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Oates Institute logoWhy do so many of our attempts to meet challenges we are facing today fail? What might we do differently? These are big and frequent questions being asked by pastors seeking to lead their churches in the 21st century. We have put together a leadership lab to help pastors learn how to be adaptive and transformative leaders. It is a lab where the learning is contextual, particular, and organic involving colleagues who are learning as we are doing. We will be selecting up to twelve participants per year for this opportunity.

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The Oates Institute Certificate of Transformative Leadership offers a learning environment that is

  • Contextual—using the real situation of the leader,
  • Organic—focusing on the real environment of the leader,
  • Particular—growing out of the gifts, passions, and learning needs of each particular pastor.

Adaptive Challenges and Narrative Leadership

Many of the challenges facing pastors and churches today arise from dilemmas never seen before. The growing global economy, the increasing interdependence of many cultures, and shifting world views among developing generations all require fresh leadership tactics. The default solutions of the past can only inform the current situation. Leaders need to learn new adaptive tactics and tools to address them. These tools are best used in collaboration with a leadership team, using the best human resources of the whole organization. Gathering the stories of the congregation and of the neighborhood, an adaptive leader can help a community sift through their narratives; selecting the most hopeful, focusing on their truest identity, and reshaping the stories to move boldly into the future. In our use of Harvard’s “Case-in-Point” teaching method, participant’s stories from their contexts in ministry will set the direction of all the group learning in this laboratory program.

Texts we will be using for the Transformative Leadership Lab include:  

  • The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Ron Heifetz and others
  • Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson
  • Theory U: Leading from an Emerging Future by Otto Scharmer, and
  • The Answer to How is Yes by Peter Block

Upon completion of the certificate, participants should be able to:

  • Distinguish between technical problems and adaptive challenges

  • Read the human systems of which they are a part, see the relationships within the systems and with other systems, and identify their handprint in their systems

  • Move from the dance floor to the balcony; reflecting on action in the midst of engaging in the action

  • Maintain a productive zone of disequilibrium

  • Learn from the emerging future

  • Collaboratively lead a team, department, or organization in discerning identity and work at the present moment in time anticipating the future

  • Collaboratively mobilize a team, department, or organization in crystalizing, proto-typing, and co-evolving strategy and tactics to move toward an identified preferred future.

The Transformative Leadership Lab with feature an onsite Opening Retreat where we will get to know everyone, provide an overview for all that we will be doing, and introduce the power of reflective peer group learning. For 2012-2013, this is scheduled for September 25-27. Following the opening retreat, we will engage together in five online seminars using a case-in-point methodology over the next seven months. The seminars are:

  • Tending the Garden and Working the Pizza: Learning to Read the System
  • Moving from the Dance Floor to the Balcony
    Shifting Perspective and Addressing Our Blind Spots
  • Connecting to Our Deepest Source
  • Crystalizing, Prototyping, and Co-evolving Tranformative Change

Through these seminars we will learn how to: do collaborative Generative Listening, learn from the future, let go to let come, and practice discernment in leadership.

Face-to-Face and Online Peer Learning Environments

participateThe Leadership Lab will combine face-to-face learning in a creative retreat environment with connected learning through the use of on-line peer-learning groups. We find that leaders learn best when they set their own learning goals and determine the pace and direction of their professional growth. The peer-learning group has proven to be particularly effective in enabling ministers to be more faithful, creative, and effective leaders. The combination of face-to-face and online experiences provides an optimal combination for the ongoing life of a peer-learning group.

Dr. David SawyerDr. Chris HammonThe Faculty for this certificate are scholars and practitioners of leadership in churches, institutions, and seminaries. Chris Hammon, Executive Director of the Wayne Oates Institute is a pioneer in creating connected learning communities for ministry leaders and an Affiliate Professor in the dynamic 21st Century Leadership Global Online Doctor of Ministry program of Drew University’s Theological School.  David Sawyer is a writer and consultant with Flourishing Church Consultations, and retired Professor of Ministry and Director of Lifelong Learning and Advanced Degrees at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Both are members of the College of Pastoral Leadership, where they were recipients of a grant enabling a clergy peer group to spend two years exploring Theory U as a leadership approach for congregations and educational organizations.


Participation in the 2012 Transformative Leadership Lab will be limited to a peer learning group of twelve members selected from applicants whose congregations are members of the Oates Institute’s Congregational Care Network. Tuition will be $900 per participant.

Information about becoming a Charter Congregational Member

To apply:

Send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. telling us why you want to be part of this group and sharing a story about a leadership concern or opportunity facing you in your ministry.


To take advantage of all that the Congregational Care Network offers, the first step is to become a Congregational Member.

Become a Congregational Member Now