Sunday, November 22, 2015

Shadow Leadership--Part IV (Last Part)--George's Post

[Note:  Continuation of Discussion of Special Challenges in Shadow Leadership]


(a)  What are the unique challenges in trying to train new members of the Church in Malawi?

When considering the challenges facing local leadership, it is wise to remember that, in many instances, local leaders in Malawi are new to the Church—frequently called to hold positions, sometimes very important positions, in the Church after being a member for less than two years, a year or six months or even shorter periods of time.[1]   This of course poses challenges for them as new leaders.   Many of the things they are called upon to do they have never done before--and even more startling is that they have never seen everyone else do it before.   Examples abound: conducting a meeting; holding a disciplinary council; sealing a wedding; training and working with an executive secretary and clerk; handling church monies; holding personal priesthood interviews; assessing family and individual welfare needs.   They have no prior Church experience to which they can turn to help them know what to do.   And often the problem is that they themselves don’t even know what they don’t know.   The Church has its own culture, language and life style, and it takes time to learn it and to become comfortable in navigating around—what is appropriate, what is not; what really matters, what is less important; what might be cultural, and what is core to the Church doctrines.   New leaders have much to learn and this understandably puts pressure on the Church to ensure that they are trained as quickly as possible, utilizing all available resources, including tapping into the strength of the resident senior missionaries. 

(b)  How deep is the bench strength in Malawi?   Are there seasoned members who have a wealth of Church experience, available to serve as local leaders, to counsel them, and to help them find the way?

Where the Church is well-established, newly-called leaders have usually had years watching others preside and conduct, teach and train, and minister to the needs of others.   For example, most bishops, before being called, served in a line of priesthood callings, preparing them for their tenure—serving as executive secretaries, young men presidents, clerks, bishopric counselors, high council men, and gospel doctrine teachers.     Through those positions, they have watched and learned from others (often many others), as those other leaders struggled, grew and excelled in their callings.   This makes training newly-called leaders much easier, because they have far less to learn.  
Does Blantyre have such bench strength to which it can turn for leadership?   The short answer is yes; there is considerable experience and with time that experience will be broadened.   Since 2004, the Blantyre District has been sending out missionaries, most serving in other Africa countries, but recently several have gone to England and the United States.   Based on a quick informal survey, the Blantyre District has 21 active returned missionaries attending the District’s branches, and 11 Blantyre-based missionaries now out on missions.[2]   Malawian returned missionaries constitutes a wonderful pool of talented, committed members, suitable for holding important Church callings, and available for training others with less experience.   This pool will only increase with time as more missionaries go out and return. 

(c)   Do the new members have the skills necessary to hold important Church positions?

Most local leaders have solid social skills—they are well spoken, poised and able—and, at the same time, have characteristics we associate with inspired Church leadership—humility, a spiritual character, a firm testimony and a reliance upon the Spirit.   They are knowledgeable about the scriptures, and have great interest in learning the word of God.[3]  Even though some are very new to the Church, they have wonderful skills and it is not hard to see why they were called to hold the positions they do.   Most are anxious to learn their duties and have no hesitancy turning to others, including senior missionaries, for support.    The Lord often works through the weak and the humble, endowing them with a spirit and skills far beyond anything they might imagine for themselves.[4]

(d)  How important is it to prioritize the items of concern that senior missionaries wish to share with local leaders?

Sharing long lists of concerns with local leaders is a sure way to lose their attention.  Such lists are daunting, and most local leaders, while open to help, can easily be overwhelmed.[5]    To be effective, senior missionaries must be prudent both in selecting the issues they want to discuss (meaning, a short list of the most important issues) and finding an optimal time for raising their concerns.   Local leaders need time to process what we have to say and need to have us help them in “prioritizing” what really matters.   It is impossible for any leader to address a multitude of issues simultaneously, and this is especially true where church leadership is still in an embryonic organizational stage, where most responsibilities still falling on the shoulders of a relatively small handful of individuals and families.   Only as the Church matures does it move towards a model where responsibilities are more broadly delegated to counselors, high council men, auxiliary heads, and others.   When that occurs, the District Presidency is better equipped to move concurrently on several fronts, without overwhelming either decision-makers or doers of the word.
Carole’s list of concerns, and mine, have almost become legendary with President Matale—not a positive development.   Whenever we get a few minutes for private conversation, he is fearful one or both of us will pull out our lists, peppering him with question after question.   His responses are light-hearted, but I fear there may be some teeth behind them.   Long lists are often the measure of a lack of meaningful access.   When local leaders and senior missionaries meet on a regular basis, usually it is possible to manage better the buildup of issues.

(e)   Do senior missionaries have to guard against vanity when working with local leaders?  If so, how may vanity interfere with their efforts to give support to local leaders?

Senior missionaries most likely have the best of motives when attempting to train local leaders.   They need, however, to be beware of how easily unrighteous vanity or pride can slip into their conduct, often in the most subtle ways.  Sometimes, senior missionaries are uncomfortable when local leaders struggle in their callings.   They wish to help, both to assist the local leaders learn their duties, and also to facilitate the orderly operation of the Church.   But, when local leaders struggle, senior missionaries should be hesitant to act too quickly.   Sometimes, local leaders need correction, but as often as not, with time and just a little experience, they will get it right.      
Senior missionaries need to be patient and to tolerate some mistakes and missteps.   The Lord certainly will be.   But many of us are impatient and far too quick to interfere.   Perhaps, many senior missionaries are too set in their ways and may even be accustomed to being “front and center.”   It is hard for them to be in the background, even the idea of “shadow leadership” for some is hard to take.   We would prefer teaching the Sunday School class as a way of showing members how it should be done, than working with them privately and letting them teach with class with our suggestions.   Teaching the class allows us to exercise control, satisfying in part the urge to dominate or to exercise our will.    Teaching a member “skills,” helping them be out front, building up their confidence are much harder tasks, requiring a greater degree of self-sacrifice and modesty, and greater commitment to the one being taught.   It is much easier to do the job than to teach another to do it.  
Moreover, leaving it to another to perform gives them all of the credit.     As far as the class or other members know, the local teacher is the only one allowed to shine.   That vanity and pride might creep into our considerations is recognized by the Lord, when He says:  “Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen.   And why are they not chosen?   Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.   That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake….to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.”[6]   I do not mean to suggest that many senior missionaries are given to gratifying their pride or exercising dominion over others, yet they need to be vigilant, watching for any signs that they have crossed the line between being helpful and being controlling.     

(f)   Why is it generally counter-productive to correct local leaders in public?

Except in rare cases, which I will briefly address below, senior missionaries should not publicly correct or admonish local leaders.   Public criticism rarely has the desired effect.   Those criticized are embarrassed, feel resentful or hurt, and sometimes feel vengeful, consumed by a desire to strike back or somehow get even.   Rarely if ever do they respond positively to the criticism, whether it is merited or not.   In many cases, I doubt they even listen to the substance of the criticism—all they can hear or see is that they have become the victim of a personal attack launched by senior missionaries.   Instead, if something is amiss in a local leader’s conduct, it should be handled in private—between fellow saints, in a sense of love and unity.  
There are a few instances where public correction is appropriate.   If an ordinance is not properly performed (such as a sacrament prayer, baptism or confirmation), this should be brought to the local leaders’ immediate attention.   It is best to do this on the spot, immediately after the ordinance has been done, so that it can be correct, and thus used to instruct all involved as to the proper procedures in the Church.   If false doctrine is taught from the pulpit, and there is a risk that members in the congregation might be confused, someone should make a public statement before the meeting is concluded.   In short, whenever an official action is taken, that would be not effective in the form taken, it is appropriate to correct publicly.   But even in these cases, care should be taken to be sensitive.   The purpose is not to embarrass those involved, but instead to instruct and uplift, while at the same time, preserving the order in the Church.  

(g)  How do senior missionaries muster up the patience needed to work with local leaders, when they are resistant to help or for other reasons can’t incorporate the counsel given into their callings? 

In Malawi, where the Church is so new, senior missionaries need to have the patience of Job.   While the Church is wonderfully robust in Malawi, there are still many ways in which it needs to develop.   The auxiliary programs--from primary to young men, young women to relief society—are still in need of much work.    Members though blessed with wonderful spirits are not yet consistently reliable.   So, as with all charity work in Malawi, the threshold question is to define precisely what you want to work on, because you can’t work on everything at once.  Moreover, one needs to tolerate mistakes and messiness, while sorting through the various problems.   Being impatient is not constructive, leading to frustration and often bad decisions.   What makes the process even more troubling is knowing that sometimes allowing local leaders to stumble comes at a cost to others.   Primary children may suffer while new primary instructors learn their duties, and slowly catch the vision of what it means to prepare before class.   Patience requires that we tolerate mistakes and performances less than ideal; we allow others to take central stage, knowing we could do a better job; we wait for others to have trust in us before foisting ourselves upon them as teachers; we are prepared to let our examples speak louder than formal teaching opportunities; we restrain ourselves from criticizing in public but wait for a quiet moment to give suggestions and counsel.   In short, patience requires that we put people, and their feelings, ahead of programs and looking for Westerner efficiency.

(h)   How do senior missionaries keep from being sucked into doing more than they should?

The image of a “tar baby” is apropos to illustrating the next challenge I wish to address.   As noted earlier, even when it is appropriate for senior missionaries to help out, they should interfere with local leader’s performance to the “least extent” necessary.  Certainly, there are instances when some guidance is needed—even where it is appropriate for senior missionaries to step in and help out—as opposed to just giving advice.    But once that has been provided, senior missionaries should “step back” and allow the local leader to resume the job.  
Yet often, this does not occur.   Once the senior missionary “begins” to help, it is as though the senior missionary has touched the tar baby and cannot extract himself—having preparing the agenda for the branch council, the senior missionary helps to led the discussion, rather than turning it back to the branch president; having outlined how to address a difficult welfare problem, the senior missionary now feels compelled to prepare the written outline to submit to the Mission President and Area Office Presidency; having started inspecting potential sites for a new meetinghouse, the senior missionary wants to continue with the project, instead of asking local leaders to pick up from where he has left off.   It is natural, and certainly not sinister, for us to want to “finish” what we have “started.  Likely it grows out of a desire to leave our imprint on our own “work product” (it’s our and we have a compulsion to do our own “stuff” in a particular way) or not to leave “unfinished” a job we have started to do or to be reliable when we find that others struggle with being reliable.   Yet whatever the motive may be, this impulse—to keep going on with the projects—has several undesirable consequences.   First, it does interfere with what should be the duty of others; second, it keeps them from “learning” their duty by “doing” instead of “watching;” and lastly, the interference may have the effect of “freezing” the local leader.   It is likely, especially, when the local leader is new, that the local leader will not be able to do the “job” as well as the senior missionary, either now or, for that matter, at any time in the future.   This may be so apparent to the local leader that he “freezes” up, deciding it would just be best to leave the task to the senior missionary.   Why try, when one can’t ever imagine duplicating the “modelled” performance.   So the help of the senior missionary, rather than being “empowering,” has the opposite effect. 
This discussion is perhaps too abstract.   How much help is enough help?  How does stopping “middle stream” really help—won’t local leaders learn more if the entire task is modelled, at least once for them?    Is it really wrong to do our “best” for fear of “freezing” local leaders?   Shouldn’t we have more confidence in their abilities, and in the Lord’s willingness to “bless” them, when it is their turn?   When thinking about these questions, the following concepts are helpful to keep in mind.   First, some tasks are relatively “confined,” and are certainly “repeatable.”    They are done over and over again in the Church—sometimes even weekly; examples include: conducting meetings; preparing agendas for branch presidency, PEC and branch council meetings; the right (or at least an appropriate) way to correct mistakes in the performance of Church ordinances—such as the speaking of the Sacramental prayers or a baptism; how to sustain a member in a new calling; how to do “sharing time” in Primary.   It certainly makes sense to model or teach these behaviors, until they are grasped and can be “repeated” by local leaders without further prompting.   Even writing the proper protocol work, so the local leaders have a crib sheet, may be helpful.    But once the task has been modelled, senior missionaries should expect local leaders to take over.   They should be empowered to “duplicate” what they have seen.[7]
 

(i)    What can one do to enhance the “sustainability” of any training the senior missionaries do?   And, what will happen when we are gone?

Some may think the only role senior missionaries should play is to develop in local leaders “sustainable” skills, with the expectation that local leaders will be able to deploy those skills after senior missionaries have returned home.   If what the senior missionaries are doing does not lead to such “sustainable” skills, they should do something else.  Trumpeting “sustainability” as the critical concept is hardly novel to the Church.   Indeed, sustainability has been heralded as the key criterion for assessing the success of many modern development projects in third-world countries, such as Malawi.   Many prior projects have floundered precisely because some critical aspects of the projects’ ongoing viability were not sustainable after the charities left—equipment broke down; replacement parts could not be located; locals were not adequately trained and equipped to handle routine maintenance.   So things were not much better a few years later than there were before the projects were done.  
Some in the Church have carried over the concept of “sustainability” as a guide for determine how to train local leaders and members.   Many think each act of training should be preface with the question-- what will happen when senior missionaries are no longer around to help.   How will local leaders solve the problem on their own?   If training is not geared to address that eventuality, their efforts are misguided.   Sooner or later, local leaders and members must be fully self-sufficient and self-contained, without relying upon foreigners for support.   While there is likely much truth to this approach, I find it to be too constraining.   Surely, training should be directed at building up the skill sets of local members.   But at the same time, it should be designed to provide the best possible training available, without trying to prejudge how much of that training can be replicated in the future.   One does the best one can and hopes the Lord will make up the difference.   One should not sell the local leaders short; often their performance will far exceed anything one might have imagined.

(j)    What can senior missionaries do when local leaders notoriously abdicate their responsibilities?

Local leaders, on occasion, just don’t step up and fulfill their responsibilities.   Various reasons can be given for these failures—some members are not committed; they are not willing to prepare for assignments or even to show up when they have jobs to do;--some lack basic skills and may be incapable of doing what they are asked to do;--some are dishonest and, if given the opportunity, will steal from the Church and their fellow saints.   Some, even if committed and possessing sufficient basic skills, are cowered by senior missionaries.   They may find it easier to let senior missionaries take charge if they will, arguing to themselves that this is really better for the Church.     


[1] For example, one of the four branch president has been a member of the Church for less than two years.   Three of the four have never served missions, and do have have the seasoning and experience that comes with missionary service.
[2]  See “Today’s Membership in Blantyre—Returned Missionaries,” supra.
[3] See “Today’s Membership in Blantyre—Scripture Literacy and Knowledge,” supra.
[4] See D&C 1: 19; 23.
[5] My current list of concerns for the District Presidency illustrates the problem.   It is simply too long to be helpful, requiring that it be distilled down to a handful of issues, before being shared with the District Presidency.   Obviously, I can carry forward issues to a latter date, if I think they are still important enough to keep on the list.   Issues for discussion include: (i) asking the District Presidency to follow up with callings of two new counselors for the Blantyre 2nd Branch; (ii) preparing for the visit of Logan Hugo, a real estate specialist in the Johannesburg Area Office, who will be in Blantyre to look at potential sites for new buildings; (iii) hosting a dinner for the new District Presidency; (iv) coordinating with the Blantyre 1st and 2nd Branches the operations of the meetinghouse library; (v) the District’s sponsoring a special meeting of returned missionaries; (vi) cleaning out the “cleaning” closet in the Blantyre meetinghouse; (vii) changing the authorized signatories for the Blantyre 2nd Branch; (viii) arranging for President Chinyumba to host and take care of Elder Chatora during his visit for the December 5th-6th District Conference; (ix) getting a piano keyboard for the Zingwangwa Branch; (x) making sure that Sacrament meetings run the full hour and 10 minutes; (xi) arranging District-level teaching of the branch primary leaders; (xii) training the branch presidents on Church welfare principles and policies; and (xiii) distributing old priesthood manuals to the members of the Blantyre 1st and 2nd Branches.   It doesn’t take too much imagination to see how such a list could be viewed by a new District President as either daunting or as intrusive.   
[6] D&C 121: 35-37.
[7] Sometimes, this does not happen despite one’s best efforts.   Local leaders may refuse or be unwilling to do their duties.   See “_______________.”
[8] Zingwangwa has made great strides with its primary program.   Thoko Mzunga, the current president, has
[9] In late March, Carole and I began splitting our time between the Blantyre 2nd and Zingwangwa Branches.