June 8, 2015

The Strategic Legacy of Bishop Ed Little

From the beginning of his ministry as the seventh bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana, the Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little II has beamed a spiritual focus to follow. Personifying the lighthouse on the diocesan seal, Little has delivered powerful messages that illuminate priorities for Christ centered living and ministry.

Communicating the right priorities is one of the keys to strategic leadership. I offer a glimpse of Little here as a model of such leadership.

Little’s strategic legacy began with his seating sermon in 2000, in which he called on his new flock to embrace the lighthouse as a vision for individual and congregational ministries. To prompt and guide, he set four core values for the diocese:

  1. A passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ
  2. A heart for the lost
  3. A willingness to do whatever it takes
  4. A commitment to one another

Throughout the 15 years since that sermon, Little gathered story after story of how these values are beautifully lived in the parishes of northern Indiana. While he loves recounting them, he’d rather that everyone become skilled at telling his/her own story.

Strategically, the Bishop sought to strengthen congregations so that people have stories to tell. He named the Rev. Canon SuzeAnne Silla as Canon to the Ordinary and blessed her to use her extensive congregational development experience to establish the Diocesan Congregational Development Institute (DCDI).

Since 2008, dozens of lay and clergy people from around the diocese have participated in DCDI. Little says they are more skilled and confident in a whole range of areas – from problem solving to vision casting to conflict-management.

“At the heart of DCDI is a focus on learning how to tell the story; how to articulate who Jesus is and what he’s done for us, and how to share the ways that he has directly touched our lives,” explains Little.

The core values provided a focus for ministry, and DCDI helped strengthen congregations to be up to the task. Next, in 2013, Little once again provided strategic focus by outlining five “imperatives,” or hallmarks of ministry that he prays the Episcopal people of northern Indiana will bequeath to future generations of Christians. These are:

  • Focus on Jesus
  • Think Biblically 
  • Proclaim Good News
  • Feed people who are hungry
  • Mentor young people 

In his 2014 annual address, Little updated the diocese on how these imperatives are being lived out. He used stories, of course. For instance, for “proclaim the Good News,” he described how several congregations are offering bilingual ministries as Latino populations have grown around them.

The Bishop also offered examples of “Feed the Hungry” outreach ministries serving a variety of programs to address hunger, health, and education needs. He used the opportunity to challenge congregations:

During my next round of visitations, I will pose the question, ‘How are you reaching out to the neighborhood around your church building?’ …I won’t be looking for particular programs. Your situation is unique, and the needs of your neighborhood may well be very different than the needs of the neighborhood surrounding the church in the next town over. The key is to be intentional, in a three-step process:

  • Pray – Ask the Lord to show you where the areas of need are
  • Look – Walk through your neighborhood; keep your eyes open; be ready for surprises 
  • Act – Decide on one or two things that your parish might do to manifest the love of Jesus

Little sets visionary priorities, strengthens capacity to achieve them, and celebrates success with stories. When he retires June 30, 2016, his legacy will include a strategically focused beam of the light of Christ.

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