A Path of Transformation
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12: 1 -2, New RSV.
God invites us on a path of transformation, as St. Paul reminds us, calling us as individuals and as congregations. Today Christian leaders face a rapidly changing world where old patterns no longer work. We are called to awaken to God’s perspective, to follow God’s direction and to participate in God’s new creation. Leaders shape congregations, and therefore have the responsibility to create a God-centered culture in which God can bring about God’s transformation.
The best process I have found for leading groups in a transformational path is outlined in Otto Scharmer’s book Theory U. Although Scharmer writes for the business world and uses generic language, his process is a spiritual path of kenosis in which people become increasingly open to the presence of God and the creativity of the Holy Spirit. Scharmer describes this life-giving process as moving through four emotional/social “fields” to the place of Presence – the place of transformation.
Field 1, Download
In the first Field of perspective, vestry members see the congregation as something that simply is. They each see their place in the congregation from an unexamined and unquestioned perspective. Everything appears just fine. They all conform to what has been, the way they’ve always done it, seen it and been it. When a challenge or problem arises, they just download what they’ve done before to address it.
Vestries in this Field follow a set agenda, look to the same experts and authorities to solve problems, conform to tradition and are outwardly polite to one another. Seeing the congregation from this perspective assures very little change or transformation will take place. Moving from this field to the next field means changing perspective from the current position in the congregation to the edge, to see the congregational system as a whole.
Field 2, Debate
In this field, vestry members perceive the congregation in a more detached manner and with a more critical eye. The shift happens by opening their minds to real data, facts and information about the congregation and the system they have created in all its functional and dysfunctional ways – its location, its relevance to the surrounding community and its effectiveness in proclaiming the Gospel and making disciples.
This choice to see the system more objectively often leads to questioning, debate and even confrontation. The shift also means suspending judgment, letting go of preconceived ideas, prejudice, blaming, herding, reactivity and quick fixes (as Ed Friedman, would say in Failure of Nerve). Vestries in this field are courageously looking in the mirror, seeing the truth about themselves and practicing some self-compassion. To move into field 3, they will need to connect in new ways with one another, God and the community around them.
Field 3, Dialogue
Seeing from this field takes place when the personal perspective shifts to seeing the self as an agent within the system, as someone who can bring about change and has responsibility for the way things are. Dialogue with differing perspectives inside and outside the congregation opens not just the mind, but also the heart. This spiritual shift calls for vulnerability, empathy and compassion. It requires vestry members to suspend their voices of cynicism, shame, prejudice and polarities (liberal/conservative, high/low, grace/law, faith budget/balanced budget, etc.).
For example, I was working with congregations located in border communities dealing with immigration. Members of these congregations included border patrol as well as advocates for immigration reform. These leaders had to find ways to dialogue and create safe, vulnerable spaces for conversation and connection with brothers and sisters inside and outside the congregation, moving beyond the paralyzing polarity of the issue. Leaders moving to Field 4 are called deeper still - to that transformational New Creation of God in meeting the opportunity/challenge before them.
Field 4, Presence
Seeing from the fourth field, means connecting with the creative Spirit within and beyond the community to see possibilities that capture and reflect God’s imagination. In this field, vestry members open not just their minds and hearts, but their wills in alignment with God’s will for them. This future-facing shift is risky business, and it means facing fears.
God’s ways are not our ways. God could be calling the community of faith to be Church in a totally different way. Practicing contemplation, talking about God’s track record within the group, building faith and trust are all spiritual practices that open us up and invite us to live more bravely in this God-drenched field. When vestries function in this field, they experience discernment of God’s leading, a collective creativity which sparks energy, life and hope.
Imagine disciples of Jesus called into a community of leaders, daring to open minds, hearts and wills, connected to the Holy Spirit, to each other and to the surrounding neighborhoods. Imagine co-creating oases of God’s Reign in a chronically anxious world. Could you be such a transformational vestry?
The Reverend Lou Blanchard is the retired Canon Missioner for Congregational Development in the Diocese of Colorado and is currently teaming with the Rocky Mountain Synod, ELCA in the Excellence in Leadership Program.
- For more information on the nuts and bolts of how to work this process see “Excellence in Leadership” on the Rocky Mountain Synod, ELCA website: www.rmselca.org.
- Scharmer, Otto; Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2009.
- Friedman, Edwin; A Failure of Nerve, Seabury Books, 2007
- Brown, Brene; Dare to Lead, Random House, 2018
- Cultivating a Culture of Discernment by Blair Pogue, Vestry Papers, July 2010
- Vestry #101: Encouraging hearts & souls by Jim Lemler, Vestry Papers, May 2009
- Moving from Purpose to Spirit-Driven Meetings by Richelle Thompson, ECF Vital Practices blog, June 7, 2012
- Adapt or Die by Ken Howard, Vestry Papers, January 2014