Working (in church) without fear

“To internalize the transformational paradigm, the leader must become free of the organization’s most powerful expectations, see it from a self-authorized perspective, and still care enough to be willing to be punished for doing whatever it takes to save the organization.”

—Robert E. Quinn, Deep Change, p. 127

I’ve been living with this quote for several days now. At first, it intrigued me. Now, it nags at me. I hope it doesn’t end up haunting me.

I first read Deep Change three years ago, at the insistence of my friend John Crawford. What I thought was a business book turned out to be more spiritual than any church leadership book I’d read to that point. I took notes and made applications to my own life. When some of our conference leadership started reading it, I applauded, even though I wasn’t sure they quite got the point of the book.

And now, with the United Methodist General Conference and the kickoff of the ARUMC appointment season looming ahead, Quinn is back in my head.

For United Methodist pastors, this is a season of fear—much of it legitimate. The bishop has the power to appoint us anywhere he or she likes, and for any reason. Even though the appointive process is usually a bit more compassionate in reality than it looks on paper, it still leaves us vulnerable.

Add to that the unfair accusations of fear that get thrown our way. Change, we are told, is always uncomfortable. If we speak out in favor of a different vision than the one set forth by upper management, we are labeled as foes of progress, afraid of the future. We get pressure to get in step. We doubt ourselves, or we wall ourselves off. Either way, we give up far too easily.

But what would we do if we decided to live without fear? What if we remade the church from within without worrying about how we might be punished by an institution desperately trying to preserve itself?

If there is any hope for the United Methodist Church going forward, it rests in those of us who are willing to give our lives to the service of God and neighbor without worrying about the professional costs. Perhaps by refusing to play the political games that define our bureaucracy, we will get “called on the carpet.” Believe me, I’ve been there. And I’ll be there again, I’m sure.

But if we truly love our church, we cannot give up. We have to resist the pressure to bend to her neuroses. We have to lovingly but firmly defy the institutional lunacy she harbors.

We have to do it patiently. We have to do it gently. We have to do it together.

We. Can. Not. Give. Up.




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