Perceptions aren’t reality (Week 8, Q 3)

Leaders, in my experience have always been the people with the most “talent” and the greatest capacity to do work. It’s not true.

A perception that changed for me is traits aren’t necessarily leadership. Northouse (2010) says that culture and context change too often to support just a traits-based notion of leadership (p. 27).  There are many approaches to the dynamic nature of leadership. But I have resigned to not define leadership by a style or approach but instead by what leadership is in an organization. Leadership , according to Rost (1993), is influence, thought leadership, directional guidance (p. 133).

Another perception that changed for me is the fact that play and creativity is a vital part of an organizations work. As Brown and Vaughn (2010) remind me, “play helps us deal with difficulties, provides a sense of expansiveness, promotes mastery of our craft, and is an essential part of the creative process” (p. 127). Even in the church, the notion that play is not just time idly spent is a tough argument to make.

Finally, a perception that has been diluted for me is that leadership and authority are the same thing. Power comes in stages based on organization culture and leadership need. Everyone has the capacity for leadership. And a primary function of a leader is to create more leaders.


Brown, S., & Vaughn, C. (2010). Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination and invigorates the soul. New York, NY: Avery Trade.

Northouse, P. (2010). Leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Rost, J. (1993). Leadership for the twenty-first century. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.


Good soil (Wk 8, Q 2)

My colleague Beth and I have a circle of trust relationship. It’s a relationship that is an eddy in the sometimes disruptive, chaotic rapids of the work we share. It is a sacred space for vulnerability.

Palmer (2009) talks about the common ground necessary for a circle of trust isn’t about shared beliefs or thought, but the space to discern, hear the truth and not be judged for it (pp. 80-81). That’s the kind of relationship I have with Beth.

I love the seasonal planting analogy Palmer uses in understanding circles of trust. The forming of such relationships and the internal process of each member of that relationship undertake the planting, nurturing, pruning and sometimes uprooting the soul of an individual and the group (p. 83).

As a leader, I need to be not just a cultivator, but a tiller. The soil in the culture where I work is not ready for circles of trust. The history of dysfunction season has created a need to til the soil. And it’s tough soil. My old boss says the only way you can grow trust is to practice being trustworthy.

Growing circles of trust takes intention and work. But it’s good work.


Palmer, P.J. (2009). A hidden wholeness: The journey toward an undivided life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

The Growing Edge of Play (Week 8, Q 1)

Most of my staff meetings start with play. I have a background in improv, so the activity or game is usually an improv game like “Yes, and,” or “Questions only.” Brown and Vaughn talk about it as play with a purpose (pp. 30-32). The games can help diffuse the reptile brain that often walks into a meeting. But the games are also preparing the group for the formative work of critical and creative thinking. I often hear a person on the team say, “that’s yes BUT thinking.”

I want people with whom I work and play to understand the connected nature of critical thinking to everything we do. It’s not just about work, it’s about what’s possible. Creativity and play is a leadership asset when employed with purpose.

Ironically, play is not as intentional part of my personal life as I would like. When I’m not working, I’m working on the OL program or spending every possible second with my daughter who graduates in a year. I mentioned in an earlier blog that I am part of a songwriters group. I have found in the last six months that even my writing has become a chore more than a creative expression. I need to be more intentional about play. When even play becomes more about work, it’s a broken, unfulfilled life.


Brown, S., & Vaughn, C. (2010). Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination and invigorates the soul. New York, NY:  Avery Trade.

Finding the truth behind the numbers (Wk 7 – Post 1)

The congregation for which I work has seen a decline of nearly two percent in giving over the last ten years. It has also experienced a decline in attendance of just less than ten percent.

This information was included as part of a set of data which tracked attendance and giving, broken down by age. The information was rigorous and detailed. It was excellent data if an organization wants to track giving and attendance over a ten year period.

But the problem with the data report is it didn’t address why there was decline. Was is cultural? Was it natural attrition based on the state of the church in America today? Was it style of leadership or worship? The unfortunate affect this kind of data has on work among staff is if programs or events do not turn the dial on attendance or giving, they are seen as not hitting the mark. My ability to do work requires me to think about depth and engagement which doesn’t necessarily have an instant impact on numbers or dollars.

Brookfield (1991) says thinking critically means more than just applying logical assertions unsupported by data (p. 13). There is a real need to look below the surface to discover values and actions that aren’t found in the data (Brookfield, 1991, p. 13).

The presentation of this information would have been more helpful if it was a contextual look that resulted in a research question leading to a qualitative approach to seeing below the surface of the data.


Brookfield, S. (1991). Developing critical thinkers. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Interserve Ministries (Wk 6, Post 1)

Over the last ten years, I have consulted with nearly 30 congregations in the Twin Cities area through an organization called Interserve Ministries. The consulting process has three parts: assessment, process development, and hiring process.

The assessment includes three parts: individual interviews with staff and key leaders, focus groups, and a survey. The purpose of the assessment process is to understand history, discover enduring values and get a sense of the organization’s change capacity.

The interviews and focus groups have been valuable to gather the qualitative data which shed a light on the affective nature of ministry; how people feel, what is important to them, and the culture of the church (Adams et al, 2007, p. 111). The risk is if the church doesn’t get enough people to provide feedback, it’s difficult to find correlatives that define common values.

The survey used in the process focuses on congregational life, communication, staffing, and culture. The survey is administered in hard copy and through Survey Monkey. Implementing surveys in the church have the same challenges as other organization that implement surveys. Getting a reliable respondent rate is the goal. One way the Interserve mitigates low respondent rates is by implementing the survey when people are present during worship. When implemented during worship services, the survey response rate can be as high as 40%.

Interserve uses case studies to help educate leadership teams on best practices in ministry. There are a three bodies of research which studies congregations and culture today. Each of those studies have produced real case studies.

The key in any type of research in the church is trying to look at the meaning behind the numbers. A broad approach to finding that meaning is important.


Adams, J., Khan, H., Raeside, R., & White, D. (2007). Primary data collection. In Research methods for graduate

     business and social science students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications

The Enemy of Muse is Fear (Wk 5, Post 1)

A mentor of mine, Rich Melheim, attended a symposium in Grand Forks, ND featuring an American artistic treasure, Truman Capote. When it came time for the question/answer portion of the symposium, Rich stood and asked the question, “Mr. Capote, how do you become a writer?” Mr. Capote’s answered with two words: “You write.”

I have been writing, mostly music, for the last twenty-five years. In the first ten years, I would suffer bouts of what I assumed was writer’s block. I thought I had lost my “muse.” What I grew to understand is that I found my fear. I was afraid that I wasn’t good enough. I was afraid that my personal voice wasn’t vital enough. I was afraid to display my vulnerability.

Parker Palmer (2009) talks about when we are stifled by the world’s desire to conform or give in to someone’s definition of us, we lose our own sense of truth and ability to authentically, creatively interact with the world (p. 102).

I evolved over the next fifteen years to understand that my lived experience is my greatest muse. I have learned to honor the process and not the product. And sometimes, even when the product might be complete, the process is still moving. I have stopped using “block” as a term when I am stuck. Instead I welcome fear into the room as a co-creator in the creative process.


Palmer, P.J. (2009). A hidden wholeness: The journey toward an undivided life. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Losing My Religion (Wk 4)

The Christian Church ( the greater church not any single church) is an organization built on authority. Authority is passed down from the figure of Jesus to those who were ordained into priestly service all the way down the line to today’s priests and pastors.

Clergy have an incredible amount of authority that takes the form of counseling, inspiring financial commitments, and defining a moral center. These men and women are humans called to a divine office.

I’m not sure but it seems like the helping professions (health care, pastors, counseling, etc) can attract a certain audience of people who get their needs met assuming the powerful level of authority they have.

Obedience to this “powerful legitimate authority” by, often times, vulnerable people can create ethically or morally murky situations (Zimbardo, 2007, p. 275). In ten years of consulting in congregations, I have encountered financial impropriety, sexual misconduct, and emotionally abusive supervisor relationships. Power, control, and ego through the vehicle of authority has been spotlighted in the church over the last 30 years in child abuse scandals, church schisms, and cults.

The socialized behavior of people who have grown up with established pastoral authority make leadership change in the church very difficult. And over the course of time, I have witnessed a function in the dysfunction that creates patterns of behavior that take a generation to out grow.


Zimbardo, P.G. (2007). Investigating social dynamics: Power, conformity and obedience. In The Lucifer effect: Understanding

how good people turn evil (pp. 258-292). New York, NY: Random House.