For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘anthony robinson

Changing the Conversation: A Third Way for Congregations by Anthony B. Robinson, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008, 199 pp.

Changing the conversationAnthony Robinson is among my favorite authors when it comes to explaining the changes facing the world, articulating their impact on the church, and raising the questions that we all need to contemplate in response. In this book, he takes it farther, drawing some conclusions about what mainline congregations need to do to engage with this new era. In Transforming Congregational Culture (one of my favorite guides for leading change in the church), Robinson makes the case for why change is necessary and hints at the kinds of changes that will be required. Changing the Conversation is a tool to help congregations launch the conversations that will engage the work of transformation.

The premise implied in the title is that congregations have been having conversations for the last few decades about whether they are liberal or conservative in their politics, traditional or contemporary in their worship style, emergent or established in their way of life. Robinson labels these conversations ubiquitous, unhelpful and even destructive. (4) The third way moves beyond “either/or” into “both/and.” How can we be about faith formation AND social justice? How can we be about personal transformation AND public transformation? How can we be serious about scripture AND about reason? The path he charts guides congregations around those unhelpful conversations and into new ones, conversations that will move the church forward into a new way of life.

Much of the material was familiar to me, both from Robinson’s other books and from a myriad of authors addressing similar topics, like Brian McLaren, Diana Butler Bass, Phyllis Tickle, and Gil Rendle. However, this book is unique because it condenses all that material into short, topical chapters that are perfect for discussion with leadership groups in congregations. I ordered copies of this book for every member of my church Council, and we are going to be working through these conversations throughout the coming year, one chapter at a time.

Robinson covers all the major topics that churches should be considering. The first two chapters are titled, “It’s Not About You” and “And Yet…It Is About You.” These two chapters recap his earlier work (which I think is some of the best out there for mainline churches) on the death of Christendom and its implications for the church. The third chapter puts forth the key challenge for mainline churches: moving beyond civic faith to have “a new heart,” passionate about God and following the way of Christ. This chapter reminded me of a line in Martha Grace Reese’s work in Unbinding the Gospel, “You can’t give what you don’t got. Changing the church demands that all of us grow in our faith and in our relationship with Jesus Christ. He imagines four chambers of this new heart:

an encounter with the living God and the message of and about God; the power and purpose of Scripture; evangelism for the “churched”; and reclaiming theology as “wisdom proper to the life of believers.” These are four aspects of one whole transformation, that is, being “formed anew” or “formed over” by the living God. (79)

Subsequent chapters address more specific questions: leadership and governance, vision, purpose, mission and public role, stewardship and faith formation.

One of the most important things for me in this book was the chapter on a church’s purpose. Robinson traces a variety of authors (including each of the Gospel writers) on the purpose of the church, such as making disciples, changing lives, embodying Christ’s way of life in the world, glorifying God. All of these are variations on a theme. In a workshop with Robinson I attended on Sunday, he put it this way, “we’re in the people-making business,” making Christians not just by conversion but by a steady, shaping way of life. I think clarity of purpose is critical for all congregations, because it should shape everything else. Our purpose guides what we do (and what we don’t do), and how we go about it. We need to be clear on it, and reiterate it over and over again in everything we do as a church. For my congregation, this will be our starting place. We developed a purpose a few years ago, but we have not revisited it recently.

While I may have read or heard many of these ideas before at multiple clergy workshops, and while our church has already been doing this conversational work together over the last five years, it will still be new to many of the Council members reading this book throughout the year. For me, it is a reminder that the conversation needs to be ongoing, not just a one-time thing. Most importantly, this book (far more than many others) does not just lament the past or imagine the future in vague and dreamy ways. Robinson’s questions and model of congregational conversations offers a path for practical, local, immediate and meaningful ways for real churches to engage with change. Rather than feeling overwhelmed, I finished Changing the Conversation thinking, “we can do this!” I can imagine my church having all these conversations, and, with the help of this book, we will.

Advertisements

Leadership for Vital Congregations, by Anthony B. Robinson, Pilgrim Press, 2006, 128 pp.

This is a book I wish I had found and read a long time ago–even before 2006, when it was first published. Over the last five years, I have been engaged in leading a church through a time of major change. I found Robinson’s book Transforming Congregational Culture incredibly helpful in understanding the kind of change required, and his book with Robert W. Wall, Called to Be Church: The Book of Acts for a New Day shaped a sermon series I preached to help my congregation understand and tackle these issues from a biblical framework. This book on leadership brought together much of what I have learned over the past five years of this journey, and encapsulated it in a clear, straightforward way. Having read Robinson’s earlier books and many of the books he cites as references,  I felt familiar with most of the guidance he offers, but I have never seen anyone collect and share it so directly and concisely.

Robinson begins by describing various images of leadership, in an attempt to expand our images of leaders and their tasks. Influenced by Ron Heifetz, he describes the task of leaders as “mobilizing a group or community to make progress on its own toughest challenges and problems.” (24) He points out some factors unique to pastoral leadership, such as working with volunteers, being more accessible than most leaders, and understanding God’s leadership as ultimate. One chapter is a very helpful literature review of some of the most widely respected secular writers on leadership. This was an excellent introduction to these authors, but also serves to broaden the imagination about the function and purpose of leadership.

Robinson’s chapter entitled, “Pastoral Leadership: Seven Strategies,” is what really made me wish I’d had this book several years ago. He describes seven leadership strategies that pastors must follow in order to lead. They are sequential—you must do one before the other—but pastoral leaders are always doing all of these steps as they move ahead in leading congregations. Everything starts with building trust (Strategy One), and discerning what’s going on (Strategy Two), why we are here (Strategy Three) and what God is calling us to do (Strategy Four). Once change begins, the pastoral leader manages distress (Strategy Five), persists (Strategy Six) and helps build a learning congregation (Strategy Seven). This is exactly what we have  been doing in our congregation over the last five years. It is almost an exact map of the terrain we have covered in our change process. I only wish I’d had the map ahead of time—it would have made me feel less like a wilderness wanderer!

The remaining chapters talk about sustainability practices in leadership. Robinson talks about growing and developing spiritual leaders, the role and responsibilities of the congregation, caring for your soul as a leader, and leadership itself as a spiritual practice. I have never heard anyone talk about leadership itself as a spiritual practice, and I found myself saying, “yes! yes! yes!” He outlines five specific examples drawn from the story of Moses about how leadership is a spiritual discipline, but I thought of a dozen more. For me, the act of prayer and discernment with God about my congregation and how I am called to challenge and connect with them is incredibly holy. It has made me a better Christian and a better person. The act of leading a congregation engages my heart and soul for God’s use just like personal prayer, study, meditation or sabbath-keeping. It shapes me in the ways of Christ. For example, our church is currently engaged in a capital campaign. Being a pastoral leader challenging others to greater generosity has transformed me into a more generous person. It was a gift and a revelation in this book for Robinson to name that as a spiritual discipline.

This book is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in engaging in deep, transformative work as a pastoral leader. In a few short pages, Robinson summarizes what that kind of leadership looks like, the basics of how to do it, what to expect and how to sustain it. This book will not tell you the details of why the church needs to change (see Transforming Congregational Culture for a good primer on that one), how to conduct a visioning or planning process, what changes the church should be making, or even what your changed church should look like. There are plenty of other books out there that will do that. Instead, Leadership for Vital Congregations tells you what kind of leader you need to be to get there. If you want to be that kind of transformational leader but don’t know how to start, start here. Like any map, this book won’t tell you where you need to go or describe the details of the landscape you’ll see. It will simply orient you on the journey. You’ll have to trust God, your congregation and your own discernment for the rest.


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

Helpful Hint

If you only want to read regular posts, click the menu for Just Reflections. If you only want to read book reviews, click the menu for Just Book Reviews.

RevGalBlogPals

NetGalley

Member & Certified Reviewer

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,662 other followers

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: