Change Dynamics and Adaptive Challenges

1iStock_000011037986SmallChange Dynamics

Discerning Technical and Adaptive Challenges

There are a lot of different challenges that we face in life. For some people, they actually spell life, “c-h-a-l-l-e-n-g-e”. But not all challenges are the same. People who study these types of things differentiate between “Technical” and “Adaptive” challenges.

Technical Challenges are those we know how to solve, they are mechanical for most of us because we have the skills, experience or education to solve the issue. What you do to solve a Technical Challenge is to apply your current knowledge or the accumulative knowledge of experts/authorities to solve the challenge. What are some examples of Technical Challenges that you have faced or are facing in life?

Adaptive challenges on the other hand require change…they are challenges that test people’s minds and hearts. When you face a challenge you are never faced before, you have to learn new ways and even sometimes choose between what appear to be contradictory values. Truth is, if you throw all the technical fixes you can at the problem and the problem persists, it’s a pretty clear signal that an underlying adaptive challenge still needs to be met . Adaptive Challenges require us to learn new ways and usually are solved, not by experts or authorities but by the very people who face the challenge. What are some examples of Adaptive Challenges that you have faced or are facing in life?

Here are some examples for your consideration – most problems that you have with your home are technical challenges – if an air conditioner stops working, you can call or repairman. If you need to install a door, you can follow someone else’s directions or hire an expert. Now, societal problems are adaptive challenges…there may be theories on how to address society’s ills but no one has a set direction to instantaneously solve the crisis.

Followers of Jesus are facing an Adaptive Challenge in terms of how to live life as a faithful disciple in the midst of a rapidly changing and complex world. We don’t live in a world that is the same as the one our parents faced…without using too many “buzz” words, we live in world/culture steeped in a weird blend of modern and postmodern thought along with a post-Christendom, secularistic worldview. The “Church” is in a new world facing new challenges. It isn’t the Reformation any more…people don’t refer to themselves spiritually with denominational labels…there are no more “blue laws”…Sunday is just like any other day and it takes TONS of money to be able to run a typical congregational ministry with rising costs of personnel and facilities. Attendance and participation in “church-based” activities dropping…congregations are closing their doors never to reopen again…we might even be witnesses of the termination of one or more major denominations in our lifetime. Syncretism, pluralism, political correctness, materialism, consumerism, and secularism are the growing “religions” of our time. The Body of Christ is facing HUGE challenges. Faithful followers of Jesus as well as wise ministry leaders understand that we are facing issues that don’t have easy “technical” answers. There is no expert who knows how to navigate these new and ever-changing waters. Instead of posing as an expert or looking in the historical “rear-view mirror” and yearning for the good ole days, we need each other and the wisdom/power of God to be able to address these new challenges.

For example consider the situation – churches are closing around the country – what may need to be changed? Can’t do the same thing over and over again expecting different results…that’s the definition of insanity. What leadership skills would we need to employ to meet this challenge?

For a follower of Jesus, we need to adopt and apply ADAPTIVE LEADERSHIP PRACTICES into our lives. Read over the following list and see what you think:

• Followers of Jesus must learn to identify adaptive challenges.

• We then identify what learning, new skills, behaviors need to be acquired to address these issue.

• We must learn to look at these challenges with “new eyes” and be willing to explore new “wineskins” (see Luke 5:35-39).

• We must learn to identify and accept what loss will occur when change is embraced in order to address these challenges.

• We must understand that Community and Relationships are no longer luxuries in God’s Kingdom but necessities – we need to be able to involve others and hold them responsible for their piece of the solution to the challenge (a new embracing of the theology of the “priesthood of all believers”)

• We must be able to embrace a desire to hold steady, not give in to a sense of defeat or retreat or backing down – in many instances, adaptive challenges are spiritual battles (see Ephesians 6:10ff). • As we address these challenges, we must get on the “Balcony” – in other words, step back and see the big picture. We need to see that in the midst of action, each person plays a part in God’s economy – each has gifts, abilities, passions and a unique perspective that is cherished and necessary in the development of a new praxis (action based upon principles and values). We not only need to see what every person can offer but also we must remove the constraints that are holding them back from acting in the situation to their full God-given potential.

• One critical, practical necessity in the midst of facing these challenges is = communication, communication, etc.

• We must also, as one person put it, “listen to the song beneath the words”, in other word, listen to what’s not being said.

According to Ron Heifetz (a man who studies and writes on the reality of facing adaptive challenges), “to lead is to live dangerously because when leadership counts, when you lead people through difficult change, you challenge what people hold dear- their daily habits, tools, loyalties, and ways of thinking- with nothing more to offer perhaps than a possibility” (Heifetz & Linsky, 2002, p.2) .

Questions for thought and Discussion – in your opinion, what are the challenges that the Body of Christ faces in the 21st century? What are the challenges that an individual follower of Jesus faces? How can we begin to address these challenges most effectively?

Different ways of “doing” church…here’s one idea that is being lived out

1logo_11_final-2We've Seen Megachurch. But How About Micro-Church?

(adapted by Robin from an article written by St. Lydia's pastor)

Here is a simple but profound story! It is a story of one faith community that decided together to do church differently…to do something intentionally to act on the words of Jesus to "go, make disciples." In a world that magnifies success as large, numbers, money, etc., this congregation is not only an outlier but an example of what Jesus does in and through the lives of His followers in surprisingly delightful ways. So read the article and wonder/pray with me…what can God do in and through YOU?

One thousand square feet. It's not much space for a church. About the same square footage as two bowling lanes, to give you an idea. "Why so small?" you might ask. The answer is both economical and theological. Economically, this faith community/church is located in Brooklyn, and 1,000 square feet is what they can afford. Theologically, this congregation has discovered that building big community happens on a small scale: 30 people around dinner tables, sharing a meal they've made together.

St. Lydia's, the five-year-old church is a Dinner Church. This means that the people gather each week to share what they call a "sacred meal:" a worship service that takes place around the table. This meal is patterned after those shared by Christians in the first few centuries of the church, which evolved into our current day communion celebrations with participants sharing the bread and the cup. The congregation doesn't need much space, but after renting by the night for five years, they have found they were ready for a place of their own. And so in the summer of 2104, the church moved to a storefront in Brooklyn — the kind of storefront that might be a restaurant or a shop but instead going to be a church.

Dinner Church takes place on a small scale. You might call it a micro-scale. In a macro-city like New York, one can feel like a tiny cog in a giant machine. Shuffled down crowded city streets, elbowed on subway train cars and stuffed into elevators, many of us feel nameless and unseen for much of our day. Enter Dinner Church, a gathering of 30 or so folks over a meal the people cook together. Everyone is known by name (they are all wearing name tags) and folks there for the first time are invited to chop vegetables or set out silverware.

Here's a good picture of the congregation gathered around the tables, blessing the bread: 2014-06-09-IMG_6139-thumb

This faith community sees the hunger for an experience of intimacy and the sacred reflected in the culture at large best understood around a table of food. Their renewed interest in the local, the artisanal, the reclaimed, seemed to the pastor and the congregation to be a yearning for a life that takes place at a smaller scale. They distinctly decided that they wanted to know the person who made our bread in a bakery, not a sprawling, steely factory in some distant, nameless place. They wanted to know the smell of the earth where our vegetables came from. They wanted to make things from scratch. In short, they wanted to know themselves and each other on a deep level.

Just like bread from the kitchen, St. Lydia's comes in batches. A church of 30 people can't hope to be financially sustainable, supporting a pastor and providing an operating budget. And so they planned to grow by batch number instead of by batch size. In 2014, they started worshipping (in the dinner church format) on Monday nights in addition to Sunday nights. They keep growing this way, adding more services as they go. In this way, a church the size of a couple of bowling lanes can sustain a pretty sizable congregation, and afford that New York rent.

And so, they are a church, with our thousand square feet. They designed a space for a Dinner Church. They have no steeple, no bell tower, no rows of pews or stained glass windows. During a community planning process, the architect asked the congregation, "What makes space sacred?" Quiet, they told her. Beautiful things made by hand. Natural materials. The way the light comes in.

A sketch of the interior of our new micro-space. Architect: Sheryl Jordan 2014-06-09-InteriorwithFrame-thumb

The congregation designed a space to direct people toward God, not by turning their eyes to a far-removed altar, but by turning instead to one another. The most dominant feature will be three ovular tables for ten. The bowed shape ensures that everyone at the table can make eye contact with everyone else. In addition, they crafted a space that intentionally invites people to participate. Open shelves holding plates and glasses encourage newcomers to jump in and set tables. It's easy to see where everything is stored — easy to take part. Like a Montessori classroom, the design to encourages interaction with both materials and people.

And what happens around those tables, designed to encourage the people of God to see one another, face to face? It starts small, with relationships built around the table. Every time a congregation sits down with someone from whom they would otherwise be divided, the Kingdom of God is experienced. The conversations…doing the dishes together…knowing people takes place on the smallest level possible: one human sitting down with another. But in doing so, we encounter something huge: the limitless presence of God.

So, what do you think?  How could this be something that "works" for you as a faith community/church experience?  Would you find yourself looking for a community experience like this?  Any specific responses that you have to this vision?


Yeah, I have some feelings about this…

First of all, ALL Jesus followers will be held accountable before God for our use of our giftedness.  As Jesus said in one of his parables, Matthew 25, that there will be an accounting of if we "buried" our talents or invested them in a way that they multiply.  I don't, nor have I ever, purposely criticize someone who is a brother or sister in Jesus.  That's my rule.  I'm sure I'm not completely outside of the realm of criticism or challenge.  In fact, I welcome it.  So, that's my take on that.

Despite that fact though, I believe it is important (as has been my blogging habit) to notice and comment on Contemporary Christian culture (especially churchworld, of which I am and have been personally invested for most of my adult life).  It did grab my attention…this article, that is:

What else grabbed my attention is this:  

1npibgm-saddlebackfundraisersyou read that correctly…$200 million dollars.  Now, I'm watching many of my friends (people I love and trust) comment on this article through facebook.  I said publicly that I don't know how this continues to be a Kingdom "win."  Here are some thoughts shared yesterday:  

"I'm ambivalent about saddleback-I lived in OC when they started… Been to worship and to three conferences…but I really am having a problem with megas lately and the $$$ spent on facilities…one day saddleback will be the European cathedral on the USA…institutional life cycles and the reality of key leadership passing away are factors that can't be ignored… In addition there are faithful and vibrant ministries that lose out to the Christian corporation…for those planters and small church people in OC this is not a win for them."

I met Rick and I'm not saying anything about him per se. He is a godly man and I applaud all that he has done. My issue is with the concept of mega and the money and empire building and definitions of success in ministry and the dynamics that I've seen in my experience.

Well, you can imagine, we've had a "discussion" online about this issue.  Praise God, at least for now, things are relatively civil (as they should be).  But the "megas" are here to stay…in fact, I believe churchworld's future in the USA is going to belong to organic church and megachurch.  Much of what many of us see as the "average" church, around 70-125, will be out of business because of an unsustainable economic model formulated from the past. Mega's will offer a consumeristic culture the programmatic and "event/experience" orientation that many crave and the organic church will offer more of the intense community and disciple-forming strategies that ground Jesus followers in God's call to faithfulness.  Not that megas can't do the latter or that organics can't do the former.  It is simply that there will be many, many who will attend the megas for the "show" and many who will imbibe in the organics for a more personal connectedness. As you know if you have tasted the mega world, ONLY the top tier of participants really get to be involved in the show…performance standards eliminate the average.  In the organic world, every person is a "player"…that egalitarian character will be affirming to so many who have gifts that they would like to share.  

So, is there anything wrong with mega?  As I said, I'm ambivalent for MANY reasons.  What saddens me is the "assumption" that just because mega's are culturally successful in one location that they need to plant as many franchises as possible in order to grow their success.  Megas would call that expansion just another way of looking at growth…I don't see it that way.  Every franchise runs headfirst into existing ministries…every franchise assumes that mother church's "product development" is worth sharing with the world ad nauseam…every franchise DOES end up not only competing but, in many cases, obliterating local fellowships already existing for what I am convinced are purely market driven realities.  In other words, it is hard for a "mom and pop" store to deal with Walmart moving into town.  That's the sad thing about it…not too many smaller churches can step into the batter's box of attractional ministry NOT when it costs $1000's simply to get a decent picture up on a screen much less have the talent and expertise to run the damn system in the first place.  I let that go a long time ago….there is no way our small, mature, and growing small fellowship can compete in that market.  Put it this way, I'm not going to go and pay $10 or more to see a movie in a run-down theater showing films with non-digital projectors and using sound systems that were built in the 50's. I want the best…and that's the way it is in this culture with those who's emphasis is on the show.  

There is no doubt, from an exponential perspective, that megas bless the Kingdom.  But friends, it is a matter of perspective…and it is a "numbers" game.  For every one or two a church like "mine" reaches (average attendance of 90) of course a church of 1000's is going to reach more.  It is simply a matter of math.  Even so, I do remember a time where I was encouraging a youth worker from a small church who had 25 kids coming to youth group.  He was despairing that he didn't have "mega" numbers until I told him to "do the math."  He had a potential youth group of 40 kids (if you counted every high school kid in that church's sphere of influence).  He was running a 62% attendance rate.  I told him that the local mega had 150 at their youth group but that they had the potential of over a 1000.  They were running a 15% attendance rate.  I tried my best to encourage him…and thank God, he got it!  

I have friends who are invested in all possible "churchworlds."  Buddies of mine are planters, mega leaders and small ministry pastors.  I see every person's perspective.  AND I love and celebrate every Kingdom win.  But I also listen to my friends who are DONE with church.  They see millions spent on facilities and expansion and wonder about the "Jesus" in that.  Here's the word of someone I've know for years:

I told Robin today that I am one of the "Done's". I am done with church because of accusations like this. I have left for my own sanity, peace of mind and for relief. I have been put down, stomped on, disregarded and accused unjustly. If this is what the church is today, I want no part of it. I am not alone. There are millions of us. We love God but cannot continue in a church setting. Wounded souls who need mercy and to be shown compassion. Will you be a person of love and mercy?

Whatever the circumstance, my friend is right.  People are seeing this churchworld stuff and saying, "no maas."  I don't have an answer but I do see the fact that the local paper is making a BIG DEAL about a 70 million dollar campaign for expansion while NOT covering a "rebirth" of ministry in an abandoned, downtown, rundown building with 12 people who love God and want to see Jesus move in that neighborhood as putting the culture's sights on only what the culture brands as "successful."  My biggest concern is the definition of success…if Saddleback is it, then all the rest of us in the remaining part of churchworld are losers in so many ways.  If success is measured by a situation I ran into this week where ONE Jesus follower had a BBQ in their backyard and shared their faith with a neighbor who was struggling with depression (a contact that cost pennies vs. millions)…if that is success, then I'm not only "in" but I can say to myself and the people I shepherd, "we can do that!"  


More Both/And than Either/Or


More Both/And than Either/Or 

I’ve long believed that life is more about paradox and “dialectic” mental, spiritual, and emotional processing than it is about right and wrong, good or bad, black or white, etc.  I remember when I first started to wrestle with this idea when I was in college.  My advisor “hammered” home the idea that we could not continue to interpret the bible or even “do” theology from a “hardline”, “I’m right and you are wrong” perspective.  My professor, Dr. Kallas, was the first person that introduced me to the concept of Mystery.  In other words, there are simply things that we cannot sort out conclusively and that leads to the appreciation and embracing of paradox.  

The concept of Mystery originates within the scripture…you might say that it is captured by the essence of the word, “holy” (that being, something truly different or set part from that which is innately human).  Something considered “holy” was/is to be understood as that which stood outside of human definition and categorization.  It was wholly “other.”  Mystery is also something that the Apostle Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 13 when he exclaims that we see in a “mirror dimly but one day we shall see things face to face.”  Again, there are things that are simply beyond our human experience to define.  Thus what appears on the surface to be contradictory and “enemies” to be separated (e.g. Jesus’ divine/human nature; the interplay between the love of God and judgment/justice of God; the being/doing aspects of what it means to be a disciple; etc.) are really examples of a broader conceptual partnership.  Confused?  How about this – Paradox can be defined this way:

A statement that appears to contradict itself…a paradox can be defined as an “unacceptable conclusion” derived by apparently acceptable reasoning from apparently acceptable premises. Unlike party puzzles or brainteasers, many paradoxes are serious in that they raise serious philosophical problems, and are associated with crises of thought and revolutionary advances. To grapple with them is not merely to engage in an intellectual game, but to come to grips with issues of real import. One well known paradox was written by the Greek stoical logician Chrysippos. The poet, grammarian and critic Philetus of Cos was said to have died of exhaustion attempting to resolve it.

1.         A Cretan sails to Greece and says to some Greek men who are standing upon the shore: "All Cretans are liars." Did he speak the truth, or did he lie?

2.        A week later, the Cretan sailed to Greece again and said: "All Cretans are liars and all I say is the truth." Although the Greeks on the shore weren't aware of what he had said the first time, they were truly puzzled.  If someone says, "I always lie", are they telling the truth? Or are they lying? 

In the last few years, this idea has been “reshaped” linguistically to be recognized more under the banner of “dualistic thinking.”  So, what’s the point of all this?  To get to this sentence for you to consider in your heart and life: 

“You no longer need to divide the field of every moment between up and down, totally right or totally wrong, with me or against me.  It just IS.  This calm allows you to confront what must be confronted in life with even greater clarity and incisiveness.”  Richard Rohr, Falling Upward

There is a BIG difference between being a person who can truly be fueled by dualism and a person who, in fact, has left that which can and is the “small and petty” to allow God to use them in new ways.  Remember, dualistic thinking and living is a well-practiced pattern of always knowing and interacting with life by the rule of “comparisons.”  It puts us in the position of constantly being the “judge.”  Just think how easy it is to “label” things – come on, be honest!  Notice your thoughts and reactions to things in life.  You will see that you will move almost automatically into a pattern of:

“…Up or down, in or out, for me or against me, right or wrong, black or white, good or bad…it is the basic reason why the ‘stinking thinking’ of racism, classism, religious imperialism, and prejudice of all kinds is so hard to overcome…”  Richard Rohr, Falling Upward

The dualistic mind and heart always compares, competes, conflicts, conspires, condemns and cancels out any contrary evidence and then, as Rohr says, it crucifies with impunity.  And as long as you and me are thinking like this we will stay stuck in our little, sheltered world of personal preferences and be unable to live God’s Kingdom out in our lives with the same generous grace and mercy we have so wonderfully received from God.  

One of the other authors I read a few years back wrote a book called, Generous Orthodoxy.  The title alone took my breath away because I had NEVER experienced orthodoxy as generous NOR had I ever experienced genuine generosity in a pre-planned, systematically driven manner.  The words seemed to be oxymoronic…but that was his point.  Orthodoxy, though somewhat important, is more about judgment and exclusion than it is about love and understanding.  What the world needs to see now more than ever is love, understanding, gracious listening, and acceptance especially from people who follow Jesus.

I believe the culture has seen enough battle from believers especially when it appears that Christians are the first to take up a “weapon” and condemn others.  Remember when Jesus says things like, “the Father’s sun shines and the good and bad, his rain on the just and unjust” (Mat. 5:45) the “dualist” inside of us wants to yell, “STOP Jesus!  I thought WE were your chosen ones!”  But I know it is time for another way.  I believe, like Rohr does, that one of the HUGE reasons Jesus changed the world is because he was a non-dualistic religious teacher.  Nothing is going to change in our lives if we continue to be those who constantly argue about the strength of our facts over against any other person.  Instead of splitting “hairs” we ought to be those who embrace Mystery and look for healing.  When we are profoundly made “whole” by the moving of the Holy Spirit in our lives, it is our calling to promote wholeness in our world.  People who created splits in everything and everybody may, in fact, be those people who have not experienced the healing that Jesus says comes along with the gift of God’s grace and mercy. 

We assume people (let me say it truthfully, Jesus following people) who think differently, believe differently, and see the bible or theology differently to be automatically wrong.  We condemn them and separate ourselves from them under the banner of doctrinal purity when at the same time they are praying to the same God and attempting to faithfully listen and respond to the same Spirit.  There have been many times that I have shared with friends some of the books I’ve been reading when I’ve heard the words, “you can’t read that!”  “That book isn’t (fill in the blank).”  Even so, I find it extremely enlightening and challenging and “growth enhancing” to expose myself and my heart to other ways of seeing the Jesus following journey!  I might not always agree but, I tell you, I have grown SO MUCH from considering other perspectives on issues of which I had my mind made up.  God has more to teach me!

So, how about you?  Are you more about conflict than consensus?  Finding wrong than looking for right?  Pointing out the bad versus looking for the good?  Calling out that which divides than searching for that which can open up a conversation and a relationship?  Remember, life in God’s Kingdom may be more about “both/and” and either/or…it may be more about God’s YES than God’s NO.   Give it some thought and prayer, OK?  That’s what I’m doing!  In fact, in the next post, I might share some stuff that I'm "relearning" based upon some new perspectives.  How about that!