Those of you familiar with best practices in leadership know this buzz word well: “adaptability.” For years now, leadership experts have hailed it as a necessary quality, present in strong leaders. Tod Bolsinger even wrote a popular book, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Unchartered Territory, exploring the idea of adaptable leadership. Bolsinger uses Lewis’ and Clark’s famous expedition as a metaphor for church leadership today, showing how they had to leave their canoes behind as the terrain very literally changed before their eyes unexpectedly. Sound familiar?
Now some of you are inherently adaptable. My husband is among you. Last October we took the Clifton Strengths Finder, which measures a variety of talents, ranking them for each individual. My husband’s leading strength: adaptability. We had a good laugh about this because while I have my own set of unique strengths, adaptability isn’t really one of them. In fact, it’s almost last; falling at 32 of 34 possible strengths. So I know the irony well of preaching adaptability to leaders who are almost by default more adaptable than I am! Still, the reality is we must all adapt, whether it’s one of our strengths or not.
The truth is any of us can be adaptable and even learn to thrive in this new atmosphere. “How,” you ask? By knowing your mission and leading from it, both personally and corporately. So often we are wed to our methods, but the need for social distancing and orders to stay-at-home bring an excellent opportunity to forget the methods and focus solely on the mission. The task of adaptable leadership is the task of being wed only to the mission and realizing the methods mean very little. You don’t have to keep doing all the things you were doing, or find new ways to recreate all those things. Let me repeat that: you don’t have to keep doing all the things you were doing. You do need to figure out what things matter today to advancing your church’s mission and work on those. Those things may have changed in the last week and a half.
John Wesley learned to be adaptable too, and I have to wonder if, just like for many of us, it was a rough road. His friend asked him to preach outside in the open air, rather than inside the walls of a formal church and Wesley resisted. Eventually he came around and said that he “submitted to become more vile” through this new method of field preaching. You see, Wesley was clear on the mission and that clarity brought results. What if today, by focusing just as intensely on the mission and submitting to become more vile ourselves, we too had unexpected results? God may well be doing things we cannot yet see.
We have been forced into a season where we have no choice but to be adaptable. It’s required of our leadership. Still, the best advice I can give you in this season is to know who you are and lead from there. This is an amazing opportunity, if only you’ll allow it to be, to examine everything you do and ask hard questions about how this fits in with who you are as a church (or an individual). Make the needed changes and then remember: it might all change tomorrow, or next week. It’s okay. Things are changing even as I write this blog. Maybe it’s a good reminder that the only thing that ever really mattered was our call to be the church, making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
So go, adapt, and remember the words of Ephesians 3:20: God is able to do far more than we ever ask or imagine.