The Dysfunctions of the Call To Action Process

“What’s your problem?” I’ve been hearing some shout at me on Facebook recently regarding my continuing concerns regarding the Call to Action thrust that is being pushed throughout the United Methodist Church these days. “Look, the church has been in decline for years,” these folks remind me. “If we don’t do something soon there will be no more United Methodist Church left! No what we are doing isn’t perfect, but at least it’s something!”

And in many ways, these voices are right. Those of us who keep asking questions, who suggest that something is wrong in Denmark, who question the methodology of the data collection, and who suggest that there has to be a better way can easily come across as simple obstructionists. I can understand those who believe that our concern is simply a resistance to change not unlike many of us experience in our congregations. “You simply don’t want to be held accountable,” these folks say, which is in fact not true for me (and I believe in the cases of many others who are questioning the CTA). Frankly I want to embrace fully something new, something energetic, something that will grab both my heart and the hearts of my congregation in envisioning a better way than what we’ve done before. And yet, for reasons that haven’t always been clear to me, something just didn’t feel right in this whole CTA thing, and I’ve found myself less than enthusiastic.

This evening, as I was reviewing Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team that I realized part of the problem for me. Part of the problem that I have been facing is that the Call To Action process address two of the higher level team functions in Lencioni’s model but failed to build a foundation upon which these two functions can work. The Call to Action focus upon attention to results (metrics) and accountability are part and parcel of Lencioni’s model for effective teams (and correspondingly, effective ministry). However before those can be part of the culture of our church, we first have to build a basis of trust, which leads us to avoid the fear of conflict that paralyzes us, which then leads to an overall lack of commitment. The failure in building this foundation suggests (according to Lencioni at least) that our CTA based model is ultimately in trouble because we do not have the resources needed to truly embrace mutual accountability and attention to results (the proper metrics by which we measure success).

Lencioni’s model believes that effective teams begin with trust, which then allows them to engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas. When people trust one another to engage in serious and passionate dialogue around ideas, they are better able to commit to decisions and plans of actions, even if they don’t fully embrace all aspects of the plan. Once committed, effective teams then hold one another accountable for delivering against those plans, and their focus becomes the achievement of the collective results.

The absence of trust is at the root of the team’s (denomination’s?) entire effectiveness for without trust there ultimately can be no buy in. Again and again I’ve heard both supporters and opponents of the CTA plan suggest that we struggle with a lack of trust throughout the church. Lay people don’t trust clergy. Clergy don’t fully trust their congregations, and aren’t really sure if the hierarchy (DS’s and Bishops) are concerned with their interests and needs. I’m not sure that anyone fully trusts the Board and Agencies due to a great separation between the “professional” class and the realities of life in the local church. Of course, I am given to a bit of hyperbole in this description, but as I talk with folks throughout the connection, the absence of trust seems to be an ongoing issue.

In Lencioni’s understanding, trust is ultimately about having the foundation for relationship upon which everything else is built upon. He writes:

In the context of building a team, trust is the confidence among team members that their peer’s intentions are good, and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group. In essence, teammates must get comfortable being vulnerable with one another.

It’s is interesting to hear Lencioni’s words in relation to those of the Apostle Paul’s call for unity found in the letter to the church at Ephesus:

Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together.
–Ephesians 4:2-3 (CEB)

According to Lencioni, the ability to be vulnerable is key to building the kind of trust needed for mutual accountability in love:

It requires team members to make themselves vulnerable to one another, and be confident that they respective vulnerabilities will not be used against them. The vulnerabilities I’m referring to include weaknesses, skill deficiencies, interpersonal shortcomings, mistakes, and requests for help. As “soft” as all of this might sound, it is only when team members are truly comfortable being exposed to one another that they begin to act without concern for protecting themselves. As a result, they can focus their energy and attention completely on the job at hand, rather than on being strategically disingenuous or political with one another.

Ultimately what I hear Lencioni saying is that effective teams value authenticity, with team members not having to cloak themselves is a veil of competence, spirituality, or authority so that they can be freed for the work at hand. It recognizes that the language of accountability and the discernment of appropriate metrics cannot  happen with any effectiveness until trust has first been obtained. Otherwise, everyone wanders around looking over their shoulder in fear that somehow this thing being proposed is a plot to make their job more difficult, or to ultimately drum them out of the organization.

Contrast Lencioni’s model (and I am only addressing the most basic dysfunction) with the approach of the CTA process. Rather than entering into conversation with the stakeholders to start building a baseline of trust, we started with top down pronouncement regarding the need to accountability and a predetermined set of metrics that may or may not have any connection to the ministry settings we work within. The CTA team gave some lip service to entering into conversation through the online summit a few months back, there has been very little indication that the Bishop’s or the Interim Operation’s Team listened to concerns shared in those sessions or attempted to integrate those concerns into their proposals. “We have a trust issue,” I hear leaders say, but only rarely has there been anyone willing to try and start with the lack of trust before we move ahead with the next steps in the process.

That is the problem we face. Building teams, be it at the congregational committee level or nationally throughout the church, takes time and energy, for it requires people to enter into real relationships which are messy and don’t easily conform to a program mentality. Many think that we don’t have time to do the foundational work needed to help move us forward, and yet there are others of us who believe that unless we do this work we are even more doomed than if we did nothing at all. Like a surgeon conducting open heart surgery, we can’t afford to fail, but if we don’t follow a process step by step to completion, we are just as likely to kill the patient as not.

What would that look like? Obviously it will be different depending on the context but if I were a Bishop serious about bringing forth the kinds of change needed to build an effective team, I would likely spend some time sitting down with small groups of pastors to start the work of building relationship. I would spend some time listening to the struggles that they face, and open the door to building mutual respect. While authority must be maintained, I would understand that true authority is earned not through fiat but through integrity and relationship. Start building trust among the clergy, and likewise start a process of building trust in congregations, so that there is the possibility of a firm foundation.

Call To Action  has the potential to bring forth needed change in the church. But if we fail to provide a secure foundation for that change, we may just be wasting our time.

7 thoughts on “The Dysfunctions of the Call To Action Process

  1. I think your astute observation signals an even more problematic and dangerous reality of the CTA — namely it’s not biblical, nor for all this throwing around of the word ‘accountability’ is it even Methodist. It’s corporate (ie the wall street kind and not the body of Christ kind) and concerned with “results” ie numbers and money. I say more fasting and prayer–more focus on actually discerning God’s will even if it means our church might never look the same again…

  2. I think that one of the biggest problems and one that you mentioned is the disconnected between the laity, clergy, and episcopacy. Most churches only see their DS at charge conference and most never see the Bishop in their church. There is a lack of trust, as you have mentioned, between the local church and what they see as “the Conference” who in the mind of many lay persons only serve to appoint pastors and collect apportionments. If we are going to solve the problems of our church then we need to get down to the basic elements in the church and begin there.

  3. In the last several years I have wondered if Bishops respect us pastor’s. When I hear my bishop speak in public I hear that we are to blame for the decline in the UMC, but when I speak with him privately I get a different perspective. Maybe the first step in a call to action is for bishops to travel less abroad and more in their annual conference to have more contact with pastors. We will hear each other more and trust will have a greater chance of growing.

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