Look Back and Learn: Investing in Wisdom Equity

In researching and working on some leadership development material for an ongoing writing project, I came across the following:

Christianity is a religion of change. Jesus’ call in Mark 1:15 (the kingdom of God is at hand) was a call to change – change of mind and heart, of conduct and character, of self and society. By its very nature Christianity is a religion for a changing world and has always had its greatest opportunity during times of upheaval.

The Christian leader has no option; he must face a changing world. If the leader is to render maximum service, he must both adjust himself to the phenomena of change and address himself passionately to the business of producing and guiding change. Here are some elements that constitute the changed world in which the Christian leader today is called to fulfill his ministry.

Changed world outlook

Changed economic philosophy

Changed social consciousness

Changed family life

Changed community conditions

Changed moral standards

Changed religious viewpoints

Changed conceptions of the church

Changed media for molding public opinion

Changed demands made upon the leader

Pretty good list, right? Dead on. Taken from today’s headlines.

Nope.

courtesy the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

courtesy the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

The author was Gaines S. Dobbins, distinguished professor of Religious Education at my alma mater, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville KY.

Written in 1947.

As the introduction to the book “Building Better Churches: A Guide to Pastoral Ministry.”

Dr. Dobbins retired before I was born, but while in seminary in the early eighties I had the privilege of sitting under a couple of professors who were students of Dr. Dobbins. When I came across this book in a used bookstore, I bought it on impulse. After flipping through it, I realized it was a treasure of leadership wisdom.

At Auxano, we talk about a concept called “vision equity.” As developed by founder Will Mancini in his book Church Unique, it’s realizing that the history of a church is a rich resource for helping rediscover what kinds of vision language past generations have used. That language is very useful for anticipating and illustrating God’s better intermediate future.

As I read Dr. Dobbin’s book, I think there is also a concept called “wisdom equity.” It’s realizing that there have been some great leaders and deep thinkers over the past decades and centuries whose collective wisdom would be a great place to start as we struggle with the new realities that face us every day.

It’s why I love history – I see it not as an anchor that holds us to the past, but as a foundation to build a bridge to the future.

Go ahead – look back and learn.

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Leaders Should be Students of History

Usually the word “history” elicits one of two responses: a glassy-eyed stare and memories of those required classes in school that were mind-numbing, or an excited look followed by the phrase “Did you know that…”

I, proudly, am guilty of the latter.

Not content to read and study “normal” history (both my undergraduate and graduate minors are in history), I default to the obscure and strange. Who else would read books on the history of salt – or the history of dust – or the history of cod. Yes, cod. The little fish, that when salted, kept it edible for long sea voyages, allowing the “discovery” of the Americas by Europeans, among other uses (that’s a two-for-one use of history, in case you didn’t notice).

Leaders need to understand history, too.

Not just the history of books, though that’s a great start. Leaders in the local church need to know the history of the people and place they are serving. Only by understanding the past can you ever hope to lead to the future. Will Mancini, author of Church Unique and founder of Auxano, calls that “vision equity.” It’s the stories and actions over the years that have led that church to the place it is today. It’s the solid foundation that tomorrow is built on. To be ignorant of it or to ignore it is an invitation to mediocrity at best, or disaster at worst.

There is history in a place, too. Last week I was onsite for a Guest Perspective Evaluation at Cape Christian Fellowship in Cape Coral, FL. During my Saturday evening walk around of the campus, I was struck by the visual and audible impact of 3 existing water features, and 1 more in the construction phase:

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A simple aeration spray in the lake on the edge of the property.

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This beautiful waterfall is at the edge a a large grassy play area by the children’s building.

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This water jet fountain is the first thing you see on the path from the parking lots to the worship center.

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Fellowship Park, under construction. The splash fountains in the center circle will be a kids and family magnet.

These water features are part of the history – past, present, and future – of Cape Christian. They are telling a powerful story in the community.

History is a rock. Not an anchor to the past, but a bridge to the future.

Are you a student of the history of the people and place you serve? If not, there’s still time.

Class starts today.