Karl Weick, in his book Making Sense of the Organization, says, “…whenever you have what appears to be successful decentralization, if you look more closely, you will discover that it was always preceded by a period of intense centralization where a set of core values were hammered out and socialized into people before the people were turned loose to go their own ‘independent, ‘autonomous’ ways.” p. 341
Weick is pointing out an important ingredient here when it comes to de-centralizing the church for missional ventures. If we look at the ministry of Jesus, this period of centralization that took place before de-centralization for mission is the 3 1/2 years in which Jesus discipled the twelve in how to live into a covenant relationship with the Father and represent the King. The church was decentralized movement for sure, but this decentralized movement was preceded by an intense period of centralization where Jesus invited the 12 into a relationship where they would learn to imitate the patterns of his life.
Trying to catalyze a decentralized movement without laying a good foundation of discipleship, where, as in the words of Weick, the core values of covenant and Kingdom are not hammered out into the lives of those we are leading, is just trendy new-speak. In fact, if you try to decentralize without first going through a period of centralization, you will not end up with movement at all. You will end up with a fragmented, chaotic blob. To put it another way: Decentralization before discipleship equals dissipation. Decentralization after discipleship equals movement.
Now here is where the rub is. Most churches are stuck on centralization, but it is a faulty model of centralizing around information. They centralize people in order to pass on information, and then, if they have some mission minded leaders, they will challenge the people in the church to go and do ministry or mission outside the parameters of their centralized mechanisms. In essence, they want the people to practice innovation.
The only problem with this approach is that people tend to do what you model for them. So if you give them information, then challenge them to do mission, they will most likely go out and give people information...about the centralized gathering where you receive...thats right....more information.
My friends at 3DM use this triangle to illustrate the proper relationship between information, imitation (discipleship) and innovation.
It starts with information, then leads to imitation, and finally moves into innovation. Centralization takes place during the first two phases. Decentralization takes place as you move towards innovation. The order is really critical if you want to see a decentralized movement of disciple making and missional communities. The missing component, for most church plants, is the phase of imitation where the apostolic leader invites people into a relational process where they share their life and give people the tools to be disciples of Jesus. The apostolic leader is aiming for decentralized mission where people move towards the edge and innovate new expressions of ecclesia within every nook and cranny of their context. But you cant get there unless you follow the pattern of Jesus, the great apostolic leader who catalyzed a global movement.
Once again, it seems that we can't get away from discipleship when it comes to apostolic ministry.