Reflections on Mapping the Presbytery

The beginning of a map of the Presbytery that I drew that takes into account major rivers, highways, boundaries and where it is situated in the larger geography

The beginning of a map of the Presbytery that I drew that takes into account major rivers, highways, boundaries and where it is situated in the larger geography

Last year during one of my classes at McCormick Seminary, Rev. Carol McDonald of the Synod of Lincoln Trails led us through the process of mapping the organizations we serve.  She invited us to think about the lines of the place, who works/does ministry where, what is around the space, and to locate our place.  As I drew some key insights about my current place in ministry leapt off the page at me.  I had been there nearly five years and not seen some of these insights so clearly.  I knew these dynamics but as I drew and reflected on what was coming out before me on the page I began to see in a new way.

Usually with maps we want to have a clear pathway of where we are going…perhaps with an “x” marking the spot!  Just as throughout the biblical history, when many leaders were asked for an exact answer and an exact treasure-map-ocal-diff-colours-mdmap of where a group was going–I think we are doing the same thing in our religious communities today: we are demanding an exact map with an exact location of where we’ll arrive.  That way our anxiety will be lessened and the way will be clear.  It is frustrating to learn over and over again that there is no exact map, there is no specific path–but that God has blessed and gifted each of us with all that we need for the journey (and the destinations) and it is our task today to unpack, rest, reflect and learn together to be able to see where we are going and where we are being led.

There is no exact map.

My classmates and I shared our drawings with each other and it was a powerful learning experience.  I vowed to myself that I would use this process in the next place I would serve as a group experience of sharing among the leadership team.   Last week I had that opportunity with the Council of the Presbytery I am serving.

We began with this slide of instructions:

The instruction slide I prepared for Council

The instruction slide I prepared for Council

I was also careful to tell everyone that as we began drawing that we were not judging the quality of the drawing (or else I’d fail!) but that we were seeking to gather insights together.  As we began it took a while to get quiet and concentrate:

  • I don’t know where the lines are!
  • What are the boundaries of the Presbytery?
  • Do I know enough for this?

It is hard to stay quiet and to just draw and reflect.

One of the members of Council had brought her iPhone along with speakers and so we put some music on to help set a mood of reflection and I set a timer for 20 minutes.  We began to draw.  After about fifteen minutes nearly everyone was ready to talk and share.

The “maps” of the Presbytery were varied:

  • Some created a map with themselves at the center, lines going out to groups they connect with
  • Others drew where the migrant workers are located in the Presbytery
  • Some drew the seat of governmental power in New York State, the Capital as a cornerstone of the life of the Presbytery
  • Locations of the various sizes of congregations were mapped
  • Many drew the lines of major rivers and highways that crisscross the Presbytery and separate communities and places of worship one from another
  • Some drew mission fields that included space for international partnerships
  • We located mountains and places of natural beauty that speak to us of God’s goodness and divine creativity
  • We noted what bordered us and what ecumenical connections are within our bounds

My plan is to return the maps to everyone at the next meeting and to ask new questions as we continue to fill in the maps and deepen what is present on them.  By that meeting everyone will have had a chance to read a short primer on Heifetz’ ideas on adaptive leadership, an article from the Alban Institute and the first chapter of the book we will work through together for the rest of 2014, Journey in the Wilderness: New Hope for the Mainline.   After taking a month off from our maps and having the chance to read and reflect, I will be curious to see what learnings begin to emerge for us, what patterns we begin to see, what questions begin to be raised, and what visions begin to be birthed.   As we begin to engage the work of leading transformation and change keeping the need to be a learning community at the forefront will be a high priority.

One of the key tasks of leadership is being able to see with as much clarity as possible in order to make the interventions necessary to lead an organization to as much wholeness and health as it is wanting to make.

As a Christian organization, community is at the heart of who we are.

As a Presbyterian governing body, connectionalism is a non-negotiable.

This is why I brought the mapping exercise to the group to engage in together.  I can make all the maps I want on my own, and no matter how good they might be, they will not fully help me or the Presbytery see what might be before us.  We must remain connected and communal in our learning and in our discernment as we seek to follow Jesus’ call to go further for the sake of serving our communities in deep and transformational ways.

We’ll keep mapping next month and see what fresh new winds of the Spirit might blow into our lives and ministries!

If you want to go deeper in learning, here’s a great video of Ron Heifetz on Leadership, Adaptability and Thriving from Faith and Leadership from Duke Divinity School:


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