Saturday, October 13, 2007

25. Communities and Boundaries

So what exactly is it that forms communities? From the sociological perspective, a key ingredient to the formation of a community is a common ideology. In fact, this is probably the foundation of most communities. For example, most churches or denominations are formed around ideologies, or doctrines. Adherence to the ideology places one ion proximity to the group. In some communities, there must be a public recognition of the groups ideology in order to be admitted into the circle. If it is not true for initiation into the community, adherence may be a "staying feature" which secures ones status of "in" and not "out". there are of course varying degrees to which members have latitude to veer away from the ideology. A good example of this would be the political realm. While the political ideology of Democrats or Republicans have identifiable characteristics that distinguish them, you would be hard pressed to find unanimous agreement between Republicans on every issue, despite their fundamentally shared ideology.

If ideology is a foundational element that elicits community, then what are the implications of this for the body of Christ? It is my experience that when a group of people share the same ideology about things, they seem to gravitate towards one another. This happens for obvious reasons. There is comfort in being around people who think like you. There is also the broader interest of collaborating for specific tasks. Not to mention the discussions and learning that arise within a group who intentionally seek to press out the implications for their shared ideology on other part of their life.

You can see this in action with the EMC. There is a different ideology floating around out there about how to be the church, live as a christian and engage in mission for God. It is this different ideology that has elicited the EMC with all of its different tribal expressions. I am excited about this new move of God in the church. It is a breath of fresh air for me and a lot of other people.

What fascinates me about pioneering a community formation is the concept of ideology, praxis and boundaries. These elements are located close together, but I struggle to map their exact coordinates. I am inclined to say, in a linear fashion, that ideology leads to praxis, which then leads to visible boundaries. The only problem with this idea is that we do not live in an air tight, theoretical world. In between ideology and praxis is our culture, worldview, heritage etc. And in between our praxis and boundaries are flesh, hypocrisy, and imperfect knowledge. In other words it is a lot messier than we want it to be.

I have found some relief in the concept of bounded-sets and centered-sets which was first presented by a sociologist named Paul Heibert. Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost in their book The Shaping of Things to Come, discuss this concept at length. I like their metaphor about the wells and the fences. When it comes to herding cattle, you can either build fences to keep track of the cows, or you can build wells, which then become centers for cattle to gather around. The fences would be cultural norms, moral codes, external behaviors and even doctrinal confessions. The well would be a strong ideology that informs and shapes the above externals, but does not erect a barricade to those seeking water.

In the bounded set, it is easy to see who is in and who is out. The only problem is that it erects a barrier to those outside. Not to mention the enormous temptation for legalism. I mean, you could be standing right next to the fence, wishing you were on the other side the whole time. But to everyone else, you seem perfectly fine because you are adhering to the external code.

In the centered set, it is a lot harder to patrol the borders of the community. But really, the goal is not to get people "in the fence". It is to get them closer to the well! So they can drink and stay healthy. So, the question is, what is the well? It is most ambiguously an ideology. It is too simplistically Jesus. Is it more realistic to say that it is the gospel? I want to say that it is. The more I look at this Christianity thing, the more I see that the gospel, if understood and applied, is the foundational ideology for Christian existence and community. Within the gospel is the churches DNA, its ideology and its power. When people are facing this, seeking this and living this, they are drinking from the well.

So what do I mean by the gospel the scholar would say? I would point you to a book by a scholar Michael J. Gorman called Cruciformity: Paul's Narrative Spirituality of the Cross. This book is dynomite! For me, it was the find of a decade. I found myself crying in awe of the cross and all the things I missed about the gospel in the Pauline writings. It is a must read. If the gospel is articulated and embraced, it becomes the governor of morality, relationships, spiritual formation, community, all the good stuff we try to facilitate with our own schemes. Paul does this by offering a pregnant constellation of metaphors. Could it really be this simple? Yes and no. The gospel is God's foolishness, but it is also a mystery. In other words, the well runs deep.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

24. The Apostolic Realm

There are so many questions that surround the Apostolic Realm for me. For instance, what is the difference between the Apostle Paul and the ordinary apostle when it comes to "authority"? What is the task of the apostle? How does the apostle relate to the communities they have founded? what is the balance of power and authority between the community founded by an apostle and the community which is in turn founded by that initial community? Do apostles today appoint elders? (This would be a prescriptive question for Titus and Acts) When is an apostles work done? What is the measure of success? What is the DNA which he is supposed to embed in the community? and what about the other gifts? What is the apostolic role with the other gifts? Do you see what I mean? There are so many issues to discuss. So many angles to approach this from.

I can not find any good books out there addressing this in a theologically practical way. There is one book called Paul and the Anatomy of Apostolic Authority by John Schutz. This is the closest I have come to a book discussing these topics. But it really does not do the trick for me. it is a little too rabbit trailish on proving points which can be assumed from the get go. Although he does have a great section on the language of authority that Paul uses in his letters.

Do any of you have any books suggestions out there? Some of this needs to be explored because there is a minfield out there surruonding this apostolic idea. Mainly, the explosive potential of people claiing apostolic authority and power out of their own egos.

Monday, October 08, 2007

23. The Life of an Apostle

The following is taken from Margaret Wheatley's website

The challenges of paradigm pioneers.
While those who want to support new leaders are struggling with the dilemma of scale, individual leaders face very challenging conditions. They act in isolation, often criticized, mocked, or ignored by the prevailing culture. They have no way of knowing there are many more like them, pioneers struggling with new ways of leading. It is a constant struggle to maintain focus and courage in the midst of such criticism and loneliness. And, there are other challenges for these pioneers. These arise from the dynamics of paradigm shifts and how people generally behave when confronted with a new world view.

New leaders must invent the future while dealing with the past.

In speaking with these new leaders, it is very clear that they refuse to carry the past into the future. They do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past having, in many cases, personally suffered from ineffective or brutal leadership. They want to work in new ways, but these new ways of organizing, the new processes for implementing change, have yet to be developed. It is their work to invent them, and so they do double duty. They must simultaneously invent a new process or organizing form, and also solve the problems created by past practices.

It is difficult to break with tradition

It is not easy to invent the new. It is difficult to break free of the training, history, and familiar practices of the prevailing culture. New leaders certainly know that bureaucracy doesn't work, that corruption destroys communities, that aid administered from the top down most often fails. They refuse to repeat these practices, but they, like all of us, have been raised in these traditional ways. Past habits of practice exert strong pressures. When crises mount and people feel fearful and overwhelmed, we default back to practices that are familiar, even if they are ineffective.

Supporters want them to look familiar.

Those with the means to support new leaders often complicate their pioneering work by wanting them to use familiar and traditional leadership processes. Those with resources often feel it too risky to support experiments with new practices. It feels safer to ask for traditional strategic plans, business plans, measurements, and reports, no matter what the context of the initiative. On the surface these seem to be important skill sets, but there is now substantial research demonstrating the failure of these methods to produce desired results in the most traditional of organizations. Perhaps supporters are risk-averse, perhaps they are unaware that these methods don't work. Whatever the reason, sponsors insist that pioneering leaders conform to the past. Resources are not available unless new leaders can demonstrate competency in familiar leadership practices, even those that have consistently failed to achieve sustained change.

And when resources are scarce, and competition grows among different projects, it is easy for pioneers to lose their way. Against their best judgment of what works in their community, they agree to comply with procedures and practices they know can't succeed. Over time, they fail, not from lack of vision or willingness to experiment, but because they have been held back from those experiments. We destroy these pioneers by insisting that they conform to the mistakes of the past.

There is no room for failure.

As pioneers, it is impossible to get it right the first time. No one has yet drawn accurate maps--explorers learn as they go. The maps that pioneers create will make it easy for large populations to migrate easily to the future, but their own explorations require great sacrifice and constant learning. Our present culture doesn't support this kind of experimentation. We want right answers quickly; we ask people to demonstrate success early in their ventures. We evaluate them based on short-term measures. We seldom give adequate time for the explorations and failures that are part of mapping a new territory. Instead of offering additional resources to their explorations and experiments, we abandon them in favor of safer projects that employ familiar, flawed means.

We want them to fail.

This is the greatest, unspoken difficulty pioneering leaders encounter. Society does not want them to succeed. To acknowledge their success means we will have to change. We will have to abandon the comfort of our familiar beliefs and practices. People naturally flee from such changes and thus, even as the old ways fail, we hold onto them more fiercely and apply them more zealously.In his seminal work on paradigms, Thomas Kuhn described the behavior of scientists when confronted with evidence that pointed to a truly new world view. (see The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1996, 1974) When the new evidence clearly demonstrated the need for a change in paradigms, scientists were observed working hard to make the evidence conform to their old worldview. In defense of the old, they would discard or reinterpret the data. (This was always done unconsciously.) And in the most startling instances, they actually would be blind to the new information-even with the data in front of them, they literally could not see it. For them, the new did not exist.

When the paradigm is changing, it is common to experience each of these dynamics. How often do we see an innovative approach, and then characterize it as traditional? How often do we observe new leadership practices and deny their existence? How often do we treat their successes as anomalies or as exceptions to the norm? How difficult is it for us to acknowledge them for what they are, radical departures from tradition, the first trail markers of our way to the future?

Mohammed Junus, the founder of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and pioneer of micro-lending to the poor, tells the story of trying to get support from traditional bankers for his first loans to poor people. Dr. Junus wanted to loan very small amounts of money (often not more than a few dollars) to give Bangla people the means to start their own businesses. Whatever evidence he presented, the bank's reply was always the same: "The poor are not credit worthy." Frustrated, he then loaned his own money to the poor, and was paid back on time. But the bank's response was the same. Even after several years of successful lending to the poor, Dr. Junus was still greeted with the same old belief, "The poor are not credit worthy." He realized that no matter how much evidence he might accumulate to demonstrate the contrary, the banks would never see his evidence nor change their beliefs. (Grameen has since loaned millions to the poor, and developed a model for micro-lending that is used worldwide.)

I couldn't help but think of apostles as I read this article.