EP 158 – AVOIDING PRAGMATIC PITFALLS – LEADERSHIP WISDOM PT.1 –
Hey Bootcampers welcome back! Just a reminder that we’d love to see you in Louisville at the Am I a Replanter? October 27-28, 2022. You can register online here
Let’s get to it, we’ll start by defining pragmatism.
Hamilton says that what he means by “pragmatic is assessing a plan or belief in terms of its practical success. Pragmatism is a way of assessing problems and situations based on their immediate practical consequences rather than on abstract or ideological concerns. In other words, what’s right works.”
Before you toss out pragmatism understand that in it, there’s both good and bad. The challenging part of buying totally into pragmatism is that it may work in the short run-but often it doesn’t pay off in the long run. Most of the time, if you buy into an overly pragmatic decision-making style you’ll begin to experience unintended consequences.
Sit back, lean in, and listen to some of the helpful wisdom in this EP.
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JimBo Stewart: [00:00:00] Here we are back at the bootcamp, Bob. I hope you’re ready for the next episode. Joining me we’re live both actually in person in our houses, and excited. But when this comes out, we’re recording a couple weeks early. We will been traveling some more. And man, it’s just a joy to get to serve in this field with you.
Bob Bickford: Man, it’s a blast. We, we, um, we’ve actually seen each other a couple times recently, the, the summit, that we held in Alpharetta, cuz we work for Nam and we were at the summit and and then we, we got the chance to get together with some replant leaders in Louisville and that was a blast. And
JimBo Stewart: Hey, we’re gonna be back in Louisville at the end of October. Look, if you are new or interested, if you consider yourself like a brand new rookie novice, or you are considering replanting revitalization, you’re a resident somewhere. You’re a seminary student. man, you should really consider coming to hang out with us in Louisville.
At the end of October for the am I a re planter [00:01:00] conference, October 28th, 29th. We’ll be there. Our wives will be there. Uh, Brian Croft will be there hanging out with us. And it’s, it’s a noon to noon Friday, Saturday time to hang out and learn more about replanting and revitalization.
Bob Bickford: Hosted by our good friends. The Southern Baptist, theological seminary there in Louisville and beautiful campus, amazing facilities. And so it’s a great time. And I would say even Jimbo, those guys who are revitalizing a church, it might be helpful for them as well. Like they, they think cuz there is some overlap between a characteristic, the character, I, I must have lost my ability to speak there for a second.
Duo there are some overlaps between revitalizes and replant. Similar characteristics is what I was trying to say.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah,
Bob Bickford: So I think helpful. It’d be helpful to the guys.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah, I think it, it, I mean, if you’re new to the world of revitalization of replanting, this will be a [00:02:00] beneficial time for you. And we’d love to hang out with you. And it’s only like 15 bucks a person. You can stay on campus. We’re gonna feed you. It’s gonna be a good time. Hey Bob, there’s a book.
I have started reading on the recommendation of our buddy. Triple H happy huggy. Hallock has recommended a book to me called wisdom in leader. By Craig Hamilton, it’s out of Matthias media, the same publishing house that put out the trellis and the vine. and so if you know, the trellis and the vine, and kind of the philosophy of ministry behind the trellis and the vine, it’s a similar philosophy of ministry, but really focused on the leadership part of it.
And at the heart of the book, at least from what I’ve read so far, it it’s really trying to walk. That tight rope of not being overly pragmatic results, oriented leadership, based just learning leadership stuff and [00:03:00] what he calls hyper, practical, hyper Calvinist. Like if you’re you you’re, you lean so much and hide behind the sovereignty of God that you don’t actually do the part of the hardworking farmer that you’re supposed to do.
and really a lot of it comes down. If you think about what people, the word people use in a pejorative negative sense towards people, that go too far, the leadership side of things, they’ll say they’re overly pragmatic, right? Everything’s about pragmatics. He’s got a great chapter in this book, called pragmatism doesn’t work in practice.
And, I, I wanna take today and probably next week as well, and, and take that chapter out of that book. And let’s talk about it.
Bob Bickford: I love this idea, you know, Jimbo, I grew up, uh, in ministry, early days of ministry in the Willow Creek leadership summit days, and then the Andy Stanley drive conference days. And so. [00:04:00] Huge huge, insights and impact in my thinking. And. Understanding of ministry, but I will say that, that, that was one of the criticisms that was leveled at both of those conferences, that it was high pragmatism, not much theology.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah.
Bob Bickford: I don’t, you know, in some ways that might have been a fair criticism, not always depending on the speaker in the session, but I think there is a backlash between, those who wanna focus on just Pragma pragmatism and what works. And then those who are. Hyper theological. And there’s gotta be some understanding of both sides of it.
And I think what we’re gonna get to in these next two podcasts is understanding the differences between the two and perhaps the middle ground that we need to, to live in.
JimBo Stewart: So Hamilton says when it comes to ministry in leadership, kind of one of the main questions in this field of it that we wrestle with is what does being successful and effective look like and how do we know when we’re doing it? And so [00:05:00] the, the charge, like you said, against ministry leadership books, uh, is that they offer just pragmatic answers.
So Hamilton in chapter nine says that when he says pragmatic. So just to define terms here, uh, he says, when he says pragmatic for this sake, he means pragmatic is assessing a plan or belief in terms of its practical success. Pragmatism is a way of assessing problems and situations based on their immediate.
Practical consequences rather than on abstract or ideological concerns. In other words, what’s right. Works. Uh, and so to just to say that in our own words, I think he’s saying that when we say pragmatism pragmatism, it steps out of ideology in theology. And one of the main concerns and focuses there is really like.
Immediately get us, get us to results as quickly as possible. This kind of immediate concern [00:06:00]for getting to results. That’s pragmatism.
Bob Bickford: I think most of us have felt that pressure to do what works to help a church turn around and be healthy again. And oftentimes what’s marketed to us are quick solutions. And things that will impact, perhaps let’s say they impact the culture for a short season and a short cycle. Maybe they impact some of the superficial elements of what we’re doing.
All those are good. They can be good. But what we’re really talking about in replanting, a church and revitalizing a church is really getting at the core issues that are heart issues and spiritual issues. Cuz one of the things we always say when we’re out in the field is that church decline is first and foremost, a spiritual.
JimBo Stewart: Hmm.
Bob Bickford: It’s not a pragmatic problem, right? If we were able to throw strategies and practices at it, we would’ve solved it a long time ago and Jimbo you and I would not be on a podcast. We’d be sitting on the beach somewhere with our feet in the sand. Of course you might be doing that this afternoon since you live in Florida.
Not me here in Missouri.
JimBo Stewart: Well, [00:07:00] you know, it is a, it is a cool fall day in Florida. It’s actually below 80 degrees today. So I’m, uh, I’m enjoying the nice, cool weather at 78 degrees today.
Bob Bickford: That’s good.
JimBo Stewart: So it’s not that pragmatic thinking is entirely bad. And so I, If we swing the pendulum too far, the other direction, and B what, he would call functional hyper Calvinist.
we swing it so far that we think, well, we can’t think pragmatically about things at all. And here’s what I’d say is you think you do think pragmatically about things, right? So when you go to the grocery store, Do you, Bob, do you look at the lines and try to decide based on how much is in a grocery cart, how many people are in the line and the, temperament of the person holding the grocery cart and you try to calculate which line should I get in?
That’s gonna be the quickest route. Do you do that?
Bob Bickford: Jimbo I do, but I go to self check. Now, and I do make the same evaluation and before self checkout, I always would watch the checkers to [00:08:00] see are they slow? Are they fast? Do they talk a lot? Am I gonna have to say a lot of things here? Or can I just stick my card in the card reader and then move on?
JimBo Stewart: Yeah. Yeah. Or when you pull up to a red light, do you look at the lines, the make of the cars, those sorts of things. And you try to decide which, which line’s gonna get me away from this red light as fast as possible.
Bob Bickford: I think who can I punch it and beat ahead of the, intersection. That’s what I think.
JimBo Stewart: So there, all of us have areas of our life like this, where we naturally think in pragmatic ways. And so it’s not that pragmatic thinking is entirely bad. Of course, we wanna do things that work Hamilton says one of the somewhat ironic problems with a pragmatic approach to Christian ministry. However, is that, although it sounds good in theory.
It doesn’t actually work in practice. and part of the reason it doesn’t work in practice is that thing of, the focus on the immediate results. Right? So immediate is the problem word here. It doesn’t work. Cuz [00:09:00] pragmatic thinking is focused just on immediate practical consequences. It’s too shortsighted.
Bob. We all know that God often plays kind of the long, the long road play. Like he he’s gonna play the long game. Most of the time, especially in replanting in revitalization, we are playing the long game.
Bob Bickford: Absolutely just, here’s a principle in life. That’s important to learn. Sanctification and maturity are not quick.
JimBo Stewart: Whew.
Bob Bickford: They just are not why. Well, because our hearts are sinful, our patterns become ingrained. Why did the , you know, God could have pragmatically revealed to the children of Israel, as they were wondering in the desert, like on day one, he could have like, you know, here’s, what’s gonna happen over here’s your choice.
Let me give you the cliff notes of the 40 years, or let me give you the 40 years. He’d already given them the promise that he would be their God and that he would walk with them and they would inherit land. But what did they do? They were rebellious. Right. And they were stubborn [00:10:00] and they were sinful. And what was it that it took?
What did it take to, to get them beyond that? Well, it took 40 years of hardship. Now. I hope that most replants don’t have to endure 40 years of hardship. I doubt that they
JimBo Stewart: do though.
Bob Bickford: some of ’em do right. However, you just have to understand. That maturity is the result of a process. And it’s oftentimes the result of pain in that process.
And so pragmatism can snap an organization, even a church in the right direction quickly, but it may not address it with the under address, the underlying issues that are causing a church to remain in decline.
JimBo Stewart: Well, one of the things Hamilton points out with that is he says, sometimes things don’t look promising on paper or to begin with, but they work out well in the long run, right? I mean, so discipling, discipling people, leadership development, through scripture, those are slow, slow processes. When you’re working in low income communities, like I have worked in primarily man, you bring a new believer into that and [00:11:00] discipling them into sacrificial giving.
and then knowing that they’re giving, because you’re in a low income, low income area is gonna even, even when you do finally get them to that point of discipleship that they start giving their giving is gonna be lower than it’s gonna be in a lot of other places. So financial sustainability for a, for a replant in a low income community is a much slower process.
and, if the flip side of that, if you’re in a over churched culture and you have people who have been going to church their entire lives, but have not had deep relationships with Jesus, and you’re trying to disciple them out of a religion only focus and, and into a deeper relationship with Jesus and what that means to care more about.
Bringing glory to God and sharing the gospel and having my own preferences met. I mean, that’s a slow long process. and most of the best solutions in church revitalization are pretty slow.
Bob Bickford: Mm-hmm , that’s why I say it takes about five to seven years to see congregation turn around. And so replant [00:12:00] or revitalize if you’re, if you’re looking for a two to three year. You know, turnaround, you probably need to readjust your expectations and you really need to go in. And we say this all the time, especially at the re planter events, we say, man, be ready to commit for five to seven years.
And you commit for that long haul. A couple of, first of all, you’re first year, you guys are just getting to know each other year two. You’re probably making some mistakes based on some of your evaluations. You’re learning, you’re growing as a leader. there, you know, there are all kinds of dynamics that take place in this first couple years, but about year five.
On through to year seven, hopefully, and beyond you start to see some, some really great things happen.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah. So, one of the other things Hamilton says here is what appears to be effective at first glance may reveal itself to be ineffective. Once you get up close and look under the hood, we’ve talked about this, even when it comes to things like, installing elders, or deacons. man, you start to feel kind of an urgent need, man.
I, I need some help. And so there’s a big temptation. If you believe in a plurality of leadership like elders, uh, or if [00:13:00] not, whatever it is, your council, your team, or your deacons, even. And you start to see man, I’m, I’m, I’m really kind of all alone here. And you, you jump the gun. I’ve seen guys jump the gun.
I have personally jumped the gun on installing elders. I’ve seen guys jump the gun on that. I’ve seen guys jump the gun on, in some churches that are dying, but they have a nice little, bank account, cuz a couple people left their inheritance there. And so they have a few hundred grand sitting in the bank and so they think, oh, if I’ll just hire a buddy, then that’ll fix it real quick.
sometimes it’s just a, it’s a jump to get a quick fix. And man, I don’t know about you Bob. The more I, I feel like the more, not just even in, in ministry, but in my own spiritual walk, I feel like the longer I do this, the more I realize there just aren’t any real shortcuts.
Bob Bickford: Now, if you continually jump the gun, you might want to grab a gun Jimbo.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah. Yeah. And, and that’s the thing, man. The other piece of this is step one, in this, [00:14:00] you cannot over emphasize, Immediate results. And you cannot under emphasize what you can accomplish in five years. What’s the saying that people say like, don’t overestimate, what you can do in, in one year.
And don’t underestimate what you can do in five years.
Bob Bickford: Yeah, I think it’s something like that. CRO the Croft, has said that I’ve heard him say that a couple of times, but I think that the simple point is we are ambitious. And, enthusiastic in the short run. And then that gets squashed out of us. And then we realize this is a marathon, not a sprint. And, and so I think.
The the other thing too. And we, we talked about this in, in one of our episodes. Jimo it’s like the first hundred days episode, maybe where you said, mistakenly to Audrey, like I’ll see you in a hundred days or whatever it was. Right. And you had a, you had an action plan. You probably had a lot of great things on paper.
You started implementing them. I spent, some of them were really good, but some of them never took off. Same thing with us. Like we just, you know, all of the goals and desires, we. right [00:15:00] in the first year, and then the pressure in the first year that we feel. And, and I’ll say this jumbo, the reality is that a re planter and revitalizer often pastors and leads the church.
He would not want to attend.
JimBo Stewart: mm-hmm
Bob Bickford: the pressure of trying to create a church that he would want to attend will drive him to do things at a pace. That’s probably not appropriate it.
JimBo Stewart: yeah.
Bob Bickford: If he could tap the breaks on that a little while and realize, Hey, it’s gonna be three to five years before we’re really super pumped about attending this church.
Like it, it has all, you know, all of the dreams and visions and all that good stuff. And, and honestly, Jimmo some of those things aren’t are your vision for the church and they’re not God’s vision for the church. So you’ve gotta be real. You gotta be real clear on that. And then, and I think you got over time, you, you.
You learn what God’s vision is for the church, because it unfolds before you.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah. I mean, honestly, part of what we’re really talking about here is tactical [00:16:00] patients, right?
And so in our 13 characteristics, we talk about tactical patients is the ability to skillfully implement change at a pace that is appropriate to a specific congregation’s health and needs. It’s about having the discernment of knowing when something must be changed and how it should be changed.
And so we have to understand and, and operate in that kind of tactical patience. And man, here’s the deal. Not only is there this need for tactical patients, and we gotta understand that God often plays the long game and he’s called us to play the long game. One of the other dangers here, cuz there still can be a temptation to go.
Yeah, but I gotta get some things moving, man. I gotta make something happen. here’s the issue that you’ve gotta consider. You have to consider this. If you are an action oriented person, like you and I, and you, patience is not easy, then you’re, you’re gonna jump so far so quick without thinking about it because you can make immediate results happen.
But what you haven’t considered is unintended consequences.
Bob Bickford: Yeah. The [00:17:00] negative consequences perhaps of those early changes that seem like really minor things to you, but major things to the people that have been part of that church for a long time, then your leadership’s undermined and that’s an unintended consequence from changing one simple thing.
Right. I think the pressure is, is there and it drives us. I, I remember I was going, when we went to the very first Sunday, we went to Sherwood Baptist church, envy of a call. We literally sang the song. This is the day the vacation Bible school song. You know, this is the day that the Lord asked me, my wife, who’s extremely patient leans over to me and whispers in my.
This is going to have to change she said to that day one, I was like, okay, okay. We gotta change the worship. We gotta change. So, you know, I felt that pressure day one, but whatever it is that drives you to make a quick decision, just know that every decision has consequences. Some of
those might be
JimBo Stewart: Yeah.
Yeah. Hamilton says the law of unintended [00:18:00] consequences is the idea that when you start with a complicated system, one that you don’t completely understand and you mess with it and make changes to it. You often end up with some outcomes that you didn’t anticipate or intend. Sometimes these can be good.
But often they’re bad. And here’s what he says. Look, if you mix in factors such as the law of unintended consequences and this kind of pure pragmatism really begins to unravel, not only does God play the long game, but part of how he plays the long game is he, he sees the, the consequences down the road of the actions you’re making today.
We can’t see that we don’t know. And so. You start spending all your leadership capital on things that really don’t matter as much as they need to. And you start moving too quick and you start seeing people’s obstacles sometimes rather than people you’ve been called to disciple man long term, there’s gonna be consequences to your health.
There’s gonna be consequences to the health of the church. There’s gonna be consequences to your family. and so be weary of having this pure, [00:19:00] pragmatic approach to immediate results.
Bob Bickford: Mean, I, this is causing me to think there’s probably a whole nother podcast on decision making that we could have that says, if I make this decision, what are all the possible. Consequences intended or unintended. And just thinking about that Jimbo, like I I’m, in my mind, I’m getting paralyzed, cuz I’m thinking, do I need to do this for every decision that I make?
Why and everything that I say. Right. So I think intuitively there’s a leadership skill that we developed that says, well, I probably shouldn’t say that. Right. Or, you know, I do need to say this. Here’s the way I need to present this. Right? So we kind of get some savvy in there, but I think if we’re starting out and particularly the environment is a little, tenuous, we, we probably need to have a process where we think through that.
And so maybe we should devote some time in the future to talking about decision making and intended and UN unintended consequences.
JimBo Stewart: [00:20:00] Yeah. I mean, part of it, man, going back to my favorite book, Proverbs, Proverbs 14, 12, and Proverbs 16, 25 both to say the same thing. there’s a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. man, you gotta, you gotta consider that. Your intuition is probably not as good as you think it
is. especially if you’re a high visionary on the visionary operator processor that we’ve talked about or you’re more visionary than shepherd, man. Then you think, you think that your intuition is always golden and man, look, there’s a way that seems right to you. You’re, there’s a, there’s an intuitive way for immediate results.
That just seems right. but man, we are called to submit everything that we do under the.
Bob Bickford: Yes. Hi, I’m just laughing because. It makes me think of, super high visionaries that I’ve been around. And, high visionary often scares people because they’re also a verbal processor, right? They’re just, just throwing stuff. Like we could do this, we could do that. And, and man, you walk into a church that hasn’t changed the carpet since 1978.
And you start, I [00:21:00] ideating you start vision casting. People are gonna lose it. right.
So for our high, high visionary guys out. and there’s a tension between, being the guy that never casts vision for what God could do or being the visionary that CA casts vision for everything you’re going to do.
JimBo Stewart: Hm.
Bob Bickford: So you go in there and you say, well, here’s all the things we’re gonna change. And, and I think I’ve seen guys do this. They go in. Their view on surface things or things that won’t impact the spiritual condition of the church. Right. And it’s easy to change those things and it’s easy to cast vision for those things.
and it’s easy for people to say no to them, but what you really wanna see, I think, as, as a leader, and what’s important is you really wanna get to the place where you’re casting vision for the right things that will help the church grow in its maturity and fulfill its mission that God has called it to.
JimBo Stewart: Yeah. So I wanna set up for next week. So we’ve established, the pragmatism in of itself [00:22:00] does not work by itself, but that thinking through how things can work best is not necessarily, a bad thing to do. Having some pragmatic level of your thinking is not entirely best, not bad to think through how do we do things that work, but here here’s what Hamilton says.
There’s really two things. When we’re having this conversation, we need to make sure that we know. One, we need to know what does success look like in the first. How do we know if what we’re doing is working that’s one. So we gotta really define what, what does winning mean? What does that look like? and then two, what guidepost can we set up before we start to, before we start to help us evaluate whether something will, will work or not.
And here’s what he says, this is, this is the quote I’m gonna use to set up next week’s episode. So you’re gonna need to tune back in. He says, we need some principles that will help us assess what will work and work long term to achieve exactly what we’re seeking to achieve. What we need is principled pragmatism.
And then he’s gonna [00:23:00] go on to argue that even more as Christian leaders, what we need is theologically, principled, principled, pragmatism. So in other words, we’re gonna think through, we’re gonna talk about this next week. We’re gonna think through how do we think about what works. But through the guidepost of long term, submitting it to the Lord with theological guidepost.