Tag Archives: strategy

How an organism becomes a mere organization

One of the crises of being a thirtysomething (or a precocious twentysomething) is answering this important question when it comes up: “Now that I can do something, do I have the courage to do it with integrity and conviction? Will I keep faith or will I shrink back when the challenges hit me?”

Circle of Hope is not only full of thirtysomethings (as well as many precocious twentysomethings), we, as a network, probably resemble a maturing person who has managed to accumulate some wisdom and capacity (such as our PM skills, many cell leading experts, compassion team ingenuity, money, buildings, structures and strategies, and well-developed relationships and marriages). We are definitely hearing the challenge from scripture:

“Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised….We do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. (Hebrews 10:35-9)

Stifled by our own organization?

Many churches begin as lively organisms with great ideas and spirit. They are kind of like energetic, inspired twentysomethings. Once they survive for a few years and gain their confidence, they have the challenge the writer talks about. They need to persevere. Can you keep being the wild, receptive organism that made you great, or will you become a mere organization? A thirtysomething church like Circle of Hope could definitely “shrink back” from its wild inspired, organic beginnings and become a mere organization like all the rest in the world and, essentially, be destroyed — or at least see its genius be neutered.

How do fertile organisms get neutered into organizations that just keep doing the same kind of things the world has always done? No one would likely choose to have that happen! Maybe it is like the proverbial frog in the kettle. Supposedly a frog will not jump out of a pot of water that is slowly being heated up until it is so hot they are cooked! Likewise an organism like us could slowly acclimate to organizational habits that stifle what made it great to begin with. How’s the water?

Here are five ways our organism might become a mere organization:

1. People fit the ministry into their time schedule

An organism can become a mere organization if people tame it to fit into their personal schedule. If people could reduce their faith down to a meeting, they would probably do it – not on purpose, of course, but just to be practical. It is easier to do one’s faith than to be faithful. No one consciously chooses this, it just happens as soon as you can put the Sunday meeting into your calendar.

The disciplines of our time schedule are crucial to having faith. But they are designed change our false self into our true one. When the schedule becomes the essence of our new self, an organized schedule can become more of a jail than a liberating tool. If adopting a schedule of meetings did not make you a person who helps liberate others who come to your meetings, you must have missed the point of the meetings. If the meetings did not make you a 24/7 Christian who uses meetings to grow and help others grow, there is a problem. If you have managed to fit the church as an “extra” into your already hectic life, then there is really a problem.

2. Leaders argue about who is in charge of what

An organism can become a mere organization if the leaders spend more time worrying about their power than they do working together for the common good.

Organizations specialize in setting boundaries and defining structures; this is crucial. You need a structure to finish a project; you need a map to get from here to there. Disorganized organisms die, or are eaten by more organized organisms. Figuring out how be an organized organism can be hard. Most people just give into “organization” and end up like a spiritualized version of the government or a corporation. Unhealthy or uninspired leaders can spend a lot of time figuring out their territories and wondering about who violated their protocols rather than imagining how to do the project together or how to get the church from here to there as we follow Jesus.

3. The structures can’t adapt quickly enough.

An organism can become a mere organization if the structures become sacred rather than tools in the hands of an inspired community. If they can’t change and grow, they shrink back to the level for which they were effective.

As the Apostle Paul keeps saying in his letters, a main problem with humans is that they love law and despise the grace that sets them free. Rather than live by the law of love, they make rules to save themselves from having to do that. Once a useful rule is in place in a church, it takes courage to change it. Changes require dialogue and healthy dialogue requires love – and a commitment to having healthy conflict. What if we needed to change how we do things in order to do what God gave us to do now? Could we do it? Or would we just tell each other to try harder at what no longer works?

Infographic du jour
4. Love becomes sacred, not strategic

An organism can become a mere organization if people don’t have the freedom to cause trouble. In our era people often throw a “trump card” in a conversation: “You are offending me.” Love means you are supposed to have the sense to never offend someone by violating their opinion or sensibility.

Autonomy and personal freedom are the greatest goods in the world right now. Christians are nice enough to go with that. So some of the most loving organizations stopped doing anything Jesus wants to do a long time ago — but they never have a fight! At least they are not fighting to become world-changing disciples. If they are fighting it is because they are offended!  God’s love is creative and purposeful, not self-protective and easily provoked.

5. We get conformed by approaches from the world that don’t know Jesus but which can run an organization.

An organism can become a mere organization if it imports techniques from the world without putting them through “faith check.” Many techniques work for getting something done, but not all techniques work for nurturing the body of Christ.

We need to be trained for life in the Spirit and that means we can’t import everything we learned from the world in which Jesus found us. Some techniques from the world will conform us to themselves more than become a tool for transformation in our hands. Even our yearly mapping process, based, as it is, on a common “business plan” and subject as it can be to “investigative inquiry,” needs to be watched.

Don’t shrink

The only way to avoid these pitfalls, it seems to me, is to not “shrink” but persevere in faith, hope and love. Being inspired by the Spirit is a whole-life work. Perhaps being a twentysomething lends itself to the wildness necessary to be a Jesus-follower. Being a thirtysomething, or more, is naturally dangerous to faith. The organism called the church has the same kind of maturation challenges. Do you think we will succeed in tackling them?

Planning: Let the Lord Make your Radical Steps Solid

We are about ready to distribute a spiffy, hard-copy version of our 2013 Map this weekend. We take our planning seriously. We set goals and (to our surprise!) tend to meet them. But don’t get us wrong. We don’t have a very deep commitment to strategic planning, as it is commonly practiced (as in, I don’t really understand the following chart).strategic plan chart

Some Christians actually think that if your church is not involved in some strategic plan you are being unbiblical. One article from the venerable Christianity Today said, not long ago, there is a mandate for strategic thinking in the Bible and they quoted Proverbs 16:9 as their proof: “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” I think they were interpreting that to mean, “If we plan, the Lord will make the plans happen” (Marshall, n.d.). But I think the proverb more likely teaches: “You can plan all you want, but if the Lord does not make your steps solid, your plans will come to nothing.”

The latter interpretation is more in line with how we map out the year. I admit, some of us wish we were much more adept at working together like a well-oiled machine according to a sensible, trackable, strategic plan. But we are not that adept. For instance, the pastors, have a 3-4 hour meeting every week that’s full of strategizing. But it is so long because a good hour of it, at least, is always devoted to sharing our hearts and developing one another. There is entirely too much laughter to allow for adept project management! We just can’t stop the love to make progress. Progress ends up “happening” in spite of our plans, sometimes.

How planning really works

That kind of planning for God to show up seems to be how Paul’s missions strategy really worked. If you want to talk about biblical strategizing, check out how the premier, most successful, strategist in the Bible worked out his plan. In the view of 21st century strategic planners, who take their cues from corporations, people say Paul focused on the major cities of the Mediterranean basin as his target for world evangelization and carefully worked out a well-considered plot to infiltrate the whole area. Well, I’m not sure about that. He got to the major cities, most of them, that’s true. But it seems like his strategy amounted, mostly, to taking the next opportunity that presented itself and then sticking with it until he, most of the time, got thrown out of town.

The Gangites River. Nearby, a marker commemorates the first baptism in Europe.
The Gangites River. Nearby, a marker commemorates the first baptism in Europe.

Take Philippi, for instance, this was Paul’s first stop on his leap into Europe, a leap occasioned by a vision in the night. Philippi was an important city which Augustus had refounded as a Roman colony and where he settled Italian colonists and veterans of the Praetorian cohort. Acts 16:13 reports that there was a Jewish synagogue (proseuchë, “place of prayer,” is a designation for Jewish meeting places) by the river Gangites, about a mile west of the city center. That’s where Paul met Lydia and things got going. But up-and-coming Amphipolis, which would have been the next port of call for Paul’s ship, probably would have been a more strategic place to start. Preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Lord and Savior of the world in Philippi risked hostile reactions from the beginning, since its citizens were staunch worshipers of the emperor and of his deified ancestors. A series of coins minted in Philippi shows on one side the head of the emperor Augustus with the inscription “the Augustan colony of Julian Philippi on the command of Augustus”; the reverse side depicts a statue of Augustus on a pedestal being crowned by Julius Caesar, with the inscription “Augustus, son of the Divine, for the Divine Julius” (Schnabel, 2007). The Philippians were pretty hard-core.

While Luke reports in some detail the conversion of Lydia, a God-fearing woman from Thyatira in Asia Minor who lived in Philippi and attended the synagogue (Acts 16:13-15), he focuses his history of the mission in the city on the opposition instigated by locals who initiated legal proceedings against Paul and Silas before the magistrates, which landed them in prison (Acts 16:16-40). The missionaries were accused of causing disturbances in the city and of “advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice” (Acts 16:20-21). This is where Paul’s strategy led him to get started on Europe.

We plan like Paul

It looks like God established Paul’s steps right to Philippi, good strategic thinking notwithstanding. Paul had his general orders to take the gospel to the gentiles, but it looks like he didn’t overly care how that happened. We are doing a similar piece of strategizing this year. One of our network goals starts with the general idea of who we need to be. We know that “We are incarnations of Jesus in our neighborhoods. We want to be people who are known for bringing the hope and justice of Jesus to the streets.” That’s a given. But we don’t mind how many different ways that happens.

We have an idea for how we can carry out our vision this year. So we have charged “our Coordinating Groups to connect with people and partnerships who already bless our neighborhoods.” We don’t really know exactly how these groups of cells will meet this goal, although I hear that a couple already have some good ideas. Our Map offers an assortment of suggestions for how we might meet our need by working on the goal: We could connect and partner with people among us who work with agencies in our neighborhoods. We could partner with other churches, agencies, and allies. We could mobilize the resources of the church to bless our neighbors.

The suggestions are purposely general, because we want the Lord to establish our steps. We want people to listen to the Spirit and to one another and to risk taking the opportunities they are given. We don’t need to be slaves to the strategic plan, fitting ourselves into holes predesigned by some piece of paper. We know what God wants us to do, and we trust that the Lord will work out the specifics. We are sure that our plans and agreements can only help in the process, but we certainly make them flexible enough to take our best shot when it is provided. If we fail, or get thrown out of town, that might make things even better! Read Paul’s letter to the Philippians from prison in Rome and you’ll understand his idea of strategy even better!

This one comes with references!
Schnabel, E. E. (2007). Paul’s urban strategies : Jerusalem to Crete. Stone-Campbell Journal, 10(2), 231-260.
Marshall, M. (n.d.) Is strategic planning biblical?: Looking at leaders from scripture. Christianity Today. Retrieved from http://www.buildingchurchleaders.com/articles/2003/le-031112a.html?start=2