Final post on church transition.
I am not an expert in the realm of transitions and organisational change but as far as established church expressions are concerned let me suggest two aspects.
Develop a twin track approach
There are two opposite ways of approaching change. One way is to blow up what is here as it is past its sale by date. This often means that we lose what the Lord wished to transition. (We might, however, well be able to blow up the structure if the relationships of the people can hold together.) The other way is to hold tightly to what we have in the hope that it will move forward. I cannot say I have any optimism for the second approach as it seriously underestimates the power of organisations to pull toward a negative ‘steady-state’ scenario.
In contrast to the above two approaches I suggest a third way that can be profitably explored. It is that of working along two tracks, provided we act within the boundaries of the following phrase
- don’t abandon what is here but invest into what is rising, into the future
When we abandon the future but invest into what is here we will be in enormous trouble. The future only belongs to those who prepare for it and invest in it. So what do I mean by twin tracks?
There is a track that is already established and many people are on that. In shorthand I can call it church as we have it, normally congregational church. There might be no need to abandon it, but to use it where seed for transition can be sowed and to encourage dialogue so that people engage with the issues. However, if we simply put our faith that what we have will transition I think we will find with hindsight that we were somewhat naïve. It is for this reason that I suggest we begin to invest in a second track.
The second track is not an alternative version of what we have, some trendy up-to-date congregating of people. Rather it is more like an alternative landscape alongside the existing one, and on this landscape we begin to encourage new experimental shapes that relate to the gates that have to be occupied and to the dreams within people. It is not an alternative church meeting, but an alternative setting where church people are involved in doing kingdom work in the world.
As an investment is made into those settings, stories will filter back of what God is doing in his world. Stories have always been what feed movements and the purpose of the stories (from ordinary people) is to stir the belief that others too can step out in what is in their hearts. By working in this way we are not demeaning what we are currently involved in, but we are certainly not working to preserve it (remember Abraham’s test of Gen. 22 was to go beyond the level of self-preservation: only then was there an authority released to occupy the gates). Through investing in the future alternative landscape we will be helping to accelerate a movement from a reliance on the congregational setting to an involvement in mission.
Will it be successful? There are of course no guarantees but effective leadership will mean that we have to withdraw support from certain aspects. By so doing we will undercut the dependency culture that can arise so easily. Even Jesus spoke of how it was better that he withdrew so that the disciples could then develop. In that sense, he made sure he was not the centre. The leaving of vacuums where something can either collapse or come to a new level is a brave but necessary step.
We must also make sure we do not hold up new examples as the way to do it. We are not looking for a new thing to replace the former way, but of living (and tentative) examples of what can happen when people are empowered to pursue what the Lord is putting on their hearts.
Allow and encourage conversations
Conversations take time. They also take place best when we do not have a preconceived idea of what the outcome can be. Hence they are better earlier in the process rather than later. For them to be profitable they need to be taking place by the time there is the coming apart at the seams stage (and preferably before this).
A possible way for conversation to take place is to set aside time of at least a few hours. To let people know that there will be an open forum looking at the way forward, to which all are welcome. At the appinted time here is a suggested process (adapted and a pale summary from The Power of Spirit: by Harrison Owen):
- a chair person simply outlines why the people are together without making any comment about what the outcome should be (we are going to have to trust the Holy Spirit with the outcome)
- as far as possible it is helpful to have everyone sitting in a circle – no hierarchies and no ‘back rows’
- people are invited to write down every issue as they see it that should be addressed. Those are placed by each person on a large blank board. This process will probably take about 40 or so minutes
- once those are placed there the issues need to be grouped together
- once grouped together there needs to be a recognition of the issues that are particularly ‘hot issues’ and ones that need to be prioritised
- this all needs to be fed back, and from there times and places set for the discussion of those by action groups. Such groups need to be led by a suitable facilitating person
- at a future stage those groups will report back with their work, from where priorities will be set and action
Another way of facilitating conversation is to set people in small groups on a table and let them discuss, doodle etc. there (World Cafe style, from the book of that title). Then move to a new table and let the richness of conversation develop.
However, true conversation is facilitated it all takes time, and it is vital that hearing all the voices is encouraged with centralised control being absent.
Perhaps there can be a meeting of the two pathways at a later stage: the pathway where there is the hoped for new mode of being, and the one that had the growth at the beginning of the transition do cross one more time.
My perception is that many people and groups are in the dusk / dawn situation; others are beginning to find themselves in a situation where the old way of working is no longer producing the same level of fruit it used to. Seems this points to a few interesting years ahead – new modes of being arise!
A map for change:
Selah…. or I am about to take a break for a few days. Hope you enjoyed these past couple of weeks.