The most profound change during my lifetime has been the shift from a mechanical to an organic worldview. My partner, Tom Bandy, and I have written extensively on this shift because it is changing the way every effective discipline views reality.* For Christian leaders this shift requires changing from being a mechanic to a gardener; from seeing their responsibility as fixing inanimate things to nurturing living beings; and from managing institutions to growing people. This shift has been so radical and rapid that it has left most Christian leaders in a state of confusion and ineffectiveness.
As this shift unfolds, several “Unfreezing Equations” have emerged and appear to form the foundation of this new worldview. I call these new insights Unfreezing Equations because they are tearing apart the slow-moving icebergs of the past five hundred years and creating a new hot flow of life few would have dreamed possible twenty years ago. For Christianity to survive, much less thrive, Christian leaders must be aware of and figure out how to adapt to these Unfreezing Equations.
These Unfreezing Equations are found at the intersection of self-organization and emergence. When the times and the conditions are just right, all life forms either begin to self-organize and new forms emerge, or their refusal or inability to adapt causes them to become extinct.
We live at one of the very few intersections of self-organization and emergence in history. Grasping what is emerging before it unfolds and self-organizing (adapting) one’s life to the new environment provide keys to effective, organic leadership in times of revolutionary change. As in nature, some Christians can read the signs of the times and adapt, while others will refuse to see what God is doing. The latter will become extinct. The organic worldview is that simple.
Unfreezing Equation One:
Equilibrium + Status Quo = Death
The slow, evolutionary flow of the mechanical worldview prized balance and status quo. When conflict arose, Christian leaders went out of their way to smooth things over in their parishes or denominations. Every mainline denomination has invested large sums of time, energy, and money into trying to resolve conflict in dying congregations or shove indiscretions under the rug. We continue to do so in spite of the aching fact that it hasn’t done any good. The more we try to resolve the conflict, the deeper the conflict becomes. The more we sweep our problems under the rug, the bigger the bulge in the rug becomes. Why? Because in an organic world, equilibrium is the pathway to death.
Today, balance, equilibrium, and status quo are the surest signs of decay and death. When the foundations of culture change, everything that survives and later thrives must adapt and self-organize into new forms of existence. This equation includes the church. Congregations established more than twenty years ago will either undergo radical, gut-wrenching change or become extinct like the dodo bird. Effective congregations established within the last twenty years find that they must constantly innovate to stay ahead of the continual ebb and flow of change. Such is life in an organic world.
If we view this adaptation from an organic viewpoint, we must change the way the gospel intersects with culture. The gospel doesn’t change. The way we apply the gospel changes. The way to worship, educate, give pastoral care, nurture one another, and connect with the outside world will change. For this to happen, leaders must change the way they perceive reality.
In our 2000 tour, my partner, Tom Bandy, talked about the importance of having unbalanced leaders. Many people in the sessions simply could not hear, much less comprehend, what he was saying.
They would ask if he had misspoken. We need unbalanced leaders today so that we can have new approaches to ancient mission. We must bring a new orientation to the table, one that is backward and upside down to the orientation of a mechanical worldview. The last thing we need today is more of the same.
Unfreezing Equation Two:
Constant Change + Speed = Innovation and Fruitfulness
In my new book Unfreezing Moves: Joining Jesus on the Mission Field (Abingdon, 2002), I challenge the classic view of change. The classic view instructs the change agent to unfreeze a system, make a change, and then refreeze the system to allow the new change to gain a foothold. In an organic world that spells disaster. Change for the sake of change alone is good. The more change, the more unbalanced everything and everyone becomes. The more unbalanced life is, the more new avenues are explored. The more new avenues are explored, the more self-organization occurs. The more self-organization occurs, the more comfortable we become with change. The more comfortable we become with change, the more change we adopt into our way of life. The more change we incorporate into the fabric of our lives, the more indigenous we are with the emerging culture. The more indigenous we are with the emerging culture, the faster we are willing to change. Bingo! We are at the heart of the organic worldview.
The future belongs to those who can change the fastest.
Organic systems thrive in new environments by being willing to take on new forms and shapes. The faster they can do so, the more likely they are to survive and bear offspring. Perhaps this equation explains why so many congregations refuse to plant daughter congregations and why most denominations refuse to redirect money into church planting. They have remained in homeostasis so long they have become sterile.
This equation has enormous implications for congregational life. For one thing, it reveals the foolishness of taking weeks or months to set anything in concrete other than the DNA of the congregation (Tom Bandy and I refer to the DNA as “mission, vision, values, and beliefs”). Consider all the things congregations set in concrete for an entire year: budgets, programs, salaries, even the Christian calendar.
A deadly mindset in the emerging new world! Budgets should be fluid, able to change at the drop of a hat. Programs should not be seen as the basic forms of ministry. Staff should have to justify their presence on a regular basis. And the Christian calendar . . . What can I say about it other than it has little merit in a world that resembles a trampoline more than a linear line of progression?
Now we see the primary reason why congregations absolutely must get clear about their core mission (DNA). Our values and beliefs are all we have to sustain us and keep us focused on what is eternally significant even amid such rapid change. Therefore, the primary responsibility of leaders is to tenaciously guard the congregational DNA; remove all the barriers to its realization; and provide safe pastures in which their flock may graze and thus grow in relationship to God, themselves, and others.
Unfreezing Equation Three:
Complexity – Chaos x Mission = Self-Organizing and Adaptive System
Many people confuse complexity for chaos because complexity appears chaotic to people who have become comfortable with a worldview that becomes less effective every day. When thrust into a rapidly changing environment, life becomes more complex, not chaotic. The moments following the tragedy at the World Trade Center were chaotic. Nothing made sense and absolutely nothing good would come of it. But the shift from a mechanical to an organic worldview is not chaotic; it is complex. We are not being forced to deal with something that makes no sense and has no moral value. We are being forced to adapt to the complexity of changing worldviews. As such, we live in a time in which we must learn to cope with the familiarity of what used to be and the uncertainty of what might be. We live in an emerging period of time in which new rules are being written. Be assured, they are being written and will be written for some time to come. That describes complexity, not chaos.
The role of Christian leaders is to accept complexity as a way of life. We must become comfortable with a multitude of worldviews. As soon as we do, we find ourselves self-organizing into a whole new way of being that will appear complex but never chaotic.
An example: Very few congregations will survive the next twenty-five years without offering a variety of ways to worship. Going from one service to three services is viewed through mechanical eyes as chaotic. Having three services is hard on the institution. They make it much more difficult to budget, staff, and for the leaders to know everyone. From an institutional standpoint it is chaos. However, when viewed through an organic worldview it is merely complex. Sure, it involves some adapting and inconvenience—all part of the price of carrying out the mission of connecting with the Gentile world. Thus whether we view something as chaotic or complex depends on our mission. If the institution’s stability is our mission, then we view it as chaos. If reaching out to the unconnected Gentiles is our mission, then we view it as complexity. Any guess as to how Jesus would view it?
Unfreezing Equation Four:
Jesus + Mission = The Good News
All of this boils down to where we have placed our faith—in where we are and what we have or in where Jesus calls us to go and what we can become if we are willing to be clay in the Potter’s hand.
People on a mission with Jesus are never afraid of rapid change, because they are willing to be or do whatever it takes to spread the Good News. I hope you are on a mission with Jesus . . . and not tethered to where you are at this moment in time.
Effective churches find that they must constantly innovate to stay ahead of the ebb and flow of change.
Our values and beliefs sustain us and keep us focused on what is eternally significant amid rapid change.
Trying to sweep our problems under the rug doesn’t do any good.
*Easum and Bandy, Growing Spiritual Redwoods (Abingdon)