Saturday, November 7, 2009

Live Changes and Become the Model

Most of us would probably view ourselves as teachable and trainable; that we have not become set in our ways, practices, and ideas of interpreting and expressing our faith. That we remain open to the mid course correction opportunities that come our way.

In reality however, making a change is difficult. Remaining teachable throughout life is a challenge. It takes a lot of humility and courage. As we mature, we're supposed to know more right? Or at least have people thinking that about us.

Not everyone wants to take the leap into a mid course change that often feels like free fall from the cliff of status quo.

The simple, organic, and missional Christian walk is filled with opportunities for mid course corrections, and the free fall is real. It can be pretty unnerving and unsettling.
The good news is that God provides not only the parachute but knows exactly where to place our landing. On His target, if we trust Him to do so.

When I teach a motorcycle riding class, I do a "demo" before each lesson. We model for our students what we would like them to learn and then practice it for a while on the riding range. Many people come to our classes with previous riding experience and they have developed some techniques that at best are okay, but hinder them from riding more skillfully and effectively. At worst they are harmful and even dangerous for them. The value of having a demo for these riders is more than just instructional, as it is for the new riding students. For the more experienced riders it means they have to make a conscious, and often dramatic change in how they think, ride and maneuver the motorcycle. For some, they can't make the change and continue on doing as they have always done. For the new students however, no mid course corrections are needed. They have an advantage. They don't have to change, they just learn.

I don't see much of a difference in the paradigm shifting going on within the Body of Christ at this juncture. Doing things "as we have always done them" is being challenged, and the rules for what church is or isn't, are being explored. New "demos" are displayed before us, and we are all in a learning curve of change. Some can make the mid course corrections, and others cannot.

We are in a teachable moment in history. A time where change is in the wind.

The Kingdom is being discussed outside of seminary by folks without theology degrees and they are doing these discussions in their homes, work places, coffee shops, bars and all sorts of unorthodox settings. People are actually reading their own bibles for instruction rather than just listening to an hour of teaching once a week. Those who have not been "full time paid ministers" are finding out they too are called to serve the King in full time, 24/7 obedience and availability, and they are challenging the notion that there is sacred work and then there is secular work. The whole Army is being called into action, rather than the few, and the momentum forward is evident.

Not too unlike when Jesus Himself walked the earth. The ultimate teaching moment! Another time where change was in the wind.

He was after all; "just Joseph's son". Those He called to join Him in this radical change were fishermen, tax collectors, women and nobodies! He had church on mountains, in boats, at wells and in homes. He did such unorthodox things like spit in dirt and smear it in blind eyes, forgive a woman caught in adultery, share the Kingdom with prostitutes and tax collectors, healing on the Sabbath and breaking the sacred rules on a regular basis. It was like He carried a big banner that proclaimed; "I came to bring change and bring it more abundantly"!

Those who watched and learned from the "demos" of Jesus and made the midcourse corrections, prospered in Kingdom terms. Those who didn't, remained stagnant in their institution. White washed tombs, blind leading the blind.

Ivan Illich, was an Austrian philosopher critical of contemporary institutions like education, medicine and economic development. He spoke about something called counterproductivity; which is the concept that describes a phenomenon that when an institution reaches a critical point and forms a monopoly, without knowing it, they begin to impede their own performance.

This is what happened to Israel. They started out with the very Words of God, handwritten on stone tablets with His own Hand. And there was more! A great book written of the love and commitment of a God who desired relationship with those He created.
Remember the Tabernacle? The very Presence of God hanging out with His people! Wow, the first God in a Box! But that was His box of making...not the one we put Him into. There is a big difference. Jesus came to us again in a box of human form.

Pretty quickly in time, the words of love and fatherly instruction became institutionalized rules, formats, and all about performance. Systems, professionalism and elitism replaced intimacy, simplicity, dependency and the value of each life in Kingdom realities. Jesus saw Israel as sheep without a shepherd, harassed and downtrodden.

We have our own form of institutionalized counterproductivity today.

In the book of Matthew, 18:3-4, Jesus says; "Truly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven".

Children are teachable. They accept their dependency. They make the corrections needed when confronted with the instruction.
My motorcycle students that are new to riding, have the openness and humility to take the instruction and learn. Some of my more experienced riders also humble themselves and make the corrections in how they ride and maneuver the motorcycle.

What about us? Are we teachable, trainable and humble enough to make any mid course corrections that the Holy Spirit is leading us into? Can we become and stay as little children and experience all of the Kingdom as we live out this simple, organic and missional life? Can we jump into the unknown, trusting our free fall to the One who knows where to land us?

One of my favorite quotes from Ivan Illich is where he says; "We can only live changes; we cannot think our way to humanity. Every one of us, every group, must become the model of that which we desire to create."

"O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; Nor do I involve myself in great matters, Or in things too difficult for me. Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, My soul is like a weaned child within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forever." Ps 131


  1. The ability to navigate mid course corrections is directly related to the motivation to succeed in it. How acute is our awareness of the need to learn the new things necessary to go forward? If we are comfortable in the established paths the motivation to change will not be there.

    Illich offered a concept called "conviviality" as an alternative to the deadening counterproductivity of institutions.

    "I believe that a desirable future depends on our deliberately choosing a life of action over a life of consumption, on our engendering a lifestyle which will enable us to be spontaneous, independent, yet related to each other, rather than maintaining a lifestyle which only allows to make and unmake, produce and consume - a style of life which is merely a way station on the road to the depletion and pollution of the environment. The future depends more upon our choice of institutions which support a life of action than on our developing new ideologies and technologies. (Illich 1973a: 57)

    Relating this concept to the church we can see that institutional churches create lifestyles of consumption of the churches offerings. So we get a worship service, a teaching, a prayer, a mission, but we don't have relationships and lifestyles of growth and community. We are still isolated individuals each consuming the churches output, but not making the body of Christ a living, dynamic manifestation of Christ himself. Size makes a difference here. You can't be intimately involved in hundreds or thousands of peoples lives. But size matters to institutions because they get stronger by growth.

    How can the organic church movement resist the cultural drive toward growth, the valuing of size and effect, and maintain the conviviality of small groups of relating, caring, loving, living people? Will the movement undo itself? Will the desire for effectiveness and mass acceptance push towards new ways of measuring success? Will numbers start to matter?

    Thoughts from a distant observer!

  2. Great thoughts from you; "distant observer"! Thank you! (You are far smarter than I, and I'd love to hear more from you! Will I have to wait for you to comment on my blog again?)

    I too have been concerned that there is a emerging preoccupation in the Organic Church Movement with credibility, numbers and mainstreaming. We start with revolution and all too quickly move to conformity. The praise of men seems too huge a carrot to ignore for our fragile egos.
    Numbers equate with not only success in many minds, but also validity. Quality is passing from our vernacular in the church, as it is with our consumed goods. These are evidences of our worldliness, in my opinion. Many have taken themselves out of the Traditional church and into the Organic, but have brought the same thinking with them!
    I think we need to have more discussions in the movement about what is "effectiveness" and "success" and what Jesus said and exampled about it. The only way to resist the cultural drive, as you say, is by keeping our guide the Word, and keeping each other sharpened in it!

    Keep your thoughts coming my way....