When envisioning the future of an organization, leaders often begin with some ideal or framework to guide decisions. These “mental models” (a term used by Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline) are based upon certain assumptions about how the world works.
For example, I was recently in a meeting of denominational leaders when the topic of a regional ministry training center emerged. One of the assumptions being made by the leaders of the center is that a non-accredited, local ministry center should be structured like an accredited theological seminary. A school like Winebrenner Seminary has many structural components in place because of requirements by federal and professional accreditors. It makes little sense for a non-accredited educational body to mimic the structure of an accredited body. In this particular case, the ministry center is only a few years old so it is natural that a familiar “mental model” was used to guide decision-making in the early years of the organization.
It makes good sense that new initiatives – whether they are part of an established or start-up organization – are infused with creative ideas from other, external, organizations. I’ll admit, one of the first things I did when I became President of Winebrenner just over five years ago was to look and see what other seminaries were doing as far as programming and structure. However, there comes a point when an organization needs to shift benchmarks and decision-making from external to internal markers.
I remember sitting through a church planting seminar with Jim Griffiths when he made the point that one of the biggest hindrances to new church starts was an attempt to implement a “Willow Creek Model” or “Saddleback Model” (this was nearly 20 years ago, so you can insert the newest fad into the sentence and see the point he’s making). It’s a high risk proposition to take ideas which were created for a specific time and context and blindly attempt to implement them into our local context.
Our mental models are important; as Gail Fairhurst (in The Art of Framing) reminds us, the models we choose to follow directs our focus of attention (as well as what we choose to ignore).
In addition to Shifting Tuition (you can read part one of that series by clicking here), Winebrenner is working through what it means to shift our standards of evaluation from external markers to internal markers. In other words, we are moving beyond measuring ourselves against what other schools are doing and beginning to develop more intentional internal benchmarks. In the coming weeks I’ll be exploring where we’ve been in relation to this topic and where we’re heading in the future.
In order to be most productive and effective, we need to internalize and embody our own creative spirit and not simply implement what is working in someone else’s context.
– by Dr. Brent Sleasman, President
– Image by Goumbik, accessed via Pixabay and Adobe Spark