When Experts Collide
The post-modern west has entered a very shaky phase when it comes to our consideration of experts. Our public health experts have been colliding with each other from state to state, county to county and city to city regarding best responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. Our economic experts have been all over the map with market predictions ranging from mild recession to agonizing depression. Our sociological, theological, medical and judicial experts have collided over the definition of human sexuality. Many people are rejoicing at what the U.S. polling experts are reporting for the 2020 election except these same experts forecasted an outcome that collided with their predictions in 2016.
As pastors, we shepherd our people in the midst of these collisions. How do we develop the expertise we need to lead our people well in the midst of the uncertainty of our societal experts? Let me offer five categories where every pastor should develop expertise.
- Become an expert in the biblical narrative. I am a fan of the Bible Project podcast and love their tag line, “Helping people experience the Bible as a unified story that leads to Jesus.” As a pastor, are you an expert in the narrative of the Bible? There was a time in my life when I knew the story of my favorite sports teams better than I knew the story God reveals to humanity. Unfortunately, we have outsourced the telling of stories for our children, and generations are learning more about the birth of Luke Skywalker than the birth of Christ. I encourage you to allow the Bible to reemerge in your life as the key determinant of your reality. In a 2017 Patheos article, “Putting the Bible Together,” Dr. Kaz Yamazaki-Ransom offered a brilliant overview of the Bible narrative in a well-organized coherent way that exemplifies this kind of expertise that we as pastors need to provide. Are you an expert in understanding the biblical narrative? Have you Immersed yourself, your family and your church in the grand biblical narrative?
- Become an expert in “keeping time.” One of the strange benefits of the otherwise difficult circumstances of the pandemic has been (for some) unexpected leisure time. Some people have not enjoyed it because it has seemed so foreign! As pastors, we must rediscover the concept of keeping time with God rather than with the world. In his book, 24/6, Dr. Matthew Sleeth focuses on keeping and remembering Sabbath. We must help ourselves and our people understand the rhythms of time God has built into creation for our good. Imagine the multiplied benefit of becoming an expert with keeping time to the degree that stress is manageable, work is joyful and there is ample time for worship, family and friends. Do you practice Sabbath? Have you taught your people about Sabbath as an integral aspect of discipleship?
- Become an expert in serving with humility. As experts collide, our churches need leaders who aspire to what author Jim Collins calls “Level Five Leadership.” In his standout book, Good to Great, Collins has outlined characteristics most commonly found among successful leaders: they are modest and humble; they set others up for successes and wins and focus on other people’s successes more than their own; they have unwavering resolve; and they care more about the organization than their own profile. Their ambition remains with the organization and its goals, not about their own personal progression. They have what Collins describes as a “ferocious resolve, an almost stoic determination to do whatever needs to be done to make the company great” (Collins, p. 30). Collins says level five leaders “blend extreme personal humility with intense professional will” ((p. 21). Would people in your church describe you as humble? Why or why not? Which of Collins’ characteristics of “level 5 leadership” speaks to you the most?
- Become an expert in change management. Covid-19 has been a training ground for managing change. As the experts have collided, change has become frequent. Our ability to manage change grows when we understand how change emerges in groups. In his book, Diffusion of Innovations, Everett M. Rogers details five adopter categories—how quickly or slowly people tend to adopt proposed change—when dealing with change: Innovators 2.5%, Early Adopters 13.5%, Early Majority 34%, Late Majority 34%, Laggards 16% (Rogers, p. 247). When pastors gain a sense of the percentages regarding how willing their congregations are to adopt change, it allows for better planning and execution when introducing or adapting to change. How aware are you of how readily people in your church are to adopt change? How might this knowledge help you lead better as a pastor?
- Become an expert in the means of grace. In his sermon entitled The Means of Grace, John Wesley defined means of grace as “Outward signs, words, or actions ordained of God, and appointed for this end—to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace” (Wesley, p. 152). It is vital that while our worldly experts are colliding, we unify as a Wesleyans in practicing the means of grace given by God such as prayer, studying the scriptures, gathering for Holy Communion and visiting the sick and caring for the poor. We practice these means not as ends, but as a way of actively waiting for the coming of Christ, the ultimate defeat of evil and renewal of creation. Our expertise as pastors in practicing means of grace will inform our actions as we seek to adapt our ministries to pandemic circumstances and emerging forms of digital gathering and communication. Are you an “expert” in practicing various forms of means of grace? Have you taught your people Wesley’s concept of means of grace as a key aspect of discipleship?
To learn more about developing expertise when experts collide, see the following resources:
Mackie, Tim and Collins, John. “The Bible Project: Helping people experience the Bible as a unified story that leads to Jesus”
Yamazaki-Ransom, Kaz. “Putting the Bible Together.” In Patheos, 8 Sept. 2017, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2017/09/08/putting-bible-together/
Sleeth, J. Matthew. (2012). 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale.
Collins, James C. (2001). Good to Great. New York: Random House.
Rogers, Everett M. (1995). Diffusion of Innovations. New York: Free Press.
Wesley, John. (1988). “The Means of Grace,” in Wesley’s Doctrinal Standards: The Sermons with Introductions, Analysis, and Notes. Nicholasville, KY: Schmul.
Intellectual contributor: Dr. Eric Hallett, district superintendent of the Central Canada District of The Wesleyan Church.
Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus
Curator of content: Dave Higle