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Conference leaders urged to set audacious goals

By Ed Evans

Citing an article published in the Harvard Business Review, the Rev. Felix Carrion, the UCC’s Still Speaking coordinator, urged PNC leaders to enhance the voice of the conference by setting some Big Holy Audacious Goals, or BHAG for short (pronounced BEE-hag).

Felix Carrion
The Rev. Felix Carrion leads discussion at Pacific Northwest Conference Leadership Retreat. Photos by Ed Evans

“BHAG,” said Carrion, “is an ambitious plan that revs up the entire organization. BHAGs typically require 10 to 30 years to complete.” The 1996 Harvard Review article described BHAGs as Big Hairy Audacious Goals. For church purposes, Carrion suggested that the acronym be changed to Big Holy Audacious Goals.

The idea of BHAG goals was introduced at a recent weekend retreat of Conference leaders at Pilgrim Firs, meeting on the theme of “Vision, Vocation and Voice.”

Carrion said the article suggests there are two components of any lasting vision for an organization.

One is the organization’s core ideology, which defines its timeless character. That ideology cannot be invented. It must be discovered.

The second component is an envisioned future, which is active and visualized. The core purpose or vision is to understand and articulate the most fundamental reason for the organization’s existence. When the PNC talks about vision, it’s about its core values.

What are the core values at the heart of the conference, or local church, or even yourself?” Carrion asked.

Values identified by participants included unqualified acceptance of people and ideas, emerging stewardship of the planet, trust in the healing power of the spirit, and peace through justice. These values include the possibility of changing lives.

While a BHAG is a clearly articulated goal, a core value is lasting and can never be completed, he said, noting, “Great companies understand the difference between what should never change and what should be open for change—between what is sacred and what is not.

Vocation is not occupation. It is your being, who you are and fundamentally the core of your life,” he said.

Maureen McLain pointed out that theologian Frederick Buechner describes vocation as the place “where your deep joy and the world’s deep need intersects.”

Bob Jackson of East Wenatchee commented that “many people use the word vocation and the word occupation as if they were synonymous, but they really aren’t. Occupation is what occupies our time and a lot of that time is just busy work. Vocation, in theological terms, is a calling. Are we just doing stuff to keep busy, or are we actually hearing what God is saying? To be compelled by the voice you are hearing is a whole different thing than being occupied.”

He noted that the UCC’s God is Still Speaking campaign provides a context to give voice to that sense of calling.

Carrion added that “once you find your true voice which comes from within, when it is authentic and genuine, it mediates the presence of the living Christ. the living God, or that Great Mystery. God is still speaking. Are you taking notes?”

Jennifer Castle
Jennifer Castle introduces appreciative inquiry.

We are being called to the living church, not to the dying church,” said Jennifer Castle of Seattle’s Plymouth UCC, in a presentation to assist in moving toward a process of creating BHAG goals. She outlined the concept of Appreciative Inquiry, which she described as a tool for connecting to the transformational power of the positive core.

It involves systematic discovery of what gives life to a living system when it is most alive, most effective, and most capable. It is a process that was developed by David Cooperrider, a doctoral student at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, as an alternative to traditional problem solving approaches by focusing on what works well in organizations, rather than what does not.

For example, Castle said, when a satisfaction survey of an organization indicates 90 percent of those surveyed are satisfied and 10 percent are not, the focus too often becomes centered on those who are not satisfied, rather than asking the 90 percent what made them satisfied. Appreciative Inquiry flips usual problem solving on its head.

It assumes that what we focus on becomes reality. The language we use creates our reality, and people have more confidence and comfort to journey to the future (the unknown) when they carry forward the best parts of the past,” she said.

Comparing the problem solving and appreciative inquiry approach, the emphasis is “what might be,” rather than analyzing causes of the problems or possible solutions, Castle explained. The emphasis shifts to what should be. A basic assumption of a problem solving approach to resolving issues is that an organization is a problem to be solved. The basic assumption of an appreciative inquiry approach is that an organization is a mystery to be embraced.

The latter first invites organizations to agree on what the current state might be, then establishes if there is a preferred future state different than the current one.

To maximize the probability of achieving a different future state, Castle said, that goal must be valued and positively presented. The future goal cannot be valued less than the current state.

Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © Summer 2011





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