I have said many times that our world is in between rules. What used to be normative is now passé. What used to work now seldom does. Leaders who lead like they did ten years ago are finding their efforts to be ineffective. The old equations for ministry simply do not work anymore.
However, a new crop of leaders is teaching us a new set of equations by which to evaluate how we think andact. These new equations provide us with some hint of what lies ahead. They are not finished or perfected — only emerging. I thought I would share some of them with you. Perhaps, when you finish reading this, you might want to add some more. If so, e-mail me at Easum@aol.com.
1. The status quo, divided by chaos, multiplied by risk-taking, equals opportunities for change. Chaos is always a precursor to the radical change of an established system. If you want change, create just enough chaos to destabilize the system. Any transition requires that the status quo becomes destabilized long and hard enough to catch the controllers off guard. This allows leaders to take major risks and instigate a major change. New forms of life always self-organize out of the chaos, if the chaos is sustained long enough.
One of the major breakthroughs in the church where I stayed for 24 years (Colonial Hills) came on the heels of the most chaotic period in my ministry. Facing a major budget shortfall of some $100,000, the church decided to suspend all committees and boards and put all decisions in the hands of the senior pastor and a committee of seven people. As a result, we not only went through the year with a surplus and tremendous growth, we also decided not to return to the committee structure.
2. Opportunities for change, multiplied by continuous chaos, equals new bursts of ministry and motivation. When a dead system is burst open and kept open, people with hope in their hearts seize the moment and self-organize themselves for ministry, creating new opportunities for change. The key is for leaders not to blink too soon due to the chaos. The problem is the prevailing life-force of most systems is so strong that any departure from the norm has an enormous suffocating effect on the change agent. So, once you begin the transition, never look back because, like Lot’s wife, it may all turn to salt, reverting to its former balance.
One of the first ministries we started at Colonial Hills was a preschool. In the first two years, only three students enrolled. During the second year, the key question was, “Do we continue the preschool?” We had done our homework and knew the need was there, but we had used up the money we had borrowed to start the ministry. I am glad we did not blink that year because, when I left the church 24 years later, over 700 children were enrolled in our preschool and day care.
3. Balance, divided by chaos and multiplied by significant change, equals something totally new and exciting. Living systems never follow predictable paths or grow the same way, so do not be surprised when you are surprised. Leaders have to believe in the possibilities of what might happen when people are set free. Dreamers are never surprised. So dream big and avoid the recurring nightmares.
4. Balance, divided by chaos, multiplied by significant change, minus leadership, equals disaster. Leaders who blink too soon lose their jobs (and some who never blink do also). The moral is this: If you do not have the courage of a lion and your mercy gift is off the chart, do not instigate change. Learn to become content with the status quo. And if you do decide to tilt the windmill, remember that you could lose your job. Change is not for the faint-hearted.
The first year of our turnaround at Colonial Hills produced hate mail, threats on my life, and long lines of people waiting to talk to the Pastor Parish Relations Committee. My District Superintendent received numerous phone calls asking for my resignation. It was a nightmare of a year, but well worth it in the long run.
5. Leadership, minus control and meetings, plus an ample supply of apprentices, multiplied by equipping ministries, equals an army of trained recruits. The maintenance of the institutional church is not as important as the penetration of the people of God into the world around them. Authentic congregations are always moving away from themselves into the world. The more equipped people you are sending out into the world to change it, the more you are functioning like a New Testament church.
One of the primary responsibilities of leaders is to mentor and equip apprentices to follow Jesus on the road to mission. Leaders know that when they release people to do whatever ministry God has called and gifted them to do, the Kingdom experiences the joy of exponential people growth. It is far more beneficial to the Kingdom to have people serving in the world than sitting in another meeting at the church. So they tell people – if you are spending more than two hours at church, it is too much. Any ideas here?
6. An army of recruits, plus involvement in ministry, plus minimal cognitive learning, multiplied by on-the-job training, equals a trained army of mobilized servants. On the mission field, the quicker a seeker is involved in ministry to others, the more likely that person is to experience salvation and become a servant. Sure, everyone needs cognitive learning. But we do not need to be cognitive captives. That is just too limited a world.
People are always asking me what curriculum they should use to equip people for ministry. I love the expression on their faces when I tell them, “You are the curriculum. Just let them hang out with you.”
We have lost the art of having apprentices learn a trade by actually practicing that trade. In our case, the trade is following Jesus. Following Jesus requires far more than learning the Bible or taking a course at church. It requires hanging out on the mission field, getting one’s hands and heart dirty for Jesus. And guess what? Hanging out doesn’t cost anything!
7. Mobilized servants, plus a supportive structure and organization, multiplied by prayer, equals pure energy. Something that is often overlooked in the process of mobilizing a congregation is the need for a prayer-filled structure and organization. When it all boils down to the bottom line, prayer is the “maker or breaker” in how well the army of God moves through a community, changing lives and breaking down barriers to humanity.
8. Effective pure energy in the postmodern church equals the mass of the congregation squared by how fast it can change. E=mc2 is one of the most famous equations known to humanity. It basically says that energy equals mass multiplied by the square of the speed of light. The future belongs only to those who can change the fastest and with the least amount of angst. One of the things this definitely rules out is fixating on anything that is “annual”.
9. Balance, plus status quo, equals decline and eventually death. Do nothing and your church is sure to die.
In a recent book, Unfreezing Moves, I challenged the classic view of change that instructs the change agent to unfreeze the system, make a change, and then refreeze the system to allow the new change to gain a foothold. In a world defined by speed, blur, and flux, this is a formula for disaster. Keep the system alive, unfrozen, and chaotic.
In our recent tour, my partner, Tom Bandy, talked about the importance of fostering unbalanced leaders. The last thing the emerging world needs is boring and predictable leaders.
This equation has enormous implications for congregational life. It reveals the foolishness of anything that is set in concrete other than the DNA of the congregation — Mission, Vision, Values, and Bedrock Beliefs. Consider all of the things congregations set in concrete for a year or even longer: budgets, programs, salaries — even the Christian calendar. Such a mindset is foreign to the emerging new world. Why not start thinking about budgets in quarterly form instead of yearly? Or better yet, stop thinking “budgets” and start thinking about liquid pools of money from which any one of the core ministries can draw.
Now you can see why it is so imperative that congregations get clear about their core mission and the values and beliefs that will sustain such a mission. You can see why it is so critical to have leaders who tenaciously guard this mission as well as remove all the barriers to its realization. Leaders, like the shepherds of old, see it as their primary responsibility to provide safe pastures in which their flock may graze and thus grow in their relationship to God, themselves, and others. The primary role of leadership today is to guide people on their journey through the emerging jungles of this world.
I know there are many more equations we should be learning. So add to the list by e-mailing me at Easum@aol.com.