May 1, 2012

That Other Trinity: Results, Process, Relationships

There’s a lot of advice out there about how faith communities can work together and get things done. One of the best pieces of advice that I’ve heard has to do with the three factors that folks need to be mindful of in the midst of leading: results, process, and relationships.

I’ve recently written extensively about the first two parts of this framework, results and process. Regarding results, I explored the difference between organizational goals and impacts; I also explored why many organizations, big and small, are helping their leaders to become more effective coaches, capable of offering constructive feedback to their staff and volunteers. As for process, I looked at different kinds of stakeholder groups and reflected on who needs to be brought into the decision-making process.

As for the third factor, relationships, I must admit that I haven’t felt a lot of pressure to write about this topic. After all, what could I possibly add that hasn’t already been said? Relationships are the Church’s thing. Not only do we conceive of God as triune, but many have pointed out the fact that our sacred texts, worship, and congregational life are an extended meditation on God’s constant willingness to be in relationship with us. Our herculean efforts at welcome, neighborliness, and love of enemy find their grounding in story after story of God’s extended offer of intimacy.

So do we really need a reminder about the importance of relationships? Of course we do.

Last week I attended a facilitator training in Arizona along with eighteen other individuals from around the Episcopal Church. One participant’s comment about the importance of relationships remained with me. This is a rough paraphrase of what he said:

Time and time again I see leaders in our Church digging themselves an early grave. They don’t understand why things aren’t working out for them or for their congregations. When I see this, I want to whisper an ecclesiastical rendition of the famous presidential campaign slogan - "It’s the relationships, stupid."

It really is all about the relationships. Very frequently, when a project stalls, I will go through the mental checklist. I check to see whether we’ve articulated our desired results. I check to see whether there’s a clear and fair process for getting there. Finally, I look at the relationships. I’m finding that more often than not, relationships are the sticking point. I realize that I haven’t spent enough face time with an individual or group, that I have very little sense of who these folks are outside the very limited framework of assigned projects.

How are you addressing the relationships piece in your congregation?