Developing Leaders – Tom Yeakley

Taking the Mystery out of Leadership

Archive for the tag “Organizational culture”

Changing Old Forms and Traditions

On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.  After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.  And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed.  They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.   Act 21:18-21 ESV

Recently, while doing a study through the book of Acts on the ministry forms, I was struck by the above passage.  Paul had just completed his third missionary tour and was now back in Jerusalem.  He was updating the leadership about his ministry among the Gentiles.  The leaders affirmed Paul’s work among the Gentiles and also testified to God’s amazing work among the Jews, having seen thousands put their trust in Christ as their Messiah.

But then the elders make an interesting request.  They asked Paul to join in a vow along with four others as proof that he still lives in observance to the law of Moses (see Acts 21:22-24).  And Paul submits himself to this request, joins the four in their purification rights and presents himself in the temple accordingly.

Some observations:

  1. This incident occurs at least 20 years after Paul’s conversion.  Note that the testimony of the elders is that the Jewish converts are ‘very zealous for the law.’  That is, the Jewish background believers were still following OT Jewish customs and forms.  They had become even more zealous of their Jewish traditions and the OT ceremonial law.
  2. Secondly, the elders concern was that Paul’s appearance among these zealous Jewish believers would be cause for a possible conflict.  Note that it was not the unbelieving Jews who were their concern, but rather the Jewish believers.
  3. It was accepted that Gentile converts were not to follow OT Jewish forms and traditions in their new-found faith, other than the few requests established by the leaders mentioned in Acts 15:22ff after Paul’s first missionary tour.
  4. The elders also assumed that Paul was teaching the Jewish background converts who lived among the Gentiles to leave their Jewish customs and traditions and embrace new forms of worship and lifestyle (Acts 10:21).  He did not refute this claim.

It seems that the emergent Church took many years to leave behind their Jewish forms, traditions, and customs and fully establish ‘new wine in new wineskins’ (see Matthew 9:17).  As more and more Gentile believers emerged, new forms also emerged with them.  Gradually, Jewish forms and customs were left behind.  But it was a long process with many challenges.

Bringing significant change to long-held forms or traditions can be arduous and require much perseverance.  Don’t be discouraged by the length of the change process.  “Mile by mile, it’s a trial; but inch by inch, it’s a cinch!”

Leading in a Matrix

Organizations can structure themselves into one of three shapes:  geographical, functional, or a combination of the two known as a matrix.  All of these structures have strengths and weaknesses.  Wise leaders know the times and which structure best fits the context in which they are seeking to accomplish mission.

Much is written about geographical and functional alignments in various contexts, but I recently came across an excellent work by Stanley McChrystal titled, Team of Teams, in which he describes how he led the mission against terror in Iraq by forming a matrix of many highly specialized military units.  It’s an engaging read and very practical, with an easy application for those in business and ministry.

In a matrix structure, geographical and functional lines of authority overlap and cross.  Where these intersections happen, over-communication is needed to insure common objectives and outcomes. McChrystal talks about creating a shared level of organizational consciousness, where everyone shares common information, with no silos, helping to create organizational transparency which enables easier alignment and accountability for missional objectives.

Having created this common organizational consciousness, the role of the primary leader is to focus on organizational tone and culture, allowing the individual parts to function in their strengths.  When that happens, we will get true synergy, where the total is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

Kingdom leaders today are leading in a world full of complexity that is changing at an ever-increasing pace.  The good news is that we have the Holy Spirit within us to guide us through this complexity.  He will show us which structure fits our missional needs at this time.  We rest in knowing that we are not trying to ‘get it right, once and for all.’  Rather, we are trying to get it right for now, knowing that our context will change at some time in the future and we will once again be forced to rethink how best to re-organize.

Organization structure can be consuming and distract us from mission, if we are not careful.  It is a means to an end, not an end.  We are not looking for a perfect structure, just one that optimally serves us to carry out our mission for the glory of Christ at this time in this context.

How long has it been since you rethought your mission, strategy, and which organizational structure best serves you for the coming decade?  Maybe it’s time for a prayerful and thoughtful review?

A Leader’s Vision

A leader needs to lead towards a vision.  A good leader does not need to be the one who comes up with the vision.  In fact, that may be best done with a leadership team.  But once the vision is clear, team leaders are the primary communicators of the vision.  These leaders must see more, see farther, and see more clearly than those they lead.  Without clear vision a leader becomes one of the “blind leading the blind” and we settle for activity rather than accomplishment of God’s purposes.

When we say a leader needs to “see more” what we intend is that a leader needs to be able to see the whole, not just the individual parts.  They must be able to think and lead systemically, noting how one decision can impact the whole, not just the immediate parts.  Much like a fine watch that has multiple interconnected gears, so is leadership at an organizational level.  One change can have ramifications at multiple levels.  A leader with vision sees the immediate impact, but can also anticipate impacts on multiple levels.

The second type of vision that is needed by a leader is the ability to “see farther” into the future.  It is that gaze towards the horizon that sees what is coming before others and that prepares one to take advantage of changes thrust upon us or protect others from this change.  This vision truly needs to be bifocal – seeing what is up close and immediate as well as seeing what is coming towards us in the future.  Many get so consumed by the immediate that they are taken by surprise by what arrives on their doorstep.  Much like the approaching tsunami, when the water recedes away from the beach we know that there is an impending wave coming.  Rather than rushing towards the receding water to collect the newly exposed sea shells, we move rapidly away from the beach to high ground because we know what will soon follow.

A third type of vision is that good leaders need to “see more clearly” the issues surrounding their leadership.  This type of vision involves focus as well as depth perception.  A focused vision is one that does not get distracted by the clamor around them.  It is laser-like in intensity knowing that this is a God-given mission that we do for His glory and we do knowing that we will be accountable to Him.  This clarity has depth perception in that it takes into consideration the various dimensions of any issue.  A good leader is able to see multiple sides of an issue, weighing the pros and cons, embracing different points of view, and is willing to change his or her thoughts when confronted with weightier arguments.

Vision – don’t try to lead without it!  Have you had your vision checked recently?

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