Taking Two Paths Simultaneously

Robert Frost famously wrote, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by.”  The second of the two speeches I presented at Bishops’ Week (see the Blog entitled Steady in Purpose and Flexible in Strategy) on the topic of leadership development was entitled “Following Two Paths: The One We Know and the One We Need”.  The following is an excerpt from that speech. What I invite us to consider is a change of perspective that will guide our building the plane while we fly it.  We must simultaneously engage in two tasks.  We have to fly the plane and we have to build a new one – at the same time!  The path we know and the need to fly the plane of clergy and lay leadership development is the path or route we are flying and have been flying for at least the 39 years since my ordination as a Deacon.  Simultaneously, we have to chart a different course in leadership development.  If you wish to stay with the image, we must build a different plane while we continue flying.  We need a jet not a propeller driven bi-plane.  A change of perspective is desperately needed. What is called for is the embracing of a both-and not an either-or.  Let’s unpack this concept for a few minutes.  It appears obvious but the truth is that it is not.  Most of us are schooled in binary thinking.  The language of theology built as it is on platonic philosophy lends itself to either-or thinking.  Similarly the binary language of computer science evokes unconscious either-or path lines.  Further, our own need for structure and order amid a complex world raging out of control likewise bids to draw lines and even build walls (just think about the political process going on in the United States today). Carefully, these by themselves are not bad influences.  We need to be engaged in rigorous critical analysis.  That is a skill every leader, and especially every preacher, needs.  Understanding the binary language of computer science is foundational to modern society.  The need for structure and order is endemic (in a good way) to what it means to be human.  Just read Genesis 1.  God created order out of chaos. Both-and thinking resists the temptation to throw the baby out with the bath water.  I remember my son trying to explain some of his work to me.  I really didn’t get it.  Finally in frustration he threw up his hands and said, “Come on Dad, this isn’t rocket science!”  Then he paused, thought for a moment and commented, “Well, actually it is.”   Both-and thinking does have a level of complexity that is distinctively different.  It requires the ability to hold two concepts in your head at the same time.  It necessitates the ability to live with ambiguity and make hard discerning judgment.  It is a form of rocket science and artistic creation held together.  (As an aside, chaos theory has much to teach us here.)  We must embrace Complexity and Ambiguity without marrying their impoverished cousin Stupidity. To follow the path we know while building the one we need requires a careful rethinking of the difference between being fair and treating everyone the same.  Much of our current practices are built on the notion that to be fair everyone must be treated the same.  The same set of disciplinary rules must apply to all.  The Discipline does require a fair process but it does not require the same process for everyone.  (Someone can come into ministry through college and seminary, another through lay speaking, a third through work on a church staff that leads to ordination, etc.)  This is truth that second career clergy (thank God for them!) have taught us.  This is a reality that a younger generation is insisting we apply to our leadership development systems. By way of illustration I remember a radio interview with the great football coach Bum Phillips, recorded after the death of the even greater football coach Bear Bryant.  Bum was one of the many, many Bear Bryant assistant coaches who went on to remarkable success in their own right.  Reminiscing about Bear Bryant the interviewer commented to Bum, “One of the great things about Bear was that he treated everyone the same.”  “No,” Bum quickly interrupted, “he didn’t treat everyone the same.  He treated everyone fairly.” The path we need requires almost artistic creativity which understands and even embraces the distinctiveness of those who are in leadership development.  At the same time, it requires an order that is not a straightjacket but sets proper boundaries. It’s Both-And thinking and acting that we desperately need.  If we must embrace both paths simultaneously, as I believe we must, then how are we to do so? In a sense that is what this Bishops Week is about.  By design our focus has been on constructing the plane we need.   You’ve already seen the critical outline:  move from pipeline to ecosystem conceptions; map the current system for learning that can be applied in building a new one; be steady in purpose and flexible in strategy; follow two paths; invent can openers, protect experiments, lead with courage.   Embedded within this structure are reflections and insights on how we can follow the path we are on with our current system, not just ideas on building a new plane or constructing a new path.  We have become familiar with the language of adaptive versus technical change.  Let’s take a practical look at how the two paths fit together. I have some modest (probably obvious) suggestions. 1)  Employ some of the technical changes we have looked at in our time together.  The Community of Practice Papers [short papers written by each Conference in the SCJ participating in Bishops Week] are a good place to start.  Ideas like improved mentoring via selection, training and deployment of those who model ministry at its best are obvious for both lay and clergy.  As I indicated earlier, I think assigning coaches for candidates early, way early in the process, can be incredibly helpful.  There are many other insights for technical improvement; things like youth academies, envisioning Wesley Foundations as places of critical appointment (rather than a dumping ground), and the importance of sharing call stories, etc.   We know the phrase that quantity has a quality all its own.  So too, enough high quality technical changes linked together become or lead to adaptive change. 2)  Track those who are considering a call to some form of full time ministry.  Begin young.  Not all will stay in the process through ordination but by tracking and active engagement we will retain far more than we currently are.  Further, those who may choose another career path often will end up the lay leaders of tomorrow (if not today). 3)  Resource leadership development.  It is past time to see this as an area worthy of our financial and time resources.  The literature of system leadership is replete with stories about the crucial component of not skimping on resourcing this critical area. 4)  Be active and not passive as a conference system in leadership development.  As obvious as this may be, I cannot stress it enough!  The day of being able to passively rely on the system to produce the next generation of lay leaders and pastors is over! Period!  Passivity in leadership development is the path of certain death. Allow me to switch to the other path, but before I do so, please note and note carefully, we can do everything on the path we know while we are building the new path.  We really can fly the plane while we build a new one.  In one sense, we have to.  We don’t have a choice.  But, what I think is exciting is that if we avoid either-or thinking we can really do both!  And hey!  It is fun!  So let’s look at building the new plane or path or whatever image you like. First, embed in your being the major tenant of this Bishops’ Week.  We need to change the default setting from being ordained (and/or selected for crucial lay leadership) from you are acceptable for ordination if you’ve meet the minimum standards.  In other words we have to have a really good reason to keep you out to those ordained full deacon or elder are of high promise. The implication of a commitment to high promise and excellence in ministry leads directly to the second major tenet of this Bishops Week.  We need to cultivate an ecosystem not build a pipeline.  The pipeline days are over.  Active cultivation is both exciting and necessary! Third, all four books were carefully chosen for your reading.  As we build the plane we are flying, we especially need to increase the number of rare finds.  It is actually possible and in particular this impacts both Cabinets and Boards of Ordained Ministry.  Consider learning to carefully decode the “jagged resume.”  In an informal way we have been using auditions for conference membership and lay leadership through the local church via staff positions and lay leadership at a lower level.  Let me challenge us on becoming more intentional on incorporating those insights in our work.  Or take chapters 6 and 8 of The Rare Find:  “Talent That Whispers” and “Lottery Tickets.”  How about conscious discussion and reflection in the system on those two concepts?  What does it mean to “buy a lottery ticket in the appointive process?”  How do we “buy a lottery ticket” on the path to ordination without actually granting tenure (ordination) before we know if the ticket has come up a winner?  How do we take “a lot of small risks?”[1] One example of this that I have run into recently comes from Bishop Pete Weaver.  He tells the story of a guy named Jesse Lee.  Jesse was a lay member of the Methodist movement in 1795 who showed up at a gathering where Francis Asbury was. He had only been a Christian and a Methodist for two years, but at the conference gathering, Asbury got to visit with him and decided God was calling Jesse to preach. … What did Asbury see in him so quickly?  Why was Asbury will to take the risk?  This “rare find” stuff is worth some deep conversations with each other.  Historically it was a part of the original Methodist movement.  It needs to be again. (As a side bar, I think one of the reasons it isn’t lies in the fact that our mistakes in ordination tend to be financially compounded through the guaranteed appointment.  This, among a number of things, has made us risk averse.  It’s time to rediscover risk and courage without rashness or ruin.  Such is not an easy task but rather an adaptive challenge.) Fourth and finally, I challenge you as Conference systems to follow two paths at once.  With a Both-And mentality, commit to doing two things new things when you leave here.  Here is the cool deal when you do so, God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit will actually be with you!  
[1]               George Anders, The Rare Find, p. 160