Summary: Church leaders tend to jump from strategy to strategy in a noble attempt to build stronger Kingdom community. The reason for the jumping is they tend not to understand how community emerges, or where community emerges. It emerges spontaneously, and it emerges in healthy environments where leader control is absent. The problem is, the nature of institutional systems doesn’t allow for this. It demands processes that humans aren’t built to function in.
We jump from this to that
What really helps people grow and experience community? We jump from this model to that model, from this fad to that fad and from this strategy to that strategy. But, if we really had this question figured out, we wouldn’t have to jump at all, would we? Sure, the expression of community might change from generation to generation. But, the fundamental principles of what causes community to be experienced and grow are eternal.
Somehow, it seems like we’ve lost sight of the fundamentals while jumping all over the place, doesn’t it? I mean, every time someone comes out with the latest greatest strategy (small groups, house church, cell groups, whatever), there’s a huge scramble by church leaders to read books, get to conferences, hire staff and re-organize. But despite all the time, money and energy spent, the facts are institutional church attendance is declining.
But it’s not about the numbers. If numbers were declining because the Church was living out the Kingdom and this “cut the fat” so to speak, why should we care? But numbers aren’t declining because of that. They’re declining because the number of people who prioritize going to church (whatever that means) in their lives is dwindling. It doesn’t make the cut anymore. Rightly or wrongly, other things are more important.
Not only that, but people are dropping out of ministry positions at alarming rates as well. They’re just tired of trying and trying while feeling very little success with what they hope for. Most want to build the Kingdom, but they’re so busy having to maintain institutional machines that they get little to no chance to do that.
So, what’s the root of the issue?
- People (especially leaders) don’t first learn how community emerges.
- The nature of the systems/models/fads we choose aren’t built to create environments where community emerges.
You can’t force it
Community happens spontaneously. No one can have control over the matter. The best that we can do is help to create environments where community has a great chance to emerge. But we have no control of it actually emerging. What’s ironic is that if you try and force it (by building programs), you have almost no chance of it emerging.
This brings us to why church leaders are fighting a losing battle. The reality is that in institutional systems, the mechanical approach must be taken. This is because institutions are always out to build something. So, they build programs instead of creating environments. The plan is to do whatever with a certain number of whoevers by whenever. How you fill in those blanks really doesn’t matter. If that’s what happens, then success is deemed to be achieved.
It’s the nature of the system
Here’s where I feel badly for pastors/leaders. Because the nature of the institutional systems they are a part of can’t create environments where community happens spontaneously, they themselves are forced into controlling the environments (sometimes reluctantly, sometimes not). They really have no choice if they want to keep their jobs. If they don’t control the environments, they have no justification for their position (and most importantly their pay).
Whether we like to believe it or not, in institutional systems pay is based on performance. How can a pastor or leader be held accountable for their performance if they’re not responsible for the results? The only way they can be accountable for performance is if they’re the ones making the decisions.
It’s not the pastors/leaders fault. Like I said, he/she is stuck in a system that doesn’t work any other way. If the pastor/leader lets go of control and therefore detaches themselves from bearing more responsibility for outcomes than they should, there’s no reason for them to stay in their hierarchical position. They are just another brother or sister (as they should be).
Let’s use a worldly analogy. It’s like the head coach of a sports team. The players are the ones that play in the game. But, if the outcome is unfavorable, the coach is the first one to get blamed. Therefore, the coach can’t just be a consultant that models and gives advice (what the role of a pastor is supposed to be) but is not ultimately responsible for outcomes to occur. He’s controlling the team, deciding who plays and who doesn’t, deciding what plays to run and when. He’s command central. This is the system he’s a part of. The only way to let go of control would be to resign from his position.
Instead he/she builds mechanical programs that force people into pre-constructed models/fads/strategies (which are typically copied from elsewhere). The problem is humans aren’t built for this. It’s not how they’re designed to function.
A common example
Just think about the typical small group. People arrive at someone’s house and engage in a little social conversation and then BOOM, they are forced into a circle and led into activities that get personal, spiritual and even intimate. This violates spacial relationship principles and gets everyone off to a bad start. It won’t be long before many people start to have excuses for why they can’t make it for every meeting; especially in a culture where “busy” schedules are easy to find.
Without realizing it, programs like this try and run mechanical processes where only organic ones will work. Again, getting a certain number of whoevers to do whatever by whenever. Maybe it’s getting a certain number of church attendees to attend small groups by January 1st. Or maybe it’s getting a certain number of small group attendees to make it through a discipleship program by summer (when Jesus goes on vacation along with the rest of us!). Or maybe it’s just to get a certain number of people to “get close to each other and God.”
Wherever you find true community, you find a place where no one is in control. Well, no one except Jesus through His Body, but that’s a subject for another time. Instead, you find people that know how to create healthy environments and know how to act in those environments. People have to dance with each other in order for true community to emerge. They should always be in control of their own dancing.
If we would concentrate on facilitating the environment instead of the result (people experiencing community), we might see healthy, spontaneous community emerge. –The Search to Belong