Adaptive Leadership

“We are entering a new day, new terrain and a new adventure.
The next steps are going to be demanding. We need to find
the courage and develop the capacity for a new day.”

At the 2021 Stewardship Kaleidoscope a couple of weeks in Cincinnati, Ohio, I had the opportunity to attend two plenaries led by The Rev. Dr. Tod Bolsinger, professor of leadership formation and senior fellow for the De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Seminary. Many of you may know Tod’s book, Canoeing the Mountains published in 2015 where he challenges us as leaders to learn to lead all over again. He begins the book with the quote above.

What we know is that Tod had no idea when he wrote that book, that we would find ourselves in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, economic instability, and racial unrest that would indeed demand a tremendous amount of courage and take us into the most uncharted territory we can imagine. Tod’s next book, Tempered Resilience was published in 2020 during the pandemic when we we were being challenged to embrace adaptive leadership in a way we had never imagined.

What is adaptive leadership?

As developed by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, adaptive leadership is an approach to organizational problem-solving that starts with diagnosis: Is this problem something that an expert can solve or not? Is this something that requires us to apply a solution that already exists, or does it fall outside of our current knowledge and expertise and therefore will require learning (and may result in loss)?”

Tod suggests that “groups are hardwired to believe that survival usually means reinforcing the way things have always been. So, when an organization feels stress, the default behavior of most organizational leaders is to solve the problems for our organization (our congregations) rather than change our organizations for meeting the needs of the world.” The result is that instead of undergoing transformation to be more effective in our mission to serve the world, our congregations unconsciously reinforce the very status quo that is not working.”

Our solution to the problem of low attendance and less giving is to keep offering the programs people have always loved and try to fill the facilities that our congregations have invested in building. Tod took us to Exodus 13 where we see the people of God wrestle with the losses and learning required of them, and we see Moses struggling to keep the people of God focused on securing the very freedom they have been promised. And you know the story of God’s people never seeming to be able to fully trust that God is in control, and God will lead them to the promised land.

Tempered Resilience

Andrew Zolli defines resilience as “the capacity of a system, enterprise, or a person to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances.” Resilience requires both strength and flexibility; both toughness and adaptability to endure and to bring transformation. Resilience comes through tempering. As congregational leaders, we are called to become leaders who can hew hope out of the despair that arises when the circumstances outside and the struggle inside conspire to keep us from surviving and thriving.

Over the past year and a half, we have been challenged with many things, and most of our congregations have remained resilient. When I think about how and why, even our smallest congregations, have been able to stay together through all that we have endured, I know it is because they are resilient. They are congregations who…

  • Know what it means to face challenges
  • Are grounded in their identity and their mission
  • Have the capacity to learn and adapt
  • Are tenacious and spirited
  • Have the safety of strong, supportive relationships
  • Have pastoral and congregational leaders who listen

A Compelling Vision

One of the best attributes for being a resilient congregation is the ability to communicate a compelling vision. “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverb 29:18). While this passage is a reference to divine vision, the saying is also true of our ministries together. If we are unable to communicate a compelling vision for our congregations to be able to serve faithfully, give generously, love unconditionally, and lead boldly, then we will not be resilient in the face of all that the surrounds us and challenges us.

What is your congregation’s vision for the future? Is it compelling and something that people can get excited about? Does it challenge your congregation to make a commitment that will sustain your ministries? If you are unsure about the answer to any of these questions, I invite you to step back and reflect on who you are as a congregation and what your identity and mission is for the future.

As the people of God, we have what it takes to be resilient no matter what challenges come our way if we can remain grounded and focused on the mission that God has begun in us and through us. May it be so for you and your congregation!

Deborah Rexrode
POJ Associate for Stewardship

Stay Focused on God

“They who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.”
(Isaiah 40:31)

In a recent blog, Olanda Carr, Senior Ministry Relations Officer for the Presbyterian Foundation, writes that over the past few weeks, he has been drawn to this passage of scripture…perhaps because all we have been doing for weeks and months is waiting…

Ask, Thank, Tell

December is just around the corner. From a stewardship perspective, December is typically the biggest giving month of the year in churches and also for many non-profits. So, what can we do as church leaders to provide an opportunity for our members to give to the ministries of our churches as part of their end-of-the-year giving?

Charles Lane, in his book, “Ask, Thank, Tell: Improving Stewardship Ministry in Your Congregation” reminds us that the focus of biblical stewardship is on the fact that generous giving is one of the basic acts of discipleship. Charles suggests that there are three foundational verbs that help us to focus on this aspect of stewardship:

  1. Ask. If you want people to give more as year-end approaches, you need to ask them. You can communicate this message in whatever way works for your people: letter, from the pulpit, video, whatever social media platform works for you. We are often far too hesitant to ask people to give. The message can, and should, come from the pastor as well as from leaders of the congregation.
  2. Thank. As you ask, be sure you clearly thank people for their giving so far this year and for their commitments to give next year. If you didn’t send out thank you letters or notes for pledges, do it now. You can’t thank people too much. Most churches do it far too little.
  3. Tell. There are two ways you called to tell the story.

Tell the story of your ministry this year and your vision for the next year. Hopefully you already did this as part of your fall stewardship emphasis. Don’t worry about repeating it. And if you didn’t, do it now! Share with people the difference their giving has made. Whether or not they make an additional gift, it further reinforces their commitment to give to your ministry in 2019.

Tell the truth about your financial situation. If you are facing a real shortfall, be honest about it. Do it clearly and calmly, without a “sky is falling” panicky message. It’s not helpful for leaders to protect the congregation from financial challenges. They can’t step up to help if they don’t know about it.

If you have an abundance of resources, be honest about that. Some leaders think, “We don’t want to let people know because then they will stop giving.” People will keep giving if you give them a reason to give. Make your Christmas offering something significant that will benefit the wider community, and invite people to give generously.

Charles concludes his book with this wonderful vision of Stewardship ministry:

“One of my favorite novels is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Each year at Christmas I try to see either a play or movie version of A Christmas Carol, or to read the original. A big part of the appeal of the story is the incredible contrast between Ebenezer Scrooge at the beginning of the story and Ebenezer Scrooge at the end of the story.

Notice Dickens’ description of Scrooge from the first pages of his novel, ‘Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! He was hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire.’ Many, many pages and three Christmas ghosts later, Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning. To say the least, he is a changed man. He sends a Christmas turkey to the Cratchit’s that is twice the size of Tiny Tim.

And then Dickens writes, “The chuckle with which he said this, and the chuckle with which he paid the cab, and the chuckle with which he recompensed the boy, were only to be exceeded by the chuckle with which he sat down breathless in his chair again, and chuckled till he cried.”

I don’t wish for any of God’s children to be scared to their senses by night visits from past, present, or future ghosts. However,

  • I do have a vision of people in your congregation so enjoying their generous giving that they chuckle until they cry.
  • I do have a vision of people in your congregation who discover the radical truth of Jesus’ words, ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’
  • I do have a vision of people in your congregation whose generosity grows by leaps and bounds, and who discover that this generosity has indeed led their heart to Jesus.
  • I do have a vision of people chuckling, or at least smiling as they drop their offering into the plate on Sunday morning.”

If you have a special story to share about your fall Stewardship program, I would love to hear it! What’s been special about your celebration of stewardship this year? You can contact me at deborah@presbyteryofthejames.org or 434-996-6032.

Deborah Rexrode
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James

Stewarding the Church

“Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” (I Peter 4: 10)

We spend a lot of time during the fall Stewardship programs of our church helping our congregations understand what Stewardship is and what God is calling them to do as good stewards of all that God has given to them. We challenge them to consider their response to God for all that they have and all that they are. We plan programs to inspire and encourage them in their personal journey of faith and specifically in their giving.

As pastors and leaders in the congregations where we serve, I think we too are called to be good stewards of the resources we have been given, to serve our congregations with whatever gift each of us has received. We have been given both a responsibility and an opportunity to steward the congregations in our care. How is God calling us, as leaders, to be good stewards of the church? What are some of the gifts we have received?

We are stewards of God’s Word.  In First Corinthians 4, Paul describes the ministry of the apostles in this way, “We are servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.” That message is just as important to us today. In all that we do, we are servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. God has entrusted us with something precious to submit our lives to Christ and to proclaim the Word of God. Every leadership decision or action we take is first and foremost spiritual in nature and should focus on connecting persons to God.

You and I have been called to steward the amazing mysteries of God revealed to us in Scripture. That’s part of our stewarding of the church, being good stewards of the gospel so that it is God for whom we bring glory.

We are stewards of God’s vision. We are called to listen deeply to the heart-songs of God’s people and articulate the vision God is imparting to them. The vision for a church answers the question, “What does God want us to do?” We are called to help our congregations embrace a clear vision of God’s call. Every congregation is unique, and every congregation has its own unique vision for what God is calling them to do and be.

We are stewards of trust. We are called to develop and nurture authentic relationships that cultivate trust. As stewards of trust, we serve one another in an open transparent way. We keep the lines of communication open, avoid judgement, become vulnerable, offer and receive forgiveness, and model Christ’s love and sense of welcome to all.

We are stewards of administration. This involves coming alongside our congregations to help them fulfill their vision and mission. The most essential ingredient in this area of stewardship is identifying and equipping new leaders. Most of the issues that plague churches – giving, attendance, evangelism, leadership, and mission – are minimized when church leaders focus on equipping the saints. The process of equipping and empowering people is what helps someone move from simply believing in Christ to being a true disciple. When people are growing spiritually, they will give, attend, tell others, volunteer, and serve.

Finally we are stewards of financial resources. At the core of being financial stewardship leaders is creating a culture of extravagant generosity. Generosity is a spiritual attribute that extends beyond merely the use of money. There are people who are generous with their time, with their teaching, with their love. Generosity is something people acquire in the actual practice of giving.

In Second Corinthians, we read, “But just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.” Churches that practice extravagant generosity don’t talk in general terms about stewardship. They speak confidently and faithfully about money, giving, generosity, and the difference giving makes for the purposes of Christ and in the life of the giver. They emphasize the Christian’s need to give more than the church’s need for money.

Churches that cultivate giving speak of joy, devotion, honoring God, and the steady growth of spirit that leads to greater generosity. Stewardship efforts deepen prayer life, build community, unite people with purpose, and clarify mission. People feel strengthened and grateful to serve God through giving.

As you make your way through this particular season of Stewardship, consider how well you as leaders are stewarding your churches and your congregations. Be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God, preaching and teaching and leading your congregations to become faithful disciples who know what it means to be stewards of all that God has entrusted into their care.

Deborah Rexrode
Associate for Stewardship for the Presbytery of the James

 

Giving Courageously

Now in its twentieth year, “Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation” has become a premier stewardship resource for churches and denominations throughout North America. It is published annually and available sometime early in May each year. I have found this magazine to be a helpful tool for congregations to select a theme and a method for conducting an annual Stewardship program as well as learn more about Stewardship to enhance the church’s overall ministry.

Carols for Year End Stewardship

As we journey through this season of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, I encourage you to think about the carols, hymns, and other songs we sing and hear their familiar words this year in a new way as a way to “repeat the sounding joy” of generosity and stewardship. Here are a few with some tips for what the song might call you do: