Getting Ready for the Best Year Yet!

I haven’t written in weeks, but have great excuses. We had Annual Conference which was wonderful under the leadership of Bishop Jonathan Holston. Then the day after it ended I went on a 2 week tent-camping, fishing, and canoeing trip along the New River between North Carolina and Virginia. It was wonderful! There was great camaraderie, superb fishing, rushing rapids, adventurous mishaps, magnificent food, and good reading. Getting back in the saddle as a District Superintendent has been challenging, but I’m ready for this final year as a DS to go well. Oh, yeah, we also made a mad dash down to Florida to check on Narcie’s progress, and we start Cabinet Retreat this Monday with folks connected to Patrick Lencione as we work on what it means to be an Annual Conference team and what are our goals and strategies.

Describing a Bishop, DS’, and Conference Staff as a team should go without saying, but we have all probably heard or seen the opposite. I just reread Lencione’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team for the first time in 8 years when it was recommended in Baby DS School, and am now reading his book The Advantage for the first time. Good stuff! Challenging stuff. He doesn’t say the following things, but it’s what comes to my mind as I think about the church’s organizational health. There are two primary questions: “What business are we in?” and “How’s business?” I can answer the first question with the acronym “MD4C” – Making Disciples for Christ. The second question is a lot more nebulous and complex. Some people want to talk about metrics that suggest an outcome-based answer. Others want to describe a healthy church as one that’s relevant, relational, missional, touchy-feely, and friendly. I want both descriptions! Numbers with a personal nuance!

And I know that you can’t slogan your way to better health as a church or as a person. Slogans and mission statements are usually so pie-in-the-sky that they don’t really mean much anyway. Writing a mission statement makes everybody feel good before the meeting or retreat is over, but then it’s back to the grind where theory is replaced by harsh reality. And in the church we’re too “nice” to care enough to confront reality and sub-par performance in our peers. So we go along to get along and the result is usually mediocrity. Oh, I like slogans and I like them short enough to be memorized and long enough to be memorable, but slogans are only as good as what we do with them.

We can talk a good game about organizational health but sheer talk is mushy rambling without clear action and buy-in as a team. According to Lencione the five stages to organizational health are: trust, conflict, commitment, accountability, and results. Put another way, he says that the five dysfunctions are an absence of trust evidenced by a lack of vulnerability; fear of conflict with its artificial harmony; a lack of commitment with too much ambiguity as its evidence; avoidance of accountability whose evidence is low standards; and, finally, inattention to results whose evidence is seen in self-promotion and ego issues among team members. Let me tell you, Lencione is worth the read!

I can say over and over again how I would like our denomination, annual conference, or so-and-so to be better and do such-and-such, but if I never do anything about it or take it to the actionable level, I’m not doing anybody any good. I guess that’s where I am – caught between deciding to make a difference or to just bide my time in this last year as a DS. Do I check out of the process and play the lame duck bureaucrat, or do I fully engage for my own personal growth and that of the United Methodist Church?

If you know me, you know the answer. As a person with at least 15 more good years to give to the UMC, I am going to choose to be all-in. If I can give a canoeing trip my best, or support my daughter with my best, or be a rabid Gamecock fan with my best, how dare I, for one second, not give my best to the church that I’ve seen Jesus use more often than not to save souls and save society? So here goes, “I’mmmmmm baaaaack!” I want to do everything I can to get ready for the best year yet!