Sunday, May 07, 2017

“the main textbook”: Built for change review number 10

builtforchange Here is the 10th review of my book, Built for Change. It is also the 1st review in a more academic publication (St Mark’s Review No. 238, December 2016 (4)).

It is easy to find leaders and books that espouse the need for creative thinking. It is rarer to identify proven processes and principles for implementation of change. Built for Change goes beyond rhetoric in order to explores case studies, theological reflection and reflective practice of how innovation can be collaboratively fostered. As an out-of-the-box thinker, Baptist pastor, and Uniting and now Presbyterian theological educator, Steve Taylor emphasises that innovation at its best is a collaborative team project, facilitated by systematic and careful process.

By the way, Taylor is also carefully well-structured in his writing – I plan to show this book to postgraduate students as a model of clear writing, easy to follow structure and practical theology from a reflective practitioner. Yet creativity is interspersed in Taylor’s writing – the book starts with an outro (explaining how Taylor’s work at Uniting College for leadership and theology drew to a close), and ends with an intro (as he began at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership). The middle section of the book “Leading deeply” functions like a musical bridge to drive the themes deeper with theological reflection. He explores Jesus as innovator (and encourages KPIs – ‘Kingdom Performance Indicators’), evaluates case studies of how tradition can be reshaped to bring “fresh words and deeds”, and correlates theological models of leadership with the “Lead with your strengths” tool (useful for identifying what roles are present or missing in a team).

My favourite part of the book, however, is the foundational first section “Leading outwards” exploring case studies of change. Taylor explains how Uniting College and its faculty team was “built for change” while Taylor was principal, and how it established indigenous learning, young adult program and digital delivery. Taylor explains how he invested time in relationships, looked for partners for projects, and offered new ideas when the timing as ready. He grounds leadership in Paul’s example in I Corinthians 3 and 4 – as servants who listens, gardeners who plant diversity, builders who structure collaborative processes (for example, dreaming, brainstorming, clarifying, workshopping), resource managers who face reality, fools who jump out of boxes and playfully ask “I wonder”, and parents who parent (in contrast to the “paidagogos” or servant who is paid to walk a child to school and correct homework). He discusses how he sought to bring each model into his leadership, for example to listen by asking his team: “Tell me about your call, what about your work drains and replenishes your sense of call, and what do you do?” He also unpacks case studies of innovation facilitated by collaborative leadership in a rural community café, a community garden in Kings Cross and a creative worship resource incorporating the contextual work of 30 artists. The stories show that innovation is not best birthed from the hired holy guru, but emerges from within a group as they respond to local needs, or even ask their community to partner with and help them. Finally, Taylor offers innovation frameworks that complement his biblical models: Lewin’s force field, proposing experiments, anticipating the change curve, and progressing change through tacking.

The final section returns to personalised concerns of “Leading inward”. The chapter on time management suggested a few new tools beyond a handy “to do” list, including refocusing on call and the most important, beginning a big task at the end of the day to get the momentum going for the next day (and noting the next tasks to do), and utilising Evernote software. The chapter on “Leading limited” was brilliant in developing innovations from areas of weakness not just strength; for example, Taylor describes how he playfully took milk and cookies to classrooms to seek feedback from students on an issue the faculty were stuck on. Finally, Taylor discusses the leadership tools of journaling (including colouring and “Celtic knots”), breath prayer, asking the significant question “what could I do differently?”, and basic skills for chairing effective meetings.

Built for Change emerges out of thoughtful theological reflection, but Taylor also offers practical snippets such as this meeting checklist:
• How might the forming Scripture speak to the decision-making?
• Is the room aware of progress?
• Are all voices being heard?
• Are points of agreed decision clear?
• Are unresolved points named for ongoing work?

In previous books and papers by Taylor I have been inspired by the innovative approaches to church and theological education that Steve Taylor brings to his vocation – Built for Change lifts the lid on and helps make accessible the processes and thinking that he uses. These are not solely tasks for senior pastors or principals, but for team members who see a need or have the spark of an idea and are willing to serve/garden/build/manage/fool and/or parent it into reality. I will be returning to it for inspiration and ideas for my leadership and am already thinking of how to workshop the models as I teach missional leadership and congregational transformation. It will also likely become the main textbook for a new innovation and change management unit I am planning, offering as it does a unique mix of biblical models, innovation tools and case studies – all grounded in local Australasian contexts. I have personally ordered a dozen copies as presents for colleagues in theological education and mission training, so I think I can say with integrity that I count this as highly recommended.

This review was originally published in St Mark’s Review No. 238, December 2016 (4).

Review 1 here. Review 2 here. Review 3 here. Review 4 is here. Review 5 is here. Review 6 is here. Review 7 by Darren Cronshaw is here. Review 8 by Uniting Church Moderator, Sue Ellis, is here. Review 9, by American Lanny Vincent is here.

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