Means of Grace, Hope of Glory


Two misleading mental models on leadership

Also possibly deceptive, mistaken, and untrue.

There are a number of mental models about leadership that undercut some priests and bishops. Here are two.

  1. They will do more if I do less
  2. It’s possible to have a human system without a hierarchy

Mental models are images we carry around in our head that help us make sense of our experience. They are a representation for us of that reality. They simplify reality. Our understanding of ourselves, others, the work we do, and what information is important largely depends on how we have conceptualized our experience. We have created a kind of subconscious hypothesis about how things work. Mental models are necessarily based on incomplete information coming from the limitations of our experience. It’s selective perception.

All priests and bishops have mental models about leadership as it relates to their role in the parish or diocesan system. Some are useful and others lead to confusion and poor leadership.[i]



They will do more if I do less

This is the idea that “followers” will take more responsibility and participate more if I, the formal leader, do less. It’s rarely true and when it is what happens it usually comes with a lot of resentment. People wonder why they are paying that salary.


The goal is: strong rectors, strong laity; strong bishops, strong dioceses. It’s both/and not either/or.

Strong leaders do not ensure strength among followers and others involved in parish and diocesan affairs. But neither will weak or withdrawn leadership. It is however, certain that without strong leaders we rarely see strong parish or diocesan systems.

“He must increase, but I must decrease”[ii] is the biblical proof texting to justify our lack of self-confidence or maybe in some cases our laziness.

The need in your parish is for strong priestly leadership and strong lay leadership. The need in the diocese is for strong Episcopal leadership and for other strong centers of influence and power.

In fact the actual empowerment of people requires strong leadership at the top. It doesn't happen by magic it happens through the development of people and in the institution of structures and processes that encourage shared leadership and participation.

A caution about creating a façade result—rectors or bishops may step back in the hope that they will see more responsibility and participation from others and they will usually see something along the lines they desired. When looked at carefully what is often happening is that some laypeople in a parish, or certain clergy or laity in the diocese have stepped into the void and are now exercise their influence at the cost of everyone else. The more assertive claim the leadership. And once that has happened it is more difficult for positional leaders to reassert themselves in the service of the whole.

The rector of a parish and any associated clergy need to provide the focus in the work of shaping a healthy parish culture. That doesn’t rise up spontaneously from below. The rector and any assisting priests need to accept responsibility by nurturing a core of people living an apostolic form of faith and practice, fostering a corresponding climate, and on a regular basis explaining the purpose of the parish church and describing the healthy dynamics of such a parish. 

Whether we are the priest in a parish, or the bishop in a diocese, our job largely consists of leadership development and the formation of people in the Christian life.


We often hear about the need for resilient leadership. That includes an emotional resilience that allows us to quickly recover from set-backs and to adapt to the immediate situation.[iii] This has to do with accepting things as they are; working with the hand you are dealt. And then coping, improvising, and maneuvering toward the objective

It also involves developing a broader range of leadership styles and skills. Parish priests and bishops are much the same as leaders in other institutions. We have favorite leadership styles and we stay with what’s easy for us.

Our leadership needs to be looked at in relationship to serving the parish or diocese not just about what is comfortable or easy for us. The task is to provide the kind of leadership needed at a particular moment, for particular people, so that over time we advance the health and faithfulness of the parish or diocese.

We are all capable of expanding the range of our leadership behavior. In 1973 Bob Tannenbaum and Warren Schmidt wrote about leadership styles in the Harvard Business Review.[iv] They suggested that we think about there being a range of leadership styles going from “Joins” to “Tells.”

Here’s a PDF on their model

Knowledge and skills; Structures and processes
Shifting to a more productive mental model about leadership is helped as we develop skills and knowledge related to the new model. So, if you are a leader with strong skills at joining and enabling the group you may need to learn skills and tools for the other end of the spectrum. That might include making clear statements when you are going to make the final decision (anyplace on the spectrum between “Tells” and “Consults”) and providing a process in which people can connect with that. For example: “Tells” might lend itself to a quick action planning process. “Tests” might make use of a process in which a group identifies what it likes, what concerns it has and what it wishes, in relation to the proposed decision. Based on that information the leader might find a need to make some revisions.


                                 Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.”  


It’s possible to have a human system without a hierarchy

Here’s the 101 reality—there is always a hierarchy. It may be about being in a designated role or position but it may also be about who is the most intelligent, or the most competent in the area, or the most assertive or aggressive, or who’s the most engaging and extraverted, who has the greatest physical strength, or who’s the most charismatic. There are times when any of these forms of hierarchy might be appropriate.

Not all the decisions of any community can be made in group meetings. There isn’t the time for that. My own preference is to acknowledge the reality and have hierarchy that is accountable and visible. It is a waste of our time to think about there not being a hierarchy. The real issue is whether it is relatively transparent and responsible to some authority beyond itself. 

The Trinity – a synthesis of hierarchy and equality

The transformation of hierarchical structures is about life in God, in the Holy Trinity. Our parishes and dioceses have the potential for more mutuality and communion than we express.

The development of a practicing synthesis of hierarchy and equality is a work calling upon all the virtues of Christian life and character. Shaping parishes and dioceses that exhibit that life is a collaboration of positional leaders and all others in the system. Rectors and bishops need to be willing to implement structures and processes that affirm our differences of personality (extraverted – introverted for example) and provide ways for people to participate in a common life. Others need to be willing to develop a greater Christian proficiency and capacity for shared leadership.

There are some that create idealist visions of communities that are totally egalitarian. This is an avoidance of the hard work needed to envision and live a synthesis of hierarchy and equality. It is easier to claim that hierarchical systems are intrinsically unredeemable than to imagine and shape their transformation.

Knowledge and skills; Structures and processes

What I’ve noticed is that some of the clergy most instant in their fantasy about being non-hierarchical display a shocking degree of autocratic behavior usually expressed in intellectual overbearingness.  They also frequently show no interest in doing anything real about establishing a flatter organizational life. My hunch is that these behaviors are less about the person’s arrogance and more about their lack of knowledge and skill. They just don’t know how to go about it. 

I don’t believe most of these priests (and bishops) took their ordination vows with figures crossed. It’s just that seminaries are not able to produce someone after three years who can lead a parish church.[v] It falls to dioceses to provide the needed intern/residency process.

As illustration I’ll offer two ideas about living the synthesis. 

First, priests can stop avoiding the issues of authority and the symbolic nature of the role. Don’t tell people what to call you. Don’t say what you’d prefer. Offer the usual options out of our tradition and let them decide—Mother, Father, Mr., Ms. Mrs., Miss, first name.[vi]

Second, use your authority to facilitate and protect processes allowing participation that is both an increase in amount and in usefulness. For example use the “Around the circle” process--participants speak in turn around the circle. The comment is to be brief and on one point. The method helps equalize the voices in the room so the more hesitant are heard along with the more assertive. It can be especially useful when dealing with controversial issues.[vii]

someone will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go 


Changing the mental model

 Lt. Joseph Owen, USMC, was part of the breakout of the Marines at the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War. In speaking of his experience he said,

When we weren’t breaking through the crusted snow we were slip-sliding along ice trails, and it was windier up there than it was down on the road. Always, it seemed the next hill was higher and steeper than the one we were on. Whenever we got pinned down by enemy fire I had to give myself the same sermon: “You are a lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. You are expected to provide leadership under fire. You have no choice in the matter.” Then I would crane myself up off the ground and stumble ahead in the snow.[viii]

You need a sermon to give yourself; a more constructive and authentic message in your head

Here are two:

 Rank does not confer privilege or give power. It imposes responsibility. -Peter F. Drucker

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do. —Eleanor Roosevelt

It’s about enduring and persisting in the face of our own fears, hesitations, and frustration. It’s about coping with our limitations and failures.

I don’t think I’ve ever had the kind of complete internal sermon that Lt. Owen had. But as I look back I think these were the pieces of the subconscious sermon in my head. A sermon I’d hear when it seemed most needed. 

I am a priest of the Episcopal Church. I am to provide leadership in good times and bad times, when it’s easy and when it’s hard. I am to lead in the face of resistance or passivity as well as when there is cooperation and collaboration. I need to manage my own resentment and fear in doing that. I need to ground myself in Eucharist, Office, and reflection. The pattern of the Eucharist is the pattern of priestly leadership—that the diversity of gifts may be brought into harmony to the glory of God and in fulfillment of the mission; that there is a living  synthesis of equality and hierarchy, transcendence and immanence, knowledge and love; and that I am “To be with God, with the people on your heart.” [ix] 



On the Feast of Saint Peter & Saint Paul, 2013

A List of All Postings

[i] We can expand our mental models by: 1) increased awareness of the existing models and the assumptions that support them; 2) using other models of leadership that will better serve us and the parish or diocese; and 3) attention to the way in which we learn from our experience. The way of learning involved is a shift from what has been called “single-loop learning” to “double-loop learning.” That’s a shift from a static view of things to one that takes into account the actual dynamics, the related results and changes, and explicit mental models in the form of theories or frameworks.

[ii] John 3:30

[iii] See posting on Instinctual Leadership

[iv] Bob Tannenbaum and Warren Schmidt "How to Choose a Leadership Pattern."  Harvard Business Review article, May – June 1973

[v] I don’t want to give the impression that I think seminaries are doing nearly what is possible. They are not. But that’s partly about the natural self-protectiveness of institutions and partly about the fact that they don’t see what they could do. Nor do they have the competence within themselves to do it if they did see. Michelle Heyne, Melissa Skelton, Scott Benhase, or even Bob Gallagher (me) could provide a way forward so that by the time a student finished three years they could pass GOEs and be more self aware, better able to manage their feelings and behavior, lead a small group with a task to accomplish, live a productive and resilient spiritual discipline, understand how to gracefully live under authority, be able to provide basic spiritual guidance, and so on. Deans, give one of us a call!

[vi] “A small but symbolically important action related to leadership is about titles for clergy. Clergy that are new to a parish have all heard the question, “what shall we call you?” It’s usually a person’s desire to be courteous to the priest by learning about her or his preferences. Occasionally, the person is coming with the question with a right answer in mind and prepared to make a judgment about the priest. It’s a mistake for the priest to answer the question with his or her own preference. Worse yet would be to make a joke out if it, turn it into an opportunity to slam the preferences of other clergy, or make it into a grammar lesson.
We need to leave people with the freedom to work this out for themselves. They need to be able to call their priest Father or Mother at times and Sarah or Paul at other times. They need to be able to move into a healthy dependency when that is necessary for spiritual growth and into peer and friendly relationship when that is called for. So, when the question is asked I’d suggest that clergy respond along these lines. “There are several ways that people approach this. You can use the traditional titles of Father or Mother if that appeals to you some or all the time. You can also use my first name. Do what seems right to you at the time.” This isn’t about our preferences as individual priests; it’s about the mystery of how Christ uses us in the process of sanctification.
We are a Holy People and we are just people, Mark is just Mark and he is Father Smith. There is a process of growth in which people come to see themselves, their parish and their priest in this paradoxical way, as human and as symbol. It’s one of the ways in which an apostolic culture develops in the parish.” p 150 - 151 Fill All Things: The Spiritual Dynamics of the Parish Church, Robert A. Gallagher, Ascension Press, 2008.

[vii] For other processes see “In Your Holy Spirit: Shaping the Parish through Spiritual Practice” especially pages 91 - 106 and “Fill All Things” pages 107 - 121

[viii] Page 400, “Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea 1950” by Martin Russ, Penguin Books, 1999. Later in the book Russ provides another example of leadership. One of the tasks of Marine non-coms and lower level officers is to see to the well-being of the Marines they lead. One part of that has to do with making sure that the Marines take care of their feet. Captain Robert Barrow said, “ ‘We found out later that those two days and two nights were the coldest of the entire campaign. I learned that only leadership will save you in such conditions. It’s easy to say that a man should change his socks; but getting him to do so when the temperature is twenty-five below is another matter. Bootlaces ice over, and it’s a struggle just to get the boot off your foot. Most of the time you had to take off your gloves to do it. I found it was necessary to stay with the individual until he actually took off his boots and changed his socks and put his boots back on. Then I’d get him to walk about to restore circulation.’ Barrow devoted himself to this task through-out the night but could not prevent the eventual loss of sixty-seven of his men to frostbite, seven of whom became amputees in the end.” p. 410

[ix] Michael Ramsey


Turning a Congregation into an Audience

Turning a Congregation into an Audience: Ten steps toward producing dependency and passivity

Here are a few ways you can facilitate an audience approach to the Eucharist.

It took me a long time to figure out why some of what we do contributes to passivity and dependency. I think it’s rooted in a mix of 1) turf and 2) our genuine desire to be helpful. It’s also rooted in our tendency to respond to the perceived needs of the more tentative and immature parishioners with the offer of comfort instead of growth.

The result is that on many Sundays, in too many parishes, there are a large number of “messages” reinforcing dependency and passivity. Instead of encouraging and equipping Eucharistic proficiency we nurture helplessness. We usually have a good reason for each practice. One practice by one practice we move further and further into an unproductive dependency.

It isn’t any one practice. A parish can tolerate a few of these practices. It’s the cumulative effect of many practices.

Here’s the list: How to turn a congregation into an audience

1. Clergy can give directions and prompting movement during the liturgy. For example, invite people to sit for the readings and sermon. Instruct people to stand for the Creed. Do not develop an awareness of what’s actually happening in the congregation. Invite them to sit even if they are already beginning to do so. Introduce the Creed even if they have already opened their Prayer Books or leaflets to that page. In time we may be able to move to cue cards held up to guide the congregation. 

2. Ushers can control the movement of people when it’s time to come to communion. Don’t allow people to move until the celebrant makes a gesture at you. Walk backward from the front pews. Never allow a line to form. It’s important to undercut the energy and flow of the people’s communion procession.

3. Print the entire Liturgy in a bulletin. This will effectively undercut liturgical competence. Why learn if there’s no need to learn? It will also encourage people to avoid looking toward the liturgical action. In time this may allow us to return to the practice of having the “clerk” read the service from a lectern.

4. Parish musicians can contribute to the effort in a variety of ways:

  • Have cantors lift their hands when it’s the congregation’s turn to participate. 
  • Use hymns that are unfamiliar without rehearsal. It’s especially effective when it’s several hymns.
  • The musician can conduct the choir from the center of the choir aisle  (yes I know this was never seen until recent years but it seems more natural to musicians who think this is a performance) 
  • Lead the whole congregation (as in a sing along; older members will fondly recall Mitch Miller on TV).
  • Have the choir face out toward the congregation as though performing. Facing out makes it look like a performance and on many occasions means that the sound of the choir overwhelms the congregation
  • Ask people to remain in the pews after the end of the liturgy for a postlude. This can become another performance by the choir or organist. It helps if you can produce a feeling of obligation so that leaving feels rude.

5. Use a screen that keeps the liturgy and music in front of people.

6. In regard to the seating arrangement of the clergy—it’s useful to follow the practice of the more Protestant churches of having the clergy sitting near the altar but facing the congregation. This helps make them the focal point for attention and in doing so provides an opportunity to distract the congregation. This also avoids the traditional arrangement of being behind the altar (which at least allows the feet and hands of the clergy to be out of view).

7. Develop a norm of applauding during the Liturgy. If musicians do an extended postlude applaud after. If there is something or someone to approve of applaud them.

8. Make the Offertory a passive action for the congregation.  Have an anthem and no hymn. Encourage people to stay comfortably seating during the presentation of the gifts.

9. Positioning the baptismal font in the front of the liturgical space. That way no one has to turn around or move to participate.

10 Base liturgical decisions on four things:

  • Focus on comfort and safety. Clergy can develop the habit of saying, “If you’re comfortable try it.”  It encourages the fear in people. When you hear members say something like, “I’m not comfortable with doing that.”  Allow that statement to end the discussion. 
  • Compete with an entertainment culture – trying to create an upbeat environment of friendliness and “joy.” Take on the responsibility to generate uplifted feelings in people. 
  • Ignore the conventional suggestions in the standard Anglican pastoral theology models to nurture the “Remnant”[i] or the “Apostolic” and “progressing Sacramental”[ii] and give your attention to the comfort of the regular attendees who are more tentative, uncertain and possible immature. 
  • Ignore the liturgical prescription to shape worship with grace, beauty and flow and providing this kind of guidance, “If the ritual customs of the Episcopal Church are unfamiliar to you, relax, and let the community carry you.” Instead focus your attention on what you suppose is the anxiety of the visitor and new comer and your assumption that what they need from you is to be walked through the liturgy step by step.


Over time you will achieve the goal of de-skilling the congregation. People who once knew when to stand will now wait to be invited. People who once took responsibility to know where they were in the Liturgy will now wait for instruction. People will become more passive and dependent on the clergy and other leaders. A feedback loop will develop in which the more passive and incompetent the congregation becomes the more the need for clergy direction will increase.


This is a draft of a section of the upcoming Eucharistic Spirituality: From Audience to Congregation, Robert A Gallagher, OA, Ascension Press, available later this year.

A List of All Postings

[i] Pastoral Theology: A Reorientation, Martin Thornton, Wipf & Stock Pub (June 1, 2010). Also, originally in 1956; new edition The Heart of the Parish: Theology of the Remnant (posthumous, 1989)

 Thornton wrote, “The Remnant, far from being an amputated segment – the clique detached from the whole – is at the centre of the parochial organism and of power extending beyond it. It is the very heart which recapitulates and serves the whole; the heart of the Body of Christ in microcosm, and its relation to its environment is the relation between Christ and the twelve, to their world. This palpitating heart pumps the blood of life to all the body as leaven leavens the lump or salt savours the whole. There is nothing so contagious as holiness, nothing more pervasive than Prayer. This is precisely what the traditional Church means by evangelism and what distinguishes it from recruitment. … The Remnant concept is more than the “nice little nucleus” backed by a comfortable theory. True representation, real vicariousness, the whole process of Christ’s redemption of creation by the redeemed in him, is to be ascetically achieved.”

[ii] Fill All Things: The Spiritual Dynamics of the Parish Church, Robert A. Gallagher, OA, Ascension Press, 2008. I wrote, “When a parish has a healthy and productive Shape you see a definite movement. People are drawn into a deeper relationship with God and the church. There is a sense of spiritual movement in the parish. The Apostolic Faith percentage increases. Those of Apostolic Faith serve others by the example of their prayerfulness, humility, and openness. The sacramental and apostolic life of the parish draws the C&E and Vicarious. This process of drawing is evangelization. What this is not, but can be mistaken for, is the spirituality seen in some parishes that is really an outburst of experimenting Sacramental Faith. The parish seems full of energy. There’s a lot of motion but if you look closely there’s little personal and spiritual growth. Some parishes get caught up in multiple service projects, others in looking for behaviors that appear joyful, warm, and friendly, and others in signs of common agreement to a political version of faith.”



The Christian Life Model

I developed the Christian Life Model back in the late 1970s. It emerged for me as I read in Anglican pastoral theology and systems theory. I’ve made slight changes in wording over the years but not in the substance. It was the basis in 1982 for Power from on High: A Model for Parish Life and Development and later as a chapter in Fill All Things: The Dynamics of Spirituality in the Parish Church (2008).

It’s been widely used over the years by parish leaders and consultants in processes of exploration and planning and by spiritual directors and priests in spiritual formation ministries. Along the way a few people have tried to “improve” the model. The result has usually resulted in something that was a misunderstanding of how systems work, the spiritual dynamics involved, or simply about the process of constructing models.

A PDF of the model with a short introduction 

Let me share the four most common mistakes. In each case there is something useful the person is trying to get at. Messing with the model rarely helps us get at it.


Not seeing the dynamics

There are those who use the model primarily for assessing and action planning. They approach it as categories of parish life, ask how well are we doing in each and then make plans for improvement.

All that can certainly be a way to use the model. It’s not “wrong” but in itself is often flat and limited. The model is primarily an attempt to note certain dynamics that exist in the common life of a parish church and in the life of the individual Christian. In some ways I’ve contributed to the difficulty by providing assessing instruments in the books and in a variety of training programs.

The starting place needs to be in trying to see and understand the dynamics among the elements.

Here are two mentioned in Fill All Things.

“Martin Thornton points to it in The Rock and the River and in his description offers a process and systems perspective: 'Moral action only flows from doctrinal truth by grace and faith, that is through prayer.'”

“The active relationship among Eucharist/Daily Office/Personal Devotions can be seen in how the Office is deepened and enriched by a person’s personal devotions, how all three influence one another, and how the Office and personal devotions are focused and completed in the Eucharist.”

Once we have a sense of the balancing effect of the elements in our common and individual lives, and the dynamics among them, we might make good use of the model for assessment, exploration and planning purposes.


Changing “Doctrine” to “Education” or "Formation"

In my experience this takes place in communities and individuals who are anxious about the word “doctrine.” They may associate it with being dogmatic, inflexible, and narrow-minded. That of course reverses reality.

Heresy is taking a partial truth and claiming it is the whole truth. Doctrine, especially among Anglicans, is about the complexity of reality. It is about paradox and the grand adventure of holding apparent opposites together. It is the work of creative and reality based synthesis, seeking to make of various elements a whole. It is bringing apparent opposites into a kind of unity.  It is the Holy Trinity. It is Jesus Christ fully God and fully human. It is our way of diversity and unity; of the diversity of gifts brought together in harmony. Heresy is what is dogmatic, inflexible, and narrow-minded.

It is doctrine that provides us with part of the ground upon which we stand; it is doctrine that supplies the mental models that offer us spaciousness and tolerance.

Education is a method. We use that method in advancing all three primary elements of worship, doctrine and action. It can help improve what we do in relation to worship, doctrine and action.


Adding Community as a fourth element 

Occasionally someone wants to add “Community” to Worship, Doctrine and Action. Making the triangle a square.

The community is the body that lives worship, doctrine and action. As Christians in our Anglican tradition that way becomes for us a path into a richer and deeper life.

Community in itself isn't constructively transformative or helpfully grounding.  Nazis and the Klan were communities with their own kind of worship, doctrine and action.  

There are two things you might do if you want to explicitly include “community” in a model. One is to use another model. For example, the In Your Holy Spirit model does that.

The other is that you might present the Christian Life Model as provided and then say that you would like to take note of the relationship of the model to the Christian community.

You might do this --

 Do you see?


Adding experience as a fourth element in Doctrine

If you're a Methodist it's understandable. If you're an Anglican it's being confused. 

Of course, in day-to-day life our experience does have authority. It certainly does for me. However, the fact that I give so much “authority” to my experience is frequently a problem. It’s obviously self-oriented. It usually takes little notice of the experience of others. It’s not accountable to anything except itself.

Over the years I’ve done a lot of consulting and training work in which what’s at issue is: How are we to understand the experience we are having? What are we to make of it? We are in conflict or we are losing members or we can’t get much participation or adequate investment or life seems shallow—what is going on here?

Well-trained consultants and trainers know that experience in itself isn’t to be given much authority. It is experience that has been submitted to a disciplined process of refection to which we give authority. It is what we learn based on that disciplined reflection that offers a possible taste of wisdom. In training consultants and parish leaders I want them to have a grasp of dozens of these models and theories so they are able to approach the experience with a wide range of tools.

Often in that disciplined reflection we use a theory or model as a lens as we try to understand. Just this past week I’ve used Type theory with a group and the Shape of the Parish Model with another group.

In our tradition the sources of authority are—Scripture, Tradition and Reason. Experience isn’t a Christian source of authority in the Anglican tradition.  It is what we are seeking to understand as we use the lens of Scripture, Tradition and Reason. Those authorities, in relationship with one another, are our tools for understanding our experience as Christians.  

Worship at the Center

This is an addition to the list (as of April 2016 and March 2018).  I ran across this mistake in a document used to present core frameworks to a group of clergy. I first came across it in the Spring of 2015. I noticed the issues in it but I was busy with other things and set it aside. I recently came across the document again. 

The worship triangle had change places with the oversight triangle.

This placed worship in the center of the model. So the central dynamic of Christian life is shifted from being Worship - Doctrine - Action (as below)

to Oversight - Doctrine - Action (as below)

I'm very grateful to my friends that have been using the mistaken model. They have agreed to restore and use the proper image in their work.

Just a bit of explanation about the importance of this --
1. The three central elements of Christian Life are Worship - Doctrine - Action (not Oversight - Doctrine - Action)
From Page 55 Fill All Things

The starting place for this model is what the Anglican bishops at Lambeth in 1978 spoke of as pattern of life: "This inextricable fusion of worship, of doctrine, and of action constitutes the distinctive contribution the churches of the Anglican Communion desire to make to the Universal Church of God in Jesus Christ." Martin Thornton points to it in The Rock and the River and in his description offers a process and systems perspective: "Moral action only flows from doctrinal truth by grace and faith, that is through prayer"


The model is about the centrality and interplay of these three core aspects of Christian Life -- Worship - Doctrine - Action. The image used needs to reinforce that.


2. Thornton's approach - "Moral action only flows from doctrinal truth by grace and faith, that is through prayer" - notes the importance of the three elements for ascetical and moral theology and practice. In Thornton's model worship is in the central role. I'd suggest using his approach as a way of stressing worship when using the Christian Life Model. Caution - it does take most people a bit of work to grasp what he's saying. 
In February 2018 Michelle Heyne and I did some work with a Parish Development Clinic using Thornton's approach on the third page of this PDF. You may find it useful in your work.


3. The function of Oversight is, in part, to make the core triangle "work."  To shape the parish so that worship, doctrine and action are faithful and healthy. So there is a cultural density of those three elements that leaves a beneficial mark upon the baptized. It has a central place because it is central to accomplishing all that not because it is more central to Christian Life than worship.  It is central to the developmental task.


4. I do understand the desire to highlight the importance of worship. However, that's the work of another model. This one is about the dynamic among  - Worship - Doctrine - Action. A model that does emphasize the centrality of worship is the "In Your Holy Spirit Model" from the books of the same name by Michelle Heyne and me. (Gallagher book   Heyne book). 



Sound pastoral theology  

Sound pastoral theology begins with fact and truth. Our starting place is what’s real rather than what’s ideal or in some sense "needed."

In 1978 at Lambeth the bishops noted this “inextricable fusion of worship, of doctrine, and of action” as a particular Anglican understanding of the Christian life.

In the usual errors mentioned above what we see are either a challenge to what the bishops presented or they are a different understanding of the use of models in pastoral theology. Someone may make a case that there are more than three elements in this fusion. Others may be seeking a list of things to pay attention to rather than a map of an existing intricate relationship.

What I see in the model are elements that can’t be disentangled because they are an image that represents something that is real. The model is a complex synthesis of elements. 

A useful way to engage the model—really any model.  How to work with the copyrighted material

1. If you find yourself trying to highlight some element of Christian life not focused in the model, don't change the model. Find another model that serves your purpose. As noted above about using the IYHS Model to include Community. 

2. Contact the original writer. Discuss your thinking. Maybe you're missing something about the model. Avoid embarrassing yourself. You might learn something.  You might also enrich the field by advancing an understanding that the writer had missed. I have often felt embarrassed for the people making such rookie mistakes. Sadly they sometimes simply dig their heels in and yell louder. 

3. In presenting to a group you might first provide the original model. Then suggest your critique or revision.

4. Ask permission for use. It’s a respectful thing to do. Even if it’s been broadly given it’s courteous to let the original writer know about your use.  If you're really an open minded person have the writer comment on your revision. 


A List of All Postings


Glory in holy living and divine mission

Today is the Eve of the Feast of the Ascension and the Feast of Julian of Norwich

The Ascension is God’s assurance in the face of all our fear. The disciples have been very afraid. In his resurrection appearances Jesus addresses their fear[i]:

- The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.

-On the road to Emmaus he “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.”

- In the room Jesus stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you. … ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see

- And now as he is to ascend, he gives them a charge, they are to live and act, they are not to allow their fear to keep them trapped – “so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’”

Julian of Norwich lived in a very fearful time—with the Black Death, a church in schism, various popes claiming authority, and monks and priests teaching that it was all God’s punishment.

Julian responds to the fear of her time with a deep trust, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

I’ve been thinking a good bit during the past year about fear in our parish churches and a fear in many people, especially many younger people. I believe it’s largely a fear of Glory. It’s a fear of the holy purpose to which we are called and the holy life which we may participate in.

It’s usually not experienced in such grand terms. We see it in the patterns of relationship among people and in our parishes.

We see it in parish churches that have become whiny, passive-aggressive, closed in on themselves, and self-protective. They focus on the rules and finding someone to blame. It’s also there in parishes that have become focused on comfort, inclusiveness and belonging. They may generate a high loyalty in many members but they have little imagination or persistent energy. It’s all self-appreciation and maybe a tad narcissistic. In both cases we offer protection against giving ourselves and making deep, long-term commitments.

I think these patterns of parish life spring from what Julian saw as a fear of knowing our true selves and a fear that we might understand as despair.

In each pattern there is little reverence; what Julian calls reverent fear, the fear that pleases God. There may be a great many service projects but they are often activity without the roots of awe and adoration[ii] that provide their connection to the Glory.

This fear of Glory shows itself in our hesitation about or resistance to reverence in worship and in life. It also is seen in our difficulty with speaking the truth with honesty and humility or in listening to things we don’t want to hear.[iii] The needed conversations require a humble frankness and receptive listening.  Much of the conversation we see is rationalization of our fear and an avoidance of the Glory in holy living and the divine mission.

The safety so many seek is an illusion. It’s not in our control. But to give ourselves to the Glory—surprisingly that is in our power. How amazing!

If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.  ― Julian of Norwich 


 A List of All Postings

[i] Luke 24

[ii] One’s first duty is adoration, and one’s second duty is awe and only one’s third duty is service. And that for those three things and nothing else, addressed to God and no one else, you and I and countless human creatures evolved...We observe then that two of the three things for which our souls were made are matters of attitude, or relation: adoration and awe. Unless these two are right, the last of the triad, service, won’t be right. Evelyn Underhill, “Concerning the Inner Life”

[iii] See a model on effective communication in Michelle Heyne’s In Your Holy Spirit: Traditional Spiritual Practices for Today’s Christian Life. Pages    77 – 81. Here is a one page PDF from  p. 78


Worship that swept us off our feet: The role of the bishop and the diocese

Worship that swept us off our feet: Saint Paul's Seattle
Worship that swept us off our feet
So what’s transferable?
Small issues with large consequence
Instinctual and intuitive leadership
The role of the bishop and the diocese

Saint Paul's, Seattle: The Search Process

The role of the bishop and the diocese

I'm focusing on the two primary things a diocese needs to do: first, be clear that the primary task is parish revitalization. The bishop needs to say, "I am about the shaping of parishes so they are healthy, faithful and growing. Second, "We are not spending our energy and resources on trying to close parishes."

We are about parish revitalization

The orientation

Here’s the orientation we need to instill in parish priests and lay leaders. Really it’s two questions they need to have in their mind. Questions that shift the conversation into a fruitful place:

“Do you believe there are a significant percentage of people who would find this Anglican/Episcopal way of being Christians attractive if only they knew?”                 


“Do you think that the world would be well served if there were more people living full and faithful lives in that tradition?”

It’s a statement of value. That there is something worthy in who we are when we “do our thing.”  Many of us know that our hearts leap a bit when we come across someone living the spiritual practices and the ethos of this tradition. 


Bishops need to get clear

OK House of Bishops, all together now, “The primary task of a diocese is to shape health, faithful and growing parish churches.”  Great, now say, “I will.”

Here’s the awful fact—most dioceses have done nothing near what is necessary to turn things around. Nothing even close. Nothing! Some have spent money and time chasing “solutions” from those who don’t really understand our tradition. Many have done little more than make gestures.

We can do better.


A diocesan parish development system 

If the bishop will put into place the core elements of a diocesan parish development system, things will improve in five to seven years. It needs to be lead by people with the necessary training and experience and all the pieces need to be operational.

The core elements are:

1. The bishop needs to monitor parishes and intervene in ways that advance the primary task of parish health.

 Work with the stable and healthy parishes to build upon their strength. Work with and those growing static or in decline to address that trend. There needs to be a weekly meeting of a parish concerns team in the bishop’s office. Yes, weekly.

2. The sense of direction needs to be clear.

We are about shaping healthy, faithful, and growing parishes. The bishop’s staff and other diocesan groups have organized themselves to focus on the task.

3. There needs to be a strategy

A strategy for facilitating movement, building capacity, selecting and equipping clergy leadership, dealing with parishes sliding into decline or those already deeply in decline and moving toward internal disintegration.

4. A system of resources needs to be in place.

Substantial training of parish teams that always includes the clergy.

5. The heart of the matter

At the heart of our efforts for parish development is the need to do three difficult, strategic things:

- Manage the “demand system”

- Develop trust between parishes and the diocese

- Build the diocese’s capacity for parish development

There’s more of course but these five things are the core. More on the core elements.


The bishop’s personal attention

It requires the bishop’s personal attention. Start with the weekly meetings to monitor and the follow through. Follow through that acts to strengthen the strong and lift up the weak. The bishop needs to either have training and experience in the complex dynamics of revitalization or have such a person at hand.

The bishops need to spend more time in their dioceses if we are to develop our parish churches. My impression is that over the years there’s been a drift toward a condition in which bishops spend more and more time out of the diocese—meetings of the House of Bishops, meetings of a bishop support group, regional meetings, consecrations of new bishops, sitting on the board of seminaries and national church committees, and more.

I’m sure it’s all important. But it’s killing us.

We’ve all heard the military talk of “mission creep.” The bishops have gotten caught in an “absence creep.” Each decision to be away from the diocese makes sense in itself. Each is a "good thing." And others want the bishop to do it; there is what's called a "demand system." While on the other hand there is almost no "demand system" on the part of the static and declining parishes. In their increasingly weakened condition they rarely ask for help. 


A bishop is about three things

There are three areas that constitute the essential work of a bishop and a diocese.

1. The renewal and revitalization of parish churches.

The bishop needs to help all the parishes be communities that live and worship to the glory of God and in which the baptized are formed as instruments of God’s love in their lives in families, the workplace, with friends and in civic life. This includes seeing that all parishes have worship that sweeps people off their feet.[i]

2. Engaging the region of the diocese

The diocese can work for justice and compassion, in that state or city, on its own, as well as in cooperation with parishes and in collaboration with other denominations,

3. Connecting the diocese with the larger church

The bishop is an essential connection with the national and international life of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.


There are also all sorts of odds and ends a bishop may need to deal with but these three things are the core. And the renewal and revitalization of parish churches is the primary task. If a bishop does the other two things and fails at this—that bishop has failed.

This isn’t a question of priorities. I know that some bishops have listed parish development as one of their priorities. Then there are two or three other “priorities.” Shaping parishes isn’t a “priority” it is why the bishop is there!

The priorities need to be around how to act most effectively and efficiently in accomplishing the primary task. Do we give more energy this year to clergy recruitment and development or to setting up the two year leadership-training program in parish development? Priorities change but the organic reality doesn’t.

The oversight and development of parishes is the primary task of every diocese.  It's not a priority.  It's the business we are in. If we are not working at that we are not doing our job. 


Give an example

Here’s an example of what a bishop’s staff working with parish leaders might accomplish. In almost all cases if this is done, things will improve.

A turn around in three years:

1. Get a parish team in training, it must include the clergy. It needs to be training along the lines of the College for Congregational Development, the Church Development Institute or Shaping the Parish. The kind of training we are talking about is not a few weekends with Alban Institute. Even two years with one the major programs is for many people not nearly enough. They also need coaching and supervision.

2. Improve the Sunday morning experience in the first few months. Skilled parish development professionals need to "tell" in this case. Yes, tell the parish what has to be done immediately. Starting next Sunday. We might even make this a line to cross. Lay it out. Have a vote. If the congregations of the parish don’t want to do what’s necessary—fine, the pressure is off for now. But the diocese will also not spend energy on that parish.

It helps to have a place where the parish crosses a line and agrees to move into territory that may be unfamiliar and even scary. Of course much of what we do in revitalization needs to come gradually, with nudging and invitation. We need to be patient and persistent with people. All true. And it is also true that can be energizing to make a decision that takes a bold action, that changes the way we do things, and that causes the more timid to step back and stare.

3. Improve the parish web site in the first 4 months. A PDF

4. Begin a planned giving effort in the first 18 months. Act as though the parish is going to be alive in the future and will need resources that under gird its life.

5. Establish a system of coaching and supervision for the parish clergy. Separate the two. Supervision is about authority, responsibility and accountability. Coaching is helping the priest develop better skills for instinctual intuitive leadership.

In relation to supervision we need to shift from a stance of “do your best,” “We all appreciate your efforts and how difficult it is” to a focus on results. We need to assess clergy based on results not on the process of things or their good intentions. We also need to insist that they get the process right. It's not adequate to begin with the assumption that going through the motions is all you have to do. The outcome we need is a healthy, faithful, growing parish that is to the glory of God and effectively forms people to be instruments of God’s love in daily life. It is not simply good administration. It is not having many programs.  It is not only membership growth is also health and faithfulness.  The critical strategic act may be getting clergy to work on the right things.

Of course there are situations where because of internal resistance or contextual factors we will not be successful. The priest may do everything possible and yet not be able to bring about what is needed.

Finally, please note this is just about a “turn around.” It is about beginning to get things on the right course. Think seven or eight years to see the fruits. A PDF on the Process of Change


We are not about closing parishes

This needs to be said. It is grounded in the understanding that a diocese’s primary task is parish revitalization. There are of course other things a diocese does that are important. But our focus will be on helping our parishes become healthy, faithful and growing.

The bishop needs to say, and keep saying, something like this,

“The primary task of a diocese is to shape health, faithful and growing parish churches. That’s what I will give myself to doing. That does not mean that some parishes will not need to be closed, or merged.  It is about where we put our energy, attention and resources.”

Here’s why we need bishops to say and do this.

First, it keeps us focused on the right things.

Second, it takes a lot of energy to close and sell churches. Parishes don’t give up easily. Trying to “kill” them is a nasty and exhausting business. An attempt to hide what we are doing or smooth it over with indirect language only makes it worse.

What kind of cooperation do you think you're going to get from the leaders of a parish church if they are afraid that the diocese is looking their way so they might get the parish resources to use someplace else? In such cases many parishes begin to avoid contact with the bishop’s office and hide information. It would be no surprise if rumors didn’t spread about there being diocesan “death panels.”

I've actually heard diocesan leaders speak of closing parishes as being acts of bold and couragous leadership. I guess that might have been said of George Armstrong Custer.

Third, some parishes will close. This isn’t about using all our resources and energy in saving the weakest parishes. It is about not investing ourselves in trying to kill parishes. Helping with these structural matters are part of what a bishop’s office can do for parishes. If a parish’s present life is out of alignment with the resources and energy they have within the parish there is probably a need to change the structure of ministry. 

Some places will close or maybe they will merge with another parish or they might join in a cluster arrangement.

Forth, there is a closing fantasy. We can close parishes and we'll have all the assets to use for "mission."  The fact is that there will not be all that much. And most likely there will be a struggle over who gets the money. Which takes us into our greed. It is a disturbing dynamic when the parish in the next town is hoping your parish will close so they can have some of the money. Worse yet when you have succumbed to it yourself. And in the end it is only postponing our decline.

Fifth, there's the question of when does it end? When have we closed enough of them? We act as though a diocese is a static system. We'll close some places, improve others, and it will stay that way. But we know better. There will always be parishes that become static or move into decline because of demographic issues or conflicts or poor leadership. Taking an active stance about closing our parishes is a way to get smaller and smaller. When we do it just a few at a time we don't see the damage we are doing.

Sixth, it's a demoralizing process. It tears the heart out of people.

Seventh, demographics change. Many of us can identify areas where there use to be an Episcopal parish church. If only we had held onto that property. If only we had rented it to others for ten or fifteen years. 


To say that we are in the business of health and growth that we are not in the business of closing parishes is not to say that some parishes will not close. It is not to say that we would just fund you endlessly. In fact dioceses need to stop funding some places. Let them make it on their own and if they can't make it, help them decide how they will change including if it is time to let go and close.


In making the choices about moving to a new way of parish life it is wise to have a process that maximizes the congregation’s participation within the limits of what the diocese can afford in resources and time. Decisions made in that way cause less damage and are more sustainable over time and under pressure. A number of parish have made use of a congregational options process to explore and make such decisions over a period of 5 – 9 months.

Yes, we do know how to revitalize parishes

What Melissa did at Saint Paul’s is based on approaches that are transferable to most parish churches. Others have seen success based on the same principles.


We can do better.


A List of All Postings


[i] In the Hospitality of God the bishops wrote -- “Worship that swept us off our feet and modeled what we might hope for in many more churches across the Communion”

“But it was at St. Paul’s Seattle that we experienced most fully the power of shared gesture for building up a sense of the body of Christ and of a community intent on God.” They then described the liturgy and then asked themselves a question, “What was special about this worship?”

They noted that it was fundamentally “familiar” and “conventional” and went on to share three elements that “contributed to its being a stunning and moving experience.”

First, “a deep spirituality of engagement by the entire congregation.”
Second, it was carefully choreographed and rehearsed, yet it did not feel precious or stilted; the whole liturgy was a beautiful dance.”
Third, “the non-verbal participation by the entire congregation” referring to acts of mutual reverence that had the effect of “creating a sense of a community engaged in something entirely corporate and significant for them.”[v]

 “As a visitor to St. Paul’s, it was easy to be swept up to fully participate in the liturgy because it was confidant, well done and a genuine expression of the spiritual life of the body. It was simply true.”

Worship that swept us off our feet
Worship that swept us off our feet
So what’s transferable?
Small issues with large consequence
Instinctual and intuitive leadership
The role of the bishop and the diocese

Saint Paul's, Seattle: The Search Process