I want to live in a different world. I long for the world that would have been if Adam had said to Eve “Oh, honey—let’s not listen to that snake in the grass. After all, God has shown himself to be completely trustworthy.” Or even if his theological discernment was a little off that day, couldn’t he at least have said “Honey, step aside while I make you some snake skinned cowgirl boots.”?
Unfortunately, Genesis 3 records the silence of Adam. So much for his leadership—what we have instead is Adam and Eve hiding from God, blaming each other, and finally blaming the snake. We have all inherited a fallen state resulting in “hiding and hurting”—broken relationships and a loss of trust. We live in a world where those conditions are woven into the fabric of society. Charlene Li’s excellent book on Open Leadership acknowledges this reality and addresses it in some practical ways; her ideology works because mankind longs for the restoration of openness based on trust. But as we know, complete openness based on trust was last seen in that garden.
It seems to be that the lack of openness in our world is fundamentally a theological issue with social implications; if that’s true, shouldn’t the local church lead in being an example—a paragon of openness and trust? Clearly that’s not the case.
So let’s look at three ideas from her book and apply them a typical local church and see where that leads us. Her first idea is Creating buy-in. Her point is that sharing information creates trust and the more information, especially objective information rather than subjective, promotes more trust. I’ve seen this in the way people speculate about church leadership. There can be mystery to decision-making processes in the church, which creates misunderstanding that leads to speculation. The solution, of course, is an open conversation about governance, including an overview of the roles and responsibilities of various church positions. When the shroud of mystery is removed, buy-in and support are enhanced.
Li provides examples of open leadership making use of social technology. Blogging, for example, can be a great way to engage a broader community; Paul Levy, CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, was her example. I think weekly blogging would be a great practice for a pastor, a mechanism to share ideas and actions. A pastor who shares about the latest board or staff meeting, the newest initiative, the recent effort to bless the city, the new sermon series, would be creating trust via openness. It would also help create a culture in which openness and sharing are expected. A great feature of blogging is that the communication can be two-way. What pastor wouldn’t appreciate some timely feedback on new church initiatives, classes, and perhaps sermons. This kind of blogging could also encourage greater participation in the actions and ideas being discussed.
Third, imagine encouraging a more grass roots involvement in the life and direction of the church. Our church, for example, annually asks ministry leaders, deacons, and elders to write reports. And while that’s better than nothing, I think we can do better. What if we reported continuously? What if we could encourage a more bottom-up reporting process? Li gave the example of the CNN’s iReport.com that gives ordinary citizens the opportunity to be the reporter. They produce their own news reports. CNN sorts through them and shares the best on their website – an inexpensive way to open up a new channel of reporting and a way to engage and broaden their audience. Why couldn’t the church do something similar? Could millennials, who often feel disconnected from church, use social media as a way to report their walk with God, their service in the community, and their fellowship in the church? Wouldn’t church leadership be able to lead more effectively if they could get such a steady stream of life experience?
I really enjoyed Open Leadership by Charlene Li; it contains many lessons for us in the church. The author Ms. Li advocates for creating trust based on openness of the leadership. That seems like great advice that could contribute to the flourishing of God’s kingdom here one earth.
 Charlene Li, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010), 25.
 Ibid. 26,
 Ibid. 31-32