Truth or Inspiration?

People like to hear stories of success and happiness. I’m ok, you’re ok. That’s part of the genius behind movements as diverse as the Chicken Soup series and Guideposts.

I was talking to a pastor friend tonight whose Annual Conference has just begun. Once again they announced that membership of the conference is up. They take great pride in the fact that almost alone in United Methodism, they’ve been growing for over 20 consecutive years.

Except it’s not a fact.

Sure the statistical reports speak of growth. But the growth isn’t real.

My friend told me of a fellow pastor who moved to a new congregation and found hundreds of numbers on the roll that he couldn’t even match with names. The logical (and Disciplinary) thing to do would be to correct the role via charge conference action. But his DS disallowed it. “We don’t do things like that in our conference. That’s too negative. We grow here.” [Paraphrase of a paraphrase, but the general idea]

So conference-wide growth isn’t real, but at least it’s inspirational. But maybe not. My friend says everyone knows the growth numbers are fictional. This growth regime is what John Kotter calls “happy talk,” a mechanism to derail and prevent change. We don’t need to change, after all, if we’re already doing a great job!

I think we’re better off engaging Creative Tension (Bill Fritz wrote the book on this). Set a goal – in this case a conference growing in membership. Then tell the truth about the distance from that goal. Let the distance you have to cover create tension that impels you forward. Truth inspires better than fiction. Fiction lulls us to sleep. We might feel good about ourselves, but that is the way of death.

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3 Responses to Truth or Inspiration?

  1. As the pressure increases to show increases so increases the temptation to “play” with the truth.

  2. Richard H says:

    We’ve all faced the temptation to Big Church Braggadocio for years. You’re right that the temptation will increase even more as the impetus shifts from mere bragging to keeping our jobs.

    My current strategy is to be completely upfront with my congregation. I want them to know about this accountability – especially the biblical and theological reasons for it. I also tell them that the work is very hard. Just last night I pointed out that while we’d had quite a few join this year, most (if not all) had come as transfers from other congregations. I told them getting members this way was a good thing, but an inadequate measure of our “effectiveness.” My hope is to treat my people as full partners in reaching our goals. I know for sure that I can’t do it by myself.

  3. “My hope is to treat my people as full partners in reaching our goals. I know for sure that I can’t do it by myself.”

    Wise words! Lends itself to Trinty Sunday’s message. From the beginning there was love, community and relationship.

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