Friday, April 12, 2013

215. A peek into the Fuzzy Front End of the Permanent Revolution Part 4

In looking at the metaphors Paul uses to describe his apostolic function and role, it is an interesting exercise to think about how these terms relate to one another in the realm of authority. There is a certain social currency afforded to founders within the group by virtue of them being the founders. Whether they want to recognize it or not, founders have a certain level of authority within the organizations they found. The group looks to the founder with a certain sense of obligation and gratitude. The group exists, after all, because of the founders efforts. Without the founder, the group would not have formed, and those within the group would not have access to the life and resources that have emerged within the context of that group.

So founders, whether they like it or not, have a certain level of social currency within the groups they found. How and when they choose to spend this currency within the group will determine whether or not that currency increases or decreases in value (a topic for another post :-) My hunch is that Paul was aware of the social currency available to him as a founder. I think the metaphors Paul uses for his apostolic role within the communities he has founded points to a taxonomy of social currency that is made available to founders of new communities. I suggest the following framework as a heuristic for distilling the kind of social influence inherent within the apostolic function of planting new churches. See the picture below to the right.

The nature of metaphor, as Aristotle says it, is the similarity of dissimilarities. In other words, metaphors help open up new relationships of meaning. When Paul says he is an ambassador, he trying to open up the Corinthians mind to how his role as an apostle is similar to what they understand the role of an ambassador is. To say that Paul is an ambassador (2 Corinthians 5) is to say something different from saying he is a father ( 1 Cor 4). Yet each of these terms clearly point to a certain relational terrain Paul sees himself navigating as a founder of the Corinthian community. Some terms like father draw on certain facets of Paul's social currency, while other terms draw on other facets of that currency. Each term does something different. As such, these different metaphors affirm different facets of that social currency, as well as provoke within the Corinthian community various frameworks by which they are to perceive Paul and his role as a founder among them.

The diagram to the right was my first attempt to arrange these metaphors into a framework that accounted for the various degrees of social currency each metaphor may have evoked within the Corinthians. So for example, when you look into the metaphor Ambassador, you will find it connotes a sense of authority derived from the one they are representing. This is perhaps the most authoritative metaphor Paul uses with the Corinthians. I have sense rearranged this list into the following order.

1. Ambassador
2. Father
3. Slave
4. Foundation Layer
5. Planter
6. Partner

These are listed in descending order as to the perceived amount of social currency Paul wold have been leveraging when he used this term. To frame your role as an ambassador draws more social currency than to frame ones role as the foundation layer. There are notions of representative authority in ambassador that are not present in the metaphor of foundation layer. Ambassador points to a source of authority beyond itself, while simultaneously sharing in that authority from a representational perspective. Foundation layer points to a source of authority tied up in the skill, craftsmanship and wisdom of the designer and builder. The one who lays the foundation has a right to say how others should build upon it. their authority is inherent to their activity of foundation laying, not an outside source. This is why founding authority is not unique to Paul as an apostle. This kind of social currency is available to founders of all kinds, whether they are church planters, founders of non-profits, entrepreneurs of new businesses or whatever. It is a sociological phenomenon related to the group dynamics.

And just in case you think founding a new community is an opportunity to secure a new source of authority, take note of the kinds of difficulties Paul encountered in his efforts to found new communities. Founding authority is unique, but so are the challenges associated with the task of founding something new. The cool thing about Paul's letters is that they provide us a window into how to steward the social currency that emerges from founding new communities. In fact, I think 2 Corinthians is the largest window available to us in this respect.