Category Archives: The Congregation

Catching the Wind: A Theological Theory of Strategic Action

A Term Paper Presented to Dr. Craig Van Gelder

Luther Seminary

As a Requirement in Course LD8910 The Hermeneutics of Leading in Mission

St. Paul, Minnesota

2011

Introduction

Theory of Strategic ActionThis essay presents my theory of strategic action. It explores how to lead a missional congregation through the process of decision-making and taking action in the world. I will communicate my theory by using the metaphor of a sailing vessel. ((I first encountered this metaphor when reading Leonard Sweet’s book Aqua Church in 2000.[Leonard I. Sweet, Aquachurch (Loveland, CO: Group Pub., 1999).] I use his basic metaphor, but I have modified it for my own purposes.)) The church is a sailing vessel that has been called to take a journey of exploration with God into this wonderful and turbulent world of postmodernity.

Questions for the Journey

A traveler preparing for a journey must ask three questions: 1) Where am I? 2) Where am I going? 3) How will I get there? My theory of strategic action is built around these three basic questions. The missional church must ask these questions in regard to the journey that God has for it. The basic structure is this. We must first ask where we are. What is our story, style, and culture that places us in a specific location? We then ask where we are going? This second question has two facets. The first is to ask what God is doing in our context. Second, we must discern what God is asking us to do and where God is asking us to go. Finally, we ask the question how will we get there? This question also has two interrelated parts. The first part requires strategic planning and organizing for the journey. The second part requires experimentation and constant revision.

Setting Sail: The Metaphor of a Sailing Vessel

The purpose of a sailing ship is to go places. That is an important point for the church. We are not fixed in one location. God calls the church and sends the church on a journey. It is a journey of spiritual formation and of global renewal. The hull of the ship represents the distinctiveness of the local congregation. The sails of the ship are the ministries and mechanisms that the church has constructed in order to do the work God has called it to do. The ocean is the postmodern world of discontinuous change. Jesus is the North Star, standing as the one fixed point by which we locate ourselves in the ever-changing universe. The Holy Spirit is the wind that propels the ship.

The Holy Spirit is the power. This is an important point. The church does not propel itself. The Holy Spirit drives the boat. The job of the church is to align itself properly with the power of the wind so that the ship will sail and not capsize.

The Illustration

I have also provided an illustration to help explain this theory at a glance. Refer to figure 1. It all begins with God’s Story that is constantly flowing all around us. The self is located within the context of human relationships. The self is informed by the story it tells itself, the stories of the world, and the Biblical narrative (assuming the self is of the Christian persuasion). All of these factors come together to help the self make a choice to take action. The action has consequences which alter the environment, thus causing a feedback loop that alters the story the self tells itself and placing the self in a new location. The process begins again.

A Theory of Strategic Action Illustration
fig. 1

 

The First Question: Where (am i) Are We?

Why start here? Why not start with the destination question? Isn’t that the point of a journey; to get somewhere? The destination is definitely important, but the postmodern self cannot start with the question of an objective destination that is out there. The process must begin with self, because that is all we really know. ((Immanuel Kant is the one who got us started on the discussion of starting points. His critique of pure reason drove the wedge between the noumena and phenomena. Kant questioned whether it was possible to truly know the object. The only connection the subject has with the object is the secondary sensory perceptions located in the perception of the object by the subject. Many scholars tried to bridge the Kantian divide between subject and object. Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heideggar, Gadamer—they all had variations on the theme, but agreed that the starting place of knowing the object, is in the subject. Jean Grondin discusses this 19th and 20th century hermeneutical lineage from Kant to Gadamer. [Jean Grondin, Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics, Yale Studies in Hermeneutics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994).]))

Jumping on the Merry-Go-Round

Let me use a simple metaphor to illustrate this point. How do you jump onto a spinning merry-go-round? You approach the spinning platform and realize two things. First, it is a continuous blur and you cannot decipher a single place on which to jump. Second, you, and the world around you, are calm and stationary. How do you move from being a stationary observer to being a fully engaged rider? The process begins with you. You must start running along side the platform. The faster you run, the slower the ride seems to move and the clearer the handle and platform appears. There comes a critical moment when you are moving fast enough and the platform seems slow enough that you can make the leap and you jump onto the merry-go-round. A significant event happens in that moment. Everything shifts. You suddenly become stationary once again. This time, however, it is the merry-go-round that is calm and stationary while the world around you spins into a blur of motion. The more you know about yourself and where you are situated, the more able you will be to position yourself relative to the object and make a connection to it. You must make the first move.

Confessing Horizons

This is my theory of action, therefore it is limited to my particular horizon and location at this moment in my life. ((The language of horizons and the fusion of horizons comes from Hans-Georg Gadamer. A horizon is created by one’s position in the world. It is limited to one’s own ability to perceive the world and articulate that perception through language. Every person and every work of human creation—art, literature, culture—has a horizon and is limited in its finitude. It is only when the individual acknowledges her horizon and engages the horizon of another person, or work of art, through the fusion of open dialogue that she can begin to grow her horizon and understand more about the world. Gadamer explains these concepts thoroughly in his magnum opus Truth and Method. [Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (London: Sheed & Ward, 1975).])) If I want to present a theory of action that helps the church answer the three journey questions, then I must first ask them of myself. Where am I?

I am a white, middle-class, suburban, male. I was raised in a conservative, fundamentalist, Baptist culture in my youth. I served in a seeker-targeted, evangelical, mega-church in Las Vegas during my twenties and early thirties. I received a Masters of Divinity from Bethel Seminary during that time and began to migrate to an emergent and missional theology. I disengaged from the mega church and experimented with house church from 2002-2007. My theology became progressively more eclectic and missional during that time. God called me to move to the northern suburbs of Minneapolis in 2007. In 2009 I met the pastor of an ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) congregation who welcomed me into the Lutheran church. I am currently in the process of transferring my ordination to the ELCA. I am a husband, father, artist, writer, musician, pastor, teacher, and PhD student.

I believe in the reality of the Triune God. I believe that God became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, whose death and resurrection have reconciled humanity with God and whose coming kingdom is both a present and unfolding reality. I believe that the Holy Spirit is active in the world and is our source of power and insight in daily life. I privilege the Hebrew and Christian canon as normative for the church in that the scriptures record the historical, dynamic relationship of God with the people identified within the particular election of Abraham and his descendents.

All of these things locate me in a very specific place—geographically, culturally, and theologically—with a very specific perspective on the world. These prejudices have a strong impact on my theory. While I would like to think that it is a brilliant and universal theory, it is not. It is my theory and I pray it will be appropriate for the people that God has called me to lead.

The Me/We Principle.

The local congregation is a conglomeration of individual selves who are connected in a collective self. Each individual has his or her own horizon and must ask the where am I question. These individuals must start with a me perspective. The collective of mes becomes a we. The we becomes another form of me as it stands in relation to the larger world around it and must also ask the where am I/where are we question.

I call this the MeWe principle. There is an important truth embedded in this principle that ripples throughout my theory of action: it is only when the me reaches out and engages the other that the me truly discovers itself. There is no me without we. ((Paul Ricouer explores this concept deeply. Paul Ricœur, Oneself as Another (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 17.)) The biblical image for this is the body of Christ. Each individual me is a part of the body, and all the parts work together interdependently to form the collective we of the body. ((1 Corinthians 12:1-31))

The rest of this presentation will operate under the assumption of a double-layered application. I will sometimes use language that addresses the collective we, while other times I will address the individual me. Each of the following principles can and should be utilized by the me and we simultaneously.

Know Your Story

We all tell ourselves a story. Most of the story we tell ourselves is a story that was written for us without our consent. I did not ask to be born. I did not ask for my parents or the genetic material they combined to create me. My parents chose where I would grow up, what language I would speak, the people I would know, and the church I would attend. All the early experiences I had that imprinted on my young mind were done to me, without my consent.

Some of our story is written by our own choices. Granted, the choices we have are still limited to the language we know, the place we live, and the physical resources at our disposal, but we can start to have some say in the matter and contribute to our own story.

If a local church desires to form a strategic action plan, it is important for it to become aware of its own story. Your story locates you in time and space and helps you understand the perspective from which you perceive the rest of the world. If you are financially well off, for example, and occupy a place of privilege in society then you will perceive the world and the scripture very different from one who was born on the margins of society and had to struggle for basic physical resources.

Know Your Style.

Another factor that contributes to the location of the MeWe is that of style. Style refers to the unique personality traits, skills, and spiritual gifts that each individual has. Personality factors impact the way a person learns, expresses himself, and contributes to the larger we. The issue of style is not limited to the individual person. The Local congregation has a style as well. Some congregations are warm and welcoming, some are serious and studious, some are wild in worship, some are contemplative and serene. Each style is a unique part of the body, and the better one knows one’s own style, the better equipped one will be to engage in the community as a positive, contributing member. ((The Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator is an excellent tool to help a congregation discover its style. David Keirsey treats this subject well in David Keirsey, Please Understand Me Ii: Temperament, Character, Intelligence, 1st ed. (Del Mar, CA: Prometheus Nemesis, 1998). Another excellent tool is the Enneagram. Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types (New York: Bantam Books, 1999).))

Know Your Surroundings

The missional church must be aware of where it is physically located. A church’s physical location is comprised of geography, demographics, cultural mores, and political powers. The church that does not adapt to its surroundings will suffer. Two simple examples will illustrate this point. If you are out in the middle of a snow storm, you will want to put on warm clothes. This is a strategic action directly proportionate to the physical surroundings. If you were out in the desert you would most likely not wear the same clothes that you would in the snow. The sailing vessel that is not aware that there is a shallow reef ahead is in store for a shock. These illustrations seem obvious, but it is surprising how many local congregations lose touch with their immediate physical surroundings and dress inappropriately or crash on the rocks.

Who Are Your Neighbors?

The most important surrounding that an individual and a church must acknowledge is that of the neighbor. Jesus taught that the second great commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. ((Luke 10:25-37)) When asked who is my neighbor, Jesus essentially replied…everybody.

There are three basic kinds of neighbors: the intimate neighbor, the comfortable neighbor, and the uncomfortable neighbor. The process of loving each kind of neighbor is different. We will discuss the difference between these three rings of neighbors now, and this differentiation will come into play in a few more places along the way.

Intimate Neighbors

The intimate neighbor is the soul-mate, the friend, the confidant. This is a small circle, but a crucial one. It is in these relationships that we truly experience love and intimacy that feeds the soul and provides strength, comfort, and encouragement. It is the goal of the church to be the place in which each person can find the intimate neighbor to love.

Comfortable Neighbors

The comfortable neighbor is the person who is like you and does not make you feel threatened. The church should be a place of intimate and comfortable neighbors. The comfortable neighbor is not limited to the confines of the church, however. This neighbor is the person in the community that is like you. They blend into the background. Most often the comfortable neighbors flock together in homogenous groups and strive to stay comfortable within their safe boundaries.

Uncomfortable Neighbors

Loving the intimate and comfortable neighbor is relatively easy. They generally love you back. It is when we come to the uncomfortable neighbor that things get scary (and the gospel may be lurking). The love of Jesus is found when we reach across the boundary that divides the comfortable from the uncomfortable. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” ((Matthew 5:43-48))

The missional church must be in tune with the neighborhood. Who are the people that would naturally be uncomfortable to us? Those are the people we need to notice. We need to learn who they are and how their stories shape the larger community in which our congregation’s story finds itself.

What Are the Rules?

There is more going on in our surroundings than just physical space and people. There is the culture which is comprised of the rules—both explicit and implicit—that govern our behavior and interactions.

Cultural Values

Some cultures have overt rules that prohibit the interaction of certain people or dramatically restrict certain behavior in certain people groups. Other cultures have unwritten rules that are often stronger than the explicit rules. We don’t play with those kinds of kids. There goes the neighborhood. You can’t trust them. Important people drive this type of care, have their children in this type of activity, and would never think of doing that.

Spiritual Powers

There is more going on in the surroundings than just culture. Culture is a component and a symptom of something different. Sin is at play in our societies. People are broken and trapped within self. The isolation of self leads people to fear. Fear leads to self-protection and mistrust. Self-protection and mistrust leads to war and violence. War and violence leads to famine and disease. War, famine, and disease lead to destruction and death. Violence also leads to fear, which starts the cycle again. When fear rules people’s hearts, the collective will of the people becomes a spiritual force that takes on a life of its own. The apostle Paul referred to these forces as the principalities, powers, rulers, and authorities. The church is called to stand against these forces of evil through prayer and the love of Christ. We are called to unmask the powers of evil and demonstrate that Jesus has won the victory over them. It is only when the church acknowledges these powers that they can take the action to stand against them. ((Ephesians 6:10-20))

Know Your Shortcomings

We end this first section where we started. We must acknowledge the fact that we are limited in our horizons. We are finite creatures, bound to make mistakes. This acknowledgment will keep us humble and able to be attentive to the other.

Shackled by Sin

The discussion of spiritual powers can tempt us to view the church as a bastion of holiness surrounded by a maelstrom of evil that is out there. We must always remember that sin is a constant companion within each follower of Jesus. Martin Luther left the legacy simul iustus et peccator—that we are each simultaneously both sinner and saint. It is only by God’s grace that we can do anything. This acknowledgement should keep any notion of self-righteousness and pride in check and allow us to reach out to the other in authentic openness.

Bound by Horizons

Finally, we must always remember that we are bound by our own horizon; our own perspective relative to where we stand in the world. The uncomfortable neighbor is only uncomfortable because their horizon is beyond mine. I can’t see it, so I fear it. When we approach the uncomfortable neighbor with the attitude to engage their horizon in dialogue, then we can move to the fusion of horizons and perhaps, together, gain better understanding. ((Gadamer, 269.))

The Second Question: Where Are We Going?

We have located our self, at least provisionally. Now it is time to ask the second question. Where are we going? This question is better stated where is God asking us to go? The discovery of God’s calling requires two things. First, we must learn to open our eyes and look around to see what God is currently doing in the world around us. Second, we must learn to open our ears and listen to what God is asking us to do. ((Craig Van Gelder articulates these questions well in his theory of action. Craig Van Gelder, “The Hermeneutics of Leading in Mission,” Journal of Religious Leadership 3, no. 1-2 (2004).))

What is God Doing?

Looking at God with Fresh Eyes

The missional church needs to look at God with fresh eyes. The theological story that the western church has told itself for the past 1500 years is one of a monarchial God who works through the top-down power structure of the church. God’s presence and means of Grace has been confined within the church and under the power of the clergy. This God-in-the-box mentality has tended to centralize the church in culture and communicated to the world that people must come into the church to find God.

The western church has lost its position in society. This is actually a good thing for the church. This disruption of our story is forcing the current generation to look at scripture, the world, and God with fresh eyes. The missional church needs to have a missional theology. The basic tenets of this theology are as follows:

God is a creative trinity. God is a community of three persons, eternally loving one another. The scripture names these three persons with two masculine and one neuter title: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. ((It is important to note that God is not male or female. The masculine language of scripture stems from scripture’s cultural horizon. We need to be sensitive to this type of language in our world where the feminist movement has shed great light on gender abuse through the ages.)) This eternal community of love has created, is recreating, and will eternally recreate the universe for the purpose of bringing all creation into loving community with Godself. ((Ted Peters, God–the World’s Future : Systematic Theology for a New Era, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000).))

Jesus is the redeeming and reconciling King. Humanity has been disrupted by sin. The effect of sin is isolation, fear, violence, and death. The second person of the Trinity became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He took on the pain of sin and death and conquered it through the shame of crucifixion. He rose from the dead and conquered death. He has been exalted as the King of Kings and his reign is over the entire universe. He seeks to bring the shalom—the peace—of God to all nations through his loving reign. His kingdom is a proleptic reality. It is already, but not yet. ((Hans Küng, The Church (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1968), 47-53.))

The Spirit is at Work. The Holy Spirit is the active agent of the Trinity in the world today. The pluriform and polycentric spirit is present and active within all nations, working to draw them into the diverse unity of the Kingdom of God. ((For a complex and robust discussion of the pluriform and polycentric Spirit, see Michael Welker, God the Spirit, 1st English-language ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994).))

Looking at the Church with Fresh Eyes

I mentioned earlier that the church has changed. It has lost its privileged position in western society and has been marginalized to the ranks of volunteer organization or vendor of religious commodity for those still interested in the medieval model of church life. It is time to re-imagine what the church is and what God is doing in and around it.

The Church is Called and Sent to Partner with God. God has specifically called the followers of Jesus to be God’s covenant people, in the same way that he called Abraham’s people. ((Lesslie Newbigin presents a compelling argument for the purpose of election. Communication must be particular. Humans communicate through language and cultural symbology. Culture is specific, not universal. Therefore, if God was going to communicate with humanity, it had to be done through a particular language, which is de facto bound by a particular culture. Jesus had to be confined to a human being, bound by language, culture, and history. The church is also bound by language, culture, and history. Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans; WCC Publications 1989).)) The church is called out of the world to demonstrate the Kingdom of God’s peace at work in the lives of real people. The gathered people of God are then called to move into society with the good news of peace and reconciliation demonstrated by the healing and forgiveness of Jesus((Van Gelder and Zscheile provide an excellent overview of the sending trinity in Craig Van Gelder and Dwight J. Zscheile, The Missional Church in Perspective : Mapping Trends and Shaping the Conversation, The Missional Network (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2011), 101-123.))

The Church is a Spirit-Empowered and Spirit-Led Body. We have already discussed that the church is a MeWe collective. The Holy Spirit is the bond that connects the individual mes to one another. The Spirit dispenses gifts to the parts of the body so that every person has a contributing part to play in the action to which God calls the body. The Spirit also calls and leads the church into missional space in the world.

The Church is Led by a Plurality of Leaders. Scripture indicates a plurality of leadership for the church. Leadership is necessary for the church to function, but the purpose of leadership not the wielding of authoritative power. The purpose of leadership is “to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” ((Ephesians 4:12))

Looking at the World with Fresh Eyes

The church must no longer look at the world as them and the church as us. The Holy Spirit is at work in all people drawing all people into the healing and reconciliation of Jesus’ kingdom of peace. The Missional church must learn to look at the uncomfortable neighbor across the street and ask what God is doing in their midst and what can we learn from it? When the local church engages its community with this attitude it opens channels for the Holy Spirit to bridge the gap and draw different cultures into constructive dialogue. This fusion of horizons can make new spaces in which the Holy Spirit can move among the people. This is not to say that the church must relativize its belief for the sake of a new homogeneity. Rather, this allows the church to connect to the larger community in a heterogeneous unified diversity in which the Spirit can demonstrate shalom in ways that the world has seldom witnessed. ((This is an image of what the Spirit did on the day of Pentecost in the book of Acts. Many people groups gathered and simultaneously experienced the presence of God within their own diverse languages. This is a further aspect of the Holy Spirit that is developed in Welker.))

Where is God Calling Us?

Listen to God in the Scriptures

We have seen with fresh eyes who God is and what God is doing. Now it is time to listen with fresh ears. This is also called discernment. If the church is going to know where God is calling it, then it has to learn how to listen for God’s voice and recognize it when it is heard. God usually speaks in whispers. ((We see a prototypical example of this in 1 Kings 19:11-13.)) Listening for God’s still small voice is a difficult task in a world inundated with noise and frenetic activity. The missional church needs to rediscover the classic spiritual practices that help us settle our mind, spirit, and body and allow us to listen to God’s voice. A key component to the church’s listening process is to engage in the spiritual practices in community and learn to dwell in the scriptures together. ((Both Alan Roxburgh [Alan J. Roxburgh, Fred Romanuk, and Leadership Network (Dallas Tex.), The Missional Leader : Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World, 1st ed. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2006), 85-91.] and Patrick Keifert [Patrick R. Keifert, We Are Here Now : A New Missional Era, a Missional Journey of Spiritual Discovery (Eagle, Idaho: Allelon Publishing, 2006), 68-71.] utilize an exercise of dwelling in the Word to help congregations listen and discern God’s voice.))

Listen to God in the Neighbor

Not only does the church need to listen to the scripture to see what God is doing, we must also learn how to listen to our neighbors. We discussed earlier how the me is found in the interface with the other. This dynamic is also true for the church. When we take the time to listen to our neighbors to see where they laugh and where they cry, we will begin to see the spaces in which the Spirit wants us to move and how we can join in what God is already doing in those spaces. Sometimes the voice of God is in the mouth of a Syro-phonecian woman, sometimes a beggar, sometimes a king, and sometimes an ass. We need to be ready to hear it wherever it speaks, and then respond.

The Third Question: How Will We Get There?

It is tempting to think of this final question as the practical question, as if the first questions were purely theory and introspection. This is an erroneous distinction. The fact is that all of the questions require action. Finding our location requires action, as was demonstrated in the illustration of the merry-go-round. Looking at God and listening for God’s voice requires action and community involvement. The entire process is praxis. In the doing we discover the going. ((Gerben Heitink discusses this in great detail. The time has come to deconstruct the false dichotomy between theoretical theology and practical theology. When we obey Jesus’ commands and act on them, then we discover the reality of God at work in the world. There is no sequence to how this works. Sometimes it is theology-theory-action, sometimes the other way around. Gerben Heitink, Practical Theology: History, Theory, Action Domains: Manual for Practical Theology, Studies in Practical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1999).)) Put in simple terms: you can’t steer a parked car, and you can’t navigate a docked ship. We must now look at the question of how.

Get Organized

Organization is not a bad thing, nor is it a good thing. It is simply a necessity. The church does, however, need to be cautious with the role of organization in the life of the organism. We are often tempted to make the organization the thing that we serve, rather than the other way around. It would serve us well to remember this simple axiom. The church is. The church does what it is. The church organizes what it does. ((This is a basic premise of Craig Van Gelder’s work on the missional church. Craig Van Gelder, The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led by the Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007).)) We need organization and planning. Current insights from the world of organizational theory can help the church understand that it is an open system that must be in tune to its environment and be able to adapt to constant changes. The leadership and structure of the church must be organized in such a way that it grants power to the maximum number of people who are closest to the areas needing adaptive change. The church is more of a network of social connections than a hierarchy of bureaucratic power. ((Mary Hatch details these various postmodern organizational theories. Mary Jo Hatch and Ann L. Cunliffe, Organization Theory : Modern, Symbolic, and Postmodern Perspectives, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).))

Make Decisions

The most difficult and most fruitful process the church can experience is that of making decisions. We ultimately have to decide on a specific how. We have to craft the sails for our ship. We have to train the crews, set a direction, and develop a strategic plan. Who makes the decisions? How are the decisions made? In this process we see the best and worst of people and our organizational structures. In this process we see the true flow of power and we unmask the real motives and values that rule our hearts. It is often a painful process that can lead to conflict. Yet, it is through this conflict that we are given the opportunity to work out our differences, extend grace and forgiveness, and find collaborative alternatives that lead to a greater good. This is called communicative action and, when done in the spirit of humility and equality, it can open up great space for the Holy Spirit’s wind to blow powerfully into the sails of the ship. ((Jürgen Habermas is most noted for his work with communicative action (also known as communicative rationality). Gary Simpson gives a good discussion of the application of Habermas’ theories for the missional church. Gary M. Simpson, Critical Social Theory: Prophetic Reason, Civil Society, and Christian Imagination, Guides to Theological Inquiry (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002).))

Experiment

The missional church needs to have a spirit of playfulness and experimentation. We need to simply try things and see if they work. Jesus called us to follow him, not to sit in a classroom and study him. This is on-the-job training where we make mistakes and learn from them. Perhaps the church should be more like a dojo—where students practice the art of doing the topic—than like a classroom—where students study the theory about a topic. ((The Jesus Dojo is a concept that Mark Scandrette has developed with his ministry—ReImagine—in San Francisco. Mark Scandrette, Practicing the Way of Jesus: Life Together in the Kingdom of Love (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2011).)) When the congregation moves out to experiment in the ways of Jesus’ love in the neighborhood, we will learn from our successes and failures, together.

Repeat

There is one final step in the process. Repeat. It is necessary to constantly revisit this process because of the feedback loop. In figure 1 we see the process. Everything flows into making us who we are. We are located by the story we tell ourselves. We are situated within the context of geography, people, and culture. We are informed by the scriptures and led by the Holy Spirit. That is our place. We then make a decision and move forward. The choice propels us into a new location. The decision creates consequences—for good or evil—and alters the environment. This altered environment then feeds back into the story we tell ourselves and we are changed. This new location forces us to ask where are we and the process starts over again.

Conclusion

This is my theory. I am here. Now. I will try to lead the people that God has called me to lead through this process. We will experiment. We will change. Hopefully, we will be attentive enough to partner with what God is doing. Six months from now I will be in a new location. I wonder if my theory will look the same then? For now, all I can do is simply experiment and fall forward into the grace of God.

Bibliography

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Truth and Method. London: Sheed & Ward, 1975.

Grondin, Jean. Introduction to Philosophical Hermeneutics Yale Studies in Hermeneutics. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.

Hatch, Mary Jo, and Ann L. Cunliffe. Organization Theory : Modern, Symbolic, and Postmodern Perspectives. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Heitink, Gerben. Practical Theology: History, Theory, Action Domains: Manual for Practical Theology Studies in Practical Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1999.

Keifert, Patrick R. We Are Here Now : A New Missional Era, a Missional Journey of Spiritual Discovery. Eagle, Idaho: Allelon Publishing, 2006.

Keirsey, David. Please Understand Me Ii: Temperament, Character, Intelligence. 1st ed. Del Mar, CA: Prometheus Nemesis, 1998.

Küng, Hans. The Church. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1968.

Newbigin, Lesslie. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans; WCC Publications 1989.

Peters, Ted. God–the World’s Future : Systematic Theology for a New Era. 2nd ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000.

Ricœur, Paul. Oneself as Another. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Riso, Don Richard, and Russ Hudson. The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types. New York: Bantam Books, 1999.

Roxburgh, Alan J., Fred Romanuk, and Leadership Network (Dallas Tex.). The Missional Leader : Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World. 1st ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2006.

Scandrette, Mark. Practicing the Way of Jesus: Life Together in the Kingdom of Love. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2011.

Simpson, Gary M. Critical Social Theory: Prophetic Reason, Civil Society, and Christian Imagination Guides to Theological Inquiry. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002.

Sweet, Leonard I. Aquachurch. Loveland, CO: Group Pub., 1999.

Van Gelder, Craig. “The Hermeneutics of Leading in Mission.” Journal of Religious Leadership 3, no. 1-2 (2004): 139-171.

________________. The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led by the Spirit. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007.

Van Gelder, Craig, and Dwight J. Zscheile. The Missional Church in Perspective : Mapping Trends and Shaping the Conversation The Missional Network. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2011.

Welker, Michael. God the Spirit. 1st English-language ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994.

A Rough Sketch of the History of Organizational Theory in the 20th Century

This is a compilation of the notes I took in Van Gelder's class "Congregational Leadership"
This is a compilation of the notes I took in Van Gelder’s PhD class called “Congregational Leadership” at Luther Seminary in the Fall of 2011. He loves timelines, and so do I. Each of these pages comes from a different day in which he added to the timeline. The center one is a graphic I made when it was my turn to lead the discussion. I handed it out to each colleague, and I think they found it helpful.

Where Did That Come From? | Leading the Church through Societal Change

Let’s be honest. It is not easy to be a leader in the church during times of massive societal and theological change. For example, the congregation in which I serve is currently engaged in a series of Holy Conversations to discern whether we should perform same-sex marriages. This is uncharted territory for me as a leader, and I honestly don’t know where we will end up.

My research in the social Trinity is another example of societal and theological change. It is not nearly as emotionally or politically charged as sexuality issues, but it is equally foreign to the people in the congregation. I often find it very difficult to engage in theological and biblical conversations with church members about topics like these. More often than not they lead to a frustrating impasse that leaves those of us in the conversation emotionally drained.

Why is this true? How do we, as church leaders, help our congregations navigate these changing and turbulent waters? There is one thing that I think is important to understand. Most people in the church have no frame of reference to process these new ideas that seem, to them, to have come out of left field. They don’t have mental pegs on which to hang these seemingly new ideas, nor should we expect them to.

I have spent most of my adult life taking classes, reading books, and writing papers about these things. It has been a slow and gradual evolution in my theological imagination. When I talk to people in the church about these topics, and crack open the way that I understand God and the Bible, I usually receive either bewildered stares, or agitated discomfort.

There is a reason why these changes seem like a surprise to our church members. The reason has to do with how society changes. We need to understand that these apparently new ideas are actually several generations old. Thomas Kuhn discussed this process of change and called it a paragdigm shift. Kuhn was referring specifically to shifts in scientific theories, but his concept has been helpful to understand social and theological shifts as well.

Here is how the process of cultural change works, as I understand it. This sketch is my attempt to visualize the process. Below it I try to explain how this works. ((much of this comes from Kuhn, but also from Hunter in How to Change the World))

How Society Changes

The paradigm shift begins when a few intellectual elites who operate on the fringe of the academy are willing to challenge the status quo. These brilliant minds notice inconsistencies in the standard theoretical models and write about new ways to imagine them. They reveal data that contradicts the conventional wisdom. These intellectuals are often ridiculed by the academy. Some are silenced and/or executed for their heresy.

The next generation of intellectuals reads their work and it sparks their imagination. They further the research and compile more compelling data.

Two parallel tracks of intellectual pursuit run over the course of the next one or two generations. One track is the conventional wisdom, the other is the challenging/alternative perspective. As the alternative camp gathers data, the conventional camp begins to divide between strong, conservative resistors, and curious adaptors and interlocutors.

The resistors invest massive amounts of energy to disprove the new theories, while the adaptors are willing to listen and engage in cautious conversation. A raucous debate happens in the academy, behind the closed doors of the ivory tower.

Eventually, something happens—whether a world event or a watershed academic discovery—that creates a tipping point in the academy. The alternative perspective now becomes at least an equal, if not a majority, voice in the academy. The next generation of intellectuals are then trained in the new perspective and sent out into the academy to be the teachers of the next generation of world leaders. The Presidents, Congress people, senators, and CEO’s are trained in the elite academies–e.g. Harvard, Yale, University of Chicago, etc.–where the alternative perspective is presented as the correct alternative to the traditional perspective of the previous generation.

Once the public leaders are indoctrinated in the alternative perspective it becomes the new paradigm in which all public policy and business affairs are developed and implemented. This is where it “hits the ground” and starts actually changing society.

The average citizen (and church member) has no idea that this conversation has been happening in the ivory tower for decades and generations. When it finally hits the ground it appears as if it is coming out of thin air and it rocks their world. They have been operating on the conventional wisdom their entire life. It is the air they breathe and they know no other.

When a paradigm shift happens and society hits the tipping point and the alternative perspective hits the ground, it is like an atomic bomb. The academic arguments of two generations earlier now become town hall debates. Fear and anger flares up and good people do terrible things.

So, how do we, as church leaders, handle this? If we have been tuned into this larger conversation we find ourselves stuck in a difficult situation. I will speak, now, for myself. Perhaps you can relate. I feel torn between my mind and heart—and body—as well. My mind understands the academic evolution and the new perspective makes sense to me, intellectually. My heart and body, however, live “on the ground” with the congregation in the day-to-day world that is unaware and ill-equipped to process the new paradigm. I love the congregation and never, ever want to hurt them. I am called to be a shepherd of God’s precious flock. And yet, I also know that the paradigm has shifted and I breathe different air than many people in the flock.

How does one lead under these circumstances? We, as church leaders, find ourselves in the riptide, caught between the changing currents. Christians on one side condemn us for being stuck in the past. Christians on the other side condemn us for selling out to the “ways of the world.”

As I reflect on these things, the words of two teachers come to mind. The first teacher was the senior pastor of the Baptist church I attended in my formative years. He would often warn us not to pursue higher education. He said, “Seminary is a cemetery, where good pastors go to die.” According to his paradigm, that has been true in my life. I went to Seminary—one was Baptist, the other one Lutheran—and, in both places, I died to the paradigm that he taught me.

The other teacher that comes to mind is Jesus. He said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Jesus was teaching radical, paradigm-shifting things to his Jewish family. Some of them were ready to hear it. Most of them were not. He loved them all. They killed him. He forgave them. He rose from the dead. The Spirit came, and the disruptive process continued.

This is the reality of church leadership is the nexus of the paradigm shift. This post has not provided a slick method to navigate these waters. I have simply named one explanation for why the tension exists. It is not easy, nor even enjoyable, to lead the church in this context, but it is an important calling. The only solid advice I can offer is that we are called to follow the Holy Spirit with humility and courage. And above all else, we are called to bear the face of love that our congregation needs most in their current understanding. We should never needlessly scandalize their paradigm, nor should we allow them to entrench themselves in unreflective dogma. That’s probably the topic of another post…

Book | Christianity After Religion by Diana Butler Bass

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Bass, Diana Butler. Christianity after Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. 1st ed. New York: HarperOne, 2012.

diana-butler-bassI heard Diana Butler Bass speak at the Festival of Homiletics a couple years ago, and she was fantastic. These are the notes I took from that presentation. It changed the way I look at the Creed, and has impacted how I teach Catechism.

Part One of Dorothy Butler Bass' presentation at the Festival of Homiletics in Minneapolis, May 2011.
Part One of Diana Butler Bass’ presentation at the Festival of Homiletics in Minneapolis, May 2011.
Part Two of Dorothy Butler Bass' presentation at the Festival of Homiletics in Minneapolis, May 2011.
Part Two of Diana Butler Bass’ presentation at the Festival of Homiletics in Minneapolis, May 2011.

I believe these notes essentially express the thrust of the above mentioned book. Another big take-away for me is the reversal of belonging. It used to be that–in order to belong to a church–a person went through this sequence:

Believe ==> Behave ==> Belong.

In other words, one must first believe and ascribe to the correct doctrines, and demonstrate this to the existing congregation. Then one must pledge to follow certain moral behavioral codes, and be characterized by said holy lifestyle. Then, when one “makes the cut” one would be admitted into the fellowship of the saints.

Butler-Bass, among others, suggests that this flow should be reversed if the church is to a) survive, and b) (more importantly) actually reflect the pattern that Jesus established. The reversed flow would look like this:

Belong ==> Behave ==> Believe.

In other words, the church should be an open, welcoming community where anyone can instantly be welcomed to participate and feel a sense of belonging. Once a person belongs and feels safe, they will notice that the behavior of the community moves to a different rhythm. It is God-centered, and other-oriented, working for justice and peace and reconciliation in the World. Finally, when the person finds this to be a redemptive rhythm, they will begin to believe that this rhythm is the reality of the Triune God, reveled and centered on Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is a way of being the church–a missional imagination–that will inspire hope in the world.

Prepare, Practice, Play, Participate

“Performing faith involves four important actions: prepare, practice, play, and participate.” (259)

“You must prepare by learning the overall religious story of our time.” (259)

“In order to embody the story and help others experience it, we need to practice our faith intentionally in ways that anticipate compassion and justice….God’s reign does not fall from heaven to those who wait. The people of god must live the kingdom by purposefully doing actions that rehearse love, charity, kindness, goodness, mercy, peace, forgiveness, and justice.” (260)

“Performance involves the hard work of practice, but it also entails play….Awakening cannot occur without laughter and lightness. Mirth is essential to vibrant spirituality….performance is ‘entertainment’ in its original sense, which meant ‘to hold together, stick together, or support.’ The purpose of entertainment was to create a community focused on the story at hand.” (260)

“Performance requires that we participate….Ideally, there is no such thing as a passive audience. Instead, audiences conspire with actors to create unique performances. To perform awaking means we all must participate–sometimes as actors, sometimes as audience, as directors, writers, stagehands, set designers, ushers–rather like a community theater, all with interchangeable roles.” (261)

“Churches cannot be clubs for the righteous, institutions that maintain religious conformity in the face of change, or businesses that manage orthodoxy and personal piety. Churches must be more like Rolling Thunder or holy flash mobs. They must grasp–in a profound and authentic way–that they are sacred communities of performance where the faithful learn the script of God’s story, rehearse the reign of God, experience delight, surprise, and wonder, and participate fully in the play.” (261)