Summary: A group’s culture regulates its behavior, and that culture is established by the standards and principles they’ve agreed to. Decision-making should coordinate naturally throughout a church and its network based on the new instincts of the Spirit they’ve received, not a centralized decision-making body. This is what it means to be led by the Spirit. When a church learns to do this, they can coordinate and make consistently wise decisions with relative ease.
Up to this point, I’ve been pushing the idea that decision-making should involve every member of a church if we’re operating by God’s design. Naturally, you’re thinking that seems unrealistic and a bit over the top. After all, let’s consider the volume of both little and big decisions that get made every day.
What, are we going to stop everything we’re doing every time a decision needs to be made and wait for a time when everyone can get together to make sure we understand what the collective wisdom of the church is on every single little matter? Of course we can’t do that.
Well then, this seems to go against everything that’s been said thus far in this series about the group being consistently wiser than one or a few individuals and avoiding leaving decision-making in the hands of just a few. After all, how can we trust one or a few individuals if they can’t be consistently wise on their own?
The answer has to do with how a group of decentralized people coordinates itself.
Culture regulates behavior
Within a group of people that has to coordinate itself, what each person is willing to do depends on what they think every other person is willing to do and how it affects every other person in the group. They make these little individual decisions according to the culture that has been established in the group. That culture contains standards or principles that regulate the group’s behavior.
If not everyone holds to the same standards or principles, conflict and chaos ensue because the group won’t move together in the same direction.
When it comes to moving in the same direction, most churches choose to centralize and just have one or a few people tell everyone else what to do. But, this is a terrible approach for all the reasons outlined in the Consistently Wise series so far. James Surowiecki points out in his book The Wisdom of Crowds…
Any solution (to coordinating) worth talking about has to respect people’s right to choose their own course of action, which means it has to emerge out of the collective mix of all the potential individual choices.
So, if a healthy solution to keeping people coordinated is not having a central planner, what do we do? What keeps order and stability within a group of people if they’re not ordered to behave in a certain way?
Learn and use your spiritual instincts
We learn to operate by our instincts and those instincts establish a culture of principles that regulate behavior. For the individual Christian and churches, the Bible calls this being “led by the Spirit” and staying “in step with the Spirit.”
Starlings are a great example of coordinating by instincts. These are the birds you’ve seen flying in flocks together that appear like they’re operating with one mind that guides the flock as it moves. But that’s not true. There isn’t one mind. Each starling is acting on its own and following four instincts…
- stay as close to the middle as possible
- stay two to three body lengths away from your neighbor
- do not bump into any other starling
- if a hawk dives at you, get out of the way
No starling knows what the other birds are going to do. No starling can command another bird to do anything. Their instincts alone allow the flock to keep moving in the right direction, to resist predators and to regroup when divided.
Don’t tell people what to do
The people that think they are right most of the time have a tendency to be the most destructive to healthy church life. Why?
Because their rightness causes them to approach church life in the wrong way. Ironic, huh? They fall into the trap of thinking and feeling that because they are “righter” than everyone else most of the time, that church life will be healthier if they just tell everyone what to do and the rest follow along.
But that’s not the approach that allows the organic nature of the church to be expressed how it was designed to.
A Christian is one who has received a new kind of life. They’ve received the divine life of God. Just like human life, divine life contains DNA with instructions. Those instructions determine how that kind of life expresses itself. These are the new instincts of the Holy Spirit.
Practice your new instincts
This divine life that the church has been given is expressed when the people involved are learning what their new instincts are and practicing them together until they become 2nd nature.
If you take this approach, a church can become like a group of starlings. When it’s observed from the outside, it will look like it’s operating with one mind that guides it as each individual member follows the instincts of its new divine life. Of course, that One Mind is a Person, the Lord Himself.
The Lord coordinates the church
A healthy church coordinates without coercion. If you’re wondering how that happens, it’s rather simple, but it’s not easy.
You form little groups of people that will live life together and make learning and practicing the new instincts the Spirit has given them their top priority. When groups of people do this, the Kingdom is displayed.
As the members of the group grow in learning and practicing those new instincts, they become more coordinated and they organize themselves with relative ease. They make better decisions together. Decisions the Spirit is making. Hearing the Lord and executing His will on the earth becomes instinctual throughout the group.
This is what a church is supposed to be, and that’s pretty much what this whole blog is about guiding people into. It’s about learning the instincts of divine life.
His Body orders itself
Instead of programming order for people to fit in, let them order themselves by their own instincts. Just like Christ and the apostles did, whenever chaos ensues, you know you’ve got a problem of maturity that needs to be dealt with. If you centralize and control people, their growth is severely stunted. That’s why we’ve got so many churches filled with spiritual babies.
The answer isn’t to manufacture the order, but to further learn and practice what the instincts of the Holy Spirit are and how to live by them. As a church does this, they’ll increasingly allow the Holy Spirit to order their lives together how He wishes and, in turn, make the decisions He wants to make.
If there’s disagreement in decision-making, the answer isn’t to vote and have some people get their way and others not get their way. The answer is to be patient with each other and explore together through dialogue what the instincts of the Spirit are and the possibilities for application in a given situation.
This process in and of itself is based on the instincts of the Spirit, because it’s a loving approach.
The rest of the posts in the Consistently Wise series are here.