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Saturday, June 2, 2018

"Leading Major Change in Your Ministry" (Jeff Iorg)

TITLE: Leading Major Change in Your Ministry
AUTHOR: Jeff Iorg
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B&H Publishers, 2018, (240 pages).

The only constant is change. Just like the popular phrase, "survival of the fittest," only those who change survive. For the fittest are the ones who are most adaptable to change. People who are able to lead change are leaders. They are the ones who must be on a constant lookout for dangers that threaten surviving and opportunities toward thriving. Just this week, the largest theological school in North America, Fuller Theological Seminary announced a major change in their history: Leaving Pasadena by 2021. After 70 years of ministry, this marks a dramatic shift in adapting to fast changing ministry and financial contexts. Even before Fuller announced their decision, other seminaries had already made plans of their own. Back in 2004, the author's school, Golden Gate Seminary also had to make a tough decision to sell all seminary-owned property and to move to a new location over 400 miles away. That is not all. They remodeled, retooled, and refreshed their strategies, even changing their name to Gateway Seminary. It was the success of such a major change that deepened the author's conviction that whether it is relocating, reorganizing, or rebranding, skills in leading are critically important. The good news is, they could be passed down to others and success could be replicated. Iorg frames this book in two parts. The first part sets out the foundations for leading major change. Iorg acknowledges the proliferation of books about leadership best practices and all kinds of great resources. He notices that many of these books do not deal with fundamentals sufficiently. Moreover, there is a lack of Christian perspective. Fundamentals such as the necessity to be influencers for Christ in the midst of leading change. He links back basic teachings about servant leadership. The three foundation stones are:

  1. Defining change and understanding what it means to lead major change
  2. Knowing the necessity of major change and spiritual insights to lead, initiate, and implement
  3. Distinguishing between changes and transitions
Iorg describes leadership as follows: "Leadership is about change. It is about shifting paradigms, creating new approaches, and doing things that have never been done—at least not in the current setting." He spends time unpacking these three foundation stones so that we understand what and when to make major changes and to know that major changes are not incremental but earthshaking and groundbreaking initiatives. A key leadership trait is not to ask people to discuss whether the change not, but to put them into a change preparation mode by saying: "Not changing is not an option." That requires bold and clear leadership. It does has to be long statements. For Iorg, the seminary move is a mere one to two pages of goals. It is far easier to write long statements than short ones. That is why the above three foundation stones are critical.

Part Two deals with the six axioms of leadership:
  1. Major change begins with direction from God.
  2. Major change requires initiative from a leader.
  3. Major change is accomplished by followers.
  4. Major change depends on God’s intervention.
  5. Major change is messy and difficult.
  6. Major change brings glory to God.
Three Thoughts
First, this book may seem like a straightforward read but it is not. This is not because of the book per se but the cultural climate we live in. As the author has rightly pointed out, there are plenty of materials that talk about leadership already and this book could be seen as an additional book on that already tall pile. That said, underlying the word "leadership" is about what it entails. The three major foundations laid contrast with conventional thinking about leadership. Reading it the first time might lead one to think that leadership is about what everybody else had been talking about. Yet, there is a sense of experience and deepened awareness about the complexities behind leadership. Many ideas confuse management with leadership and Iorg sharpens the focus by saying leadership is essentially a narrow field to do something never done before. Maintenance, management, and mass-duplication are not leadership goals. One way to understand the differences is to use comparison and illustrations like what Iorg has used in the book. It helps us refocus and relearn what real leadership is. Not just changes but real changes. Not just some but major change. Even the reading of this book requires a paradigm shift from conventional thinking toward transformational intent.

Second, this book is about leadership based on biblical principles. Like the way God used Moses to lead Israel out of familiar Egypt into an unfamiliar promised land, major change involves leading people toward an unknown territory, with unknown challenges, with unknown number of factors. Thus, each step forward into the unknown is very much a step of faith. His six point model of major change are all geared toward practicing biblical principles in the midst of such changes. This is not an easy feat, considering how much influence the world has on many Christian institutions nowadays. Through this experience, Gateway has also led the way to show the rest of the Christian world that it could be done. Given the state of many churches, seminaries, Christian parachurches that had been tempted to adopt secular values and to introduce business ideas that are non-biblical, this book is a breath of biblical freshness that gives us hope and needed direction. It falls upon the need to have godly leadership to listens not only to feedback but directly from God. This calls for spiritual discernment. This requires initiative from leaders who had first received initiative from God. Leader comes before strategy. When followers come on board, discipleship is practiced in some way. The future may be unknown and uncertain but we hope in God who is known and who is certain. Most important of it all, the purpose of all change is to glorify God. This is not something secular techniques or management strategies could operate directly, given the state of secularism in society these days.

Third, this book is about leadership based on a unique experience that is probably one of the hardest to implement. Iorg brings to this book one such experience, that is, his dealings with the major changes pertaining to a relocation and remodeling of Golden Gate Seminary. That's a major change. There is no unique challenges like a non-profit,  tradition minding, historical steep Christian organization trying to change paths and shifts strategy. For one, it is a non-profit that does not see financial concerns as the main thing. If so, they would not have started the seminary at all. It exists for the sake of a greater purpose:  Kingdom of God. For-profit enterprises typically have this main goal: Make profits. For a seminary, not only is profit not a key goal, the name "non-profit" is also a misnomer. What then does a seminary do? It is a place for equipping the saints. It is a place to manage operations to keep staff morale high, retain good faculty, attract good students, manage facilities, walk the fineline between balancing the budget and the exercise of faith, and many other "non-profit" activities. All of these are important which makes the whole matter very challenging.

Kudos to Iorg for sharing his insights and learning experiences for Christian organizations to learn from.

Jeff Iorg is President of Gateway Seminary and teaches many courses that include leadership, pastoral calling, church ministry, preaching, and many other subjects. After becoming president of Golden Gate Seminary in 2004, he led the major change of relocating the seminary from Mill Valley to Ontario, California while remaining debt-free and entirely operational throughout.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of B&H Publishers and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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