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

OK SMARTY go to a party . . .

Written by: on May 9, 2019

This book was a fun one to read.  Being SMART about Congregational Change by Diane Zemke was incredibly applicable to my immediate ministry context and my dissertation research.  For anyone working in a parish setting I would highly recommend this succinct, well researched, and fascinating text.

Zemke, a Gonzaga trained expert in Leadership Studies lays out incredibly useful skills that can be used in an array of ministry settings to wisely analyze your congregation, wisely analyze the way a congregation goes about intentional change, and wisely care for yourself as a congregational leader throughout the ups and downs of the process.  At the end of each chapter Zemke provides two sections, one labeled ‘The Take Away’ which includes a “short review” of each chapter, as well as a second section labeled ‘Taking it Further’ which includes “exercises” designed to help the reader “become smart about enacting change in your congregation, no matter what your congregation is doing and no matter what kind of change you’re pursuing.”[1]

A refreshing voice, Zemke writes about change from a female perspective.  Her anecdotes about less than ideal encounters with male figures in the church are apt for reflection and further discussion, and they stand on their own whether they be a part of the greater text on congregational change or not.  Her section on tempered radicals was riveting, (clearly I found the entire book to be riveting and kept applying her research to my immediate congregation over and over as I read) and their passion, patience, voice and long view I find inspiring.[2]  I also gleaned much wisdom from her chapter on “Wisdom for Women.”[3]  While I was aware of the many challenges women face in leadership, Zemke clearly describes the cultural and historical background of congregational life and the way gender expectations have been wrongly crafted into their framework.

In particular, I appreciate how Zemke reminds us that the work of congregational change is in fact holy and faithful.  Even though it can be challenging, and hard to see where God is active during the change process, Zemke reminds us that, “God is building the church . . . it’s good to remember that before the new can spring forth, the old must die.  God is active in the living and the dying, and the rebuilding of the Church.”[4] Zemke often writes as if she is using coach speak, encouraging her readers to keep up the good fight, faithfully cultivating the people of God to deeper, and healthier, congregational change.

My guess is many of our cohort are interested in some sort of congregational change, whether it be in their own congregation, a congregation they have already left, or as an element of their own research.  Zemke writes one of the easiest and most fun to read books on the topic I have seen.  This has been one of my favorite books of the entire course and I am grateful for its inclusion in our reading list.



[1] Diane Zemke, Being SMART about Congregational Change, (Create Space Independent Publishing 2014), 3.

[2] Zemke, Being SMART, 111.

[3] Zemke, Being SMART, 117.

[4] Zemke, Being SMART, 126.

About the Author

Rev Jacob Bolton

7 responses to “OK SMARTY go to a party . . .”

  1. Mario Hood says:

    Thanks for the great post Jacob! I’m also taking back by the women in leadership issues or lack of voice for women, because I’ve never personally experienced that in life until I came into the church. Growing up with a single mom I saw a strong women and new the power they behold. In the church it seems we look for ways to hinder people rather than help more often than not. not trying to start a deep theological discussion in the comments, but just simply wanted to say I agree with you that the tempered radical section was great and eye opening even for me.

    • Karen Rouggly says:

      Good points, Mario. This area of women in the church is one of the many ways I sometimes believe the Church is just too far behind the times. Once, I heard Rev. Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil speak on this issue that the Church is too busy trying to put new wine into old wineskins. That concept has stuck with me. The Church spends so much time trying to put new concepts into old frameworks, rather than just ditching the old framework and creating something new! Just a thought.

  2. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Thanks so much for your pastor’s heart! I know I always show my bias, but to me, everything comes down to how it is worked out of the local church. The work of congregational change is indeed holy and faithful, as pastors we get to engage with the Holy Spirit in his Church every day. Many blessings my pastor friend!

  3. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Thanks, Jacob. I enjoy it when we are given a resource that we immediately begin applying to our current context and this one was certainly easy to do that with. Her approach to self-care is so important for change agents and easily forgotten. It was a great reminder that we must have a long, patient view of change and self-care makes it possible to stay in the fray.

  4. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Thank you Jacob! I enjoyed this read like you and appreciate your enthusiasm. Change is a part of life – sounds obvious but Zemke did an excellent job of normalizing it while encouraging empathy for those affected by the very real pain of change. Praying for your context as you lead and serve!

  5. Jenn Burnett says:

    I felt the same way reading this Jacob! So easy to read, so quickly applicable, so key to parish leadership. I also LOVED the insight into tempered radicals. I realize that this describes all my closest friends and probably myself (which is an odd place to be as the pastor) and so the self care recommendations were so life giving! I also appreciate you highlighting the section aimed at female change agents. First, thanks for reading it as a man. My experience is often men skip over the bits specific to woman and so continue to misunderstand our experiences. That section put into words so many of my challenges. So what can we, as male and female pastors, do about it? Where do we go from here?

  6. Rhonda Davis says:

    Thanks for your post, Jacob. I also enjoyed this read. It was especially practical, so it was easy to apply it to my context right away. Like others have mentioned, I appreciated Zemke’s care for people on all sides of the necessary change.

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