Category Archives: Leadership

Solemnly engaging to conform

Will you be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them? And will you, in accordance with the canons of this Church, obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and your work?


 I am willing and ready to do so; and I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church. (BCP 526)

Engaging to conform

I have already been living under this vow for 20 years as an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church, but I have been invited to reflect on it again as I prepare for ordination to the priesthood.

First and foremost, I believe the center of this particular vow – in response to the bishop’s questions about loyalty and obedience – is the promise to engage to conform.

Doctrine, discipline, and worship may be the legal matter of this vow, but conforming (both willingly and readily) is the spiritual energy of this promise made by bishops, priests, and deacons at their ordination.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

We live in a culture that does not value conformity, but rather tries to sell us on the endless allure of newness, entrepreneurialism, start-ups, and fashion.

Being transformed away from that culture, away from conformity to that world, means the “renewing of our minds” toward the good, the acceptable, the perfect. Being transformed toward good requires the paradoxical conformity of humility.

Humility means learning the hard lesson that there are people who know more, and know better, than I do. As I have realized often in my professional career and in 20 years as a deacon (and more recently in three years of recovery), I can learn from the experiences of people who know what I need to know only to the extent that I am willing and ready to conform to “the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery,” or to the experience of my colleagues, or to the practice of the Church’s disciplines.



I have been taking an online Canon Law course through Bexley Seabury this fall, so I now happen to know that where clergy discipline is concerned:

Discipline of the Church shall be found in the Constitution, the Canons and the Rubrics and the Ordinal of the Book of Common Prayer. (IV.2)

The church’s disciplines are not random, but have organic beginnings in the early Church and have developed over time as society has changed.

In our particular branch of the Church, we have disciplines that include organizing ourselves in General Convention and dioceses and parishes, agreeing how we will worship (down to the fine print), and setting out requirements for ordaining bishops, priests, and deacons.

Engaging to conform to the discipline of the Church means willingly working within the political structures of General Convention, the diocese, and the parish – even if you are working ultimately to change those structures.

It means willingly participating in an ordination process that involves many other people, even if (as my faculty advisor observed a long time ago) it’d be easier just to stand on the street corner and say, “I’m a preacher!”

Napoleon Dynamite Gosh

It means willingly observing the fine print of the prayer book or other services authorized by Convention, whether you agree with the changes or not.

I’ve always worked in large, bureaucratic organizations, so I’m perfectly comfortable with the fact that there are policies and procedures – disciplines – that govern the way we live, and work, and worship together.


Together or alone, we Episcopalians worship God the Father, through the Holy Spirit, in the Name of Jesus Christ.

In just the same way as the disciplines of the Church have changed over time, so too has the Church’s worship, whether personal devotions or corporate prayer.

From the very basics – fasting and the Lord’s Prayer – to personal prayers several times a day, to gatherings of Christians morning and evening, to splendid Byzantine liturgies and daily Latin Masses, to monastic offices, to worship in the vernacular and the Reformation focus on the reading of Scripture, the Church’s worship has changed and evolved in myriad ways throughout the 20 centuries since Jesus’ time.

Engaging to conform to the Church’s pattern of worship means, for me, praying “by the book” using the daily offices of Morning and Evening Prayer.

Though the public offering of the Daily Office has not been required of clergy in the American Episcopal Church as it was in England, it’s the heartbeat of the English prayer book tradition and an unparalleled practice for hearing and responding to the Holy Scriptures. Other forms of personal prayer, like meditation and Centering Prayer, supplement the offices and give me a chance to be silent and receptive, communing with God in that way.

Secondly, even though for a long time Sunday worship in the English and American Church featured Morning Prayer and only occasional Communion, the pattern since 1979 (and in many places even before I was born) has been to celebrate the Holy Eucharist every Sunday and on other Major Feasts. The prayer book rubrics are clear on the subject.

I read an article this week in The Living Church by Andrew Pearson, a cathedral dean who says “we are a Morning Prayer parish in the first place, already differentiating ourselves from nearly every other Episcopal church in the United States.”

Engaging to conform, to my mind, means setting aside that kind of idiosyncratic preference in favor of practicing and promoting the Church’s current pattern of corporate worship.

It’s often said (by Episcopalians, at least) that “praying shapes believing.” Practicing the Episcopal Church’s discipline and following the pattern of the Episcopal Church’s worship reveals the Episcopal Church’s doctrine.


According to the canons of the Episcopal Church:

Doctrine shall mean the basic and essential teachings of the Church and is to be found in the Canon of Holy Scripture as understood in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds and in the sacramental rites, the Ordinal and Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer. (IV.2)

In the parishes and dioceses of the Episcopal Church we baptize new members of Christ’s body, making and renewing promises before God as we recite the Apostle’s Creed.

We pray morning and evening, reading from the Holy Scriptures and reciting that same baptismal creed. We celebrate the Holy Eucharist every Sunday, reading from the Holy Scriptures and reciting the Nicene Creed in affirmation of the faith we hold.

We confirm lay persons and marry people and ordain ministers in the context of the Holy Eucharist. In other sacramental rites, we reconcile the penitent, pronouncing on them God’s absolution; we minister to the sick, laying hands on them and anointing them with oil for healing; we bury the dead, commending them to God in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection.

Exsultet at Holy Communion

Our doctrine is our common prayer, and it is to be found in its disciplines.

My teaching over the years – in the catechumenate, in abuse prevention training, in Deacons’ School, in Episcopal 101, at retreats, on this blog, in Education for Ministry – has been, and will always be, rooted in the Book of Common Prayer and the Holy Scriptures, as the Episcopal Church uses them.

I stand willing and ready once more to engage to conform.


Five ways to become a data-driven pray-er

The company I work for supports leaders in healthcare and higher education with research, consulting, performance technologies, and talent development.

Staff of our member organizations appreciate not only our detailed research studies but also tools like our one-page infographics, which boil down key insights into memorable suggestions.


This particular infographic, it seems to me, bears not just business acumen but spiritual wisdom.

Why not try using these five principles to better incorporate data into your daily prayer life?

Be data-literate

Read the Bible. Read the Bible. Read the Bible.

If you want to be a follower of the God who is made known through the Bible — the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament — you’ve simply got to be familiar with the source texts.

Nothing substitutes for regular Bible reading, whatever plan you may follow.

My personal favorite comes from Edward P. Blair’s Illustrated Bible Handbook (Abingdon 1985), long out of print but still available on Amazon.

But not all plans are equal, and the Church has long practiced reading the Bible — putting data, that is — in context.

Consider praying the Daily Office, the Church’s preferred method for regular Bible reading in the context of prayer.

Morning and evening, if you follow the Daily Office lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer, over the course of two years you will read the bulk of the Old Testament once, the New Testament twice, and the Psalms about every seven weeks.

Soaking in the Scriptures will over time make you very familiar with its stories and songs, its letters and lamentations, its biographies and prophecies.

Be curious

As you read the Bible and pray the Offices, give yourself permission to wonder about the strange language, the startling metaphors, the upside-down picture they paint of the Kingdom of God.

Just when the religious leaders think they’ve got everything figured out, a judge or a king or a prophet or the Messiah himself comes along and overturns their world.

The term “lectio divina” refers to an ancient monastic practice of letting Scripture catch your attention, then pausing to ruminate over a passage or even a single word.

To ruminate is to “chew the cud,” so to speak — to get every bit of juice and other nutrients out of what you’re eating.

Follow the data trail wherever it leads, and keep being curious about what else might be revealed to you.

Be action-oriented

One common method of Bible study for small groups is the so-called “African method,” which builds on lectio divina and invites you to consider what you will do based on the passage you have just read.

It’s a three-part method.

First, like in lectio divina, read a passage of Scripture and note a word or phrase that catches your attention.

Second, as you re-read the passage (in a small group you would have a different person read it the second time), listen again for the word that Scripture is speaking to you. Often it will be the same as you heard the first time, but sometimes a new phrase comes to the fore.

Third, resolve to take a specific action this week in response to what you have heard.

The higher education project I work on at my company has the inspiring tagline “analytics with a bias to action.”

Similarly, becoming a data-driven pray-er means looking for inspiration by asking “what must I do in response to God?”

Be communicative

In his sermon on the Last Sunday after Epiphany, Fr. Ralph Osborne — the rector of the parish I serve — invited us during the season of Lent to speak to others about our relationship with God.

Share with someone else the insights you’ve gained as you read the Scriptures more deliberately. Share with them the actions you’ve resolved to take based on your reading.

Ask them how their reading of Scripture strengthens their relationship with God. Ask them how they feel led to act in response to Scripture.

Speaking to others about what you’re reading and how it informs your prayer will also help keep you accountable to act as you have resolved to do.

Be skeptical

Finally, the infographic above suggests that being data-driven involves asking the right questions of the data you’ve collected:

Have I drawn the right conclusions?

Am I looking at these results correctly?

Are these good goals and benchmarks?

Whether you’re in the office, or at school, or in church, or at home, it’s good to ask questions in order to be sure you’re on the right track.

In spiritual terms, this is called “being humble.”

People have been writing and editing and proclaiming and teaching and arguing about and meditating on the words of the Bible for more than three thousand years now.

Being a data-driven pray-er means recognizing that your own interpretation is by no means the only one out there. Millions of Jewish and Christian believers have written millions of words about the Scriptures and the God who is revealed in them. Chances are, you’re not the first person to ask the question that’s on your mind.

Likewise, just as God will reveal himself to you as you read the Scriptures, so has God given insights and encouragement to other people. It could be that what they have learned will be important for you to know, too.

There are a lot of data points to consider, so keep asking questions in order to see how your conclusions line up with the voice of the tradition and the other data-driven prayers around you.

Leading change from Sand County to County General

I’ve been reading Aldo Leopold’s classic of ecology and conservation A Sand County Almanac, and I just finished his biography A Fierce Green Fire by Marybeth Lorbiecki.


Aldo Leopold at “The Shack,” his family’s Sand County farm.

In one particular passage, she recounts Leopold’s struggles to sway public opinion during the Wisconsin “deer crisis” of 1942.

Leopold and other conservationists had become convinced that it was necessary to reverse the earlier practice of killing predators like wolves in order to “protect” species like deer.

Changing Years of Thinking

In fact, what Leopold had come to understand is that ecosystems or animals and plants depend upon the balance offered by predators and fire and other “dangers” — otherwise, species without predators or plants untouched by periodic fires overpopulate and damage the ecosystem themselves.

“A lot of people were swayed,” Lorbiecki writes, “but not enough; changing years of thinking was a difficult task. ‘The real problem is not how we handle the deer in this emergency,’ Leopold [said]. ‘The real problem is one of human management.'”

Leopold outlined his approach in this way:

The public we are talking about consists of three groups. Group 1 is the largest; it is indifferent to conservation questions. Group 2 is the smallest; it thinks with its head, but is silent. Group 3 is of intermediate size, and does all of its thinking with mouth or pen. Perhaps a Conservation Commission would do better not to try to convert Group 3, but to convince Group 2 that there is a problem and that it should say or do something about it. Perhaps this would shorten the 23 years [it had taken that long to get an effective conservation policy passed.] (Lorbiecki 162)

So Leopold identified three groups of stakeholders: Group 1, the undecided; Group 2, supporters; and Group 3, the opposition.

From Sand County to County General

When I taught healthcare leaders as a member of the talent development faculty at the Advisory Board Company, we outlined an approach that included a stakeholder analysis just like Leopold’s and suggested three strategies to take for effective change leadership.

Copyright 2013 The Advisory Board Company

Copyright 2013 The Advisory Board Company

Just as Leopold outlined, the first strategy is to move Supporters (his Group 2) from vague action to specific action. Give your supporters a schedule inviting them to act now.

The second strategy is to move the Undecided (his Group 1) from inaction to action. Here, you must identify “what’s in it for me” — that is for each of them. Why should they join you? How will they benefit?

And the third strategy, somewhat counter-intuitively, is to move the dissenters from active reaction against the change (“with mouth or pen,” as Leopold describes his Group 3) to passive inaction. It’s best if your opponents just do nothing and let the change proceed.

So often, even if we have done a careful stakeholder analysis, we fall into the twin pitfalls of change leadership:

Preaching to the choir

As I know from being an Episcopal minister, the choir is already sitting up at the front of the church with us!

Talking to our supporters is easy, because they agree with us, but it doesn’t necessarily move our change forward.

In fact, our supporters may get tired of hearing us go on about the issue all the time, and we run the risk of alienating them.

Going for 100%

When we know we’re right, we often spend a lot of time trying to convince others that they’re wrong.

The State Journal said of Leopold: “He, better than any other man in Wisconsin and probably better than any other man in the entire country, knows what real conservation is and how to achieve it” (Lorbiecki 162).

However, Leopold came to see the wisdom of backing off from arguments lest his opponents’ charges of “Leopoldian egotism” prove true (Lorbiecki 163).

Effective change leadership consists not necessarily in convincing opponents of the change that you are right, but of negating their inclination to act against the change.

This calls for political savvy in addition to strong convictions.

A Change in Ethics

Sixty years on, we are still facing issues related to conservation; clearly, the changes Leopold identified as necessary take time to play out.

Organizations, just like ecological communities, also tend to embrace change slowly.

Even if change is effective, it is hard to sustain. It can be a challenge to teach new members of the group the hard-won wisdom gained in previous change efforts.

Lorbiecki asks, “How could such a revolution in cultural thought [Leopold’s “Land Ethic”] be accomplished?”

For Leopold, “Ethics are a kind of community-instinct-in-the-making.” He told his students: If the individual has a warm personal understanding of land, he will perceive of his own accord that it is something more than a breadbasket. He will see land as a community of which he is only a member, albeit now the dominant one. He will see the beauty, as well as the utility, of the whole, and know the two cannot be separated. We love (and make intelligent use of) what we have learned to understand. (Lorbiecki 174-5)

Change Things, Love People

Whether you are leading change in a large organization or a small volunteer group, you are pursuing complementary purposes.

First, you must apply your leadership and political skill in the service of effectiveness — things must change, or you wouldn’t be leading the effort in the first place.

Second, you are also helping make or preserve a “community instinct.” You must apply your passion and understanding to the people around you, seeing not only their utility, but also their beauty.

People are part of any change, and the two cannot be separated.

To paraphrase Leopold, “we love (and make intelligent use of) the people we have learned to understand.”

One-liners, limits, and leaders


In these Instagram days, we love one-liners about important topics.

But even more, we like cool pictures tagged #goals or #vision or #leadership.

2015-05-28 19.37.30

“Vision is about a shared energy, a sense of awe, a sense of possibility.”

That sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?

And the quote comes from the conductor of a symphony, so it’s a little artsy, too. Even better.

Maybe a picture of a #sunset would make it more powerful?


The real power of a vision comes when it is used, put into practice in specific ways in a particular organization by a certain group of people.

Lofty visions and limited scope actually go hand in hand.

Listen to entrepreneurs number 4 and 3 in this short video from GoToMeeting.

Be precise … concentrate on your goals, what you want to achieve, and only on them.

Prioritize your manpower appropriately. Don’t chase every single possible thing for your startup to do.

Visions take form when we apply limits in order to clarify our focus, when we make choices about staffing and budgeting based on that vision, when we test and measure our success by the standard that our vision sets.


Visionary leaders are standard-bearers, constantly reminding their people not only of the lofty purpose but also of the limited scope and choices that entails.

I think of Gary Mecklenburg, who began every speech (internal or external) by saying, “I am CEO of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, an academic medical center where the patient comes first.”

He might go on to add that we focused on Best Patient Care and Best People.

Two sentences, two key concepts. Repeated every single time he spoke to anyone.

It got so we could all repeat it, even if we had forgotten to wear our “Patients First” lapel pin to work that day.

Visionary leaders are not only shaped by their learning (much of it coming from unglamorous, repetitious work) but are also creative in their practice.

Bearing Fruit

The creative fruit of leadership grows from seeds planted and watered, branches pruned and shaped steadily over time.

So let the one-liners and the cool pictures lead you to wonder how you might put a lofty vision into practice.

But learn from other visionary leaders about the concentration, discipline, and repetition that eventually bears fruit.