Thursday, June 28, 2012

Insights from Adam Hamilton, Part 3

(This is the last post on highlights from Adam Hamilton's teaching at last week's Western NC United Methodist Annual Conference)

OK, finally. The one thing Adam Hamilton said leaders DON'T DO. 

I have to admit that this one really challenges me, because, to be honest with you, I do this more than I should.

The one things leaders DON'T do? Give up. 

Adam shared personally and openly from a time in his life when he considered giving up. He had preached a well-researched, well-thought out sermon that he believed God wanted him to deliver. (He didn't tell us what it was about--he did say it was on a controversial subject.) The week after the sermon, he received 40 letters or e-mails from people who said they were leaving the church--some who had been with the church (and Adam) from the very beginning. Adam told us that if that had been the extent of it, he might have been able to lick his wounds and move on--but the e-mails and letters kept coming over time, and the members kept leaving a few at a time--meaning that he had to face this pain week after week after week. Seven months later, as the calendar year concluded, around 800 people had left the church because of that sermon. 

Adam told us that at this point he gave serious consideration to leaving the church he founded--the largest church in the United Methodist denomination. In the end he decided to stay, but he shared with us very honestly that it took him a full year to get over the depression caused by these events. He did say, however, that since that time God has shown up in amazing ways at Church of the Resurrection, and today powerful things are happening that Adam could not have foreseen. In the end, he said, he's really glad he stayed.

In my 23 years of ordained ministry, I've served 6 churches. I've never "given up" on any of them, by which I mean I've never asked for a different appointment because I was frustrated or upset. Now let me be honest: I sure thought about doing that many times--way more than I probably should have. And again, full honesty: There were times when I breathed a sigh of relief when I was re-appointed to another church! But I've never given up on a church. 

What I have done, though, is given up on countless projects, initiatives, ideas, etc. So many times I've been a part of starting something or trying to reinvigorate something and I've thrown in the towel when things got hard. Adam's words have challenged me in this area.

But I wonder: When is discontinuing something that's not working the right thing to do--and when is it "giving up?" How do you tell the difference? One of the things we've all been taught at church growth conferences is that it's not wise to keep pouring time, money, and volunteer energy into something that God is clearly not blessing. Give it a decent (respectful, grateful) burial, find out what God is blessing, and get on board with that.  This is especially important when the program, ministry, idea, etc. is not fulfilling the mission of your church. 

So how do we know the difference between discontinuing something for good reasons and just flat "giving up"? Maybe this helps (I'm just sort of thinking out loud here ... well, thinking in print): Let's suppose you want to get to California. That's your mission, your vision, your dream. Now suppose you start driving west on I-40, and somewhere around Oklahoma you hit a snag. A bridge is out, or the highway's under construction, or there's a 235-car pile-up that will take weeks to clear. So what do you do now? (Choose one):

  1. Give up. Return to North Carolina. Accept that you'll never get to California.
  2. Refuse to give up and stay the course. Sit and wait for I-40 to re-open, even if it takes a year or more. 
  3. Refuse to give up--and recognize that the road you're on is not the same thing as the place you're trying to go. So you "give up" on I-40 and find another route on state highways and back roads. But you don't "give up" on your goal. 
I suppose that when we're thinking of discontinuing something the question we need to ask ourselves is, "Are we giving up on the (God-ordained) goal, or are we simply recognizing that the road we're on is not the best way to get there?" 

Of the three choices above, leaders never do the first one. Sometimes they will do the second one. But I think leaders who are smart will do the third one more often than not. 

What do you think? 

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