Tactical IT execution and strategic IT leadership

While you’re on Tony Dye’s blog, also check out his post on Choices for the CMS we want and the comments that follow. This post sparked a lengthy conversation between myself and Brian Slezak, my fellow Appian Way blogger who works with me in the IT Department at Resurrection. Particularly, we discussed the comment by Carl Wilhelm. I guessed that Carl’s comment was referencing Barna’s new book Revolution that I posted about previously. (I haven’t read it yet because our bookstore hasn’t been able to get a copy – apparently there have been some delays in printing and distribution – but I know enough about the subject matter of the book to surmise that Carl was referring to it.)

Our conversation was around the differences between tactical IT execution and strategic IT leadership. This is a subject that deserves a long post of its own, or perhaps several posts. In very brief summary, we have found smooth sailing when we’re responding effectively to an IT need identified by a ministry leader. These are generally situations where there’s an opportunity to improve efficiency (and thereby reduce costs) by automating an existing process that has gotten to a large enough scale that automation is appropriate. On the other hand, when we begin to think bigger, more strategically, about social and technical trends and how that may impact ministry in the future, then we are sailing on much more difficult and choppy waters. The risks are much higher because our role as servants of the other ministries of the church puts us in a great position to respond to their needs, but a bad position to lead technical change.

Speaking only for myself, I have been an IT executive for a number of years. As such I have been accustomed to being on the executive team in the secular, for-profit world and sitting in all of the executive meetings where strategy is being discussed and the technical implications of each strategic option are thoroughly explored. At Resurrection, I’m not on the executive team. My boss is, but he’s the CFO and is not a technical person. So I’m not able to influence church strategy from a technical standpoint. I know from talking with a number of my peers at very large churches that this is the case in most of their churches as well. Few churches have an IT expert on their executive team, unless the senior pastor happens to be a person who thinks strategically about IT and drives it.

This becomes very important when you start considering questions like those raised by Carl Wilhelm. Even though I have the background and skills to determine technology strategy and to make a plan that directly responds to Carl’s questions, I’m not in a position to influence the decision-makers to make it happen. Is it just a simple as me learning how to “lead up”?

One thought on “Tactical IT execution and strategic IT leadership

  1. Carl Wilhelm December 27, 2005 / 9:41 am

    As you may have gathered from my posting on the Tony Dye “Choices for the CMS we want”, I have a grave concern for the future of the church. Yes the source is Barna “Revolution”. His projection is that 75% of “Christ-followers” will not attend the church by 2025. More than attend all churches combined. My passion–try to determine what we should do to form community of faith for these, and the true “unchurched” young adults, whose exposure to the church is as a place where sex criminals can hide to avoid prosecution, where our Lord’s name is a swear word, who have not had prayer or Christian references in their educational institution, and absolutely no exposure to church because of family break, blended families etc. How can we reach them?You have hit the nail on the head re IT being execution (it is at Perimeter) vs. strategic leadership in the church. I have told Tony many times that I believe the IT/TECH/Electronic Communication is the MOST IMPORTANT department in the church of the next generation. And I believe the significant leaders in these departments should be seated with the highest governing body of the church. However, knowing that it is highly unlikely they will have that “honor” (does any church have the “guts” to displace the clergy as the leaders?) I also believe that it is possible to “lead up” and I’m pushing Tony and his team to spend significant time to brainstorm, dream big, think outside the “execution” box, to “bend the future” to a preferred destination. If someone doesn’t do it, 15 years from now you IT people will probably not be needed in the church, and be seeking employment.But if a creative plan is developed and presented convincingly to the leadership at Perimeter, I believe there’s enough respect for IT leadership and concern to touch the currently “unreached”, that serious consideration would be given to it.Somebody has to be thinking about the New Kind of Church of the next 2 decades.carlw@perimeter.org

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