Holy God, on this Easter morning we welcome the sunrise. We welcome the birdsong. We welcome the branches swaying above our heads. We welcome the opportunity to greet familiar faces and meet new ones. We welcome the energy and joy and promise of a new day, new beginnings, and new challenges to face. We welcome the chance to hear with new ears the old story of Jesus: how he died at the hands of violent people and was raised by the unstoppable power of your boundless love. Renew our faith in resurrection. Renew our commitment to the Jesus way. Amen.
“To Improve Your Team, First Work on Yourself” is the title of a 2019 Harvard Business Review article that caught my attention this week. This concept is the foundation of my approach to ministry for the past 25 years. It is the bedrock on which family systems theory is built. Family systems theory, first developed by psychiatrist Murray Bowen and adapted for congregations by Rabbi Ed Friedman, has had a huge influence on generations of clergy. This includes my counterpart in the First Church/South Church consolidation effort, Rev. Denny Moon, and our consolidation coach, Rev. Dr. Claire Bamberg. I encourage you to check out the short article both for your own personal edification and as a springboard for conversation as First Church and South Church move into our next stage of work together.
GUCCI, the steering team for the First Church and South Church consolidation effort, is organizing work groups to lead the next stage of our work. The work groups are: 1) “Getting to Know Each Other,” 2) “Nuts and Bolts,” 3) “Properties and Memorial Gardens,” 4) “Staffing, Technology, and Communications,” 5) “History,” and 6) “Program.”
Considerable thought is being put into the size and composition of these work groups as well as how to build a culture of healthy communication in the work groups so that our time together is productive and to build a healthy foundation for a future congregation.
Which brings me back to the Harvard Business Review article. The author recommends teams master three “foundational capabilities” to improve their functioning: “internal self-awareness, external self-awareness, and personal accountability.”
“Internal self-awareness involves understanding your feelings, beliefs, and values — your inner narrative.” The article goes on to give examples of how increasing internal self-awareness affects interactions. For more details on building self-awareness see this HBR article. I have found maintaining a daily meditation practice key to building self-awareness. Coaching and therapy are also incredibly effective modalties for increasing this “foundational capability.”
“External self-awareness involves understanding how our words and actions impact others.” How do we understand how our words and actions impact others? Ask! I have observed the most effective leaders, including Claire, pause a meeting to ask about body language: “You just scrunched up your face. What was happening in you then?” Or repeating what was said and asking, “Did I get that right?” Or “Are you getting what you need out of this conversation?” It can feel risky to ask for feedback, but all of the best leaders do it.
As for accountability: “When we think of accountability, we typically think of holding others accountable. But the most effective leaders and teammates are more focused on holding themselves accountable.”
Years ago I was meeting with a group of church leaders. We were trying to revitalize a dying downtown congregation that had once been the largest in the state. The team had been attempting to engage the wider congregation in the turnaround effort with little success. The meeting devolved into a complaint session about how we had a congregation of freeloaders who needed an attitude adjustment. By some miracle the conversation shifted to looking at our own attitudes and behaviors as leaders. Finally the light bulb went on and the team leader said with conviction: “Nothing will change until we change.” Long story short: after seven years of hard effort, the congregation was completely transformed. Moral of the story: “If you want to improve your team, first work on yourself.”
Holy God, Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Scripture tells us that resurrection is assured. Yet we live in fear. We’re afraid of losing our loved ones. We’re afraid of the unknown. We’re afraid people won’t like us or our children will forget us. We know we’re not the church we once were and afraid of what that might mean. We’re afraid that if people knew who we really are, they wouldn’t love us anymore. While we long for abundant life, we’re afraid of what it might demand from us. Disrupt our addiction to fear. Open our lives to true boldness. Give us confidence not in what we can achieve, but in the power of what you are doing in and through us. Amen.
Part of our discussion at GUCCI (Granby UCC Initiative) this week was the formation of work groups that will be tasked with visioning a new, unified UCC congregation in Granby.
One of the points we emphasized was that the work groups should be led by visionaries who are clear that their job isn’t to recreate the past but to imagine something new. This can be trickier than it sounds. It is a natural human tendency to stick with what we know. We all want to be experts. None of us wants to fail or look foolish. As the old saying goes, the safest place for the sailboat is in the harbor, but that’s not what it’s made for. That’s not what the church is made for.
In their research of hundreds of church consolidations, Tomberlin and Warren have found that a–perhaps the–key to success of any consolidation is a forward looking, outward facing vision (Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work). What does it take to discover God’s vision for our future?
I suggest we start with some study, reflection, prayer, and conversation. Start with study of vision passages in Scripture. Some that come to mind are God’s promise to Abraham to make of him and Sarah “a great nation.” God showed Abraham a vision of the stars. God says, “Look toward the heavens, so shall your descendants be (Gen. 15). In Isaiah. 43:19 God says, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Or Jer. 29:11: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
A key question for developing an outward focused vision is asking NOT what kind of church do I prefer, but what kind of church does this town need? There are many resources for this. Please check out the detailed demographic data for the town of Granby from MissionInsight and posted to http://www.firstchurchgranby.org. Also important is developing a survey and interviewing leaders, neighbors, and friends. YOU CAN HELP. Just say to your neighbor, “If you were to go to church, what kind of church would you go to?” Or some such similar question. You will find that many folks will be eager to share their opinions with you. Please document your findings and share with GUCCI.
Finally, gather a prayer group, dedicate time to pray personally, or make a prayer request during worship for God’s vision. The Bible promises that if we humble ourselves, pray, and “seek God’s face,” God will hear our prayers, provide healing and hope.
We confess, Holy God, our impatience. We confess our boredom, our preference for stimulation–those little dopamine hits that excite the brain’s pleasure centers. The waiting is the hardest part. We wander the garden wondering where and when and if the spring shoots will sprout. Forgive our distraction. Give us faith in a seed. Give us rising hope. Amen.
We confess, O God, we often find ourselves confused. Like Nicodemus, we are searching for answers. Like Nicodemus, we find ourselves confused. Like Nicodemus, we approach you under cover of night, afraid of what it might mean to expose our broken hearts to the light of day. Like Nicodemus, it can be difficult to see that the one before us is the very one we seek. Like Nicodemus, keep us faithful to the end so that we, too, might bear witness to resurrection. Amen.