DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Embrace

Written by: on January 11, 2021

Around the world, one can find proverbs and idioms that effectively speak the same message:

  • “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”
  • “The first bird that leaves the nest gets shot.”
  • “Don’t go against the grain”
  • “The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”

The primary message: Don’t stand out or push against the status quo.  Accept your place, don’t challenge the authorities, and mind your own business.  …and if someone does stand out and faces the consequences, then take advantage of their “foolishness”.

Living in Hong Kong, the first thing I noticed was the top down hierarchy of power here.  In the workplace, one doesn’t simply approach the head boss.  You have to go through the proper channels and eventually – maybe – you’ll get your audience with the king.[1]  Even when problems are blatantly apparent, no one is willing to stand out and say, “This needs to be improved.”  And if you do, you become the center of gossip while also becoming Public Enemy #1.  As such…nothing ever really changes unless there is direct order from the top.  And even then…

Throughout An Everyone Culture, Kegan and Lahey chronicle a group of Deliberatively Developmental Organizations (DDOs) and their unique culture of building people up.  In these DDOs, there is a culture of growth.  The typical stagnation of remaining in the same position and keeping your head down is thrown out completely in favor of creating a holistic environment that embraces vulnerability, creativity, and the privilege of failure.

We’re often afraid to make a change because we’re afraid of failure.  We’re afraid to fail because failure makes us vulnerable.  Vulnerability entails discomfort, so we refuse to challenge that which makes us comfortable.  However, we can’t grow unless we fail.  But we also can’t fail unless we try.  Yet we don’t try because that would mean sticking our neck out – not just for ourselves, but for others as well.

One of the key questions Kegan and Lahey raise is, “What if we created an environment where it was okay to fail and make mistakes?”  I echo the question as I reflect on how this would change not just the way we approach ministry, but how we approach our relationship with God.

Creating an “everyone culture” isn’t just about creating an inclusive environment that allows an organization to flourish, but it is about creating the space for grace to live abundantly in our midst.  In John Lynch, Bruce McNicol and Bill Thrall’s book The Cure, they pose a similar question.[2]  They use the analogy of living in the “Room of Grace” where the masks we keep on for the sake of ourselves is allowed to come off for the first time.  It is a place where we can look at one another say, “You may have messed up, but I love you regardless.”  It is a place where genuine healing and growth can happen as we walk alongside the One who brings Life.

It is a place where there is no barrier – a place where “that giant mound of rotted cat food and mayonnaise” no longer stands between us and God, between us and those around us.[3]  It is a place of freedom, a Kingdom turned upside down.

What if this was our lived reality and not a compartmentalized life that shuts and locks the ugly away?  What if creating an “everyone culture” extended beyond organizations and into our relationships?

What if we took off the mask?  What if we embraced our vulnerability?  What if we learned to truly fail? …and rise stronger than before.

 

[1] Refer back to The Culture Map and the chapter on power dynamics.

 [2] John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, & Bill Thrall, The Cure (Trueface: Phoenix, 2011).

[3] Ibid., 25.

About the Author

mm

Dylan Branson

Small town Kentuckian living and learning in the big city of Hong Kong.

15 responses to “Embrace”

  1. mm Jer Swigart says:

    I read you, Dylan, and it causes me to wonder about how desperately the church needs to become an “everyone culture.” In my view, the cliches offered in the opening lines of your post are as true inside the church as they are outside the church. What are the primary factors that you think contribute to this? Based on your reading this week, what is one practice that would begin the tectonic shifts necessary in order for the church to become an “everyone culture?”

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      The cardboard answer is likely complacency. But I think it’s deeper in that it’s a sense of identity we’ve attached to the church. In part it’s a disempowerment of the “priesthood of all believers” to a top down model where the lead pastor or board of elders or whoever it is dictates what the church is supposed to be. The church itself ends up being a reflection of its leadership. For example, in my church in HK, there’s a marked difference in theology and understanding of what church is depending on who the pastor is (it’s non-denominational, so there’s flexibility in that to an extent). But what if instead of this top down leadership model, it was turned upside down? Where vision comes through the collective people as the Spirit moves through the body rather than just one person?

      My small group always talks about the power of vulnerability as a way to change our culture. It’s hard, but when I helped to lead my group through The Cure (the book mentioned above), it provided a common language and means that challenged a lot of our base assumptions on what following Jesus looks like. So vulnerability and the humility to relinquish control are two that I think would help start that shift.

      • mm Darcy Hansen says:

        My question was similar to Jer’s- so I’ll jump in here. In cultures/churches where top down leadership reigns with certainty and control, is it possible to move toward vulnerability and humility? Having common language is key, as you found in your book group, but does that translate on a greater scale without senior leadership support and a willingness to go against cultural norms? In your identity studies, have you come across communities that have successfully redefined themselves, and if so, how did they do that?

        • mm Dylan Branson says:

          I think that Bonhoeffer’s initial foray into youth ministry and later on with the secret seminaries in Zingst and Finkenwalde show how a leader’s influence can change the established culture in areas. Metaxas talks about Bonhoeffer’s affect on the culture of a group of unruly German boys in Sunday school and how that group drove away many of their former teachers. But there was something about Bonhoeffer’s presence that turned that upside down and reestablished the identity they had. Maybe this comes from being a well-differentiated leader in many ways.

          But there also need to be a desire for change. Last spring at my church’s annual meeting was the first time I came away from their church chat with a sense of hope that they wanted change. They recognized the need and the problems they were facing and expressed a genuine desire to change the narrative. …then covid hit and everything went into lockdown. So in part, how do we also ride the waves of change even when the momentum is halted?

      • mm Jer Swigart says:

        I’m interested in this idea of becoming (and shaping) leaders that believe that vision and direction is offered by the Spirit from within the community. What liberating idea for contemporary pastors to recognize that their role is not to lead with certainty…but with curiosity, wonder, and invitation.

        • mm Dylan Branson says:

          Agreed. A big part of this is showing the congregation that God speaks to them as well, not just the pastor/leadership team. It reminds me of a phrase that a deacon at my Kentucky church used to tell me growing up: “God calls, and the church confirms.” When we keep “calling” or “vision” locked away in the upper echelons of leadership without giving the church a way to engage with it, we’re effectively disempowering them to listen to the Spirit.

  2. mm Greg Reich says:

    Dylan,
    I appreciated your statement “Creating an “everyone culture” isn’t just about creating an inclusive environment that allows an organization to flourish, but it is about creating the space for grace to live abundantly in our midst.” It says more about the soul of an organization than it does about its hierarchal approach to leadership. Every ship needs a captain and every organization needs a leader. But not every hierarchy has a be place of common accountability and transparency. There will always be a need to some level of hierarchy but when it is linked to a place of grace where every voice matters and all levels are held accountable people can flourish. I appreciated the books clear expression that there is no perfect formula in becoming a DDO. The format that works for one organization may not work with another. I wish they would have given an example of a multi-generational company showing each generations take on the process. How do you think the 4 generations currently represented in todays work force would differ in their response to a DDO?

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      I think there would be mixed reviews on it, to be honest. At the core, I think there’s a desire to learn and grow, but to what extent and capacity is what would differ. There’s a phrase here in Hong Kong where we say something is “too ma fan” — too much trouble. When we’ve become set in our ways and set in stone, it’s hard to break out of that mindset. So the person who has worked for 40 years doing one thing may not be as inclined to change because it’s upsetting their established position and identity. Of course, it may also be that they’re looking for change. Maybe in a lot of ways, it’s an individual calling or desire.

      What do you think?

  3. mm Greg Reich says:

    Dylan,
    Each generation has it’s view of work and the culture around work. Millennial are really the first team reliant generation with high expectations on what a work environment and culture should look like. Generations prior to the Millennials stayed in jobs for a long time and were more concerned about income than culture. Millennials will pass up a higher paying job if it doesn’t suit their expectations. I think pre- millennials word struggle in a DDO environment. I wonder how the frailty of America’s youth would play into a DDO?

  4. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    I, too, keyed in on the necessary foundation for handling failure. My friend says, “Failure should be our friend. It just shouldn’t’ be our only friend.” You mentioned several emotions – fear, discomfort, vulnerability. What input would you give to someone trying to shepherd the emotional journey of organizational change?

    • mm Dylan Branson says:

      It may sound a bit simplistic, but the input I would give is that there’s going to be trial and error. People are going to resist – and that’s okay. It’s going to require a lot of patience and consistency, but when you’re working to dismantle/change a narrative that’s entrenched in the way we think as a collective whole, it’s going to be an uphill battle.

      To echo the words of the mighty Treebeard, “Don’t be hasty.” 😉

  5. mm John McLarty says:

    Your post reminded me of “Jerry Maquire” and how his “mission statement” to his fellow sports agents was admired by the guy doing the printing, but initially made him a pariah in his field. His more-personal approach finally bore some fruit by the end of the movie, but he didn’t really change the industry. Maybe that’s the starting point, to be (and invite others to be) authentic and whole and unafraid to step into the unknown, knowing all the while the risks of being so bold.

  6. mm Chris Pollock says:

    Dylan, awesome.

    Tough to walk on eggshells and to be so concerned about making mistakes. Sweet to be in a space of acceptance, where ‘all the ugly’ can be appreciated with a vision for opportunity.

    Fear of rejection can keep us all closed in. So careful, knowing our individual capacity. Yet, it is just beyond where opportunity and growth and development have potential!

    In the midst of grace, being in a DDO kind-of-community.

    What do you think about the connection between the fear of failure and the fear of rejection? And, what could it mean to venture into the land of ‘accepting rejection’?

    I wonder about being in place where there is no reason to fight, nor reason to be afraid, anymore.

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