Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Either/and thinking

Written by: on September 15, 2015

If I could open up a window into our church’s leadership meetings you would find that much of what we discuss, wrestle with, and act upon is about who we are, where we’re going, and how we get there. Without diving too deeply into our weeds, we’ve found ourselves continually having to rediscover our identity, clarify our mission, and unpack our willingness to act upon it.

I compare the status of our church to an anonymous quote: “The safest place for ships is in the harbor but that’s not why ships were built.”[1] As leaders we’ve found that we were at the helm of a ship that had spent much of its time in the proverbial harbor—an occasional jaunt along the coastline of “mission,” but nothing too risky. It’s as though we had become stuck in the harbor (perhaps too strongly stated); we’re a risk-averse community. Edwin Friedman may be speaking to one of the fundamental reasons we’re often stuck when he writes: “Conceptually stuck systems cannot become unstuck simply by trying harder. For a fundamental reorientation to occur, that spirit of adventure which optimizes serendipity and which enables new perceptions beyond the control of our thinking process must happen first.”[2]

“Stuck,” “Risk-averse,” “imaginatively grid-locked,”—some of the words Friedman uses describe well where our church and the majority of evangelical churches find themselves. “Plateaued” is a word often used for such churches, and crude because its focus is on numeric growth. But in reality, it’s a holistic issue, an issue that must include numeric growth but also emotional processes, spiritual health, and especially leadership. The problem with leadership (and yes I’m pointing at myself) is that we’re in the thick of it. Friedman rightly argues, “In order to imagine the unimaginable, people must be able to separate themselves from surrounding emotional processes before they can even begin to see (or hear) things differently.[3] So to lead our church we have to “separate ourselves from the emotional processes”—easier said than done. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. When the church is hurting, I’m hurting; I feel the ups and downs deeply which negatively impacts my leadership. Thankfully, I don’t lead alone.

For example, inspired by our recent read of “Good to great,” I decided to ask some brutally honest questions of my fellow Elders.[4] In the last couple years we’d seen the loss of several community groups but a corresponding rise of “equipping” classes. I wanted to know why the community groups died off.  Why are equipping opportunities more popular? Some reasons were obvious: popular equipping classes met felt needs, didn’t require long term commitments (from the participants or the leaders), provided an easy measure of fellowship, and were generally flexible in venue and timing. As we went deeper into the issue, I began to feel unsettled. I recognized my part in emphasizing various spiritual formation classes/seminars corresponded with the decline of community groups—community is something I had always been passionate about—so what happened? Some of this may be related to our passions and gifts as leaders!

During this past year or so we’ve also been wrestling with our approach to outreach; at my encouragement we’re preparing to offer Alpha groups as a program of the church. As I was asking “why have the community groups died off?” one of our Elders said the question needed to be reframed. He intuitively knew what Friedman points out: “In the search for the solution to any problem, questions are always more important than answers because the way one frames the question, or the problem, already predetermines the range of answers one can conceive in response.[5] As the Elder kindly probed further, I recognized the issue wasn’t the relative strength and/or weakness of our community groups or equipping classes—a better question would have been “Why have my passions and vision shifted from traditional shepherding and teaching in favor of evangelism and movement of our people as ministers of the gospel?”

Friedman says “Innovations are new answers to old questions; paradigm shifts reframe the question.”[6] I appreciate my Elders who helped me reframe the question. It’s not about community groups vs. equipping classes. It’s about having the courage and taking the risk to sail this ship out of the harbor. It’s not the either/or thinking of “community” vs. “equipping” vs. “outreach.” It’s about the either/and thinking: it’s the faith that allows me to admit my personal limitations and simultaneously trust God who can transcend our limitations. He can show us how we do all three.


[1] Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York: SEABURY BOOKS, 2007), 29.

[2] Ibid., 32.

[3] Ibid., 31.

[4] Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap–and Others Don’t (New York, NY: Harper Business, 2001), 80-87.

[5] Edwin H. Friedman, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York: SEABURY BOOKS, 2007), 37.

[6] Ibid.,

About the Author

Dave Young

husband, dad, friend, student of culture and a pastor.

8 responses to “Either/and thinking”

  1. Jon Spellman says:

    Dave, good words man. I wonder how far out the organizational circles we can press this? I mean in the local church, where there is a pastor and relatively small group of leaders, the ability to make bold, risky decisions is in their hands. But in an organization (say a national denomination) how much power does a local leader have to saying “LET’S GO BOLDLY FORWARD!” when the organizational power-center says “ummm, I think the issue of ascending liability would demand that you temper your enthusiasm.” Careful, well-thought out, “strategic” activity with minimal risk is demanded and the bold leaders are stymied oftentimes.

    What do we do with that?


    • Dave Young says:

      Jon, Our new president, John Stumbo, is a bold leader. He has made a strong powerful influence. But it’s mostly with the communication of vision and mission. He’s helping churches remember their missional DNA. However he’s not messing around too much with the organization it self. The systems and programs. I think he’s going to be very effective at reenergizing the denomination, but infrastructure will largely remain the same.

  2. Nick Martineau says:

    Thanks Dave…It’s really tough to “separate ourselves from the emotional processes.” I think it’s necessary at times and then sometimes I wonder. Our emotions often speak to the heart level issues but our emotions can also confuse somethings. It sounds like you surrounded yourself with good people and had an elder ask some good questions that hit you at the heart and cleared things up. That’s a really gift. And it required your emotions to be a part of the process. So keep wearing your heart on your sleeve. I think that’s a good thing.

  3. Phillip Struckmeyer says:

    Dave, Sounds like a level five leader writing here! ” It’s about the either/and thinking: it’s the faith that allows me to admit my personal limitations and simultaneously trust God who can transcend our limitations. He can show us how we do all three.” That is some deep reflection and some personal vulnerability that is striving for strong organizational outcomes. Do you feel like your elders see that side of it? Do they see a culture shift being created? Or was it better questions for the sake of better answers to work harder and harder at things that will ultimately not produce the culture change you are leading towards??? Great post! Great thinking!

  4. Dawnel Volzke says:


    Your post and the posts from others this week makes me want to cheer…I’m proud to be included in this group of phenomenal leaders! You are right – we need some captains that aren’t afraid to take the ship to sea. Too many denominations are stuck in harbors, broken down, and sinking into the mud. The put their pastors and workers in leaky life boats and send them to sea without any provisions or support. They allow politics and money to steal the sense of mission, purpose, and adventure that the Lord gives us.

    Do you think that struggling denominations will die out if they don’t take drastic measures? I say this because I see decay and death in so many churches and universities. Fortunately, this isn’t everywhere. There are some strong leaders rising and standing strong to challenges that come along. (see OKWU’s stance with the CCCU – Dr. Piper is one of these leaders!) Are there enough denominational leaders who are listening and are willing to take action? Will they put money and change behind intentions? Or, is it best to let these denominations go under, and to focus on raising up new and innovative ways to do ministry? I’ve seen some denominations try projects or ministry efforts on smaller scales, but often the organizational bad stuff eventually weighs down these smaller effort’s innovation and success. I’m interested to see where the Lord takes the church in the next 5-10 years.

    • Dave Young says:

      Dawnel, thanks for your gracious words and your passion. Very stirring. I too see a lot of decay and death in churches and denominations. Over the last century infrastructure has been built that might not be needed for this century but our denominational leaders can act as thought we’re stuck with the system we got. Oh, I have an example that I can share with you from this last week – but frankly I can’t put it in a post. I’ll share it with you in HK. Suffice to say denominations may need to leave a lot of yesterday’s infrastructure for today’s reality.

  5. Travis Biglow says:

    Good analogy Dave about the ships in the harbor where it is safe. I am trying to move out of the harbor because as you said a ship was made to sail not sit in the harbor. Denominational structures have become so attractional that it is common place to not leave the harbor (the church building) when we should be out doing what Christ gave us to do. True enough the church is important too. But staying safe is not going to get most attractional churches out of the rut! Blessing brother see you in Hong Kong!

  6. Mary Pandiani says:

    As you continue on the journey as pastor of your church, your words reflect how God is not only changing and working within you but how the Spirit is impacting your congregation. It’s exciting to see the courage and wisdom with which you speak as you lead your elders and others. I love the highlights you make on the hard questions and thinking imaginatively. Both of those postures put us, as leaders, in a place of dependence…we don’t know what’s around the corner, and that’s the exciting part. May God continue to enrich your church as he enriches you.

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