Saturday, June 16, 2012

200. Mastery and Originality in the missional task of the church Part 2

In Part 1 of this series on Mastery and Originality, we talked about the need to for the church to have a balance between mastery and originality in order to remain effective in it's missional task.
Ideally, when someone launches out and experiments with innovative forms of mission, they develop a sense of mastery in that particular strategy or model and become an effective practitioner. This is how models or methods of any kind are born. Depending on certain variables, that model may get replicated in other contexts. It would look something like this.

This journey from experimenting towards effectiveness is what the success stories are made of. We all love to hear these kinds of stories. They inspire us to innovate and experiment ourselves. If they can do, we can do it too. This journey, as the squiggly line depicts, is not easy, and often times filled with discouragement, ambiguity, disappointment, and frustration. But to cross that line into sustainability and effectiveness is sweet indeed. It's something every pioneer longs for. It deserves to be celebrated and taken note of.

So what happens when you experiment and things don't work out? What happens when you pour your heart and soul into a venture and you don't achieve what you wanted to achieve? We don't hear many stories about this kind of journey. For one, those who go through it are rarely excited about sharing it. There is a certain shame involved with being "that guy" who sets out on that journey and doesn't land the ship on the other side. Questions like "What's wrong with me?" and "Why me?" and "Where is God in all of this?" are some of things that go through church planters minds when their experiments turn out to be just that, an experiment. These are tough questions that don't settle down with easy answers.

I want to suggest several things to keep in mind if you are "that guy" (no gender bias here :-) or you know someone who is "that guy."

1. If you felt called by God to launch out into the frontier and experiment with a missional venture,  just because it didn't work out does not mean God did not call you to walk with him on that journey. None of the apostle Paul's churches are still around today, and yet his influence is undisputed. God goes with us into every calling, even if it doesn't turn out like we wanted.

2. Failing at an experiment does not mean you are a failure. No one likes to experience failure, but when we do, it tends to reveal the source of where we draw our identity from. If the core of your identity is drawn from what you do FOR Christ (doing), then experiencing a failure will rock your world. Our identity is fundamentally who we are IN Christ (being). God can use our failures to anchor our identity in Christ.

3. There are big "F" and little "f" failures. Little "f" failures are when you don't achieve what you set out to achieve. Big "F" failures are when you choose to stay at the settlement because of fear or down right laziness. This is perhaps one of the most important things for  people doing apostolic ministry to embrace. We are to be faithful to the One who calls us into the frontier. Faithfulness, in and of itself, is Success with a capital "S". The ultimate Failure is disobedience to the One who calls. Framed this way, I will take a little "f" over a big "F" any day.

4. Learn from the experiment. It requires a good dose of humility to look back on your efforts and say "If I had to do it again, I would do ________ differently." Doing this will position you to learn valuable lessons from your experience. This is where the Father will redeem your experiment and be able to cultivate a level of mastery in you for the next venture.

5. Talk about what you have learned from the experiment. This is another way the Father will redeem your experience of failure. You develop a level of authority out of your experience of failure that can not be found any other way.

6. Just because you did not achieve what you wanted to achieve, does not mean nothing was achieved. As a leader, you are the custodian of the vision, which is often larger than life....and it should be. However, when that vision doesn't come to pass, it is easy to write off the venture as being completely worthless. Regardless of whether or not you achieved your goal, God will still use the soil you tilled, the weeds you pulled, the seeds you planted, watered and tended for His kingdom purposes. Influence is not measured by the leader, but by those who have been influenced. This explains why people who walked with you will always see more good coming from your efforts than you will.

7. It's not over. Just because you experienced failure does not mean your future is sealed. You can take what you have learned from your experience, increase your level of mastery, and move forward into the future with greater levels of wisdom and maturity. The Lord can use anyone who is willing to learn. The trajectory would look something like this.

It is during that phase of expiring that the Father can raise our level of mastery. Most of the things you will learn on the frontier will have a lot to do with your own spiritual formation as a leader as well as issues related to structure, strategy, and sequence for implementing your vision. However, learning from failure is different than learning from success by way of focus. When you learn from failure there are typically specific practices, postures or processes you can clearly point to that contributed to the failure. This makes learning from failure really focused....and painful.

Success, on the other hand, is often not so revealing as to what the contributing factors were. I remember hearing a guy get up and explain the success of his church plant with really vague and cliche phrases like "we prayed really hard" "made sure people were committed" and "small groups were a big priority." I thought to myself, "Every church planter I know does this!" The factors that contribute to a successful venture are not necessarily apparent on the first round because many of the factors are often concealed from the planter by virtue of their default assumptions of what makes a church plant successful. This makes learning from success a tricky affair. It often takes others experimenting with those same "factors" in similar contexts to expose those factors as being peripheral to what makes a venture successful.

8. Don't be afraid to let "it" die. If you did not achieve what you wanted to achieve, you should name it, and let it die. You should let the venture expire. You then, should enter into a season of abiding (John 15) where Jesus can re-build and re-store your vitality for the next assignment. Experiencing failure can tear you down, especially the last phases of the venture where you have to watch it die and fade away. But Jesus is the source of life, and if we are willing to abide in Him, and let his words abide in us, we will find the love and joy we need to move into the future with hope and confidence. It is during a time of pruning that we can draw from the Vine in deeper ways, positioning us to bear fruit that lasts.

In the next post, I will talk about some of the practical things I have learned through my most recent failure in church planting. For the past 5 years I have experimented with planting churches using the house church model. I call it a failure because I did not achieve what I wanted to achieve. God still used our efforts, people were changed, healing took place, and we saw God build bridges where none existed. But as the leader, I had a vision of starting a network of multiplying house churches. I did not achieve that vision. So I have to own that, learn from it, and share with others what I have learned so those who are open to it, can learn from my experience. This is part of what it means to be a pioneer. You share your journey, pitfalls and all, and in so doing, you can help others chart a better course into the future. 

Friday, June 08, 2012

199. Mastery and Originality in the missional task of the church Part 1

In The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church, we talk about the trended decline of Christianity in the West. This decline has prompted a surge in church planting over the past decade. However, most church planting in the past decade has been shaped by the prevailing paradigms and practices (algorithms) of the conventional church. As the algorithm goes, you throw up a sexy worship service, provide a dynamic children's ministry, get a "wow" speaker, and market like crazy (I sarcastically oversimplify, but humor me). This conventional model of church planting has experienced a certain level of "success." However, if truth be told, most of these plants typically attract a certain demographic of the already Christian population, otherwise known as the churched/de-churched folks. All in all, you cant knock this kind of venture because it often restores back sliders and ends up mobilizing resources for kingdom impact in the long run. Kingdom impact is a good thing no matter how you slice the pie. So I am not one of those purists who says this kind of church planting is useless or irrelevant. It clearly has a place in the churches task, and I respect those who are called to do it. 

However, we have to own up to the music here. The current algorithms of church planting will only reach a certain demographic of people. In order to reach people we are not currently reaching, we will have to do things we are not currently doing. Most church planting organizations stick with the prevailing model because they have developed a level of mastery in executing the current church planting algorithm. And who can blame them? Considering the amount of money involved in most church planting ventures, the proven efficiency of it all is quite alluring to all involved. 

Yet our mission still stands: to penetrate un-reached people groups and places with the gospel, make disciples, and form new, self-propagating expressions of the ecclesia. If getting better and better at applying the existing algorithm (mastery) will only make us more efficient at reaching a certain socio-cultural strata of the population, then no matter how efficient we become, we will, in the big scheme of things, remain ineffective. We will not achieve our mission. This is a problem. 

In order to effectively achieve our cross-cultural, geo-ethnic mission, we have to open ourselves up to developing new algorithms. In essence, we have to move away from mastery and move towards originality. Stepping away from the existing algorithms and their predictable outcomes means you will experience a dip in efficiency. It will take more time, more resources, more energy. Success will be delayed, and sometimes even denied. To illustrate the interrelationship between mastery and originality, I came up with this matrix.

High levels of mastery and low levels of originality amount to efficiency. Efficiency is good, but only if all variables are static. If your surrounding environment shifts or increases in complexity, relying on your mastery of previously formulated algorithms will, over time, lead to a devolution and expiration will be on the horizon. Blockbuster Video stores are case in point. With the onset of netflix, and then redbox, Blockbuster was being faced with a serious shift in the marketplace. Their inability to innovate and adapt put them out of business. They were efficient, but not effective.  Without originality, your organization will become irrelevant and outdated, no longer able to engage the complexity of it's environment.

On the other hand, an entrepreneurial venture that lingers too long in experimentation without developing a level of mastery in the skills needed for a sustainable venture will also devolve and expire due to a lack of momentum and depleting resources at all levels. Perpetual originality in the absence of mastery leads to brinkmanship. Engaging in entrepreneurial ventures with significant levels of risk and innovativeness requires a certain kind of wisdom and discernment to know when to embrace the reality of failure and go back to the drawing board. 

Every organization/venture, if it wants to be effective, has to wrestle with finding a balance between developing a level mastery in their current operations and practices while at the same time cultivating a certain level of originality in their approach to achieving their mission. To engage in one, without the other, is to seriously compromise the long term viability of the organization/venture. If we are willing to navigate the landscape of mastery and originality we will open ourselves up to the Missio Dei who calls us into the frontiers of unreached people groups to pioneer missional-incarnational-attractional-communal-instrictional (APEST) forms of ecclesia.

Christianity in the West stands at the cross roads in this hour.  Apostolic ministry is not the solution to all our problems, but it does present us with the potential for a new beginning in the churches task to penetrate different people groups and places with the gospel and form new expressions of kingdom communities. It is our contention that those gifted as apostles are the one's most likely to engage the challenges associated with originality and experimentation, thus catalyzing an environment where a permanent revolution can emerge.

In the next post I will talk about how to deal with failure on a personal level when an experiment with originality fails. Even in the midst of failure, God can bring a level of mastery to the fore that can be leveraged for future ventures.   

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

198. Discipleship and Imitation Part 2

If we are willing to let Jesus be our primary point of reference for what it means to make disciples, then discipleship is fundamentally about imitation. Jesus said every disciple who is fully trained will be like his teacher. (Lk. 6:40) Without imitation, then making disciples will drift into information giving. Information and teaching are good, but lets not make the act of teaching synonymous with making disciples. (Even the great commission in Matthew 28 draws a distinction between these two activities by using two different words for making disciples and teaching)

If disciple making is fundamentally about imitation, then it would be helpful to know what essential components need to be in place in order for imitation to take place. I think they can be boiled down to the following: 1.) Physical Proximity 2.) Relational Frequency and 3.) Situational Variety.

1. Physical Proximity: You may be able to coach someone over the phone or through the internet, but you can not disciple them through this medium. Why? Because in order to truly disciple someone they have to have access to the patterns and practices of your life. They have to literally be around you so they can observe your life and learn to imitate the parts of your life that are worth imitating. This requires physical proximity so you can share the same space and synchronize portions of your life for real, in person interaction.

2. Relational Frequency: Even if I have physical proximity with someone I am discipling, if I dont open up the rhythm of my life to them in both an organized and organic way, then they will not have adequate exposure to my life. People can only imitate what they have been exposed to. As a general rule, I have an organized meeting once a week with those I am discipling where I go through tools called LifeShapes crafted by 3DM. I also have organic times where I spontaneously invite people over or we do life together over meals or recreation. This happens, ideally, on a weekly basis. A weekly organized meeting and a weekly encounter on the fly. Most months the rhythm is checkered for the organic times, but the organized huddle is week in and week out.

3. Situational Variety: the people I am discipling need to encounter me in multiple scenarios and contexts. If I only meet with people in a classroom setting, then lets be honest....I am not discipling them, I am just doing some really up close teaching and coaching. Discipleship means I invite them into the rhythms of my life. They need to seem me hug my wife, pray for people in the Walmart parking lot, witness to people at the local court house. They need to see me in church settings, in entertainment settings where I just chill, have fun, and hang out. So here it is in a diagram.

Making disciples the way Jesus did it requires us to have a level of intentionality and openness with our lives. People do not get discipled on accident. We disciple people by inviting people into the rhythms of our life and saying to them "Follow me as I follow Christ." We have to be strategic with our time and the way we organize our lives so that the people we are investing in not only have access to us, but have access to us in different scenarios and contexts. I think this is what Jesus is getting at when he says that a disciple who is "fully trained" will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40.) Without these 3 components being a part of the discipling relationship, then imitation will be only one or two dimensional. There will be a lack of exposure, and consequently, a lack of imitation. By definition, this translates into a lack of discipleship. 

Monday, June 04, 2012

197. Discipleship and Imitation Part 1

Discipleship is one of those words that means so many things to so many different people. It really does depend on how many people you ask as to how many explanations you will receive. Two reasons come immediately to mind for this kind of ambiguity. First, there is a functional difference between being a disciple of Jesus (follower), and making disciples of Jesus(follower and leader). Making disciples of Jesus is clearly a broader function than being a disciple, and should take place, ideally, after one has been discipled by another.

For example, the 12 were disciples of Jesus for 3 1/2 years, but did not become disciple makers till after the ascension. However, notice they did not cease to be disciples when they became disciple makers. No, they merely matured into their role as disciples by imitating Jesus, the disciple maker. They became little Jesus' and called people to follow them in a discipling relationship. They were merely imitating the one who previously discipled them.

Secondly, the cultural distance between us and Jesus' first century, Palestinian, 2nd Temple Judaism context creates a little bit of a blur for us.  If you wanted to become a disciple of someone in Judaism (in Jesus' day  you would follow a rabbi), you knew exactly what you were getting into. You would literally follow the rabbi (teacher) around and attempt to integrate every facet of the rabbi's life into your own life. You would try to develop and acquire the knowledge, skills, rhythms and practices of their life. Your basic aim was to BE who the rabbi was. The nature of this disciple-rabbi relationship was a part of the very fabric of their culture. It was in this particular historical environment that Jesus called people to be his disciples. (In some ways, I think this relational structure of rabbi-disciple that was built into the culture of that day was part of the "fullness of time" mentioned in Galatians 4, buts that's another post :-)

We, on the other hand, do not live in a culture where discipleship is a part of the visual fabric of our society. The closest thing we have to discipleship is the concept of apprenticeship in which someone seeks to learn a trade like welding from someone who was traditionally called a master craftsmen. But even this current practice of apprenticeship falls short as it is typically only experienced in the technical college, classroom setting, for a brief moment. When compared to how Jesus defines and demonstrates what it means to "make disciples" the language of "apprentice" gets really close, but doesn't fully capture the meaning of the relationship.

The following video is a glimpse into the mind of a blacksmith master craftsmen, Notice how he talks about his craft and how it is learned. Not from books, not from lectures, but by actually doing it. If you wanted to learn how to be blacksmith, you would need to apprentice yourself to a master craftsmen blacksmith. You would have to watch what he does, and then experiment with it yourself. You would need to imitate him.

In the next post, I will talk about the essential components that need to be in place in order for imitation to take place.