24 November 2007

Unity or Swarm? (Musings on a thought in process)

Swarm_bees I recently wrote a post dealing with the idea of Swarm Theory (see here), and how it pertains to the body of Christ.

The idea of Swarm Theory is that the sum total of the individuals is greater than that of the whole. Individuals all have a function, but it is understood in the context of the need of the whole colony.

It also appears that the interaction of the individuals in making a decision is key to the well-being of the colony.

I made the suggestion that maybe we need to think of the body of Christ less in terms of modern management theory, managing a bunch of people meeting together in one place, and more as a colony. With all the emphasis that the writers of the New Testament put on the collective that is the body of Christ, the current mindset about leadership in the church seems a little thick-headed. Most of it is centered on the individual, and not on the group (or swarm).

What got me thinking about this topic again was this blog, Daily Reflections, by Al Fritsch, S.J. It is written from an ecumenical perspective, and is fairly typical of the ecumenical mindset, especially as it pertains to the goals and purposes of Christianity. It is not that it is wrong or liberal, it's just that I don't think they get it.

The reason I say that is, I attend an Ecumenical church here in France. We have people from the UK, US, Nigeria, Kenya, Canada, China, Germany, and France (and elsewhere). The common thread is that we all seek to follow and worship Christ. I don't know if there is any other common thing or sense of unity that would bind us together as a group as we are now.

This is what Fritsch has to say:

A sense of unity is needed everywhere in the world, from the unity of family, to that of citizens working together, to our country and to our world. Division is part of the breaking away that began in the departure from the Garden of Eden. On the other hand, God is One, yet there is diversity in unity. We are being challenged to recreate that unity in our broken world while respecting our individual uniqueness. It is all the more reason to have a mission of ecumenism where conflicting and divided factions can overcome their differences and, while diverse, can be united. This is a far greater challenge than that of hoping to be monolithic, or only allowing one person to speak for and be the "family" or the "country." We do not want the autocrats or the domineering type, only those with a singleness in purpose and yet distinctness in person. Is this not the need of a healthy democracy, a cooperative team, and of a functional family all wrapped into one?

I can appreciate Fritsch's sentiments, but what is he saying in his post?

The concept of unity is prevalent in Fritsch's post, but he doesn't say much about how we achieve that unity. Rather, is the unity of the body of Christ what we are to focus on? This theme assumes that we can achieve an organic unity, and if people turn their minds to the task of unity, we will soon have a bunch of people that are moving toward a common goal through related and relevant tasks. I am not convinced.

The point with Swarm Theory is that the focus is not on the goal (e.g., unity), but on the process of how that goal is achieved. We are not called so much to achieve unity, but to have unity. The focus is on the process and not on the goal.

In fact, I don't think unity is the right word. Which is why I like the word swarm. A swarm can have a life of it's own, but at the same time it is made up of individuals, acting on their own volition, in concert with the community.

What does this process look like in the life of the church? The process is, then, that as the life and ministry of Christ is spread out through the community of Christ's people through and by the sought-out presence of the Spirit, we become a group of people who act responsibly, which then brings wholeness and Shalom to the group (swarm). The focus isn’t on me, it is on the body of Christ. The life and ministry of Christ, as evidenced by the working of the Spirit through the gifts and fruit of the Spirit, works itself out through the lives of the individuals in the body of Christ (colony).

We become more conformed to the image of Christ, and as we are transformed, we seek to act in concert with the community to seek the goal of the body of Christ. The goal is eschatological, but lived out here and now.

19 November 2007

What I've Learned (at least from Tom Peters...)

g185 This is what I’ve learned from Tom Peters, or at least from his web site.

Know Who You Are.

Know Why You Are Here.

Know How You Are Unique.

Know How You Can Make a Difference.

Know Who Cares.

Know Whether Or Not You Care.

Not a bad place to begin. Of course, as Ben Witherington says, remember that you are unique --just like everyone else.

17 November 2007

Systems and structure

Pope-leo My friend from Scotland and I have had an ongoing conversation about how to do church. The one thing that we've tried to do is to hear what God is saying about the mission and purpose of the church that we attend. This has been an ongoing conversation, and now we are widening the conversation to a few others to help us know if we are hearing right. I think we are.

But, our greatest frustration is getting others to focus on what the church should be about. We find that the more we focus on the mission and purpose statements of the church, the more resistance to change we encounter.

Last night we had a particularly "spirited" conversation about the topic, and I sensed that as we parted company, we were both a little frustrated and feeling down about our seeming lack of progress.

The conversation continued this morning, and one thought came out of all this. We have been focusing on changing the system, and not the people. The passage that came to mind was Eph. 6:12:

12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

What this tells me is that we are trying to change the system, and not the people in the system. In other words, we are fighting a losing battle. As long the system is our focus, we are lost in a quagmire that will only drain us and spit us out like a seed from a piece of fruit.

The result is that we have to change our focus to not simply addressing the problem by writing a vision/mission/purpose statement for the system, we need to make our main focus the need to disciple, mentor, do spiritual formation, make disciples, etc., in order for change to happen. This will happen because we need to make the role of the Holy Spirit in each person's life of paramount importance.

So, structure is good, it is necessary, but that isn't what we are called to do. We are called to introduce people --not the system, to Christ, so that we all may experience abundant life.

What this makes me wonder is, how many times in the past I've looked directly into the sun and not seen it?

09 November 2007

Structure and Design

Cathedral-1000Bob Robinson over at Vanguard Church has posted an interesting article on structure and design, part of his continuing exploration of Appreciative Inquiry. My response is that the process of AI often leads one back to issues of structure and design of the church.

It isn't always WHAT we are doing, but WHY we are doing it.

About the same time I also received the monthly newsletter from Gary Collins, which contained an article about decision paralysis. His focus as a coach is on working with people who have difficulty making decisions. Collins says that this issue is often one of the reasons why churches falter in their mission and ministry.

A lot of churches are good at giving you a lot of generic ministry. For example, sermons seem to be based on some nebulous, distant purpose or idea, but do not seem to have much to do with why the church is in town. There may be a lot of activity, but the attention span of the members of the church seems short lived, and the church has to reinvent itself in the Fall or Spring, and come up with another set of new programs

I find what Collins has to say interesting:

At times every coach works with people who have difficulty making decisions. This decision making process is hardest when a client, organization or business must choose between options that are equally attractive. ...as people face a variety of options they can become overloaded and tyrannized by “decision paralysis.”

We think we know what we need to do, but faced with the problem and possible alternatives, we slow to a crawl and either cannot make a decision or we develop a generic, one size fits all, type of ministry. It fails to have structure or design.

For Collins, if a church wants to have structure and design, then, one way to "...make tough decisions easier is to be guided by a clear, concise, easy-to-remember mission statement."

The mission statement helps us to make decisions about who to reach out to, what to teach, where to focus our energies, and what path is best for the church ministry.

As Collins says, "The best mission statements don’t just hang in a frame on the wall. They can be useful guides for making decisions and reducing decision paralysis."

Or to put it another way, how do you encourage people in a church to be all God wants them if you don't know what you want them to be? That's where a mission statement comes in to play.

The point of all this then is to say, AI can lead you to discover the various processes and strengths of a church, but if you don't know where you are going, one place is as good as another.


Contributor36Another post in my ongoing struggle for clarity in understanding the function of the church.

Below I have listed some of the characteristics of the emerging church as seen through the eyes of Scot McKnight (see here and here for more).

1. Prophetic rhetoric. Christians believe the church needs to change, and they are beginning to live as if that change had already occurred.

2. Postmodernity cannot be reduced to the denial of truth. Instead, it is the collapse of inherited metanarratives (overarching explanations of life) like those of science or Marxism. Why have they collapsed? Because of the impossibility of getting outside their assumptions.

3. Praxis - what most characterizes the emerging church is the stream best called praxis—how the faith is lived out. At its core, the emerging movement is an attempt to fashion a new ecclesiology (doctrine of the church). Its distinctive emphases can be seen in its worship, its concern with orthopraxy, and its missional orientation.

Orthopraxy - is right living. The contention is that how a person lives is more important than what he or she believes.

Worship - Evangelicals sometimes forget that God cares about sacred space and ritual—he told Moses how to design the tabernacle and gave detailed directions to Solomon for building a majestic Temple.

Missional - by participating with God in the redemptive work of God in this world. In essence, it joins with the apostle Paul in saying that God has given us "the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18).
Second, it seeks to become missional by participating in the community where God's redemptive work occurs. The church is the community through which God works and in which God manifests the credibility of the gospel.
Third, becoming missional means participating in the holistic redemptive work of God in this world. The Spirit groans, the creation groans, and we groan for the redemption of God (see Rom. 8:18-27).

4. Post-evangelical - The emerging movement is a protest against much of evangelicalism as currently practiced. It is post-evangelical in the way that neo-evangelicalism (in the 1950s) was post-fundamentalist. It would not be unfair to call it postmodern evangelicalism. This stream flows from the conviction that the church must always be reforming itself.

5. Political - A final stream flowing into the emerging lake is politics. Emerging churches are regularly told that the emerging movement is a latte-drinking, backpack-lugging, Birkenstock-wearing group of 21st-century, left-wing, hippie wannabes. Put directly, they are Democrats. And that spells "post" for conservative-evangelical-politics-as-usual.

One of the reasons for this post is that I downloaded Windows Live Writer, another Microsoft idea's on how to take over another aspect of the E-world. I was somewhat cynical about the program (as I am of almost anything Microsoft), but this program helped me write a blog and post it with out all the processes and aggravations that are found on Blogger. It does make the blogging process easier, so maybe something good can come out of Galilee after all.

Disclaimer: No bloggers were hurt in the writing of this blog.