Greater Northwest Area Bishop Grant Hagiya earned a third-degree black belt in karate, as well as a master of divinity and a doctorate in organizational leadership. His new book Spiritual Kaizen: How to Become a Better Church Leader (Abingdon Press) draws on this varied background.
Bishop Hagiya answered questions by email from managing editor Sam Hodges. Here’s an edited version of the exchange.
Can you sum up, in a sentence each, how your faith, leadership training and martial arts experience are guiding you as you serve the UMC in a difficult time?
My core belief is that God is in charge of all of life, and, like Job, my response is reduced to humbleness in awe.
In leadership training, as Jim Collins reminds us with his “Stockdale Paradox” [concept], we must always confront the brutal facts, but never lose hope.
My martial arts training has been instrumental when a crisis situation arises in slowing down all that swirls around me, and enabling me to focus on the most efficient course.
Explain “spiritual kaizen,” and why you think it’s a key idea for clergy and committed laity.
The Japanese word “kaizen” comes from the root words “kai” meaning “change,” and “zen” translated as “good” or “better.” In business management it is often translated as “continuous improvement.” I would add the description of “slow, steady, continuous improvement.” When you add the adjective of “spiritual,” it reinforces John Wesley’s personal discipleship movement from prevenient grace to justification and on to sanctification.
As United Methodists, we must recover this lifelong spiritual journey, and enter into a continuous growth in love of God and neighbor. Steady improvement in our leadership skills and abilities is also a lifelong process, as I believe leadership is not an innate quality, but rather learned. At its best spiritual kaizen can be a truly attainable process of ever-higher levels of spiritual and leadership growth.
How much trouble is the UMC—all mainline Christianity—in? And of the causes of the trouble, what stands out as most important, in your view?
We are in huge trouble and we have been in trouble for decades, but out of hubris we have believed like some secular organizations that we were “too big to fail.” Now reality is coming home to roost in the form of our secular Western society moving to a “post-religious institutional society,” where one in five Americans have absolutely no religious preference whatsoever. There is a complex set of causes and challenges, but to mention just one: The systems, structures and processes of our United Methodist Church worked well for the American culture 40 years ago, but are out of touch with our contemporary American culture. In order to be relevant, we must adapt and change.
You write that the UM seminaries and UM churches and conferences aren’t serving one another well. Briefly, what needs to happen on both ends?
The church and academy are separate institutions with different histories, audiences and systems. One does not serve the other, but rather there should be a synergy arising out of a shared partnership in mission and purpose. I have a lot of ideas on how the two institutions can work together, but the one that I would suggest immediately is to find a way for the church and academy to talk with each other in a constructive and mutually transforming way. Often, the communication is single, channeled with one institution demanding something from the other. A carefully constructed two-way conversation where both institutions are attempting to understand where the other is coming from and seeking to serve one another would go a long way. Having been on both sides of this fence, there are great strengths in each institution, but instead of working for the best in both, oftentimes we draw out the worst in each.
You did your doctoral study on highly effective UM pastors. How did you define “highly effective”?
As an academic research dissertation, I had to have a carefully defined and quantitative definition of “highly effective clergy.” My dissertation definition was those clergy who were able to increase their average worship attendance over a sustained five-year period or longer throughout their ministerial careers. Conversely, “lower
effective clergy” were not able to increase their average worship attendance over the same five-year criterion.
You write about a “culture of entitlement” within UM ministry, including bishops, that sometimes trumps service to God. How does that relate to “security of appointment”—and is security of appointment hurting the UMC?
From a management perspective, I do believe that security of appointment is harming the United Methodist Church. I understand its historical roots in the primary protection of women clergy, and I applaud that. However, the church has come a long way in this one area, and although there is still a great deal of sexism in our church, security of appointment is no longer needed in the same historical context from its origin. Personally, I believe that security of appointment fosters a sense of clergy entitlement, and I would include bishops. If security of appointment would someday go away, I believe bishops should also be subject to term limits, and that would push all of us away from mediocrity and into a lifelong sense of growth and improvement.
“Empowerment of laity” is something you stress over and over. Why?
Because of its biblical and theological grounding, and the fact that in our baptism, we have been endowed with all the powers of Jesus to heal and transform a broken world. Our current church culture has fostered a clericalism that is miles away from our biblical heritage, and it is truly harming our denomination. We are in a consumerism church model, where the laity come as passive recipients of a gospel truth that is dispensed by the pastor who is supposed to be a theological expert. The biblical mandate is that we all are ministers of that gospel in our baptism! I believe that if we are to have new life in our United Methodist Church, it will be in the empowerment and setting loose of our laity to lead our churches and communities.
The Pacific Northwest is known as the least churched part of the country. How tough is it to get people engaged in Christian faith there, and what kind of progress report would you give on the efforts you and your clergy and lay leaders have made toward that in recent years?
As one in the original “None Zone,” I am always reminding our people of the great advantage we have in the Pacific Northwest: We have way more people to evangelize and transform! Instead of lamenting the secularization of our part of the country, we should be challenged by it, and work that much harder to be the church of Jesus Christ! It is definitely tougher to get secularized people interested in the gospel message, but nobody, especially Jesus, promised us it would be easy. We are working as hard as we can to turn things around, and I pay special attention to our yearly metrics, especially average worship attendance, professions of faith and baptisms, and mission events and projects. In recent years, we have been gradually increasing those metrics, but when we fall short in any given year, I take that personally, and it motivates me to work even harder.
On page 130 of your book, you lay out the “metrics” you’ve posed to the churches in your area, including a 10 percent net increase in worship attendance. Yet you also stress the “missional” as opposed to “attractional” model of church. What do you say to the pastor who says to you, “In order to boost attendance, I need to focus on programs that bring in individuals and families, more than on mission work?”
As I have mentioned earlier, we are now in a “post-organized religious culture” here in the West and Europe, and people will not necessarily seek out our churches from a felt need. Thus, the “attractional” model that worked for previous generations will not work in our contemporary society. We need to move to a “missional” model that engages people where they are. However, as I also previously mentioned, all of our systems, structures and processes are still fixed in the old attractional model. Therefore, I believe we find ourselves in the transitional zone between attractional and missional.
Gil Rendle calls this the “wilderness.” We are sojourners, looking for home. I tell anyone who will listen that God will ultimately lead us by pillar and fire to our final home, and the key is for us to journey in faith. Our home is not in a church building or church property, but our home is the mission itself. To bring more people into the church building, without sending them out in mission to the world, is bankrupt and biblically wrong. Mission is our very reason for existence as the people of God.
How has your work changed and grown, now that you’re leading three conferences? And how much traveling are you doing?
In my opinion, the reduction of one bishop in each jurisdiction at the 2004 General Conference was more motivated by political rather than financial reasons. As such, the church did not realize the unintended consequences, and we are now living through the problems that this decision has produced. In my case, I must now oversee a huge geographical territory that includes Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. My personal testimony is that if I could focus and concentrate on any one of those areas and annual conferences alone, I could effect change and growth to a greater degree. Covering such a huge distance and dealing with three complex annual conference systems lessens my own leadership effectiveness. This is happening across our connection in every jurisdiction, and I share this leadership challenge with my episcopal colleagues in similar situations. I am on the road all the time, which is a John Wesley method, but I am not able to spend the quality time I need to at any given location or event.
You write in Spiritual Kaizen, as an aside, that you can teach most people how to break a board. Do you still practice the martial arts, and what’s the most boards you’ve ever broken at one time?
I do still practice. Board and brick breaking is not an integral part of the art, and the only time we did it was for show . . . to promote our dojo (studio) or art. It was also expensive, as in one power break we would break 5-6 boards at one time. At my age, I don’t have the time or money to waste on such activities!