Walking naked into uncertainty
As this first year of our DMin studies concludes, I’m grateful to end with reflections on Robert Quinn’s Deep Change Field Guide as a bridge to moving forward with understanding ministry leadership in our globalized settings. Ministry practitioners such as those of us in this cohort must grapple with a world that is convulsing with change. Old, stagnant models, even current successful models, are already obsolete for tomorrow. Adaptive change and an embrace of fluidity is required, for gospel leadership to have impact in our world and to next generations emerging in our societies.
We resist change. We crave predictability and routine and order. But as Quinn reveals, clinging to the tried-and-true is a sure pathway to irrelevance. The following post highlights ideas from this book which can be applied to our ministry situations, from philanthropy to pastoral care to social work to mission outreach. I’ll apply them to my philanthropy context, but I encourage you to consider how to understand these truths in your ministry environment.
Adapt now, or a slow death will overtake you
Just like every human being on the planet, all organizations are moving towards a slow death. This is a mostly true statement, unless they are moving towards a quick death. Quinn writes: “Slow death is a normal organizational process. Unless work is done to the contrary, organizations move toward rigidity or chaos. To avoid slow death, an organization must move into a state of adaptive order. This order emerges when the people in an organization pursue a vision.”
Large-scale Christian philanthropy must invest its considerable capital into ministry initiatives that enable churches and charities to innovate for tomorrow. Without the infusion of significant capital for visionary change, ministries remain mired in the status quo. Large investments into existing ministry are good, but much better is strategic investment into moving organizations into a place of greater future relevancy for the Gospel.
Don’t fall into the denial trap
In ministry we frequently find ourselves operating within atmospheres that deny the reality of this slow death. We are propelled forward by feel-good marketing slogans: “You can change the world!” and “Your investment is making a difference!” Quinn states, “We often resort to denial when we are presented with painful information about ourselves, especially when the information suggests that we need to make a deep change.”
In 2011, Canadian research by James Penner and Associates surveyed 2,049 millennials. Research revealed:
- Only one in three Canadian young adults who attended church weekly as a child still do so today.
- Of the young adults who no longer attend church, half have also stopped identifying themselves with the Christian tradition in which they were raised.
- There are four primary toxins that keep young people from engaging with the church: Hypocrisy, judgement, exclusivity, failure.
Yet seven years later, there are many organizations in this country that have not adapted their ministry models. Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!) We need to wake up and aggressively adapt.
Leverage through surrender
I am constantly approached by visionaries that have a big idea to fund for their ministry outreach. Frequently, it’s not a unique proposal, and I can count several others attempting the same thing. Similarly, on the philanthropy side, there are often funders who want to unilaterally push an agenda forward without consultation with experienced practitioners. Quinn suggests that: “In the deep change process, we surrender control as it is normally understood…. We join with others in relationships of trust. As we do, we extend that trust to create collective intelligence and capacity.”
This is something I’m trying to do – however imperfectly – with our collaborative giving platform. As Simon Sinek says, “You can’t do it alone. So, don’t pretend you can…. Together is better.” When we surrender the right to be the lead and learn that the leveraged outcomes are more important than our own egos, we are creating a counter-cultural pattern in a world that says the opposite.
Fearlessly start (again) from scratch
Frequently our approach to change is to tweak the edges and buff up the appearance of an old sacred cow. Quinn encourages us to boldly cultivate the opposite, and cites the example of Tom Glocer, Reuters’ man in Brazil.
“By noon of his first day Tom made a fundamental decision. He threw out all his analysis and plans. Instead, he decided to fire all but three people and rebuild the entire organization, even though he had no experience leading such a change.” He journaled: “There was so much urgency. I had no choice. I had to act. If something blew up, it did not matter. Things were so bad there was only one way to go.”
There are very few people walking in enough freedom to start over from scratch. But those courageous enough to do so will find they are able to create a ministry model that is unburdened by past patterns, relationships, and ingrained habits.
For those of us in ministry, the question is: “Is this not faith?” Tom’s approach reminds me of:
- Abram, who walked out of Ur of the Chaldeans, never to return, yet who founded a new people belonging to God.
- Esther, who ignored royal protocol and the threat of death hanging over her impudence, and appealed to the king for her people.
- Peter, who had the courage to step outside the boat abandoning firmness and certainty, and onto the possibilities of a liquid surface.
Like these risktakers, it is when we adopt a posture of “walking naked into uncertainty” that we will embody faith and create opportunities for God’s Spirit to move though our humble efforts as we pursue adaptive change. I pray each of you will be renewed this summer as you prepare yourselves for a new year of study and growth ahead.
 Robert E. Quinn, The Deep Change Field Guide: A Personal Course to Discovering the Leader Within, 2nd Edition (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012), 113.
 Quinn, 29.
 Hemorrhaging Faith Website, Accessed June 28, 2018, http://hemorrhagingfaith.com/.
 Quinn, 9.
 Simon Sinek, Together Is Better: A Little Book of Inspiration (New York: Portfolio, 2016), 62, 65.
 Quinn, 150.
 Quinn, 150.
 Genesis 11:31.
 Esther 5:1.
 Matthew 14:28.
4 responses to “Walking naked into uncertainty”
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While I “hear you” when you cite Quinn saying that clinging to the tried-and -true is a sure pathway to irrelevance, I must look deeper into your analysis and context before deciding to agree or disagree with you.
First, Quinn is not writing to ministry leaders directly and he has little Biblical basis personally and none listed in his narratives for his transformational principles or conclusions. I do not drink the Kool-Aid just because it is free.
I like your land of Ur remarks because that is where I am presently serving.
Sorry I do not agree with Quinn. While I get you and where your remarks on Quinn are coming from in Christian philanthropy, I have tried-and-true Biblical leadership principles and pathways that will always be relevant to me. Hope to see you in HK!
Wow, your revealing stats, including this one, “There are four primary toxins that keep young people from engaging with the church: Hypocrisy, judgement, exclusivity, failure.”
Yep. We need deep change! Thanks for your analysis and also for all your good writing this year. You are so talented and a blessing to our Cohort.
No criticism of your writing from me. Just appreciation. And we will talk to you more this Fall…
There is so much about your project that interests me, and I can’t wait to see you thi fall so that I can hear more about what you are learning and doing.
I love how you and Jay focused on the naked concept (I wonder what that means 🙂 ) Excellent post as always, you seem to really have a way with words and I enjoy reading your posts. I need to say thank you for the following closing to your blog: “Like these risktakers, it is when we adopt a posture of “walking naked into uncertainty” that we will embody faith and create opportunities for God’s Spirit to move through our humble efforts as we pursue adaptive change. I pray each of you will be renewed this summer as you prepare yourselves for a new year of study and growth ahead.”