Showing posts with label organic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label organic. Show all posts

17 February 2013

Leadership and the New Testament

Leaders in the church, Part 1
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How should we manage and govern our meetings? How is church to be led? Everything changed in the 1960s and 70s as the Holy Spirit swept into the denominational church. Existing churches were impacted, the house church movement began, and new streams of church sprang up.

Leading and following
My wife and I have a long-standing difference of opinion about church leadership. Let me explain.

Donna is a member of Open Door Church, part of New Frontiers, one of the new streams of churches that, like others, has its roots in the Charismatic Movement of the 1960s and 70s.

The bursting out of the new wine of the Holy Spirit wasn't easily retained by the old wineskins of denominational church. What was known as the British house church movement began at that time.

New Frontiers and the other streams of the time were based on the view that new organisations were needed. Of course, some Anglican, Catholic and non-conformist churches did embrace the fresh outpouring of spiritual gifts. The pentecostal denominations were already active in that way. But there were many 'refugees' from old fashioned denominationalism and also many new believers who had never tasted a particular form of church. The new streams aimed to cater for both groups.

Staying small and open - But there were many others (of whom I am one) who felt that the new streams of church life took on far too much from the old ways. Having a leadership structure and meeting in a large building were the most obvious of these old ways (though there are many others). Used as we were to meeting at home without leaders, sharing meals together, and giving the Spirit complete freedom to lead us in praise and worship, we were quite unable to feel comfortable with any kind of organisation.

And that's the basis on which Donna and I have different views. She is very much at home in an organisation with a structure, a building, and management. I am at home as part of an organism with very little structure, no building, and managed and directed by the Spirit of Christ alone.

Another kind of small group - We do overlap in one important way. She is one of three leaders of an Open Door Small Group that meets every Tuesday evening, and I am glad to be part of that group. The meetings are in some ways rather like organic church. We meet in homes, we usually start with a shared meal, there is plenty of opportunity to chip in with a thought, a prophecy, a tongue, a vision or a prayer.

On the other hand the meetings are structured around three main elements and are managed hierarchically. Meetings normally begin with a meal, then worship led by a member of the group, next questions and a discussion based on the previous Sunday's 'preach', and finally a time of prayer on topics raised by those present. The Small Group leaders report to neighbourhood leaders who in turn are responsible to the elders of Open Door and in particular to the lead elder.

Donna is comfortable with these arrangements, I am less so. But we both enjoy the meetings and are grateful to be able to share in them regularly together.

The role of the Spirit - But it's not just a matter of how meetings are organised. There is also plenty of evidence that the Holy Spirit fills every available gap that we concede to him. I have a great deal of experience of this going back many years and also in recent times. Meetings that are completely open, not planned or governed by us in any way, are little pockets of time and space that he joyfully, even gleefully inhabits. Many times I have witnessed him working amongst us in amazing and unexpected ways, but always when he is given the freedom to do it.

It takes courage to attempt this. Things can go wrong. People can get in the way. We cannot come to this place without taking risks. But when we are prepared to step aside and let the Spirit of Christ move among us freely, he will fill the place. The more space and time we give him, the more present he becomes.

And I am convinced that out of such a place of blessing we are better equipped to go out and, in our going, to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).

Profitless discussion - A couple of days ago Donna and I had a rather profitless discussion about church leadership. (I take full responsibility for my unhelpful attitude.) I'm going to outline it here because it pinpoints the issues, points to a way forward and may be helpful to others thinking these issues through. Here's how it happened.

We were about to begin reading James together when Donna spotted Hebrews 13:17 on the opposite page. She asked me a direct question, 'How do you explain this verse if you don't think the church should have leaders?'

Indeed the church does have leaders. But they are understated and not people who rule or manage. They are recognised by those around them, not appointed by other leaders or by a committee.

But instead of saying this I responded to Donna's question by digging into the Greek and pointing out that you must translate any passage in sympathy with the general thrust of the entire New Testament. What Jesus did and said and what we read in the other letters must inform and guide us. Translation is not an exact art. The flavour of the English words we select to represent the meaning of the Greek must depend partly on that wider context. So we talked about the text rather than the concept of leadership.

The discussion went pear-shaped and we never did make it as far as reading James that evening. Partly because of this I feel the time has come to study church leadership in more detail and to be clearer in my own mind about the biblical background and the practicalities.

There are other associated issues and I think I need to look at them as a whole, not piecemeal. So I plan to come back to this topic from time to time as I make progress with the study.

Meanwhile, I would be very grateful for any thoughts or feedback you might have on the different approaches to church leadership and church government. Please leave a comment.

Questions:

  • Have you had similar or related experiences? Please consider sharing them in a comment.
  • What are your views on the Holy Spirit's involvement in your meetings? Is he fully present? Is he fully visible and audible?
  • If you could change one thing about your meetings, what would it be?

Challenge:

  • Try this at home. Meet with some close friends with no agenda and no preparation of any kind. Share a meal gratefully remembering Jesus' presence with you. After the meal sit in a comfortable place together and focus on Jesus. Don't mind silences, but share together anything  the Spirit shows you, including pictures, words, prophecy, Bible passages, persistent thoughts and more. What happened? Report back here with a comment.

See also:


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17 September 2012

Organic leadership?

I thought it would be good to repost this from April 2010 as we've been thinking about leadership recently. This old article is a good reminder that it doesn't really depend on us, it depends on Yahshua. He is the one who builds the church!

Oak leaves and acorns
Brian Hofmeister has tried organic church and found it difficult. He writes about his experiences in a report in Christianity Today - Leadership. Brian's conclusion is that leading organic church was just too onerous, and was not achievable without some degree of professional input.

However, this has not been my experience, nor that of many others. And I don't believe it was the experience of the early church either. There's little evidence of paid leadership in the New Testament.

So what went wrong for Brian and the people he met with? To answer that we need to go right back to define what is and is not organic church. The word 'organic' implies an organism, whereas much of our experience of church comes from organisations. An organisation usually has a top-down management structure and a hierarchical authority structure. Something which is organic begins from a seed and grows until it reaches maturity and produces more seeds which grow in their turn.

In this way, one tiny seed may produce not just a tree, but an entire forest. It takes a certain amount of time, but it speeds up dramatically with each generation and will eventually fill the space available. Trees and forests can be managed, but they don't have to be. There were very successful forests in many parts of the world before human explorers arrrived to manage them!

I think that Brian simply tried too hard to manage and guide and educate and persuade. But that's not organic. The seed that germinates and grows amongst a small group of people is the expectation that Yahshua himself will do the managing, guiding, educating, and persuading. He said, 'I will build my church.' And he really meant it! He is the only one who truly knows how to do it.

Church is a community of people who love one another because Christ has first loved them. When we come together to meet it's just the tip of a giant, hidden core of fellowship and community. When we meet, Yahshua is there at the centre. He is with us because we are his and he loves to bless us and guide us. But he's also with us day by day as we live our lives, he is with us in defeat and in victory, in sorrow and in joy.

A group of new believers, if they focus on Jesus, will help one another along the road to maturity. The wiser and more mature will look out for the others. There will be problems, but rather than training programmes and theological studies the believers need to discover how to be disciples. They need to be walking with the Lord, listening to what he says and watching what he does. Reading the Bible together will provide a lot of useful guidance. Eating together when possible, helping one another with practical things, and having good, family fun together will help too. Encouraging one another, praying for one another, all these things help to build community.

But the key is listening to the Lord and doing what he says. Out of this will come mission, church growth, and all the rest.

Brian tried an alternative model of church and found it wanting. But it wasn't really organic church. My advice to him would be try again but to do a whole lot less while expecting Yahshua to do a whole lot more!

For some related ideas, click the 'Links' button at the top of the page, some of the links will lead to other useful material - books, mp3s, DVDs, videos and more. But above all pray and ask Jesus himself to guide you, he won't let you down.

03 September 2012

Beginning all over again

Beth Foster's blog is a story of movement and challenge. For the past year she has been learning to live for Jesus in a radically new way - and she is changing! Read 'Organic Life' for yourself and follow her progress. But beware! You might find yourself changing too.

Organic Life, Beth's blogHave you ever been at a place of new beginnings? Most of us have experienced the pain and anxiety when there's a disconnect between old and new. Usually there is expectant hope and a joyful looking forward as well, perhaps tinged with some apprehension or great sadness. Mixed feelings in many ways.

Whether it's a new job or retirement, a new birth or a family death, moving to live in a new home (and leaving an old one), a lot of things are going to change and we have to adjust. The same can happen when the Holy Speaks to us about a major change in our spiritual life.

I've been following Beth Foster's blog 'Organic Life' since she first started it almost a year ago. She doesn't post frequently, but everything she's written has been well worth reading.

If you are new to her blog I suggest you begin at the beginning and follow her story along from post to post.  Highly, highly recommended stuff. It's a page turner and it's challenging and thought provoking too. She is coming out of a new beginning, letting go of what was, learning to live in the 'now', prompted and guided by the Holy Spirit. She is a brave and determined lady and is unwilling to accept second best.

As you read, don't be surprised if you find yourself challenged and changed. And while you're there, I know she would appreciate a comment from you.

10 August 2012

What's in a name? (Repost)

This is a repost of an article originally published two years ago. I think it's worth raising this subject again now because I'm still looking for an answer.

I'll be honest with you - this is something that's been bugging me for a long, long time. Those of us who follow Jesus often refer to ourselves as 'Christians' or 'the Church', or in more specific cases we use the name of a particular organisation - 'I'm a member of the such-and-such church'.

An Escher print of endlessly connected fishThis troubles me because I really don't want to make any distinctions of this sort. We are all one in Christ, though we may have different gifts and abilities (Eph 4:1-7). We are one body and we should learn to see ourselves that way, not merely in terms of the Church Universal (although that is true and important) but in practical terms, in our daily lives and thinking.

The Bible recognises one church in different locations, it does not recognise different churches. Paul is emphatic on this point (1 Cor 1:12-14). The New Testament distinguishes church by province, city, and meeting place. We read of the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria, the church in Ephesus, the church that meets at the house of Priscilla and Aquila. The idea of distinguishing churches on the basis of leaders, doctrines or traditions is completely alien to the writers of the New Testament. In fact they always opposed any such move very strongly.

I am entirely happy to be known simply as someone who follows Jesus and is part of the church in Europe, the UK, England, the East of England, Cambridgeshire, St Neots, or Eaton Ford. I'm happy to be regarded as part of the church meeting in my house, or Jim's house, or Sean's house.

But there is a practical issue when a name is needed in, for example, a list. What I would prefer is to state that I'm a follower of Yahshua (Jesus) in St Neots. And if there's room, that might be acceptable but it will be confusing. So in a list like 'Eynesbury Methodist, Open Door, River Church, St Mary's Eaton Socon' what should I write?

Currently I use terms like 'organic church', 'house church', or 'simple church'. But these are not accurate or complete and they act to divide - which is the very thing I want to avoid! I'd like to write 'the church in St Neots' but that will not be understood.

Suggestions are welcome. Does anyone else worry about these things?

There doesn't seem to be a satisfactory answer. I don't want to be seen as set apart, I want to be seen as I see myself, part of the one body of Christ here in the town where I live. But there doesn't seem to be a word or simple phrase for that!

Perhaps it's better to avoid being listed and just get on with living as a follower of the King. The very existence of a list implies that the items on it can be distinguished in some way.

Some new thoughts - It occurs to me that the early believers referred to their faith and practice as 'The Way'. The term 'Christian' means 'little Christs' and was applied by others in a derogatory sense.

Do you think it would be a good idea to talk about 'The Way' again? Or perhaps 'The Path', or 'The Road'. Or it could be expanded to 'The Narrow Way'. Should we refer to ourselves as followers of The Way?

How would that affect how we see ourselves? How would it affect how others see us? Think about the views of other believers and of non-believers.

How do you suggest we tackle this naming problem?

30 January 2012

Organic church life

Alan Knox uses the term 'organic church life'. There's a certain flowing, difficult to pin down, deep life about church that is well described by the term 'organic'. When we share this life we are sharing Christ himself as well as sharing ourselves.

A bejewelled networkAlan Knox gives some thought to the question 'Why is it so difficult to find organic church life?' and I very much like his answer. It's closely related to my recent post 'Circles of friends'.

Alan decides to use the term 'organic church life' rather than the more usual 'organic church', and his reasons are very revealing.
When I write about “organic church life,” I’m not talking about a certain church gathering, or a certain type of meeting, or a certain group of believers, or a certain method of organizing (or not organizing). Instead, I’m talking about believers sharing their lives with one another as they also share life in Jesus Christ.
I simply could not agree more! And I could not express it better.

Yet our minds are so anxious to organise and structure everything that we overlook organic church life in our rush to find something organisational in its place. We have insecurities that seem best met by plenty of structure and tradition and hierarchy. These things are not bad in and of themselves, but they are not where the life is. They have served us well in society and civil government, but they do not serve us well in finding and experiencing organic church life.

Structure is required as human life grows in scale. Very little structure is needed by three small children at play (though it's there if you look for it). A great deal is necessary to manage a large company, a big orchestra, or a nation.

Structure, tradition and hierarchy are useful tools for running large organisations, but in the day to day life of a family freedom, spontaneity and shared responsibility are much more appropriate. So too with organic church life. And that is why it's so hard to find even though it may be there right under our noses. Perhaps the truth is that it's not really hard to find, just hard to recognise until you get your eye in. And then you'll notice it everywhere.

But on the larger scale of the church worldwide, structure, tradition and hierarchy become necessary - right?

Wrong! Jesus said, 'I will build my church'. If we each focus on organic church life amongst our own circle of friends we can (and should) leave the rest to Jesus. He is the only one who knows how to do the job properly, only he can properly integrate our overlapping circles into the bejewelled network of networks structure of his design.

21 January 2012

Circles of friends

Help doesn't always come from the places we expect. Community may not be the shape we design it to be. Church structure is better recognised than defined. Practice and experience are very likely to differ from theory.

Mallow on the beach, messy but vibrantAll of us need a little help from time to time, or someone to listen or encourage. And if we're involved in local church life we expect to find that support from church friends as well as from family members and others. In particular, if we are in a cell or home group we expect the members to provide the help we need. It's often claimed to be one of several reasons for meeting in smaller, more intimate groups.

But what happens in practice?

When a friend recently told me that he was not getting the help he needed from his home group, I was able to identify a number of people who were providing help. It was coming from a rich combination of close friends, some involved in other home groups, some in entirely different churches. Most of these people had not been 'designated' as his close church family, yet they were there when he needed them.

And this made me wonder whether we have things 'back to front' in some sense.

Rather than organise people into groups, why not recognise that most people already have circles of friends around them? Does it matter if these circles overlap with one another and don't fit into a tidy pattern?

As usual, organic life is messy but vibrant and abundant. Let it be what it is. If I can see vibrant and abundant I'm willing to overlook messy, or even rejoice over messy! Far better messy, abundant life than organised sterility. Yahshua said, 'I came so they may have life, and have it more abundantly.' (John 10:10)

So may I suggest that the people Father has placed around us are more likely to be there when we need them than the people that even the best organised church has defined as 'our' group? (The two are not mutually exclusive, or course.)

The corollary of this is that 'church'  is a shifting network of unique yet overlapping circles around all the individuals. True community comes, not from human-defined groups, but from the Father himself guiding his people in loving one another. And if we saw church in this way we would lose our need to identify ourselves as members of this fellowship or that denomination. We would let all the buildings and programs go (we wouldn't need them any more) and we could focus on life as the church that meets at Jane and John's house or the church in St Neots. Wouldn't that be grand!

07 November 2011

RESPONSE - The nature of technology

I've just finished a book called 'The Nature of Technology' by W Brian Arthur. It's an interesting read and unexpectedly sparked some thoughts about how we perceive the nature of the church.

The book's cover'The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves' examines technology as a subject. It goes way beyond any other treatments of technology that I've read. There are many books about particular technologies (the steam engine, the computer, molecular engineering) but Brian Arthur has analysed the nature of technology itself.

Towards the end of the book, Professor Arthur discusses our ambivalent attitudes towards technology. At one time technology was seen to bring order and was regarded as almost heroic.
In the time of Descartes we began to interpret the world in terms of the perceived qualities of technology: its mechanical linkages, its formal order, its motive power, its simple geometry, its clean surfaces, its beautiful clockwork exactness. These qualities have projected themselves on culture and thought as ideals to be used for explanation and emulation.
But since those days, further development has resulted in technology that is fundamentally more fluid, organic, and adaptable. If you want to understand why you will have to read the book, there is no room to give the necessary detail here. But Arthur writes
Our interpretation of the world is ... becoming more open and organic; and ... technology has a part in this shift. ... Not only is our understanding of the economy changing to reflect a more open, organic view. Our interpretation of the world is also becoming more open and organic; and again technology has a part in this shift.
Interestingly, I think we can see the same trend in our attitude to church life.

In Victorian times church was highly structured and hierarchical. Clergy (at least the better ones) worked hard to create learned, reasoned sermons, missions were like well-oiled machines. Military precision was applied to the task of meeting social need; the Salvation Army and the Church Army went so far as to adopt military-style uniforms as well as military names and ranks.

But by the 1960s there were early signs of change as some people began experimenting with informal, organic, more flexible ways of meeting. The home environment and smaller groups were popular on the developing fringes of church. This trend has accelerated during the last five decades as George Barna's recent statistics show very clearly in the USA. But the trend is affecting church life in many other parts of the world too.

Here's Brian Arthur again.
... we are now aware that as mechanisms become interconnected and complicated, the worlds they reveal are complex. They are open, evolving, and yield emergent properties that are not predictable from their parts. The view we are moving to is no longer one of pure order. It is one of wholeness, an organic wholeness, and imperfection.
That final sentence seems very relevant to church life in 2011 - 'an organic wholeness' coexisting with the imperfect. Perfection is in Christ, and Christ in us. Without him there is no perfection - not in me nor in us corporately. And quoting again.
We are replacing our image of perfection with an image of wholeness, and within that wholeness a messy vitality. This shift in thinking has more to do with the influence of evolutionary biology and the exhaustion of the simple mechanistic view than with any influence from modern technology. But it is reinforced nonetheless by the qualities of modern technology: its connectedness, its adaptiveness, its tendency to evolve, its organic quality.
And reading about the early church in Acts, and even the embryonic 'church' during Jesus' lifetime, we can see an absence of perfection but a very clear 'messy vitality'. Perhaps it's also true to say that we have exhausted simple, mechanistic approaches to being church. Maybe the words connectedness, adaptiveness, and organic are very suitable ones to apply to church today.

Here's another short extract in which I've replaced the word 'technology' with the word 'church'. 'Instead of fitting itself to the world, church seeks to fit the world to itself.'

Hasn't this been true historically? We have tried to force the world into our mould. But that doesn't work; it cannot work. We had better learn to fit ourselves to the world instead. Isn't that what Jesus did, and the early church? Jesus  was always relevant to people in their ordinary lives - fishermen, tax collectors, adulterers, foreigners, farmers, bridegrooms who'd ordered insufficient wine, the hungry, the sick, even Roman officers. This was in stark contrast with the stuffy, arcane, restrictive teachings of the religious establishment at that time.

What do you think? I welcome your comments.

(By the way, I highly recommend 'The Nature of Technology' for its wonderful analysis of technology and the economy. What I have written above is merely a diversion, some thoughts on another topic sparked by reading the book.)

15 October 2011

IMAGE - Kitchen garden

(Click the photo for a larger view)

Standing outside the kitchen garden, looking in - 
Photo taken 15th October 2011

The entrance to the organic kitchen garden shows that it's full of light inside. Comments, anyone? What does this say to you about... well... anything?

The photo was taken at Audley End in Essex. Donna and I spent an afternoon looking around the garden and the dairy, kitchens, laundry etc. The house itself will have to wait for another day.

Click the 'image' label below to see other image posts.

24 September 2011

Nettle Hill - Church planting, morning

< 23rd September 2011 | Index | 24th September 2011 >

This was a great day. The Dales were visiting from the USA and were sharing about aspects of church planting. It wasn't training in the way we normally view it. It was a sharing of real life stories and it was much more about people than the things we plan and do.

Giles introduced the day by reminding us that we're looking for organic growth. He referred to Romans 15 where Paul explains that he speaks of what he has seen and heard. Stories are good.

A North American IndianTony Dale continued this theme. He pointed out that speaking from the front was almost unknown in New Testament times. When Eutychus fell from the window, the word used for 'talking' is not 'monologue' but 'dialogue'. They were having a conversation.

The first story we heard was about Tony and Felicity's journey to America and how when they arrived they felt abandoned by the Lord. They'd come from such exciting times in Britain during the outpouring of the Spirit in the 70s and 80s, and now they didn't fit in to the church scene in the USA, work plans failed, and life became very difficult. It's often a struggle to listen and obey in such circumstances, but this is key in the journey.

Felicity took us through a listening exercise called Virkler, it involves four steps.
  1. Becoming free from distraction
  2. Focussing on Jesus
  3. Listening to the flow of spontaneous thoughts
  4. Writing them down (they can be weighed later)
Virkler is more fully described on the CO2 page (about half way down). We spent a few minutes on this exercise, then reported back with things that had seemed significant. There was a clear pattern and we were encouraged by that.

We heard how Tony and Felicity set aside several times each year just for listening together with friends. She described one of these times on a mountain around a campfire when someone saw in their mind an Indian on a hill surrounded by a ring of fire and also a bungalow with two basements. It later turned out that this was very accurate and the key to resolving some difficult situations.

Tony and Felicity continued to take turns at leading out thoughts right through the day. They told us about times in the 1970s and 80s when everyone would share openly in the meeting and how these were times clearly arranged by the Spirit. They have no doubt that Jesus want to lead his people and transform our situations.

We (plural, jointly) have the mind of Christ. We need to hear the quietest people and encourage them to share, this is treating the weaker parts of the body with greater honour. As the Charismatic Renewal developed and matured we stopped hearing through everyone. Some became famous or led large movements, many others were left out. Eventually we were left communicating head to head instead of heart to heart.

Change doesn't happen naturally, we need to plan and act to make space for the 'little' people. Our job is to make disciples, Jesus said he'd build the church himself.

It's useful to bring groups of unbelievers under the influence of the word. If we can do that their lives will change. It's a process of coming under the rule and lordship of Christ. We should ask people to follow Jesus, not join what we're doing. Follow simple patterns, eating together is important. Getting people talking is essential because we remember much more of what we express than what we hear or read. Multiplication generally happens outside our existing context; it's at the fringes and with unbelievers.

Success is not measured in terms of size; it's about multiplying the small. We need to lay down our view of success and look for transformed lives instead.

Please note - this article is only a superficial account. When the recordings become available I'll add a link to them here so that you can hear what was said for yourself.

< 23rd September 2011 | Index | 24th September 2011 >

10 November 2010

REVIEW - The Jesus Virus

The Jesus Virus is a blog by Ross Rohde about planting small, organic churches. I've just read his latest post 'Another Story from the Harvest' and once again I really like what I read. I'm recommending this post and indeed the entire blog because it's full of life and energy and it reports real events as they happen. I think anyone who follows Jesus will find Ross's posts encouraging and enlightening.

The Jesus VirusIn 'Another Story from the Harvest', Ross explains how things don't always go the way we expect. It's clear that we need to be wary of pattern and methods - certainly in the sense that they may sometimes go against the things that Jesus really wants to do in a situation.

Ross provides a recent example of this. Best to go and read it for yourself!

Ross's blog is not like anything else I've come across. It's very matter of fact, thought provoking, and full of stories about real people. There are so many sites out there that are essentially teaching a doctrine or a method or inviting us to join them in what they are doing.

But this site draws readers into the excitement about what Jesus is doing, and then encourages them to taste and see for themselves. Ross knows that for the church to grow, Jesus must do the building as he promised he would. That means I (and you) must get out of his way. I can add nothing to the work he is doing. If I won't do what he tells me I will not become part of his work. If I do what I judge to be good in my own eyes I will probably hinder his work by acting against him.

27 September 2010

Can decentralised control work?

Most businesses and other large organisations (government, church, military, education, medical) are based on a hierarchical command and control structure of some kind. In government, even though leaders may be selected democratically, during their term of office they work as a hierarchical structure with a prime minister or president granted overall authority.

A temperate forestIs the hierarchical model appropriate for all projects and organisations? Are there workable alternatives?

One alternative that has been demonstrated to work (and work well) is an organic approach. This is based on the way living organisms grow, flourish, and reproduce. It also depends on grasping the nettle of death and decay - this is an essential part of the process, anything that is no longer working must be discarded and recycled.

Take the growth of a forest as an example. A tree starts its life from a small seed and it has a pattern of growth, maturity, seed release, and death. The forest consists of many trees of a variety of kinds along with other plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria. All of these follow their own particular patterns of growth and reproduction and together they form an interacting ecological web that maintains itself rather well. Not only that, species will move in or decrease as climatic and other conditions change. And over periods of tens of thousands of years and upwards the species that make up the forest may evolve and fill new or unused niches that become available. Not only is the forest self-maintaining, it's also self-adapting in the long term.

Can organisations be maintained and adapted in the same way? Yes they can.

Let's take the computer operating system Ubuntu as an example. Most of us think of Microsoft Windows when we think of an operating system, or perhaps Apple's OS X. But there are many others. One of these is Linux, and Ubuntu is just one flavour of Linux.

A recent TechRadar article outlines how Ubuntu is built and managed. The Ubuntu website is the public face of the organisation where you can download your own copy (free of charge) or learn much more about what the system offers.

Compare and contrast this approach with Microsoft's proprietary and traditional business model for Windows.

The organic approach is as old as the universe itself. It works. If it didn't, we wouldn't be here.

I began by listing various kinds of organisation - business, government, church, military, education, medical. It would be easy to extend the list. The table below provides some examples of each along with generalised properties of such organisations. In practice, of course, extreme examples are rare, normally organisations fall somewhere in the continuum between hierarchical and organic and this is certainly true for the examples below. Even the most structured organisation allows (even demands) a degree of original thinking and initiative from staff; even the most organic and democratic organisation has basic rules governing behaviour.



Hierarchical

Organic

Business

Microsoft
Shell
Tesco
Unilever

Traditional high street
Village fair
Sole traders

Government  

Absolute monarchy
Dictatorship

Anarchy
Liberal democracy

Church

Orthodox
Roman Catholic

House church
Simple church

Military

Regular army

Al Qaeda

Education

University
School

Life experience
Parent/child interaction

Medical

Government service  

Private care

Properties

Command based
Controlling
Formal
Obey
Leader decides
Top down structure

Do your best
Freeing
Individual decides
Informal
Organic

So always remember that there is not just one way of doing things. There are two extremes with a whole range of possibilities between them. If you are creating or running any kind of organisation or activity, be open minded and choose the approach that will best suit your objectives.

23 August 2010

THOUGHT - What's in a name?

I'll be honest with you - this is something that's been bugging me for a long, long time. Those of us who follow Jesus often refer to ourselves as 'Christians' or 'the Church', or in more specific cases we use the name of a particular organisation - 'I'm a member of the such-and-such church'.

An Escher print of endlessly connected fishThis troubles me because I really don't want to make any distinctions of this sort. We are all one in Christ, though we may have different gifts and abilities (Eph 4:1-7). We are one body and we should learn to see ourselves that way, not merely in terms of the Church Universal (although that is true and important) but in practical terms, in our daily lives and thinking.

The Bible recognises one church in different locations, it does not recognise different churches. Paul is emphatic on this point (1 Cor 1:12-14). The New Testament distinguishes church by province, city, and meeting place. We read of the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria, the church in Ephesus, the church that meets at the house of Priscilla and Aquila. The idea of distinguishing churches on the basis of leaders, doctrines or traditions is completely alien to the writers of the New Testament. In fact they always opposed any such move very strongly.

I am entirely happy to be known simply as someone who follows Jesus and is part of the church in Europe, the UK, England, the East of England, Cambridgeshire, St Neots, or Eaton Ford. I'm happy to be regarded as part of the church meeting in my house, or Jim's house, or Sean's house.

But there is a practical issue when a name is needed in, for example, a list. What I would prefer is to state that I'm a follower of Yahshua (Jesus) in St Neots. And if there's room, that might be acceptable but it will be confusing. So in a list like 'Eynesbury Methodist, Open Door, River Church, St Mary's Eaton Socon' what should I write?

Currently I use terms like 'organic church', 'house church', or 'simple church'. But these are not accurate or complete and they act to divide - which is the very thing I want to avoid! I'd like to write 'the church in St Neots' but that will not be understood.

Suggestions are welcome. Does anyone else worry about these things?

There doesn't seem to be a satisfactory answer. I don't want to be seen as set apart, I want to be seen as I see myself, part of the one body of Christ here in the town where I live. But there doesn't seem to be a word or simple phrase for that!

Perhaps it's better to avoid being listed and just get on with living as a follower of the King. The very existence of a list implies that the items on it can be distinguished in some way.

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