Posts Tagged ‘congregational transformation’

“Complexity Perspectives in Innovation and Social Change” second chapter written by Dwight Read, David Lane and Sander van der Leeuw charts the history of human tool making as a fundamental innovation.  Noting the span of some 200,000 years, the authors expediently detail the challenge of human beings had to conceptually manage their material world.  Many of us know of paleolithic tool making but the chapter provides an appreciation for its “grinding” emergence.  The ability to create the tools and “… the ‘invention explosion’ of the Neolithic is related to their conceptual abilities to conceive of space in four nested dimensions across a wide range of spatial scales (from the individual fiber or grain to the landscape), to separate a surface from the volume it encloses, to use different topologies, to distinguish and relate time and space, to distinguish between different cause and effect, and to plan, etc.” (97)  In essence human beings gained a bootstrapping process that allowed them to gain an edge over other species.

Bootstrapping is defined in five steps

  1. a trial and error process that summarizes observations and experiences in an efficient manner.
  2. as more dimensions are available there is the ability to ask more questions
  3. a capacity of abstraction  allows for greater connections between different circumstances and domains of knowledge
  4. individuals who are exercised in this way have an increased “problem space” when compared to others and the increase “problem space” and the curiosity within it gives these individuals an advantage over other individuals and non-humans.
  5. “….each solution brings its own unexpected challenge, requires more problem-solving, and a more costly conceptual and material infrastructure in which to survive” (98)

The authors then follow the evolution from toolmaking to the more sociological development of urban environments and towns.   It is here that they distinguish themselves from the establishment on what drives the urban development.  Typically urban development is understood as dependent upon “a food surplus so that those ‘in power’ would not have to provide for their own subsistence and could harness some of the population at least part of the time to invest in collective works” (100)   To the contrary, the authors argue that urban societies coagulate because of “the problem-solving control loop” that conserves energy.  Such a control loop is described in the bootstrapping steps above.    (In order to substantiate this, they note that matter and energy are subject to the law of conservation but the flow of information is not subject to this and therefore is a more likely driver of urban development.  Energy and matter are more likely constraints for sociological organization).  While it too 200,000 years to master matter….human beings conceptual work related to information only took 8,000 years to conserve energy.

At this point, I would like to recognize the church as a facet of urban development.  And rest upon the work of the authors that asserts matter and energy as constraints but the flow of information as a driver in our development.  Very often in the church, we are trying to reproduce our population through an accumulation of members who are enculturated by tradition, denomination, context.   Our best intentions are masked by our own collusion with the Darwinian model wherein we equate reproduction and imitation of behavior as adequate enculturation and then we hope for vitality.

If we trust what our author’s excruciating work regarding matter, energy and bootstrapping, what we must conclude is that organized life does not derive vitality from imitation and reproduction, we derive vitality from the emergence of problems and the conceptual exercise to approach those problems with both life experience and openness to novelty.  If congregations are looking for vitality programs and ministry would not be efforts to repeat and reproduce (how guilty I am of this!).  Rather we might be looking for our most tenacious problems of politics, sociology, psychology and be a junction box for the flow of information (members and nonmembers alike), conserving energy while contributing to innovation.  Although it would not be enough, I might just be a  bootstrap that Jesus could endorse.


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Love is the third emotion explored by Robert C. Solomon and his described as the most favorite of our positive emotions.   But again, Solomon is going to understand love as not thing that happens to us but an engagement with the world and a series of choices.  He notes that love is not only the discovery that another person is loveable but it is the bestowal of virtues that “make a person valuable to us” (27).  Surely there are situations that are beyond our control in partnership.  Given that caveat, it is equally true that when love endures it is because we have made the choice to move forward with an imperfect and at times even crazy partner.

Solomon notes that fairy tales ending is really the beginning of love.  For it is after the hero and the heroine are joined and riding off into the sunset that the real work begins.  And by real work, I mean real choices.  Solomon’s lecture implies that love has more to do with the lover than the lovee.  Additionally, our ability to engage critical thinking about our choices and our willingness to learn and adapt (when the situation is not an abusive one) may be the strongest patterns of behavior in long-standing relationships.

The irony is that within a loving relationship there will surely be times when we don’t feel in love at all.  Indeed, other emotions arise like fear , anger, shame etc.  Those, seemingly antithetical emotions challenge and critique love.  If we hold them in tension with love, they provide a path….even if it is  sometimes a narrow path, forward.  An active love is dependent upon the regular challenge of antithetical emotions that, like a good workout in the gym, strengthens our choice to continue the task of loving.  Then, with serendipity, we receive warm and wonderful moments of reward that even if they are brief run deep like a spring fed well and we can return to them to be nourished.

Process theology asserts that Our Creator imagines many wonderful possibilities for each of us.  But as we live imperfectly and narrow our possibilities and potential, God moves courageously forward with us….choosing to love us.  As faithful creatures, outside of abusive relationships, this might be behavior we would want to discipline ourselves toward.

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You say tomato, I say tomahto.  You say Potato, I say potahto. 

Congregations. Change. Redevelopment. Transformation. Leadership.  When congregations want to experience change in order to redevelop and transform their ministries, they often look to their leaders or to their next leader in order to innovate and persuade toward the change.  Leaders buy right in because they are are searching for congregations in which to exercise their pastoral leadership and experience effectiveness.  As pastoral leaders and congregations court one another in the call process, I can imagine that they brainstorm with one another about what is possible for the local ministry.  Perhaps they feel the Spirit as they brainstorm and dream.  With the sense that the Spirit has blessed their courtship, the pastoral leader and congregation discern a call and their partnership begins without more specific language. 

What follows are the challenges of translating the pastor’s language to the congregation’s language and vice versa as they implement what they have dreamed about.  Experts in psychology and counseling understand that as individuals communicate, what they mean and how they are understood can be two very different things.   For example, author  Gary Chapman has written books on The Five Languages of Love  in order to guide couples through the challenges of understanding each other more accurately. 

Congregations and pastors have an interpretive tool at their disposal when they intentionally assess the extent of redevelopment that may be required in a congregation.  With the help of a discerning Presbytery, a congregation and pastor in the courtship phase of conversation can look specifically at the areas in the congregation’s life that are in need of redevelopment.  For example, is redevelopment needed in Sunday School, in worship, in staff development, in stewardship, in rapport with the community, or in programming for the membership? The more areas identified the higher the stakes.  The higher the stakes the more important it is to assist pastors and congregations from the brainstorming phase to intentional discussions about style and goal setting for ministry.

Organizational Development expert Warner W. Burke, author of Organizational change:  Theory and Practice,  makes a distinction between evolutionary and revolutionary change.  Revolutionary change is characterized by quick changes to structure and parts in order to get a rapid result.  Evolutionary change is characterized by slower changes that alternates between changes to the structure of ministry and attending to the effects of those structural changes on relationships.  There is an irony involved.  I believe that the more areas that need redevelopment the more the pastors and congregations may brainstorm in a revolutionary style.  However, once they are on the ground, the congregation finds the revolutionary style impacts their relationships.  They call for more pastoral attention and less change.  Pastors’ may feel frustrated that their change efforts are so ill received.  They declare in frustration that the congregation does not really want to change.  The truth of the matter is that the revolutionary style may be much better suited when redevelopment is only needed in a few areas.  

The revolutionary model of leadership is critically important to new church development where new community and relationships are a part of the equation.  However, in urban, rural and suburban areas of redevelopment, where relationships can be longstanding a more evolutionary model is more likely to  sustain the entire Body of Chirst (structure and relationships).  While the revolutionary model is much sexier then the evolutionary model, Organizational Development experts remind us that when reconfiguring an existing organization, the evolutionary model provides the most resilient results. 

How we help congregations and pastors have these sorts of specific conversations may determine the vitality of the Presbyterian Church USA as it both launches novel Christian communities as well as revitalizing its existing communities. 

Do you have experience with redevelopment?  Does the premise of this blog fit with your experience?  I would welcome your feedback.

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