The challenges of the 21st century call us to be more intentional in addressing how we do ministry.
Leading in the 21st century requires adopting and practicing creative approaches to organizational change and development. Two that are particularly important are “pathfinding” and networking.

One Saturday several years ago, I spent an afternoon helping my grandson, Noah, prepare for an oral report on Davy Crockett, the Tennessee frontiersman, hunter, politician and popular hero.

We even went to iTunes and downloaded “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” from the 1950s TV series.

Although Crockett’s adventures may not have opened up new territory like Daniel Boone, Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, John Fremont and other pioneers, he was something of a pathfinder, discovering new trails and hunting lands in the rapidly changing Tennessee wilderness.

Men like Crockett were always just one step ahead of civilization. They prepared the way for expansion into new territories.

We still need pathfinders today. As we consider what makes effective organizations in the 21st century (churches, judicatories, etc.), we have to name pathfinding as one of the key values of such organizations.

Every group needs someone who is out there on the cutting edge, scouting out new possibilities and identifying resources that allow the organization to address those opportunities.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, scouting parties were sent out ahead of settlers to find not only the best places to live and work, but also the resources for a viable settlement there. Effective organizations today must embrace this value.

In industry, this function is often assigned to a research and development department, but many companies have discovered that the best innovations come from the factory floor or even from the user of the product.

Whether your organization is a church or judicatory, each person should receive a coonskin cap and become a pathfinder, looking for new opportunities and new resources.

This requires giving each person some time to explore or dream, just to wander around.

Such exploration may involve reading, research, benchmarking (discovering what others are doing), talking to constituents or just speculating.

Leaders in effective 21st century organizations will fight for this “blue sky” time because it is the only thing that will keep their organizations vital and effective.

Inherent in this mental model is the idea that the organization will be on the move. It will not be in the same place tomorrow that it is today.

Even if the organization wants to stay in one place, it cannot because the environment around it is changing.

In order to serve in that new environment, the organization must seek out new ways to serve within it. It’s a risky task, but it can also be a lot of fun.

Networking is also an essential skill for leaders of 21st century organizations. Networking has become a common term among individuals, especially entrepreneurs, who are attempting to connect with those who can help them achieve their business plan and those who are potential customers.

If you have a 20th century perspective on leadership, this characteristic of leadership will really get under your skin.

If you are part of an organization or judicatory, you may not see the value of encouraging the “gadfly” employee who flits from desk to desk, cubicle to cubicle or office to office looking over other employees’ shoulders.

If you are a church leader, you may be suspicious of the staff member or layperson cruising the hall with a cup of coffee in his or her hand, stopping to talk with whoever walks by and peeking into Sunday school classrooms.

Either of the above descriptions may not be the most effective way to share information within your organization or church, but there must be a mechanism for this to happen. Sharing knowledge is essential to the 21st century organization.

In some way, networking needs to be institutionalized within the organization or church.

Encourage both planned and unplanned gatherings of persons representing different parts of your organization.

Both organizations and churches might do better if everyone had the opportunity to stop by a common coffee or snack area before retreating to their individual cubicles or classrooms.

Finding ways to encourage people from different parts of the organization to cross paths, such as a common entry or fellowship area, might be helpful.

Meetings of leaders could focus more on sharing from the participants rather than dissemination of information from the upper echelons.

Good things happen in every community – church, judicatory or business. We need to find ways to share these things.

One word of warning: This will only work if you are willing to take some risks.

A 21st century leader who adopts this approach must be willing to put up with a little messiness and occasional flat-out chaos.

When you encourage people to share their creativity, you may be surprised, amazed and unsettled. That’s one of the risks of 21st century leadership.

Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is associate professor of ministry praxis at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He blogs at BarnabasFile, and you can follow him on Twitter @ircel.

Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from his book, “For Such a Time as This: Aligning Church and Leadership for Missional Ministry,” published by Pinnacle Leadership Press. It is available for purchase in paperback or as an e-book here.

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