LEAD: Living Every day as Disciples

Resources to grow as Disciples

Part 2: Are you Learning to Lead or Leading to Learn?

Learn Lead

Adaptive Leadership toolsRonald Heifetz, in his book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, says the biggest error leaders make is applying technical means to solve adaptive challenges. When we do this, we are unlikely to bring about the changes that we desire.

Let’s take another look at our questions from last week (click here to read full article): “How can we resurrect Sunday School?” or “How can we keep our children from being so bored at church?” and apply Einstein’s approach by identifying the real problem behind the questions.

For many, reviving Sunday School represents a desire to return to a time when the church felt more successful and we had a way of “doing church” that was clear to us. Reflecting on Sunday School (as a student or a teacher) may bring with it warm memories with a hint of guilt that it is not working today. We imagine that if we could only get more people to volunteer, or if we could only get the parents to bring their children, or if the pastor would only make this a priority and preach more interesting sermons, everything would work out. We are looking for a technical fix to the underlying question “How can we be the church we used to be?” Sunday School is the icon that we are holding on to while we watch everything around us change with a growing panic about what will really be left.

But in fact, Sunday School is still working, and even thriving in many congregations worshiping 200 or more each week (which, by the way, represents less than half of the congregations on the planet). Sunday School can be an effective practice for teaching the faith in certain circumstances. However, in a changing world, Sunday School as we knew it is not enough! We can’t limit ourselves to a single approach or a single technology to teach the faith.


Imagine instead, leading to learn. I’m talking about people offaith being free to explore many different ways of passing on faith to the next generation. Instead of searching for the perfect curriculum (technical), consider adaptive approaches in a combination that speaks to your context, including:

  • coaching parents to teach the faith in their home
  • turning the kitchen table into a home altar
  • using online book studies
  • retreat ministry
  • outdoor ministry
  • cross-cultural, day camp ministry
  • cross-generational immersions
  • ancient faith practices like labyrinths
  • and the list goes on…

The complexity is part of what it means to make adaptive change. Instead of starting a new Sunday School Program, we need to discover new ways of thinking about the things that matter to us and to agree on what matters most. Then, we need to explore…a lot!  Use a laboratory model by setting a hypothesis and testing for results. Then repeat based on the results you get. Or you may want to run concurrent experiments testing out several new ways of thinking.

Innovation is essential. This is a new idea in congregational life. Leading to learn is a way of being. It will feel out-of-control for some.  Many will think “it won’t work here” or “___ (you fill in the name) will not like it.” We can choose to do nothing or to apply technical changes (which may work for a little while) but in the fast-paced culture we are called to serve, these two options will ultimately leave us irrelevant. Personally, I am not worried about the mission of God – God is way ahead of us all. I am, however, very interested in helping leaders learn. We have an opportunity to discover what God is doing and that is pretty exciting.  All change has to be managed, one step at a time, but even that means movement.

This is a worthwhile journey during Lent. As you consider what it means to you to be marked with the cross of Christ forever (click here to see LEAD’s Facebook page for reflections on this), think too about where God is calling you and your congregation. What adaptive challenges lie ahead?


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This entry was posted on March 13, 2014 by .

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