How to help congregations be faithful in their particular context, excerpts from a conversation with Jim Herrington

publishedover 1 year ago
5 min read

Welcome to our newsletter. Thank you for being part of our learning community. As a team of lifelong learners we frequently share resources with each other. This newsletter is a space for us to share some of what we are learning, thinking about, and being encouraged by with you. If you enjoyed this newsletter, please share it and keep the learning going. If you've received this from a friend you can subscribe here and get it direct to your inbox.

man in black pants and pair of brown leather lace-up shoes sitting on brown carpeted stairs inside room


In the last episode in our series on power dynamics, we were joined by Dr. D. Z. Cofield and Deborah Pulis to discuss how leaders can use and sharing power to create a more just and equitable community.

In our new series, we'll be going over some key ideas from our book The Leader's Journey and the impact those ideas have had and are having on our lives with our co-author Dr. Robert Creech. You can listen to the first episode in the series here.

This past month we've been preparing for our upcoming course, Pastoral leadership and the missional church. And since the course focuses on a subject and challenge Jim has spent a significant part of his career working on, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to have a conversation with him where I attempt to tease out and share some of what he’s learned over the past 30+ years helping local churches be faithful in their particular context.

The following are some excerpts from that conversation with Jim.

Thanks for reading!

– Tim McGee

What concepts or practices have been the most influential as you’ve worked to help congregations navigate such a different context than the one they were prepared for?

Peter Senge's book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, introduced me to mental models, and the more I reflected on that, the more I began to recognize, we had a way of thinking about church that had worked for a long, long time that was not going to work in the context that was emerging.

Then Deep Change or Slow Death by Robert E. Quinn described how the pace of change is so intense, and growing, that we've all got to examine our mental models and adjust them based on what's real, because what's real is changing so rapidly.

The intersection of those two ideas has defined almost everything I've done and all of the thinking I've done around how to help congregations be faithful in their particular context.

What would you say to a pastor or church leader who is frustrated by, resistant to, or grieving how much has changed or is changing?

The first thing I would say is, let's grieve the loss. I don't know many people who wake up in the morning and say, I hope something that I've loved and given my life to change so profoundly that I'd almost don't recognize it. In the adaptive leadership world, one saying is that people don't resist change so much as they resist loss.

The second thing is that we've got to decide whether we can agree that we're off map. That's Tod Bolsinger's language in Canoeing the Mountains. We've been reading a map that somebody provided for us until now, but if we're off map, we're map-making. And there's a different set of skills needed for map-making than for map reading.

The third thing I would do is share the four mental model shifts we have discovered after 17 years of pastoring an off-map congregation that was a network of house churches, where we live in a community with people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. And then 20 years working with congregations as a guide, helping them map their own communities. We believe these mental model shifts have influenced the nature of pastoral leadership.

What are the four mental model shifts?

1. Mission of the church. This is a shift from the attractional model, where we measured success by church growth, the activity of God happened inside the church building, to the missional model that says congregational health and success is determined by your impact on the community. The mission of God is out there rather than in here. so that would be the first one

2. Discipleship. Dallas Willard was the first person I heard say, somewhere along the way, we quit asking the question, "how do you make disciples of Jesus?" And we started asking, "how do you make good church members?" But if you're going to have people who are doing the mission of God in the community with unchurched people, discipleship looks really different.

3. Leadership. For a long time, leadership was about managing the institution of the church. Making sure we had the right programs and the right people trying to do the right program. But as the pace of change increased, it became essential for pastors and leaders to know how to do strategy and understand culture. The process has to become collaborative, and leaders have to understand living systems, the power of anxiety in a system, and how to manage anxiety as you make your way through the change process.

4. Change process. When I was in seminary, you mostly needed skills to maintain stability, and managing change was far less important. With the ever-increasing pace of change and such a significant difference between generations, trying to get internal collaboration and connection to a shared vision will look very different for boomers than for millennials, and that's not easy work. So that also requires a kind of collaboration skill that we've not had to have in the past.

What resources would you recommend to someone wanting to dig deeper into these four mental model shifts?

1. Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory by

Tod E. Bolsinger

2. The Leader's Journey: Accepting the Call to Personal and Congregational Transformation by Jim Herrington, Trisha Taylor, and Robert Creech

3. Unfettered: Imagining a Childlike Faith beyond the Baggage of Western Culture by Mandy Smith

4. Jesus of the East: Reclaiming the Gospel for the Wounded by Phuc Luu

5. Our upcoming webinar and course on this exact topic

What would you say to someone wanting to know more about the upcoming webinar and course?

The webinar is for those who aren't sure yet and would like to better understand what the class will look like. It will help you decide whether it's worth the 10-week investment of your time.

The class is going to start on April the 26th and go 10-weeks in a row. Each session, Michael DeRuyter and I will present some material, and there will be small group discussion, large group discussion, and time for silent reflection.

We'll ask everybody to read one book and share what they learned from it. So let's say four people read Mandy's Unfettered. Then, during one of the sessions, those four people will share what they learned from it.

The course will be very interactive, and it will be action-oriented. In other words, after each session, we're going to ask and try to answer the question, "what actions from what you've learned today or what you've been exposed to today can you get in action around this week?"

But maybe more than anything else, having a community of people who are doing this work together, where we'll be able to share about how it's going, and having that kind of support and encouragement will be invaluable.

If you want access to the webinar, it will be held live on Monday at 10:00 A.M. Central Time and will be available on-demand for the following two weeks. You can register for the webinar here.

The Pastoral Leadership and the Missional Church course will begin on Tuesdays beginning April 26 and last for 10-weeks. You can learn more about the course and register here.

Thank you for reading our newsletter!

Recent podcast episodes:

The Leader's Journey

As a team of lifelong learners, we frequently share resources with each other. This newsletter is a space for us to share some of what we are learning, thinking about, and being encouraged by with you.

Read more from The Leader's Journey