Showing posts with label simplicity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label simplicity. Show all posts

16 February 2016

Shoals and flocks, church works like this

Jesus often used biological systems to illustrate the kingdom of heaven - yeast, seeds, fruit, trees, weeds. He didn't say so much about church, only in Matthew's gospel is the Greek word 'ekklesia' used, and in Matthew 16:18 he tells us that he will build his church. What can we learn about church from living systems?

Swarming robots
Swarming robots
Everything else about the church is found, not in the gospels, but in the remainder of the New Testament. It's worth noting though, that Jesus did teach his disciples to love, respect and serve one another. He pointed out that if he, their master and teacher, served them, so should they serve one another (John 13:12-17). And he made it very clear that they were not to rule over one another like the Gentiles did (Matthew 20:25-28, Mark 10:42-45).

So then, how are leading and following supposed to work in the church? Peter Farmer posted recently and pointed out that new forms of organisation might be like the flocking of birds or the shoaling of fish. If he is right (and I believe he is) then the normal ideas of leader and follower don't make much sense. Tell me, where in a flock of birds or a shoal of fish will you find the leader? One possible answer might be 'the one at the front', but this doesn't work. You don't have to watch a flock or a shoal for very long to see constant changing of position. There is not one identifiable leader. There is a great deal of coming and going, twisting and turning, and the flock or shoal as a whole seems to move purposefully - but how?

Studies of flocks, shoals and herds, swarms of bees and gnats, and foraging ants all show the same thing. Each individual is making its own choices of speed and direction independently of the flock. The individuals respond to certain cues, tending to keep the same distance from their neighbours and heading in more or less the same direction. There may be other cues; bees communicate direction and distance by special movements, ants leave trails of pheromones.

Simple robots (virtual or physical) can be programmed to do much the same. Give them just a few very simple rules and they will form swarms and move together.

In church life, we too follow some very simple rules. Here are some examples, perhaps you can think of more. (Leave a comment below if you can.)

  • We focus on Jesus and do our best to follow him
  • We pay attention to the promptings of the Holy Spirit
  • We meet one another often
  • We encourage one another
  • We love one another
  • We pay attention the gifts we see in one another
  • We ask one another for help when we need it
  • We pray
  • We share food together
  • We show the world that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Taking these together and integrating them, I suggest we can see Jesus at the centre, discipleship, outreach, APEST leadership, an organic and living church, and an exciting journey together. If this sounds familiar - it should! For more, check out Jesus, Disciple, Mission, Church (JDMC). Notice the light touch of the APEST form of leading one another. We are all gifted and there are times for each one to contribute something that the others need to hear, see, understand or do.

I have a strong sense that as we keep these simple rules we will find we are living and moving in unison. Like the birds, fish and other animals mentioned above, we make constant adjustments to our course, but nobody commands us (other than the Spirit of Christ).

Not only do we not need leaders in the normal sense of that word, they will rather quickly take us way off track. If you think that is not the case just look at church history. If you like, look also at the history of Israel in the Old Testament. Open your eyes, see what human leadership has done over and over again. Church is a shoal in many ways and the right course is a course of togetherness, guided by those very simple rules.

Peter Farmer uses some interesting words as he considers a murmuration (flock) of starlings. These are trust, humility, unity and diversity. Do you recognise these in the list of simple rules above? He adds that the murmuration is highly adaptive, flexible, intuitive, constantly changing, everyone plays an important part and it's characterised by flow. All of these are attributes we would like to see in church life. Do you see them in the traditional denominations? Do you see them fully anywhere? Is there a sense of direction here.

How can we rethink human leadership to set the church free to flow and turn as it is intended to do? Christ's body should surely be nimble, athletic, fit and healthy. She should be adaptive, flexible, intuitive, constantly changing, everyone playing a part, and flowing.

I believe we face an important choice. Will we continue to control ourselves to a standstill? Or will we let go of all that holds us back and go with the flow of the Holy Spirit, living moment by moment by the simplest of rules? In the end, they really distill down to love.

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.

26 November 2011

A pattern of blessing

Part 4 of a series - 'The Grace Outpouring'
< Unexpected visitors | Index | A rather difficult guest >

Another couple arrives at Ffald-y-Brenin and they, too, are blessed. A rhythm of blessing is established as people arrive daily. Roy and Daphne pray for this to continue - and it does.

Ffald-y-Brenin and the hills beyondLast time, Roy explained how a passing couple felt compelled to visit Ffald-y-Brenin and ask about the presence and purpose of the centre. After a tour they were powerfully touched by the Almighty's presence. In this fourth part we learn what happened next.
Being a somewhat strange, fallible creature I didn't connect their visit with my earlier prayer. So God sent someone else to my door to help me join up the spiritual dots. The next day another knock on the door was followed by the same enquiring words: 'Hello, could you tell us what this place is and what goes on here?'

At last, as I went through the social pleasantries, it was dawning on me: this was God's response to my prayer. That became clearer the more we talked. They had no Christian faith and didn't seem very interested in God. They had sensed something and were simply curious.

While we may like to think that spiritual breakthrough will be surrounded by stirring worship and heartfelt preaching, we now began to observe a pattern which involved the simple hospitality of welcome, cups of tea, scenic tours and moments, and then a few minutes - or sometimes hours - of profound encounter with the Holy Spirit. Our latest couple were open to the idea of a prayer of blessing when they reached the chapel, so I mentioned our tradition. This time the Holy Spirit came with even more manifest power and they were weeping profusely. But still it seemed right to slip away and leave them to hear from God.

Later, as we prayed together with our ever-changing community, we said to God, 'Lord, we like what you're doing, and we bless what you're doing. Lord, would you please do more of it?' And he did. For a period of time, each day, we would pray and say, 'Lord, would you please send someone else?' And he would. Many people came up the drive.*

The repeat of the previous day's events enabled Roy to understand that this was indeed an answer to prayer. It was no longer an isolated event, there was a pattern. It's always easier to see a pattern. It's much to Roy's credit that two events were enough; many times I think we are far slower and have to experience something three or four times or more before we 'get' it.

There are some powerful take away messages for us. Notice that worship and preaching were not required, just simple hospitality. I'd suggest that underlying this was a willingness to take people as they are, to accept them.

Being welcomed and accepted opens hearts and minds. It eliminates suspicion and reduces anxiety. It enables people to be open and straightforward and relaxed: all too often we underestimate the value of simple hospitality. If we confront people with formality they feel the need to conform, to behave 'properly' in an unfamiliar environment. Roy and Daphne learned this very quickly; they touched people's lives simply and Father was then able to touch those same lives profoundly.

Consider the fruit of the Spirit described by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23 - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, and self control. If we have that fruit in our lives, and allow it to inform and direct our interaction with others, we will be able to touch people's live in the same way that Roy and Daphne do.

We can't change people, only Jesus can do that. But one way of introducing people to Jesus is to demonstrate his nature. Felicity Dale makes the same point in a different way. We need to stop trying to do things and learn to let the Spirit of Christ do things in us and through us. He's been telling us this for a long time. Check this post from eight years ago 'His work, not ours'. Take special note of the first and last paragraphs.

Read a brief review (includes several ways to buy a copy of the book).

*Copyright 2008 Roy Godwin, Dave Roberts. The Grace Outpouring published by David C Cook. Publisher permission required to reproduce. All rights reserved.

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