Showing posts with label structure. Show all posts
Showing posts with label structure. Show all posts

13 June 2016

The City on the Hill

The old city on the hill - Approaching the end of his three and a half years of teaching and healing, Jesus told his disciples, 'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing'. (Matthew 23:37-39)

A city on a hill - Ostuni, Italy
Jesus means us to take these verses very seriously indeed. In Matthew's account they're sandwiched between some of the most severe criticism of the religion of the day and a terrifying promise of the destruction to come. The city of Jerusalem and the temple at its heart were pulled down in 70 AD and replaced by a Roman city. The people died in the assault or were thrown out; this is what Jesus predicts and describes.

Jesus is well aware that we, too, are hemmed in by religious traditions and habits on the one hand, and inflexible structures on the other. And in the same way, he wants to gather us together under his wings. But are we willing? If we are not, he will criticise our religious tradition and allow our structures to be destroyed in order to save us from our own error and foolishness. Let’s not mislead ourselves, religion and structure are central to much that we think and do.

The new city on the hill - This is the New Jerusalem, the bride of the Lamb, the church! In Revelation 21:2-3 we read, 'I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’ Revelation 21:9-11 tells us, 'I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.'

This new Jerusalem has no traditions and is not built of stone. We are the living stones it's constructed from! Jesus said, 'You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven'.

Sometimes we think in terms of our own, individual lights, and how they should not be hidden. It's not wrong to read the passage in that way, but surely what Jesus really has in mind is his people collectively, the church, his bride, the new city built on a hill - the city that 'cannot be hidden'. And this new city is not built on a foundation of traditions and human teaching and Sunday services. It's built on the foundation of Christ alone and it's driven by every breath he breathes, the wind of the Spirit of Christ.

The how – life in the city - So what do we get in place of tradition and structure? Church life is based on something far more flexible and adaptable, something much more organic.

Ephesians 4:11-16 reveals church life as Jesus intended it. 'Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.'

And here's the practical detail. 'To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.'  (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)

And yet more detail from 1 Corinthians 14:26. 'When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.'

This is the new city on the hill that shines its light all around (not hidden under a jar). This is the church, the new Jerusalem, light in a dark world, individuals all bringing a contribution, building and equipping one another. This is who we are, it’s what we need to be doing.

See also


19 November 2011

Taking a good look

Part 3 of a series - 'The valley of dry bones'
< Dry bones in the valley | Index | Speak to the bones >

Ezekiel has been brought into the middle of the valley and the Mighty One has a question for him. Ezekiel answers far more wisely than I would have done!

Scattered bones'He guided me back and forth amongst them and I saw a huge number of bones lying on the ground in the valley - very dry bones indeed. He asked me: "Son of man, is it possible for these bones to be alive?" I answered: "Yahweh Almighty, only you know".' (Ezekiel 37:2-3)

Take a really good look - So Ezekiel is there in the valley and Yahweh leads him about amongst the bones. This is not just a casual look, it's a really thorough examination of the situation. Notice how Ezekiel is guided back and forth, this is not 'Go and look and I'll wait here' on Yahweh's part. It's an intimate togetherness in which they both go, we can almost imagine Ezekiel as a child hand-in-hand with a parent.

I should warn you that the rest of this article might seem very gloomy. But please remember, this is a low point in a deep valley and things get better - much better!

For Ezekiel this is all about Israel in captivity under Babylon. For us it should also speak about the church in captivity under the thinking and dictates of the world. We can no more shake ourselves free from the influence of the world than Israel could have shaken herself free from Babylon. Yet we need to be free.

Because we are in the world it is very, very natural to apply processes like planning, teaching, organising and structuring, hierarchies, leadership, and Power Point. There is nothing wrong with these methods in themselves, but they do have the sneaky potential to replace an intimate walk with Papa day by day. Methods alone are death, Jesus alone is life. Where would you rather be? If you choose both, be aware there will be conflict and don't say I didn't warn you.

We can learn from Ezekiel's thorough examination of the bones. We really do need to be 'guided back and forth' amongst the remains of church. It's time to examine the situation very, very carefully and thoroughly. A casual glance is not going to be enough. Father's guidance is essential, not optional. The good news is that there are people being guided back and forth today. I am aware of some of them but I'm certain there are many more I'm not aware of. This is not something we initiate. It's something Father is initiating; guiding us to become aware of the situation.

Dry as a bone - Ezekiel sees that there are huge numbers of these bones. But he also notices that they are very dry indeed. This is significant too. These are not the remains of something that was recently alive. Think about the process of decay - the muscle and other soft tissue is the first to go, skin and hair takes much longer, sinew and cartilage require even longer, and to get to the stage where the bones are disarticulated and scattered and powder dry takes a very long time indeed.

This is true of the church too. Don't miss the point, I'm not saying that individual believers are dead or dry, this is about how we are fitted together and active together - church. What should be a mighty army is dead, dry and scattered; church has been in that state for a long, long time.

So here is Ezekiel arm in arm with the Great One, checking over the state of the remains. And Yahweh looks at Ezekiel and asks: 'Can these bones live?' Only a wise person would answer this correctly. Reason tells us dry, scattered bones cannot live - ever. They have already had their chance. But Ezekiel says: 'You tell me, Lord!'

If only we would stop talking to one another and begin listening to Father together instead. If only!

Death is in the world but life is in Christ. If careful inspection shows dry bones then we need to know that Jesus is our only hope. Every time we have come off the church rails it's because we've turned away from Christ and trusted instead in mission, or training, or... fill in the blanks. We do not need a new programme, we need a new vision of Christ!

When we examine the state of the church and how it needs to change, are we walking arm-in-arm with the King or are we going on our own, for our own ends, in our own wisdom and strength?

< Dry bones in the valley | Index | Speak to the bones >

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.)

21 August 2011

THOUGHT - The church is an army

The church is sometimes likened to an army. Armies require leaders, but they also require initiative from the troops.

Second World War German infantryWhen Germany decided to invade France during the Second World War, their mechanised forces and mobile infantry swept across the border and cleared major obstacles like the River Meuse very quickly. The French (and to some degree the British too) responded sluggishly and without flair. Because of this they lost the battle and northern France was quickly occupied.

The underlying reasons are interesting. They are relevant to church life, we can learn something useful from military history.

Organising an army - I've been reading 'The Battle of Britain' by James Holland. He explains that the French system didn't train the troops to use initiative. They were merely expected to obey orders. A plan would be created for the coming battle and orders were passed down the hierarchy. Everyone had detailed instructions to follow.

In contrast the German army gave people objectives and expected them to use whatever method they wished. A small group of infantry might be told to take out a bunker and would decide for themselves how to go about this task using whatever resources were available.

Both methods work well if everything goes to plan. But in battle things rarely go to plan! When it's necessary to respond to a changing situation the German approach works far better than the French system.

Organising the church - In the church, we should expect Jesus to guide us and provide us with objectives. But we should also understand that he expects us to use our initiative. He doesn't want to micromanage us, rather he wants us to become familiar with some guiding principles and use them to achieve the objectives he gives us. The guiding principles include such things as love, gentleness, grace, humility and patience. The Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Christ) will show us what needs to be done as and when we need to know. Sometimes his guidance will be very specific, but often he will expect us to achieve an end without giving us the specifics. He uses the two together as required.

For example, 'Make disciples', is a command but we have to work out how to achieve it. Sometimes he might tell us to speak to a particular person or share a particular story or do something practical or pray for healing. But in general we know we need to patiently love and pray people into the Kingdom.

How does this work out in your own experience?

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.

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