Saturday, May 10, 2014

Owl Sight: Smart Love And Witness Data (Part 1 of my Book Notes)

Change is the only constant, I learned from one of my management (Organizational Theory) classes when I was a graduate student. Competence in change is a characteristic of successful organizations and libraries, I like to think, fall into this group. There were certainly many great shifts in libraries during the 26 years (1980-2006) I was in the field: Electronic resources, for example, became predominant in libraries and the organization of digital and traditional libraries was no longer based on philosophical or pragmatic systems of classification but included social and semantic technologies such as metadata among other things. The identity crisis exacerbated by the computer revolution and fast growing new information and communication technologies had led, in the 1970s, to many accredited graduate library schools closing their doors. Surviving schools quickly transformed themselves. Thus, from 1980 through 2010 jobs in technical librarianship (cataloging and systems) and tenure-track faculty positions in the library schools (I-schools, Information schools as some re-branded themselves) continued to exceed the number of applicants. However, the first ten years of the 21st century saw a further dwindling of public support for libraries and by 2010 ~10,000 libraries, mostly public libraries and in impoverished school districts, closed. And, not all librarians, library faculty or the users of libraries willingly embraced the changes needed to survive, and make libraries relevant to people. Almost every library in which I worked had a lot of conflict and unhappy, dissatisfied nay-sayers. Therefore, when I began to volunteer in my church, I was not surprised to hear the "Everything is changing, I hate change" lament.

What surprised me though was the high level of busyness, burnout, conflict, and dissatisfaction present among the leadership and the low energy of the majority of church goers. The church - filled with "new creations" in Jesus' image, joy and peace, one of the most important faith communities of Christ's followers - should surely be different but the Pareto Principle (or 80:20 rule) seemed to hold true here too. [A short note about Pareto's rule: Economist Pareto originally noted that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the people. Hence known as Vital Few, Trivial Many Rule or 80% of effects comes from 20% causes. Examples: 80% of a teacher's time is taken up by 20% of the students; 80% of complaints are about the same 20% products/services; 80% of the work in any organization is done by 20% of the people; 80% of donations are usually by 20% of the donors. In libraries some have used a special variation rule of 20-20-60 to understand and target fundraising, promotions, publicity, and communication efforts. 20% are library supporters, 20% are not supporters, 60% are prospects, interested but yet to be convinced. Perhaps churches and denominations are like this too.]. Then, after a nice long honeymoon period of about 5 years, I began to experience some of the busyness and dissatisfaction myself.

The Holy Spirit helped me discern a disquieting pattern in my lay ministry volunteering; after a few years of service, in each area of ministry in which I engaged, I would leave the group. At times it was the right thing to do but sometimes I left because of the spirit of competitiveness and conflict that I sensed was present. Still, I never felt called to find a new church home like so many of my friends did.

God continued to be faithful. It was truly heaven-sent (isn't that the story of our lives?) when I started to volunteer at my presbytery. Since then, I've been learning much and become deeply satisfied and happy once again. My faith which had started to stagnate was increasing. My own confidence and morale are up and I am being filled with more gratitude, love, hope, and joy. Presbytery service has helped me connect with people from different walks of life and given me treasured experiences in the larger family of God. Worshiping our awesome God, in other presbytery churches, with music and song that draws from diverse Christian traditions not just Western European cultures fuels my adoration. Presbytery team work and conversations stretch me but I am finally learning to deal with conflict in Jesus-honoring ways. I am being taught and mentored, in the words of my favorite songs, to "hear the melodies of peace" and "mercy my heart now to sing." I have regained my confidence and been reassured that I too have something to contribute to Jesus' Kingdom through the church to which he brought me; God is showing me, yet again, that in his economy nothing is wasted. My concerns about the extreme busyness, those who are dissatisfied with their church experiences or are less than engaged about their discipleship remained. They surfaced most especially when I visit the non-denominational churches of friends/family. I admire their passion and joy. I realize that my visits only glimpse the surface but local churches should be powerful witnessing forces, unshakeable communities of joy and peace, making Jesus visible to our world. So what is wrong with denominational churches? Recently, thanks to Associate Presbyter Tom Cramer, I started reading Owl Sight: Evidence-Based Discernment And The Promise Of Organizational Intelligence for Ministry.Incidentally, Tom is another pastor whose sermons remind me of what Marilynne Robinson once said: "a good sermon should be heard as one side of a passionate conversation." His sermons and writings set my imagination free (I've explained another aspect of this from my Pr. Scott's sermon "Abiding in the Shadow of the Almighty" a year and a half ago).

Editorial Note: Words and letters in square brackets below are my additions as is underlining which I've added for emphasis. Crabtree is a Presbyterian minister who has also written other books (see references below) to help denominational congregations live into their mission in the world.

In Owl Sight Crabtree defines "Evidence-based discernment for ministry [a]s a process of discovery that integrates organizational intelligence, core values, and an inspired imagination produces a synergy through which each [pastor and congregation] enriches and empowers the other two. Well, core values and inspired imagination are pretty standard rhetoric for empowerment. Organizational intelligence (OI) though is new. And, what about the idea of synergy produced between congregation and pastor? Does this synergy mean that each member of the congregation has a responsibility that goes beyond monetary giving and prayers. Synergy such as the kind I enjoyed most while teaching and doing collaborative research depended on consistent and clear communication. When I looked up OI, it took me back to University class discussions about knowledge management and knowledge structures. Synergy and serendipity were two of my favorite principles. I was intrigued.

Crabtree argues that often "organizational intelligence is the missing third strand of the braid that is needed to hold core values and an inspired imagination in a union that offers the real possibility of fruitfulness." p. 24. Philippians 1: 9-10 is his scriptural basis for organizational intelligence: And, this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best. Paul sees knowledge and insight as the conditions for love to abound. Crabtree calls this "smart love." Smart love is what we expect and (should) get from our doctors and pharmacist when our body is sick. We should expect no less from our Christian leaders who care for our souls. Crabtree includes all leaders in the church  - lay and clergy - elders, deacons, teachers, facilitators, coordinators and others as well as the pastor.  Smart love is a gift, the family of Christ, the priesthood of believers offer to each other. So I have some related questions here to explore about the modeling of Christian soul care and the practice of smart love but I don't want to get side-tracked. Let's save that for a later time.

Crabtree offers "witness data," that is data from the witnesses (those who come and engage with church) as a way to gather and assess organizational intelligence. I am posting the excerpt from the book which describes witness data through a series of hard-hitting, thoughtful questions. As you read them, try answering the questions with regard to your own individual church experience (s).

"Witness data focuses on PEAS: the perspectives, experiences, and aspirations of members. Member perspectives help leaders gain clarity on how people are gauging the climate of the church. Is this a place where a new person coming in can make a difference, or is the decision-making process locked up by the same small group of people? Is the church open to people from many different walks of life or does it unintentionally cater to a thin slice of the souls in the community? Does this church engage people in the practice of ministry, or does it tend toward a stadium mentality where people in the stands spend most of their time watching (and often critiquing) a few professionals on the field? 

Witness data also opens a window into the quality of experience members are having in the church. Do members experience the church as a people of energy and purpose, or does it feel like they are simply going through the motions? Is their experience of the church giving new meaning to their lives, or does it leave them feeling stagnant and stuck? Does their experience of the church disturb them because conflict levels are so high, or are they developing skills to deal with conflict through mutual effort? Do they experience worship as engaging and inspiring or rote and routine?

Finally, witness data includes the aspirations of members.. Aspirations are often the most invisible parts of the soul, because hope is always accompanied by the risk of disappointment or the sting of disapproval. It is for this reason that the aspirations of a people make up one of the most important aspects of witness data. Where do members feel that additional energy should be invested . . . or not? Is the church mining the gifts and passions of its members and shaping the organizational structure? Do members have something to give the church but don't know how to give it? Is the church in tune with what members are trying to accomplish in their lives, or is it simply giving them more work to do?

These questions resonated with me and my answers last week shed light on my expectations and experiences with my church. I also asked a friend from my church, who happened to visit on other business, some of the questions. Here are his responses: He is 100 % happy, 90% satisfied, but even though he is one of the leaders, he has no time to engage with new people in our church or beyond the groups in which he interacts. He is extremely busy. Finally, only 10% of the people in our church engage with energy and purpose, according to him. Crabtree's phrase "engage with energy and purpose" does not mean that everybody or even the majority in the church must be volunteering in lay ministry; it simply means not going through the motions (pew-sitters?). It is about keeping the big picture in mind. We are created for good works which God has prepared for us since the beginning. We are Jesus' hands and feet whether we volunteer our services in church or work in our respective vocations as attorney, doctor, teacher, stay-at-home wife/mom, and interact in different roles and relationships as father, sister, friend, boss, customer, client, etc.. The 10% number, according to Crabtree indicates a "church in trouble."

On the other hand, Tom, who visited my church world mission and local outreach team recently, referred to us as a "transformational church." I agree with Tom and my friend. Can a church be both transformational and in trouble at the same time? Crabtree notes that this is the dilemma church leaders often face and why the usual assessments (focus groups, written surveys, and the like) are notoriously poor in painting reality completely. Collecting witness data - qualitative rather than quantitative count (attendance) data - and mining the narratives of perspectives, experiences, and aspirations from the people in the local church provides the best evidence for gauging the health and vitality of a church. As any researcher knows, collecting data is one thing but categorizing it and then fitting it together as supporting evidence for solving the problem is another challenge. Reporting it so successful changes can be made is the final piece of the puzzle. This is why I think my church is transformational (some engaged people are providing the energy) and also in trouble (majority are not engaged mostly because we don't know how to use their gifts and keep thinking in traditional ways and having the same old expectations). We also don't capture from a wider variety of people in the church nor do we disseminate our communications effectively. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the book and understanding Crabtree's categorizations and scientific use of qualitative data.

Give the questions a try and let me know what you find. I hope to share more about Owl Sight in future posts. I started this post by noting that in the material world, change is the only constant. I will close with the reassurance about our spiritual realities that has inspired saints over the last 2000 years to ever greater devotion and a visible living out of their faith. Jesus Christ the same, yesterday, today, and forever. Hebrews 13: 8. Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!

About the Photo: The Owl and the Pussycat hang on our front porch welcoming guests to our home. I have the owl because it is a popular symbol of ancient libraries, signifying knowledge. The reason for the pussycat is simpler. My husband (and now all of us too) loves cats. Hanging the two together was a bit of a whim because we enjoy nonsensical literature and poems such as Edward Lear's The Owl and the Pussycat.

References: J. Russell Crabtree. Owl Sight: Evidence-Based Discernment And The Promise Of Organizational Intelligence for Ministry. Columbus, Ohio: Holy Cow Consulting, 2012. 232 pages. Available formats: Pdf and print from Holy Cow Consulting. They are available for purchase from Holy Cow. His other book, The Fly in the Ointment: Why Denominations Aren't Helping Their Congregations and How They Can is also recommended.

Libraries in Crisis at the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/libraries-in-crisis/ and the American Library Association's State of American Libraries Report. Libraries are transforming themselves to meet the needs of our society. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/ala-releases-2014-state-of-americas-libraries-report-255108311.html


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