Agile Leadership

July 11, 2018

by  Andrea Smith, Pastor of West UMC

Hundreds of emails were sent. Countless phone calls, google chats, conference calls, additional meetings… It seemed as if it COULD be done to ensure that annual conference worship would happen with precision and excellence, it had been done. All that we thought was left was to circle back to what we had done as we began the planning process, offer our efforts to God in the hope that the Holy Spirit would work in and among our efforts.
 
As our team began to unpack, the only request I had for the weekend was for us, as leaders, to embody a “non-anxious presence.” I’d learned that lesson from a wise mentor and knew its value.  Inevitably, we would face challenges throughout the weekend. Yet regardless of what would happen, unless we physically hurt someone or stole money, everything else was fixable.
 
There were minute moments of drama along the way… not being able to find the bottom half of the crozler or the top half of the bishop's banner... communion napkins… having enough chalices …. However, for each step along the way, we managed to improvise and find a solution.
 
Until Sunday morning.
 
The closing worship service, as with all services of worship, was a big deal. We wanted to make sure the final experience of worship at annual conference was one of thematic, God-centered worship that highlighted the wonderful diversity across our conference as we gave thanks to God for the opportunity to be transformed by God’s wisdom. The worship committee had enlisted the leadership of two unique worship teams/choirs, one from Denver UMC and a cluster choir from Greensboro, multiple liturgists, and a service that was planned, literally, down to the second. We felt NOTHING could go wrong.
 
Until…
 
Standing outside the sacristy doors in Stuart Auditorium, a Junaluska employee said, “Andrea, the Junaluska Singers are here to perform.” 
 
“Perform what?” I asked. (Knowing it could not be opening worship, because the worship committee made the conscious choice to highlight diversity across our conference, and for a least, a year, veer from tradition.)
 
“They are here to perform for closing worship.”
 
“They can’t be here! We didn’t ask them to sing!” I exclaimed.
 
Two seconds later, the assistant director appeared in the door, music portfolio in hand, and pleasantly shared that she had agreed in an email six months ago to have the singers sing for free, from 9:30 am-10:00 am. The whole ensemble was gathered in the rehearsal room. They’d gotten up early just for us, and I knew that not singing was not an option.
 
The words “non-anxious presence, everything is fixable” kept running through my mind as a realized there was a small window of time in which we could solve this problem, maintain important relationships, and most importantly maintain the integrity of worship. Knowing the times the other choirs were slated to sing, I made two quick adjustments to the schedule, asked the bishop for his grace in moving the start time of worship back ten minutes, and then to the average worshipper, it looked as if we had intentionally planned to have three unique, diverse, wonderful musical groups lead in worship that morning. With the Holy Spirit’s presence in all the aspects of the service, it was a powerful time of worship.
 
Had the worship committee not functioned as a collaborative community throughout the last months leading up to conference, there would not have been a foundation from which such an agile decision could be made. I will never forget walking out onto the stage after speaking with each director and finding the worship team circled in prayer, offering the service to God.
 
For months, many on the team had contributed lots of ideas and solutions so that we could effectively manage the overwhelming task of pulling it all together. 
 
We recognized that innovation was required to make annual conference worship happen, and regardless of whatever challenges we faced, it was our responsibility to lead through those challenges. We took good risks, knew to accept the constructive criticism as it was offered, and made a commitment to learning all that we could, both positive and negative so that we could make it better (move on toward perfection) the next time.
 
We had to rely on the traits of agile leadership: defining a clear vision, an openness to new ideas and innovations, involving the team in decision-making, and learning from our successes and failures. These were vital in ensuring that annual conference worship led people to an encounter with Jesus Christ. The same attributes it takes to be an agile leader (as you can find in additional content in this publication) are attributes we can apply to our leadership within each of our ministry contexts or settings. Agile leaders find ways to get things done, moving the mission and vision forward, without compromising people or the ministry's integrity.
 
As a founding pastor of a six-year-old, mobile church, agile leadership is essential in maintaining sanity - not only my sanity but the sanity of the myriad of laity that serve in leadership capacities so that worship, learning, and fellowship happen each week. There is no room for territoriality, and we must always be willing to look at situations from all angles so that we can focus on the highest priority at any given time.   
 
West has worked hard to have multiple layers of leadership, living under the mantra that “no one should be doing ministry alone.” There is no place for superheroes (except during a couple of sermon series) and we certainly don’t need saviors, we already have one. Regardless of whether it’s a teenager leading in a ministry area, someone new to church and serving for the first time, or a seasoned leader taking on more responsibility, the hope is to empower each servant leader so that he/she feels enabled, equipped, and ready to fulfill the vision, even if the “how” has to change mid-stream. 
 
Rather than thinking that I have brought leadership gifts to West UMC, I’ve come to understand that what’s most important are the leadership gifts that West has given to and called forth from me. First and foremost, I’m called to grow daily in being a more agile leader. It is, as Bishop Lawrence McClesky said in my ordination sermon, a “costly calling, and a precious privilege.”
 
Being an agile leader requires relinquishment of control, lack of security, and a willingness to see things in new ways. Yet the benefits far outweigh the costs as we are able to introduce people to the transformational love of Jesus Christ.   
 
Links:
https://www.agilebusiness.org/resources/white-papers/culture-and-leadership-the-nine-principles-of-agile-leadership
 
https://www.inc.com/will-yakowicz/4-qualities-every-leader-needs-to-take-risks-conquer-stress.html
 
 
Follow Jesus. Make Disciples. Transform the World.