Skip Navigation

Leadership learning continues for bishops


United Methodist Communications
Office of Public Information

November 4, 2015

Lake Junaluska, N.C.: If you’ve ever resolved to make the future different, only to slide back into an old familiar pattern, you’re not alone.

“We tend to swing like a pendulum between dwelling in the past and getting stuck repeating it over and over again, or we try to become amnesiacs and forget the past and pretend we can make it all up from scratch,” the Rev. Dr. Greg Jones told an assembly of bishops during the third day of their leadership learning retreat.

Jones quoted author Jaroslav Pelikan, who says, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

The alternative, he says, is traditioned innovation. He advises leaders to think about what they want to preserve, as well as what they want to change.

A coral reef

He shared a story about snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, and being overwhelmed with all the new life emerging out of the reef.

“The Wesleyan movement at its best has been a coral reef, where we’ve had intrinsic partnerships for people throughout life, from pre-K all the way until their dying days,” said Jones. “Partnerships across sectors that have hospitals and schools and camps and seminaries all working together to bring about that kind of new life.” 

The opportunities, he says, are still before us but we need to have a way of moving from scarcity to abundance. “Recognizing a mindset of abundance can lead us in even the most under resourced context to discover there are more assets than we imagined,” said Jones.

As an example, he shared the story of a colleague, Maggy Barankitse of Burundi, which is one of the poorest countries in the world. During the Burundi Civil War, she witnessed many friends being killed yet she survived. She began to gather together children whose freedom she bought, then created a community for them called Maison Shalom, which means House of Peace. From there, it grew. More than 30,000 children have come through the community and she has since started new communities in Rwanda and Eastern Congo, because there are children there who need love.

“She built a whole eco-system, a whole coral reef of new life, of recognizing the intrinsic connection of social institutions that develop over time,” said Jones. “She thinks like a social entrepreneur. She’s shaped by the end ... My prayer is that as we stay focused on the end and as we practice traditioned innovation, moving from despair and fear to hope, moving from scarcity to abundance, we too see how, as Maggy so beautifully describes it, ‘love can make us inventors.’”

Adaptive leadership learning

Marty Linsky of Cambridge Leadership continued his work with the bishops on adaptive leadership and case presentations, exploring the three mindsets of adaptive leadership during the Tuesday morning session.

“The first mindset is to focus on the human dynamics of the issue, not on the merits of the issue. One of the things that distinguishes problems that are primarily adaptive in nature is that the merits may be relevant, but they’re never controlling,” said Linsky.

“The subject of diagnosis, the subject of analysis when you are looking at a problem that is adaptive is nature is the human dynamics. Who’s involved? What do they care about? What’s important to them?”

The second is have the courage to be interpretative. Interpretation is essential in doing adaptive work. Be courageous about making interpretations and be willing to challenge assumptions.

Third, think systemically, not individually. One of the things that characterizes adaptive work is that it is typically not about individuals, but about systems. There may be a tendency to gravitate toward individual interpretations, rather than systemic interpretations, but as you’re doing diagnostic work, try to think systemically.

Linsky also offered some tools to help with this diagnosis. He suggests that a beginning point is to try to identify the relevant factions: factions that have a point of view on the issues; factions that may or not have a position on the issue, but have disproportionate power in the system; and affinity groups (people who are loyal to one another independent of the issues).

Once you identify those factions, there are three questions to ask about each faction:  What are their values? What are their loyalties? What are their fears of loss?

Linsky says one of the hardest parts of leading change on difficult issues is that it involves delivering losses. "When you are changing the DNA of a human community, you are leaving some DNA behind in order to make room for some new DNA.”

During the afternoon session, Linsky concluded his presentation with three basic ideas about what distinguishes interventions.

  1. Ask. When you ask someone to do something specific, you test their commitment. You can’t know where the boundary is until you bump into it.
  2. Customize. Approach different factions in different ways; for example, when you preach to a congregation, you are trying to reach a lot of people in a lot of different places. If you were able to reach out to them individually, you could customize your message to where they are.
  3. Experiment. If you ask people to commit to one or two ideas they haven’t tried before just as an experiment, you can learn a lot about what is successful and what isn’t. If you’re venturing into an unknown place, best practices can help; but when you’re inventing something new, the learning community can benefit from testing out a lot of hypotheses whether they work out or not.

Spiritual leadership

Through the day, there were many references to the importance of spiritual leadership. The day ended with worship and Communion, focusing on prayer as part of spiritual leadership. Bishop Young Jin Cho led an extended time of prayer in which all the bishops lifted their prayers for the world, The United Methodist Church, the General Conference and the Council of Bishops. This was interspersed with the singing of “Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.”

The learning retreat will continue through Thursday,


Media contact:
Diane Degnan
615.742.5406 (o) 615.483.1765 (c)