Leadership for City Movements: Seven Signature Elements

This article is excerpted from Reggie’s most recent book, Kingdom Collaborators (2018). Visit www.goodcities.net to see other leadership resources for city gospel movement leaders.

Leading effective city movements requires leadership that has some very distinct qualities. Here are some of the most prominent characteristics of leaders who demonstrate these signature elements.

 

  1. They operate with a kingdom bias.  These leaders understand that God’s kingdom is his primary activity on planet Earth, his missional agenda for people to experience life as he intended.  Kingdom bandwidth stretches across all aspects of human flourishing – spiritual, social, economic, emotional – every part of human existence.  This reality pulls them into the breadth of community life to partner with God in the desire that his kingdom come “on earth as it is in heaven.”
  2. They pray for their city.  These leaders have the city on their heart – and in their prayers.  They are burdened by what they see around them and intercede passionately for their community.  These leaders often create prayer networks of others who are similarly moved to “seek the welfare of the city” as a spiritual stewardship.
  3. They foment dissatisfaction with the status quo.  Most leaders find themselves troubled by particular issues and concerns that get their attention and energy.  City movement leaders excel in the ability also to make other people similarly dissatisfied with conditions and situations that they feel need to be addressed.  This fomenting is strategic; in other words, these leaders demonstrate political savvy in knowing the right people to engage and how to turn agitation into positive action.
  4. They combine social and spiritual entrepreneurship.  Where other people only see problems, entrepreneurs see opportunities.  Old problems present windows for new approaches and fresh solutions.  The only failure that entrepreneurs cannot accept is the failure to attempt change and progress.  Community leaders who create and lead movements that address key societal issues (literacy, human trafficking, economic development, etc.) realize that breakthroughs require the willingness to take risks.  Kingdom leaders view seemingly intractable societal ills as opportunities for inspiring hope and faith as they work for a better world.  Guided by this kingdom narrative they flip the dominant worldly script of pessimism and anxiety into one of promise and a preferred future.  
  5. They marry vision with action.  Successful city leader movers and shakers are not content just to paint pictures of what could be.  These insightful leaders understand that the dynamic of getting people dressed up with nowhere to go – fired up with dreams but no real plan for engagement – provides a sure recipe for cynicism and increased despondency.  Accordingly, they create on-ramps for people to join them in working toward the vision they inspire.  People are given options for how they can contribute to solutions, how they can take action to move the needle on issues that capture their interest.
  6. They call the party.  Leaders of impactful city movements are not Lone Rangers.  They are collaborative in their approaches, preferring a team strategy.  Equally important, they have the personal credibility for bringing people together to work on community initiatives.  They can put people at the table to work together.  Their capacity to do this comes from their having invested in developing relationships with leaders from other domains.  Leaders of city movements sublimate their own ego or their need to be the hero to allow other significant players into the effort.  Anywhere you find a cross-domain initiative addressing significant community issues, behind it will be a leader or group of leaders who practice high collaborative intelligence.
  7. They maintain a (pain-tinged) optimism.  Leaders of city movements demonstrate remarkable resiliency in the face of daunting challenge and inevitable setbacks.  Their firm grounding in God’s kingdom purposes enable them to soldier on with hope and faith and love.  

Start Here: Part 2 – Exploration to Engagement

In the first part of this two-part blog post, the focus was on discovering who God has brought to your city and what inner motivations has He planted in their hearts. In this second part the focus moves from discovery to engagement.

To solidify what you learned from the interviews, write a report based on what you and your team learned during your discussions with grass-tops leaders. Writing a report that can be shared with others is work that my Research Director and I often do at the request of city leaders. To move from discovery to engagement, you will want to have a professional document that serves as a milestone in your movement.

The people you interviewed will want to know what you learned from your conversations. Many will look to you and your team for guidance about how they might act on the inner motivations and passions they have shared with you.

Here are the final four steps that will take your work from discovery to engagement.

Hold a community report session: Invite those who you’ve interviewed, their families, friends, and other interested parties to a community report session. Have printed copies of the report on hand. Present the findings and offer an opportunity for those present to join a task force around 3-5 of the top identified pressing problems facing your city.

Launch task forces. Be sure to have one or two leaders for each of the top 3-5 identified pressing problems facing your city who are ready to greet those interested in joining a task force on one of the issues. The role of each of these groups is to discover what’s currently being done to address the issue. In the process, each task force may discover gaps in services, duplication of services, best practices that are under-resourced, and opportunities for developing an effective cross-sector collective impact strategy. (Check out our podcast on Axioms for Collaboration)

Become a learning organization. Ask the leaders of each task force to write a report based on their work about what is being learned and what they recommend. We recommend that members of the initial interview team form a steering committee to hear from the task force leaders and guide their next steps. In this way, the developing movement has an opportunity to grow in their understanding of how the ecosystems of the city are addressing critical issues.

Join with others whenever possible. Only launch something new if it is the only way forward. Our witness is best when it is incarnational after the pattern of Christ. We are at our best when we join with others who have a similar passion about a pressing issue in our city. If you do launch something new, be open to others joining with you who may not have a church home or who may not believe what you do. These kinds of friendships matter and become the bridge point for meaningful witness.

When you and your team become known as leaders who listen carefully to others and who are prayerfully looking to understand where God is leading, you will start processes that move the needle in areas critically important to the common good and to the work of God’s kingdom in your city. The process shared in these two posts builds relational equity (social capital) and alignment in a few areas. The experience gained will give you confidence to act when new opportunities for kingdom collaboration arise.

Reggie McNeal Joins GoodCities

GoodCities is pleased to welcome Reggie McNeal as City Coach. He joins Glenn Barth who continues to serve as President. Through GoodCities, Reggie and Glenn offer leadership development through the City Impact Accelerator, City Convene, and City Coach. To welcome Reggie, email him at reggie@goodcities.net. To connect about leadership development email info@goodcities.net.

Thirty Actions and Ideas that Create Good Cities

I’m often asked, “What can I do to transform my city?”  I’ve observed many different approaches during my years serving in this field. Often I find leaders not using an evidence-based approach toward bringing long term improvement spiritually, socially, educationally, or economically and the poor results reflect this.  Teams are built and transformation occurs when leaders take actions that have proven their worth in creating good cities and communities over time. Actions that bring real long-term change engage cross-sector collaborative leadership.   

Glenn Barth, President of GoodCities

I recently made a list of thirty powerful actions and ideas that have been proven to have spiritual, societal, economic, and individual transformational impact. I rated each action on its ability to impact these four areas and its ability to create cross-sector collaborative leadership. In these actions, the real power of Jesus’ John 17 prayer for our unity is revealed.

Throughout this year, I’ll write blogs that highlight and reveal each of these thirty evidence based practices and ideas. Here’s the first and one of the most powerful actions that will transform your city.

Active Listening

It was a hot Tuesday afternoon in August of 2004 when the leader of a major national ministry asked me what a coach should do to strengthen the work of local leadership teams in cities. I responded, “The first thing community coaches need to do is listen. Listening expresses a level of trust that local community leaders are in touch with God and their local context. Once you’ve heard from local leaders, tools from national ministries can be customized to fit local realities.”

The leader turned red and was more than a little irritated with the answer. He responded, “Our donors would never support this kind of approach. We need a program that coaches bring to each city. Donors won’t support listening!”

The leader put together a program and quickly found a number of donors to pay independent “coaches” to visit cities. They had slick marketing materials and in each of the cities they found a few folks willing to lead their pre-packaged program.

No lasting change occurred. Those who participated in the program busily did what they were asked, but in the end, it was a short term activity that brought no lasting change. It was driven from the outside, not personally and deeply owned by local leaders.

Active Listening tops the list because through it, we learn what God and people value in our city. Prayer is a form of active listening. Through prayer we begin in a place of humility so that when we listen to others, we can gain a sense of God’s leading as needs are revealed. The technique that I share in my ebook, Multiply Volunteers and Resources is an approach that requires active listening and reveals a way to engage leaders throughout your city in transformational work.

In 2005, I served as the President of the Leadership Division of Tentmakers. We taught people to listen with love. We spelled love, “LVV,” an acronym for active listening.

Look at the person.Give him or her

Verbal appreciation and

Visual appreciation.

Local leaders I’ve coached in cities like Lansing, MI; San Antonio,TX; Modesto, CA and Florence, SC put together teams to actively listen to leaders from every channel of influence in the city. Each of these leaders has a significant network of people who they influence. Using open ended questions in an interview format they built relationships and at the same time learned what motivates and engages leaders in their area of their interest, using their calling, gifting, and strengths.

Using the skills of active listening, we encourage city leaders to develop open-ended questions that uncover…

  • A sense of personal and professional mission;
  • A person’s level of willingness to make a positive difference in his/hercity;
  • What each one believes are the most pressing problems facing his/her city; and
  • Ways he/she is already working to address these pressing problems.

These interviews help those who use active listening to learn the ways that the Holy Spirit already is moving in local leaders’ lives. Through listening, the interviewers learn what will motivate gifted and talented leaders to work in collaboration for the good of the city.

Active listening is a skill that leaders learn to use often and well. It networks people in relationships and reveals important information to engage people in service to their community. It is a skill that unleashes untold social capital. In the end, it transforms cities from the inside out by engaging leaders and those they influence in long-term vision, mission, and service.

Use the button below to download the eBook, Multiply Volunteers and Resources.

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David Brooks, Social Conservatives and City Transformation

Last week, David Brooks wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times (June 30, 2015) titled, The Next Culture War. In his column, Brooks advocated for the kind of work that Christian leaders are quietly engaged with in cities all over America.

Brooks’ focus was on the decline in Christianity in the United States, the smaller share of Evangelicals in the U.S. electorate, and the recent Supreme Court decision supporting gay marriage. He took the opportunity to advocate a significant shift for social conservatives to make from the front lines of the current culture wars to offering collaborative service, social and spiritual capital in their cities and communities.

As Americans, Christians are often conflicted when deeply held moral and ethical positions are overridden by elections and/or court decisions. However, being an American and being a Christian represent two very different identities. Recent decisions on public policies should help Christians understand their cultural context and live counter-culturally.

Brooks wrote, “Consider putting aside, in the current climate, the culture war oriented around the sexual revolution.” The culture war makes people, who should be known for profound love and a commitment to equality and justice, appear to be neither loving nor just.

He writes, “Social conservatives could be the people who help reweave the sinews of society. They already subscribe to a faith built on selfless love. They can serve as examples of commmitment. They are equipped with a vocabulary to distinguish right from wrong, what dignifies and what demeans. They already, but in private, tithe to the poor and nurture the lonely.” He could substitute “Evangelical Christians” for his use of the term “social conservatives.” However, it’s good that he does not, because many of us find our place on the political spectrum to be somewhere between conservatives and liberals, who have become so polemic that sensible public policy seems to get lost in the rhetoric.

Here’s where Christian leaders’ work in cities and David Brooks’ viewpoint dovetail. It’s when he writes, “The defining face of social conservativism could be this: Those are the people who go into underprivileged areas and form organizations to help nurture stable families. Those are the people who build community institutions in places where they are sparse. Those are the people who can help us think about how economic joblessness and spritutal poverty reinforce each other.  Those are the people who converse with us about the transcendent in everyday life.” I would add, Those are the people who seek the peace and prosperity of their city and offer hope.

When we take an approach that is innovative and collaborative that focuses on “what people care about” in cities and communities, Christians will enter the public square and find they become valued partners. I’ve written a short e-book about how this is already taking place in a number of cities and to offer a method that will give many thousands of people an opportunity to engage in helping every city to become a good city; to move toward city transformation in ways that help repair the fabric of our communities and, as David Brooks writes, “…to serve as messengers of love, dignity, commitment, communion and grace.”

Free eBook: Multiply Volunteers and Resources

The ebook, Multiply Volunteers and Resources, is being offered as a valuable tool to engage leaders throughout your city or community in signiicant work that addresses causal issues, not just the symptoms. Click the button here or in the side bar to download your copy today.

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City Transformation as A Platform

In our recent GoodCities Leadership Gathering in Phoenix, Eric Swanson introduced a creative approach when he gave a 20 minute presentation titled “City Transformation as a Platform” (his full presentation is available at the end of this post). His belief is that the real power of a decentralized network in a city is found in the many ways that people live out their callings and yet, unify under a city transformation vision.
Swanson notes that people will find their place within a common vision if it serves their own self interest. He distinguishes between self interest and selfish interests by stating that self interest is a belief from those involved that they will get more out of being involved with the movement than through non-involvement. Selfish interest is a viewpoint that only engages because of a self-promoting ulterior motive (i.e. a sales rep who gets involved in a volunteer organization to make sales instead of to accomplish the goals of the volunteer organization.)
He compares this new approach to Web 2.0 which has radically changed our online experiences. Web 1.0 offered a way for people and organizations to share information about themselves with others. Web 2.0 offers an interactive experience where internet users pursue their interests and engage information and organizations to get what they are looking for. In Web 2.0 Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple are four big platforms where internet users find what they need.
Swanson asks, “How can we be more like…
  • YouTube not ABC?
  • Wikipedia not Encyclopedia Britannica?
  • Airbnb not Marriott Hotels?
  • Twitter not Associated Press?
  • A playground not Little League?

City movements become much more powerful when they lift a transformational vision that engages people and organizations in their self interest. Swanson listed the kinds of self interests that various parties within city movements hold deeply to give examples of why they may become involved. These self interests include:

When city transformation becomes a platform rather than only residing in an organization, the work of a city movement will experience new levels of effectiveness.

Download Slides From Eric Swanson’s City Transformation as a Platform

The full presentation  below was recorded at our GoodCities Leadership Gathering. The video of Eric was pretty shaky, although the audio was very good, so this presentation shows a few stills of Eric interspersed throughout the presentation of his slide deck.

Top 3 Concerns of Cross Sector City Movements

I was recently asked, “What do you think are the top 3 concerns of business, church, and civic leaders in city movements across the nation?” What I offered in response was not based on a survey, but rather on my observations with the city leadership teams I coach and work with at the conferences GoodCities holds throughout the year. Here’s what I wrote:

Not many city movements have all three of these leadership groups working together. I believe this is happening in a big way in Akron & Modesto, two cities of modest size. In Portland and Minneapolis, all three groups are engaged in targeted efforts around schools and jobs. However, in each of these cases, while there may be Christians from government involved, they will rarely be involved with a regularly convened covenant group of church, business and nonprofit Christian leaders. For that matter, in most cities, pastors meet with pastors. Business leaders meet with one another and with nonprofit leaders where they are volunteering or serving on a board of directors. Nonprofit leaders meet with one another when their purposes are best fulfilled through collective impact, but generally don’t meet together otherwise.

In each of these sectors, private, public, and social, there are leaders who are bridge builders and conveners. These folks have a larger vision for God’s kingdom influence in their city. In the public and private sector, these leaders operate discretely. In the church and nonprofit social sector the anchor churches and nonprofit organizations operate with as much publicity as they can muster because they are always looking to expand their constituencies. Individually, each leader carries within them first a concern for his or her home and family’s well-being, next a concern for the success and well-being of the entity in which he or she serves, and third a concern for the peace and prosperity of his or her city or community. These are the three main callings that each of us live into throughout our lives.

With this in mind, what are the top 3 most common shared concerns of Christians involved in collaborative leadership for the good of their city? Here is my list as I understand this (in no particular order).

1. The peace/shalom of the city or community (This includes issues of justice, mercy, and safety).
2. A prosperous economy (The economic well-being of the people).
3. The spiritual, intellectual, and emotional well-being of the people (This includes access to a good education, healthy families, aesthetic beauty, and an opportunity to learn of God’s reconciling love through a contextualized Christian witness.)

What are your thoughts? Do you have a list of the top three concerns as you have talked with many of these leaders?