Saturday, October 5, 2019

The Shift from "Small Batch: Local, Organic, and Sustainable"

I wrote this piece a number of years ago as the intro into my book Small Batch about missional communities. We have learned a lot since then. This is a good review and reminder that we are in the midst of doing something new within the Episcopal Church. It is exciting and we are learning a lot. Today, the Diocese of Texas has over 90 missional communities with over 1,000 people worshiping, breaking bread, supporting, and caring through these small batch communities. We have even adopted this model on a few of our college campuses - though I hope there will be more. I am grateful for those who have engaged in the work and remain excited about our church's future. 

You can get a copy of "Small Batch: Local, Organic, and Sustainable Church" here.

What is happening in the system of the Church is an organic paradigm shift. I first learned about paradigm shifts from The Rt. Rev. Claude E. Payne and his staff when I was a young priest. They wanted us to understand that we had to be part of shifting the church culture from maintenance to mission. We were the leaders responsible for helping the church make a paradigm shift.

Deeper reading led me to Thomas S. Kuhn's work. Recently, a friend talked with me over coffee, reminding me of Kuhn and his landmark scientific essay entitled, "The Structure of Scientific Revolution". It is now over 50 years old. He is credited with popularizing the phrase "paradigm shift" and scientifically showing how they work within the scientific community. 

Kuhn offers that revelation, creativity, and solutions to dilemmas come from the edges. Solutions to a crisis, and paradigm shifts take shape outside the norm.  They also take time and are hard to see while the shift is occurring. It is difficult to see them and in fact, many times you can’t see them until they fully supplant the older paradigm.

Those who have the most to gain from a system staying the same will always sit in the choice seats – the power broker seats, as Brené Brown would say. They have, after all, created the arena we must play in; they have supported and are invested in its sustainability. The arena is that place where we make church happen. These are those individuals that Kuhn ca
It is the disciplinary matrix.[i] Within this matrix are the individuals who have accepted a certain set of theories about the paradigm.  They are devoted to it, empowered by it, and often have authority within it. This is Brené Brown’s arena. This is most of the denominational church today. Its boundaries make up the church property and buildings. It is separate from the world around it. Those who enter must play by the member’s rules. It can be a particularly unwelcoming inhospitable environment. It can seem like a world of a bygone era. We are completely invested in the disciplinary matrix of a past way of being the church. All the church systems of hierarchies, committees, and commissions are imprisoned by the ideas that support and make this older way of being Christian community work. This way of being Christian community has existed since the Victorian Age.

Some will disagree with me about this. I frequently hear that the parish church has worked for over a thousand years. Yet history is very clearly on my side here. The way in which people engaged in Christian community for the vast majority of history has not been through a church as the Western parish leadership believes. More on that a bit later. Nevertheless, Our commissions on ministries, our seminaries, our leadership recruitment strategies,  our church planting strategies and our congregational growth strategies are all part of this present but past disciplinary matrix.

What I have learned is that, as the paradigm breaks down, those on the inside have the most to lose as the paradigm shifts. Their voice, power, and control will inevitably be lessened in the face of new revelations. As the arena, paradigm, or worldview shifts, these individuals begin to get louder. They try to shut down and manipulate the system to keep out the innovators, early and midrange adopters.

Here is the amazing thing about the shift though – the shift needs the best part of the disciplinary matrix. The matrix works best when both the invested and the innovator stay in the conversation on those areas of common and shared understanding. Incredible energy and creativity is generated in this contact – in these linkages. Unfortunately, within the church what has more often happened is that this friction has created either/or scenarios. When this happens it removes the potential creative energy from the system. It removes the essential DNA, tradition, learnings, and stories which are important to all new movements.  This means that if we harvest the power and energy already within the disciplinary matrix of our church system, and leverage it with innovators, we will have a much stronger and healthier paradigm shift. 

Kuhn offers that as a new paradigm emerges, and as a new disciplinary matrix emerges, it becomes difficult for the two groups to converse - the old keepers of the paradigm and the new emerging innovators. He talks about as Discipline X and Discipline Y (see chart).[ii] They begin to move apart and separate.

 There is an "incommensurability" between them. They actually both need one another, but as the shift occurs and power begins to be lessened, the voices go up, as do the attacks. They often tend to focus on and criticize those areas not commonly shared. Or they go after those areas where creativity is most public. In doing this it is easy to have the movement get focused on side issues and not the real work. Over the years societal wars and cultural shifts have historically been one way the church’s mission has been derailed by nonessential issues. Liturgical innovations have been another example of how contextual mission reform, which is very public, has become a way of focusing attention on the symptoms of shifts. This has happened for millennia and has been particularly troubling to Anglicans in our brief history. Reform churches have particular difficulty with future reforms.

In today's electronic age, those voices that would normally go unheard are now given even more power and visibility via electronic and social media. The voice of the creative and the voice of the invested move into a more public space than they did 50 years ago. The ability to move innovation quickly and to engage in linkages is happening at an ever greater rate than ever before. Groupthink, crowdsourcing, and networks enable what was a single innovator to easily find counterparts throughout the system. The same is true for the invested and those who wish to keep change from happening. They too can find like-minded voices. This can create dark mobs of cynics who attempt to draw attention and focus away from the good work being undertaken by the new creatives.

Both the critics/cynics and the innovators can do terrible damage to one another and the mission of the church. Typically what happens is that the cynics and critics launch attacks of snide remarks, make fun of, and denigrate those who are struggling against all odds, fighting their way in the arena, innovating in the face of crises and dilemmas. Cynics' and critics' most powerful tool is shame. And, they can whip up a shame storm quickly. This then causes the innovators to put up their shields - fighting (taking the eye off the goal of dealing with the real issues), retreating (leaving the arena altogether, taking their gifts and talents out of the mix needed to solve the issues), or pleasing (dropping their work of creativity in order to hopefully one day sit in the cynics,/critics' seats.[iii] So, until the creative buzz rises above the din of deprivation, an organization can continue to spiral downward. This is exactly what is happening in our midst today.

None of this behavior is very helpful and in all cases, our public arguing is detrimental to mission. The innovators actually need that old disciplinary matrix to help them remember the narrative and understand the internal forces. The organization is always better off if it can stay together. And, the organization needs the emerging disciplinary matrix of the innovators to continue to try new things. It is a kind of interdependent catholicity that adds pliability or antifragility to the church system. It is never a good thing for the community if they become detached or if you only have one group. Sometimes, the isolation, criticism, and cynicism (despite sharing a desire to be loved, feel worthy of love, and connected to others) are so ugly they actually push the newly emerging community away from themselves. 

I would also argue that by division and becoming a church of only one kind of mission, one kind of liturgy, one kind of church, one kind of this or that we actually become more fragile.  The reforming church divides and breaks apart until there is nothing much left and its mission is defunct. A friend of mine used to say of her church we are a “reforming reformed church reforming into nothing.” The Anglican tradition of context shaped mission is essential. A world of multiple contexts, languages, culture, and people will require an Anglican breadth unseen in our previous history. Yet, Anglicanism has this interdependent nature deep within its DNA and should be quite pliable should we chose to be.

I was an art student in college, and as a student received the gift of understanding the importance of helpful criticism from other artists who want me to succeed. Brené Brown is fond of telling me that we should listen carefully to critics who are deeply invested in our success; and, not so much to those who are not. In time I learned to let the critic's voice fall to the side if they were not invested in my success. This is good practice for anyone interested in amplifying the church through small batch church mission. Collaborate and cooperate with all those invested in the mission of the church and let those comments from the cheap seats roll off your back.

As I look at our Church I see a "wonderful and sacred mystery." I love it. I want it to grow and flourish. Sometimes I am in the cheap seats and it is easy to be a critic and cynic. As a bishop, when I feel this tendency rises up in me, I remind myself that it is important to be quiet and let the innovators innovate. I can shut down creativity faster than anyone else. Ronald A. Heifetz in his book Leadership Without Easy Answers, a Harvard Business School publication, reminds leaders that one of the most important roles is giving cover to healthy voices of change.[iv] I also know that if I don't think it is great, the best idea ever, or I have concerns about it failing, then all I have to do is nix it. Good leaders know the importance of this power and use it sparingly. Why? Because if they are true leaders, they know that a half-thought-out idea, a good idea, a risky idea never has the potential for success if they shut them all down. New paradigms, reformations, revolutions, life itself, need space and an opportunity to take root. Furthermore, sometimes ideas and creativity may fail on their first try but generate creativity within the system. This generative quality cannot be underestimated. Learning from mistakes or poor execution of a creative idea is always better for the organization than never attempting anything new. Such experimentation and attempts to try new things multiply and amplify the creative energy in the organization and make the organization stronger.

What is amazing in the current atmosphere in denominational Churches across the country is the way in which cynicism and criticism is being used by those in power to shut down the very creativity the church needs to grow and thrive in the future. When both sides spend time sabotaging one another, the work of the Gospel is not getting done.

We know that the paradigm, the disciplinary matrix is, in fact, shifting because we see and hear the harsh words, mean spirited, snarky, and disparaging words which the cynics and critics offer those who are trying new worship, experimenting with things like Ashes to Go, launching a pub mass, coin-operated laundry ministry, attempting to offer a vision for a new church structure, creating different forms of Christian community, attempting different ways of engaging people, bringing about a new evangelical spirit of hope, and all manner of creativity - the list is a long one. Over six years of ministry as bishop, I have heard the voices in me also see the potential and birthing of a new missionary age.

As the new paradigm is emerging, as innovation is taking root, as we are trying new things and old things are passing away - the voices are getting louder. In some corners, they are getting VERY loud indeed. And, I know for those who have tried hard, worked in the arena all day, and had very real spiritual experiences, those disparaging words from people who stand outside the arena and just throw rotten tomatoes into it - well - those words, emails, Facebook and Twitter posts sting.

The truth also is that sometimes I am the loudest voice speaking to myself, criticizing myself, and offering voices of cynicism into the arena.  I am tempted and do take the critic’s chair. When this happens and my voice is loud in my heart incentivizing me to stop, to be quiet, or to leave the arena I have to pause. “Listen for the creator’s voice, or the harvest Lord’s voice, listen for God as the gardener's voice and hear God say, “fling out the seeds, put your shoulder to the Gospel plow, tend my garden, the harvest is plentiful, you are my laborer.” At that moment when I hear my savior calling I tell myself, “I know. I know the voices and I can empathize with the critic’s fear, and yet we must together be courageous and to let innovation happen.”

I am powerless to take away that sting. The sting comes with creative work - especially good creative work. 

When this happens I like to read a few things which encourage me:
“Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
Apple Computers advertisement

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
Teddy Roosevelt

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
John 3:16-17

But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.

O, do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men! Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks! Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle. But you shall be a miracle. Every day you shall wonder at yourself, at the richness of life which has come to you by the grace of God.
Phillips Brooks, "Going up to Jerusalem"[v]
 I dream of a church where we might support one another - as we say we are supposed to do. A church in which we might engage in real conversations instead of firing shrapnel into the air hoping to hit something or someone. A church in which we might not feel "less than" for trying our best in the face of the critic.
I dream of a church which is no longer afraid of the revolution that has begun, and one that understands we will need every possible kind of church, worship style, and creative evangelism to help us live into our future. I dream of a church which is filled with people less likely to criticize and more people willing to roll up their sleeves and find solutions to our mission challenges.

I dream of a church that is known as a sending church, a multiplying church, more than an attractional church. I dream of a church that multiplies and amplifies itself regardless of context. I dream of a church that is engaged in and investing in small batch communities that are local, organic, and sustainable.

I am mindful of all the critics' voices out there who are telling my brother and sister innovators that they are wrong, that they are weakening the church, that they are not serious/spiritual/theologically correct enough, aren't faithful enough... I raise a toast to you, your creativity, and your persistence for the hope of the future church, in the face of the critic.

For in what you are trying to do, I see that wonderful and sacred mystery we call church. I see in you and in your work the Holy Spirit that brought all things into being. I see in your partners worth entering the arena with, and I see partners who will stay in the arena with hands joined. 

In my books Church and A Generous Community I propose that a new understanding of the models, economies, and nature of Christian communities must emerge as we enter the new missionary age. They must become local, organic, and sustainable.[vi] In order for our new communities to be successful, we must be locally focused. We must understand and meet our context with an open heart and listening ears. In this attention to the context, we are organic. We leave behind the binding structures of the inherited church of a bygone era and take with us a DNA of contextual Anglicanism that allows the Eucharist and reading of scripture to emerge in conversation with the community, becoming an organically grown Episcopal expression. By leaving structure behind and building up organic community we are able to have a much more sustainable mission expansion model. We are able to use free, shared, and public space bringing down cost. A different vision of what is required for community returns to the Gospel, Eucharist, and Baptism and not what can be a burdensome overhead. 

[i] Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolution, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Brené Brown, Daring Way Training, February 2015.
[iv] Ronald A. Heifetz, Leadership Without Easy Answers ( Cambridge, Ma: The Belknap Press of University Press, 1994) 128.
[v] Phillips Brooks, "Going up to Jerusalem" Twenty Sermons (1886) 330.
[vi] The Rev. Steve Kinney is priest in charge of the Front Porch a missional community of All Saints Episcopal Church in Austin. They are fond of saying that they are “local, organic, and sustainable.”

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  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
  • "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
  • "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
  • "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
  • "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball