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"All truth is God's truth" was a common refrain from my days at Wheaton College. Dr. Arthur Holmes, a professor of philosophy at Wheaton, made the phrase popular. I totally agree with it. We can learn from all kinds of sources. One of my favorite sources of wisdom and insight is books on various aspects of leadership and management written by business leaders. I realize "the Church is not a business" (something I've heard a couple of hundred times over my years serving congregations). We operate with different goals and values. But, the insights of gifted thinkers in the area of business are often transferable to other relational systems and organizations (families and churches for example). Here are 4 books that offer extraordinary insights and offer a place to start for exploring this vast area of study.
#1: Made to Stick by Chip Heath & Dan Heath
This book is filled with insights that apply to aspects of congregational life as varied as preaching, evangelism, teaching Sunday School, strategic planning, and website design. The key question of the book is: how do you get ideas to stick and make a difference in people's lives? Here's how I envision the 6 chapters of the book pertain to and inform congregations:
- Simplicity: How do you find the essential core of the ideas you want to present (or of your congregation's mission)?
- Unexpectedness: How do you get people to pay attention? How do you stir up curiosity?
- Concreteness: How do you make ideas clear and imaginable rather than vague and abstract?
- Credibility: How do you help people believe that what you are presenting is believable?
- Emotion: How do you get people to care about your ideas? To feel something?
- Stories: How do you get people to act; to see themselves in the story you are telling?
#2: Good to Great by Jim Collins (see also Good to Great and the Social Sectors)
How does a company that has been good (read "average" or "unremarkable") for 50 or 100 years become great in 10 or 20? Jim Collins and his research team compared 11 good-to-great companies to 11 comparison companies that never became great to see if patterns emerged for transforming companies (and organizations, in general).
From their research, they discovered the importance of equipping leaders, recruiting the right people, dealing with facts, staying focused and creating a culture of discipline. It's a fascinating book with lots of direct application to leading a congregation from meh to marvelous.
#3: A Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman
Weaving together his experience as a Rabbi, a therapist, and a systems analyst, Edwin Friedman gives a riveting expose on the failure of leadership in our culture; which he sums up as a "failure of nerve." He describes what happens in social systems (from small circles of friends and families to whole societies) when people become anxious and the system regresses. Though it was written in 1999, it could read as a description of America in 2020.
He calls leaders to live non-anxiously in the tension between self-differentiation and engagement with the community. He tells leaders that living with integrity in an anxious system (like one undergoing significant change) will be difficult and will include attempts at sabotage of the leader. But, he also holds out the hope that leaders who are willing to stay engaged and live authentically can change whole systems.
While the book makes no attempt at being cheery, it is a bracing look at the challenges and demands of leadership that gives hope that change and real leadership is possible.
#4: Deep Change by Robert Quinn
"How many Anglicans does it take to change a light bulb? Change? What's that?" Funny; but not funny. Robert Quinn sums up the project of his book in the titles of his first two chapters, "Walking Naked into the Land of Uncertainty," and "Confronting the Deep Change or Slow Death Dilemma." He then argues that, in a context of rapid change, there are only two real options: adapt or die. But, adapting requires more than changing the color of the carpet. It requires soul-searching, reflection, and openness to "deep change."
Quinn helps with the soul-searching and reflection as he explores first personal change (like Friedman's tenet that one leader can change a whole system), and then organizational change. He addresses issues of fear, denial, integrity, resistance, transformation and vision.
The book is written more as a guide book for a journey than as a collection of ideas and includes reflection and discussion questions for each chapter. Grab a friend (or a Vestry) and take some steps down the path he outlines. Who knows where you might end up?