identifying your own three words!  But I do want to say that I believe that we, as a Presbytery, are in a good position as we move forward into the next several years.

I had to admit to someone late last week that I was having trouble focusing my thoughts for my remarks today.  I think I finally figured out why – I don’t know!  I know what we, as a Presbytery, are about.  I understand what the things are which we are supposed to be doing, how we are to serve our congregations and leaders, how we need to apply our limited resources to an ever-growing list of needs.

Part of what you ask me to do as your General Presbyter is to participate in forums beyond the bounds of this presbytery.  Frankly, that is one of the privileges of serving this Presbytery – the opportunity to listen in on conversations about what other parts of the Presbyterian Church (USA) are thinking and doing.  It’s also exciting [Read more…]

General Reflections – Sept ’16

Seventeen years ago I stood here, the unwitting recipient of an assault worthy of 21st century presidential campaigns.  Speaker after speaker arose that Saturday morning to proclaim the campaign’s new slogan.  The immortal phrase, forever now a part of the historic fabric of this presbytery, was that such meetings were “mind-numbing and soul-sucking!”

I offer this historic reminiscence partly in jest, as few of the ringleaders of that assault are in this room or even in this presbytery so many years later.  But there is another reason to remember these withering words.  They do define the modern assumption about meetings – not just presbytery meetings, but meetings in general (and, if we’re not careful, even our worship services).  It’s not that we need to adopt the secular MTV soundbite culture – all entertainment all the time.  But we need something.  [Read more…]

General Reflections – March 2016

Soren Kierkegaard told a marvelous little story:

“Every Sunday the ducks waddle out of their houses and waddle down Main Street to their church. They waddle into the sanctuary and squat in their proper pews.  The duck choir waddles in and takes its place, then the duck minister comes forward and opens the duck Bible.  He reads to them:  “Ducks!  God has given you wings!  With wings you can fly!  With wings you can mount up and soar like eagles.  No walls can confine you!  No fences can hold you!  You have wings.  God has given you wings and you can fly like birds!”  All the ducks shouted, ‘Amen!’ [Read more…]

General Reflections – June 2015

Like many of our churches, which get copies of newsletters from other congregations, I receive copies of docket packets, newsletters, and the reports of the presbytery leader from a number of presbyteries across the country.  Some are fascinating, and lead me to print or highlight a particularly good idea that might spark healthier ministry here in Eastern Oklahoma.  Some are [Read more…]

Understanding General Assembly

There have been many blog posts and news stories about the actions at General Assembly.  To help your congregation understand what did and didn’t take place, here is a letter and a couple of documents for your use.  The bulletin insert from The Presbyterian Outlook may be used in bulletins, newsletters, emails to your congregation members and your church web site.

Read these documents carefully and prayerfully, and let’s begin the conversation. Please keep comments respectful. Click on the link below for the letter and documents.

Letter regarding GA actions