Now chapter 5 of William Willimon's Bishop, "Bishops Leading Change." Previous chapters were:
1. Methodists, Alabama Conference in Motion
2. Summoned to be Bishop
3. Bishops Sending Pastors
4. Bishops Cultivating Fruitfulness
Highlights of chapter 5:
1. I suspect that tact isn't Willimon's strong suit. There is certainly a time to use power to force change that a group of leaders believes needs to happen. I don't doubt that the UM church needs a good slap in the face, but it sure feels like Willimon is a guy that enjoys slapping just a little too much. This sentence jumped out at me the most in this chapter, "I lamented to a DS that the episcopacy committee seemed so willing for me to retire" (86).
Beware the cocky change agent, often with far less up top than Willimon. At least Willimon is wicked smart and mostly right, annoying but probably moving in the right direction.
2. "After the storms I discovered that those who disbelieve in change for the sake of change are wrong, particularly in a moribund institution with so many means of self-protection" (71). I suspect he is more right than wrong when it comes to the UM church. When not to change means to die, you have to change.
I caught a few minutes of the remake movie, Poseidon the other day. There's a scene where a group of people in an overturned ship can either stay where they are and die, or they can go through a narrow vent and at least live a little longer. In that situation, there's no promise that change will allow you to survive, but you know that no change means certain death. That is the condition the UM church is in, according to Willimon and many others.
"Disruption is an essential component of organizational innovation" (72). He speaks of how Martin Luther King, Jr. saw no way for change to happen without creating "a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation" (73). Of course this is the philosophy of Hamas and the IRA as well. King and Ghandi by contrast insisted on non-violent protest.
I think these things call for great wisdom. Change isn't always positive or helpful. And if it isn't done at the right time, it can hurt your cause or set it back. "For everything there is a season." You can grow without shock therapy.
3. Willimon draws on Bridge's book Transitions. "Change begins with ending" (76). Then there is a neutral zone between old and new when there is lots of complaining. Hopefully that resolves with new beginnings.
4. Here's a fun quote about the UM church: "Our church is full of people who think of themselves as theological liberals but who are organizational reactionaries" (81). :-)
5. More controversial quotes: "The most important task for a district superintendent is to overcome the clerical propensity toward empathy" (82). "Empathy causes clergy to go limp." Empathy "is an enemy of transformative leadership" (81).
Again, he puts things in the extreme to get things moving but I know what he is saying. I had an academic friend who didn't want to go on to do a doctorate. He was then shocked when his superior gave him an ultimatum. Enroll in a doctoral program or lose your job. He was shocked because he thought the superior was his "friend."
It's great if a leader can be friends with those who work under him or her, but good leadership sometimes will require hard decisions that don't go the way others want. Leadership can create a distance, which is what I believe Willimon is talking about. However, I don't see this as a lack of empathy on the part of a leader. I don't like the way Willimon frames it.
Sometimes a leader just has to make unpleasant decisions for the greater good. But it can be done with grace.