by Robert Lyons
Beginning a little over a year ago, the Iowa Conference entered into a transformative and collaborative partnership with Spiritual Leadership Inc. (SLI).
SLI is a coaching organization dedicated to educating, developing, and empowering religious leaders. One of the organization’s founders, Greg Survant, works directly with the Iowa Conference. According to Survant, the organization grew to fit a natural, unfulfilled need in the ministry.
“Some 16 years ago, a couple of us found that we were in a relationship, one of co-mentorship, with our senior pastor. He was mentoring us as a pastor and we were mentoring him in leadership,” said Survant. “We saw there was a ministry in that and there was the birth of SLI.”
Survant is a Managing Partner of SLI and specializes in large regional areas. He is joined in Iowa by Christin Nevins who coaches SLI projects at the conference, district, and local church level. Together, the two make a formidable team full of passion for what they do.
Invited to work with the Iowa Conference in late 2015 Bishop Julius Trimble, SLI began their work with two teams, the Bishop’s Operational Team and the Bishop’s Appointive Cabinet Operational Team. Survant and Nevins are coaching the two teams to grow in their L3 - loving, learning, leading - collaborative leadership ministries and to guide them to foster the growth of more adaptive teams on each of the districts and conference-wide to further the strategic priorities.
“The Iowa Conference had already identified three strategic priorities that dealt with leadership, vibrant churches, and proper alignment of resources,” explained Survant. “We were invited in to help solve adaptive challenges.”
Adaptive challenges according to Nevins are “challenges with no clear solutions” unlike technical challenges which are “familiar problems for which we already have a solution path.”
“The problem is the church of today is faced with adaptive challenges that no one knows how to solve,” said Survant. “These are problems like poverty, terrorism, and racism.”
“On an umbrella level, we’re trying to think about how we all grow as spiritual leaders who model a community that loves, learns, and leads together,” said Nevins. “We want to create environments that foster transformation and we want to develop processes that bear fruit. This is what we’ve been doing with the Bishop’s Appointive Cabinet and Operational Team.”
One component of the SLI approach that groups often need is a bit more time to adopt and implement the “learning” component of their three emphases.
“From an SLI perspective, what we want to see is that an organization is becoming a learning organization,” explained Nevins. “Are we not just doing work but are we stepping back, learning from it, getting better? Now that’s changing the way we do ministry and lead together.”
Once an organization adopts the concept of learning as a central tenet of its being, it must begin experimenting.
“We have untested assumptions about our ministry that are way out of date,” said Survant. “We have to experiment and learn what does and doesn’t work. From there, we move to other experiments and what emerges is a better sense of how to do ministry. Next, you implement.”
After a successful first year partnership between SLI and the Iowa Conference, it was decided to continue the collaboration into a second year under Bishop Laurie Haller. Engaging with SLI for two years is normal in their work with other conferences and the goals in the second year are a bit different during the second year.
“The teams now understand what we’re doing and they’re starting to see the adaptive issues and get some traction in addressing them,” said Nevins. “Now our big focus is increasing their capacity to lead themselves and we’re doing so with a thoughtful and slow transition.”
Nevins and Survant will spend less time with the teams in person in 2017. At the end of this year, the partnership will end but SLI’s coaches are optimistic about the future of the Iowa Conference and its leadership.
“The teams in Iowa are ready to engage and bring the Iowa Conference into the future,” explained Survant. “They’re willing to engage, to experiment, and to learn. It’s been a blessing to be a part of this transformation.”