Playing for keeps

Mid Council leaders discuss how to cultivate resilience in face of change

October 17, 2017

St. Louis

When Kerry Rice thinks about resilience, he thinks of two of his favorite toys from childhood — Legos and Play-Doh.

“You can put them together any way you want to make something new,” he says, “but they never lose the nature of what they are.”

Rice, who is deputy stated clerk in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of the General Assembly, led a workshop titled “Resilience in the Face of Change” as part of the 2017 Mid Council Leaders Gathering October 13–17 in St. Louis.

Asked to define resilience, workshop participants offered various responses: flexibility . . . adaptability . . . perseverance . . . strength . . . not being grumpy . . . like a rubber band . . . falling down and then getting back up.

“In a quickly changing environment, how can we foster resilience on the part of our organizations, councils, and the rest of church?” Rice asked.

“We all know that we can’t control our environment,” he continued. Drawing from the work of Martin Reeves and Andrew Zolli, who have developed resilience strategies for businesses and other organizations, Rice described resilience as “the ability of an organization to shape, rather than control, unpredictable and complex situations.”

Resilience means not ignoring, but gaining energy, from disturbances and interruptions. “It’s the ability to not lose sight of your mission, even in the face of what’s going on,” Rice said.

 To which one workshop participant responded: “Interruptions — isn’t that what ministry is all about?”

Resilience also means recognizing that the most efficient approach may not be the most effective in the long term. Collaboration is not particularly efficient, for example, but it’s a necessity — especially in the church, Rice said.

“Collaboration is hard work. It’s easier to go it alone. That may be more efficient for today, but it’s not going to help you in the long run.”

Collaboration requires trust, he added. “It’s hard to collaborate if you don’t trust each other.”

Adaptation is another important aspect of resiliency. “You can’t just do it the way it’s always been done,” Rice said.

He cited the PC(USA)’s new Form of Government as an example of “adaptive governance.” Responding to the variety of contexts in which presbyteries operate today, it gives them the freedom to develop their own manual of operations.

“Cognitive diversity” — the opposite of “groupthink” helps foster resilience, Rice said. “Many of us are drawn to people who think like us. We need to make sure to cultivate diversity of thinking at the table. “

One workshop participant commented that after losing some more conservative churches in his presbytery, there is less disruption at presbytery meetings. 

“Less disruption, but at what cost long-term?” Rice wondered. If everyone agrees with each other, “we may not be challenging each other to find different ways to move into the future.”

Rice ended with a sports analogy: “I’m the son of a coach. What my dad taught me was to always be ready” — standing on the balls of your feet, leaning forward, knees not locked.

“That’s how I think of resilience,” he said. “Our faith that with God anything is possible should put us in that ready stance.” 

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