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.   


Anonymous said...

You're writing is a real blessing - thank you.

Tim Catchim said...

Hey Andrew, thanks for the feedback bro.