Bishop Bryan gets to work immediately with on-boarding, Appreciative Inquiry sessions


By Kara Witherow, Editor


For Bishop R. Lawson Bryan, it’s not just a catchphrase or a slogan, it’s a way of life.

The word immediately is found 40 times in the gospel of Mark, and it’s the way Bishop Bryan, episcopal leader of the South Georgia Conference, has launched his ministry in South Georgia, beginning with several “on-boarding” sessions with Conference leaders and pastors.

Bishop Bryan has embraced “on-boarding,” a corporate technique for getting a fast start in executive leadership through early, candid dialogue, assisted by an outside consultant.

In July, Bishop Bryan attended an on-boarding session for new Southeastern Jurisdiction bishops and quickly saw its value and how the process could be used in South Georgia.

“I realized how quickly it helps people move forward together,” he said of the process, led by Statesboro native Claire Bowen, a corporate consultant and member of Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta. Before leaving the bishop’s on-boarding retreat at Lake Junaluska, N.C., Bishop Bryan invited Bowen to replicate the process the next month in South Georgia. “I realized right away that this was something that we could do immediately that could give us clarity and alignment.”

Meeting for two days in August, Bowen led Bishop Bryan and a group of 15 South Georgia lay and clergy leaders through the process.

On the first afternoon, Bowen met with the newly formed Strategic Initiatives Team – the appointive cabinet plus other conference leaders and staff – without Bishop Bryan present. She worked through a series of questions, recording the team members’ answers anonymously.

The questions included: What do we know about our new bishop? What do we wish we knew? How would we describe our conference’s DNA? What are our hopes and dreams for the church? What does our bishop need to know about the South Georgia Conference?

That session was followed by Bowen meeting alone with Bishop Bryan to go over the answers. The next morning Bishop Bryan met with the Strategic Initiatives Team and, in their first extended cabinet meeting, discussed the list of questions and answers.

The process was a great opportunity to learn one another on a deeper, more personal level, said Bishop Bryan, who was even asked his Myers-Briggs personality type (he’s an INTJ). It also speeds the process of learning and connecting that sometimes takes months.

“It’s a way to do what you’re going to do anyway. It accelerates the process of getting oriented to the Annual Conference,” he said. “It greatly accelerates it, yet it also gives you a lot of personal time together with a group of people who are giving leadership in the conference.”

In addition to the two-day on-boarding session in August, the same group met Nov. 16 for a time of Appreciative Inquiry. A strengths-based model of management and organization, the Appreciative Inquiry session brought the Strategic Initiatives Team together to assess the Conference’s assets and strengths.

For everyone, Bishop Bryan said, the key takeaways from the sessions were clarity, alignment, and a sense of energy and hope.

“I always come away with a feeling of clarity. People have a sense of who we are, what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how we’re going to do it.

“The great value is that through clarity and alignment you build a cohesive leadership team. You begin to build a cohesive team that can address whatever issues need to be addressed, but you have to start by having a cohesive team, and you have a cohesive team by getting clarity, alignment, energy, and hope.”

Rev. Deborah Wight-Knight’s experiences with both the on-boarding and Appreciative Inquiry events have been positive.

“The consultants quickly created environments of lively discussion, productive feedback, and a willingness to begin steps to deepen trust among the group,” said Rev. Wight-Knight, the Conference’s pastoral counselor. “We all have strengths. By focusing on these strengths while attempting honest conversation, I believe some surprising moments for stronger connection lie ahead.”

The meetings are not just ideological and theoretical, they are practical and applicable. Through the process of Appreciative Inquiry, new questions were developed for conversations between District Superintendents, local churches, and clergy around appointments.

Bishop Bryan plans to extend the on-boarding experience to other groups in the annual conference. He recently held an on-boarding session with senior ministers of the 25 churches with the highest average worship attendance and has an Appreciative Inquiry session planned with the Office of Connectional Ministries in February.

“That initial meeting was so helpful. I am doing this more than once, and with different groups, to include more people,” he said, explaining that the ideal size for such a group is between 15 and 25.

Though he’s been in South Georgia less than four months, through the on-boarding and Appreciative Inquiry processes Bishop Bryan says he has already learned a lot about the Conference and its people.

“I have learned of the wonderful spirit of our people who truly want to serve Christ and be a vital Conference of churches,” he said. “I’ve also learned that we have a lot of talent. We have people who have done so much in their families, communities, and businesses, and they are ready and willing to use that for the good of the mission of the South Georgia Conference. I’ve learned of the readiness and willingness and talent of people throughout the Conference, and I’ve been inspired by their devotion. I want all the people in the conference and all the churches to realize that they are the great resource we have.”