Fred Garmon on Implementors and Formulators: The Problem of Establishing a Shared Vision

GUEST BLOGGER: Fred Garmon, PhD, Executive Director of People for Care and Learning.

Tom Sterbens called me and asked me a question pertaining to Leadership philosophy and possibly why it was that a large percentage of the 2006 General Assembly agenda was voted down.

There is a fundamental, nevertheless, typical organizational problem that occurs when “implementors” do not understand what “formulators intended. The remedy is simple – “shared vision,” not only top-down, but bottom-up strategic inclusion and planning.

It is interesting that Kouzes and Posner, authors of the best selling book, “The Leadership Challenge” (over one-million copies sold worldwide) reports “inspiring a shared vision” as one of the five exemplary practices of leadership. When leaders are at their extraordinary best they are doing five things, and one of them is “inspiring a shared vision.”

Both research and experience teach us the importance of developing a shared sense of destiny and enlisting others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations. Ken Blanchard, another best selling leadership author says the following: “Common sense is not always common practice.”


Dr. Fred Garmon is the Executive Director of People for Care and Learning. PCL is a nonprofit 501(c)3 relief organization registered with the Internal Revenue Service established to fight poverty and bring education to developing nations. PCL is endorsed by Church of God World Missions.


14 Responses

  1. Fred!
    I believe that shared vision is exactly where leadership rises or falls. I am not sure if you noticed but the first ( I believe it was the first) item that passed overwhelmingly at the last General Assembly and without one comment at all was our new mission statement. I sat there in amazement that it passed so lightning-fast. My feeling was that it was treated as a something that just needed to be gotten out of the way. Since its first and only reading at the General Assembly, I have not heard it referenced in any publication or communication from any level of leadership above me. That is not to say that it hasn’t but that I have been aware and not seen if refered to.
    The mission statment of our local church is the driving force for everything that we do. I believe that it is a core role of leadership to define the mission and then acquire, preserve, and release resources to accomplish the stated mission to the highest possible standard. If that is not happening leadership is not happening.

  2. Michael:
    That’s a very interesting observation! Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

    Thanks for this post!

    I resonate with the language of “strategic inclusion and planning.” As a minister who has had the opportunity to be “just a member” of a large church this year (a church I love btw), I have come to believe that one of the greatest way we are failing right now is the failure to allow members of our local church participate in a way that actually guides and shapes the movement and direction of the church. We need to move from a “viewers forum” in the local church to a “participatory platform.”

    My faith pervades 100% of my life. Yet, my church only pervades 5-10% of my life. How did the church get so irrelevant to the faith and life of a typical member/attender?

    The irony is this: All of the frustration that we have each felt at some point towards administrative leadership because of our inability to speak towards change…all of that same frustration many or most of our members have felt at some point towards us, local church leadership. I know this is not true in every church. But I also know that most of us assume that our church is an exception to this without critically examining the situation in our church, in our leadership. At the end of the day, Evangelism and Home Missions is not going to rise or fall on the decision of 2.5%. What it will rise or fall on is whether or not our people are encouraged with vision, resources, relationships, and platforms that allow them to fully engage in the mission of Jesus Christ in the world. If we cannot make room for our members to do that in our churches what makes us expect that administrative leadership can make room for us to do that within the denomination?

    I’m just saying. 🙂

  3. Lot of things at the General Assembly are not debated enough to have a clear understanding because there is not much time for that. Might want to look at sending these heavy stuff to all Ordained Bishops so will have enough time to study, understand and comment on it before it comes to the General Assembly vote.

  4. Abraham,

    Great point. And it reinforces the principle that Fred has presented. The “implementers” (pastors on the field, general council, etc.) are not consulted by the “formulators” (Executive Leadership, Committee, Council, etc.) nearly enough.

    Example: Wouldn’t it be great if potential agenda items could be discussed in regional or state forums prior to final formulation?

    (And as a closing note: Dr. Garmon needs a new picture…he is neither that young or that thin.)

  5. Tom,
    I agree, to me it would make much more sense for the agenda to first be discussed and debated on the state level before it is taken to the General Assembly. This would accomplish several things.
    1. More ministers would be involved in the process. The past few years fewer and fewer ministers are making the trip to GA because of cost and because they feel they have no voice. Meeting at the state level will allow for more people to be involved, and can help in making more people feel connected to the agenda.
    2. By meeting at the state level it gives people a chance to vent, hear other sides of the argument and form an opinion before they go to GA. This way every issue receive the time it deserves in discussion.
    3. Small groups are more efficient when it comes to casting a vision. When we are in smaller groups the vision of the EC can be cast and discussed so that it becomes clear to all concerned.
    These are just a few ways that I believe that we could obtain better communication between ministers in the field and the EC. The only way that we are going to move forward is to have open honest non-threatening dialogue between the two groups, that brings about change.

  6. Tom,

    When I talked to Raymond Culpepper last week, he mentioned a vision he has to hold “listening tours” (not sure that would be the name) around the country to simply listen to pastors before new ideas or policies were formulated. That excited me more than anything else we talked about. The leaders that we have elected over the past years are EXTREMELY intelligent and capable men. However, they just don’t seem to “get it” on so many issues. I have often wondered how that can be. I think it is precisely the issue Fred brings up – they are too far removed from the implementors. I just hope that whomever becomes the new General Overseer will realize just how much he needs to reconnect with the local pastors of the Church of God.

    (BTW, Fred it’s good to hear your thoughts. And I don’t know what Tom is talking about. Last time I saw you, you looked great!!!)

  7. Jerry,
    Thanks for the feedback – I understand that feedback is a gift.
    I am thrilled to hear word of your conversation with Raymond Culpepper and his proposed idea of “listening tours” – this is a great idea and represents exactly the type of behavior that creates “buy in” and assists those in leadership with the possibility of establishing a “shared vision.”

    In fact your post reminds me of an organizational example I read about recently involving a company called Medtronic, best known as a producer of implantable medical devices. In 1985 Medtronic broke its string of 24 consecutive years of growth. Confidence and morale fell and the organization seemed to struggle to define its identity and direction. By 1986, however, the organization had rebounded with a change of leadership and a confidence that it had reestablished a new sense of direction that was consistent with its history and mission. It is said the leadership believed strongly that “if you spend your time out in the field, your customers will make your strategic plan for you.” Now that’s a novel idea.

  8. Good thoughts Fred!

    The statement that particularly arrested my attention was: “’shared vision,’” not only top-down, but bottom-up strategic inclusion and planning.”

    YES- and that definitely applies to how the Church of God seizes its destiny. I’m amazed when I hear people continuing to espouse the “great man” theory of leadership in their belief that if we just elect the right person as GO and on the EC, the needed change will occur. NO. If the General Assembly elected the most radically proactive “change” leader to GO in August, he would not be able to change the Church of God during his two year term (because if he implemented the needed changes it would be so painful to cousins and uncles and grandsons of General Council members that he wouldn’t get a second term.)

    Neither will this forum or any other “fringe” grass-roots movement change the Church of God if it fails to engage leadership- even if goes completely viral and 50% of Church of God ministers start blogging here. (This is why it is so encouraging to see Tom meeting with the EC and letters of appeal being sent).

    Our issues are not personality-linked, they are systemic, which is why no matter who we “send up,” they fail to meet our expectations to deliver us from a system which has been decades in the making and perpetuates itself.

    Call me crazy, but I don’t expect the next General Overseer to “deliver us.” Changing a system requires acknowledgement and participation throughout the system- “shared vision” AND shared sacrifice. This requires TRUST, a commodity currently in very short supply between the US’s and the THEM’s.

    Almost the moment we elect a new man to the EC, he becomes a “THEM” and our trust dimishes. He moves to Cleveland, and loses even more. By the time he launches an initiative, we are already suspicious of motive. Conversely, I’ve been concerned when I’ve heard leaders use the term “THEM” to refer to pastors, then express doubt that “THEY” could be trusted to make the right decisions for the church. As I joked in a previous post, we need to run all the “THEY’s” and the “THEM’s” out of OUR church…if not, THEY will take over.

    From the offices in headquarters to the “fringe,” we need to face where we are as a family and deal with it together. There is only one Messiah, and He called us to operate as a Body- one members hurts and we all hurt. To assume that the needed changes will not be painful is an illusion- the question is whether we share that pain or if it will be disproportionally distributed.

    As a leader, when things were lean, I led the cut by applying it to myself and other leaders first, then asking others to share in it. I’ve had to fire people, but I could always look them in the eye and tell them that I had cut everywhere first.

    My heart breaks when I observe the “US/THEM” erosion of trust, because I’ve watched a national church begin down this slope and then fragment and nearly disintegrate. We need to come together, speak the truth, then face the challenge united. If not, I’m afraid we as a church could share the same fate.

    Many prescriptions are being written for what ails us as a church: “Old-time Revival” reads one, “Doctrinal Unity” reads another, still another reads “Missional Reformation”– and I pray for all of these. BUT, the Church of God Body doesn’t just need something to make us feel better, look better, or even work better… we need healing. We look at each other with distrust- and our hearts are broken.

    The pastors, evangelists, teachers, prophets, and apostles- “Equippers” of the Church of God need to elect leaders at this General Assembly that will love the church, and give themselves for her- leading the sacrifices required by all. The elected leaders at the General Assembly need Ordained Equippers who will respond with hope, trust, and hard work to implement the changes system-wide rather than simply “blaming Cleveland.”

    Wow, this got long- and sounds idealistic. I love the Church of God…and that is not an intro that sanctifies whatever I say after it on the Assembly floor. What I mean is that no matter how idealistic it sounds, I love my Church of God family with a I Cor. 13, irrational love that “never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”


  9. According to Ed Stezer the Southern Baptist are having some of the same problems when it comes to formulation of leadership models. Even though we are not the only ones at a crossroads I do not rejoice because others are in it with us. Many of our young leaders are SHOUTING to be heard as evedinced by this board and others that give an opportunity for all of us to be heard. If our denominational leaders are as wise as they claim to be they will listen and adjust the course of the church. However, I have no real faith in seeing that happen unless they start listen to the younger leaders. I am 65 now so I am no longer in the catagory of a young leader but I CRY OUT FOR CHANGE.

  10. Jonathan,
    Your words are passionate and evidently come from your heart. I thank our Lord for opportunities like these when and where Brothers and Sisters can share ideas and opinions openly and honestly with a win-win attitude and posture. I most appreciate the fact that you too resonate with the idea of “shared vision” and “incluson.” I pray that these ideas will continue to catch fire as we once again look at the New Testament model of Pentecost.

    As I travel the world I see a Pentecostal coat of many colors, with many faces and variations that actually go beyond my imagination, so yes, top down, but also bottom up “listening” is what I hear being advocated and I applaude it. I so appreciate your words describing your love for our church. We all need this baptism! A baptism in love and inclusion that casues our leaders, whoever they are, to actually come to the table to listen; to listen and to learn from one another. It’s an old saying but ole so true – none of us is as smart as all of us. I think this is part of what the Apostle Paul may have been saying in 1 Corinthians 12 with his discussion of the Body of Christ, it’s diversity and yet it’s tremendous unity!

    One writer said that a few moments of brutal self honesty is worth a life time of self deception and oh how true this is! If we could once for all remove our blinders and honestly see the difference between leadership that reflects self promotion and self protection and leadership that reflects humility and confidence in God then we might each be able to repent and begin to do our first works over.

    I guess tthe real challenge before us all is as Ken Blanchard writes, “to altar our egos” and stop “Edging God Out.”

  11. Fred,

    It’s great to see your post. And I’m looking forward to your visit to Germany!

    Both you and Jonathan Augustine have reflected on Kouzes and Posner’s work as it relates to our current denominational dynamics. And I agree, we are missing a “shared vision”. But I also agree with Jonathan, the problem is systemic. I question strongly the ability of our denomination to have a shared vision.

    Both in our doctoral studies and in readings from Christian authors like Leonard Sweet, much attention was given to the transition between “modernism” and “postmodernism” and how this affects organizations. Structures become flatter, less hierarchical. Command and control is out, resourcing and networking is in. And postmodernism introduces us all to a healthy does of skepticism – sometimes known as deconstructionism. Many pastors have attempted to interpret the hegemony of the leadership of the denomination – which changes every four years.

    I suspect a couple of things are happening. One, we can’t have a shared vision if the “vision” isn’t really a “vision.” Second, I don’t think that we as a denomination have a clear set of core values – although our agenda for the Assembly would like to tell us so. Our denomination has gotten pretty big, there’s a lot of diversity in our body – and that’s great. And third, there is a struggle organizationally – do we transition into a new model? Or do we try to maintain the old structures. (A good look at life-cycle theories would also be welcome, too.)

  12. Hi Tom,
    Wow…you make several good points.
    Yes we are (have) transitioned from a modernistic to postmodern global environment where skepticism reigns. And yes, as you point out, skepticism, like certain types of conflict is not always bad; it in fact can be extremely healthy for an individual, group, and/or organization. In fact, many companies now appoint devil’s advocates to sit on their Boards in order to make sure they examine every possible senario toward the ultimate goal of arriving at the best possible answer, choice, or direction.

    I also agree with you on another point, as the best selling book, The World is Flat, portrays – structures are flatter and less hierarchical, pushing decision making down to its lowest possilbe position – networking, resourcing, and collaborating are in! These are organizational realities so maybe we should give ear to Max Dupree’s council that reminds us that “the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.”

    One aspect of our reality that you point out has to do with “core values” or should we say, a lack thereof? I do agree completely that we need leadership to step up and begin casting a bold shared vision. It could possibly be the greatest impetus our church needs at this moment! Combine a bold, persuasive, optimistic vision of the future and what the COG can accomplish with a restatement of our CORE VALUES and you’ve got a powerful force to contend with.

    It is my opinion, however, that we are dangerously playing with our core values when we attempt to “realign resources.” Tom Sterbens has written thought provoking thoughts along this line; reminding us that “where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also.” It seems to me that those who went before us intuitively understood this prinicple and deliberately allowed our corporate check book to reflect to all (within & without) that we are a missionary people. If there are issues of accountability, fix that! Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    We have gotten pretty big (as you say Tom R.) and yes, there is a great deal of diversity in our church (thank the Lord!), But for me, the way forward is to focus on opportunities not threats! Research and experience both tell us that optimism is a better motivator that pessimism.

    We should never put our collective heads in the sand. We must undertand and articulate reality, but opportunities abound! I pray for leadership that recognises this and will begin to move us forward with shared vision, core values, and optimism.

  13. Freddie,
    Just a quick note to say ‘hi.” I was telling the evangelistic story of our Northwest Cabarrus days to my 7th grade Bible class, and thought I would “look you up.”
    Wow! Looks like God is really using you in a mighty way. Awesome! We serve such a mighty God!!

  14. Hermano Fred.
    Le saluda el pastor Ricardo de Managua, Nicaragua, que Dios le bendiga mucho y le siga repaldando en tan importante ministerios en favor de los pobres.


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