January 4, 2016:
Ten Ways to Embrace Confusion in 2016
Our seven-year-old grandson, Ezra, thrives on routine. When he spent last week at our house, I had yogurt available for breakfast. Because it wasn’t the Go-Gurts he is accustomed to, Ezra refused to eat anything. Then I tried to offer him Cheerios, but it wasn’t the kind of Cheerios Ezra likes, so he wouldn’t eat them, either. Like many children, he was unwilling to try anything new.
Ezra is just like the church! We become so attached to the way we’ve always done things that even when statistics remind us that what we’ve always done is no longer working, we refuse to imagine a different future and accelerate our own decline.
As a new year begins, how will it be different in your church in 2016? How will you reach the hundreds or even thousands of people in your neighborhood who are just waiting to be invited into a discipleship that feeds body, mind and spirit? What’s holding you back?
Have you ever caught yourself saying things like, “God, if we can just get through this crazy time, the church will get back to normal. Once we get the new staff position filled … once the strategic plan is done … once the parking lot is repaved … once the new software is installed … once I get organized, things will settle down again.” Do things ever settle down? If they ever did, they don’t now. And they never will again.
The most important truth of 2016? There is no normal anymore. The goal of stability is not only unrealistic, it is no longer even achievable or even desirable. The change that is happening in today’s world is so fast that the church will only survive and thrive when we embrace the chaos through innovation and imagination.
Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric between 1981 and 2001, is quoted as saying, “If you’re not confused, you don’t know what’s going on.” So take heart, if you’re confused about our crazy, tumultuous times, you know what’s going on!
How can local churches make disciples and flourish in the midst of the speed and constant unpredictability of change in our world? Consider ten ways to embrace and transform the confusion in which most churches find themselves today.
- Remember what the church has to offer when interacting with the culture. We proclaim hope in the midst of despair; meaning in the midst of uncertainty; healing and wholeness in the midst of fear and brokenness; and reconciliation in the midst of racial, religious and political divisions.
- Create a spirit-led and non-anxious atmosphere where church members and friends can serve effectively and joyfully in a complex and chaotic environment.
- Adapt your ministries to the unique context in which you serve. Know your community, discover its hopes, dreams and challenges, and then initiate ministries that not only serve those needs but also invite others into relationship with Christ. There will never again be one-size-fits-all.
- Align programs, evangelism, outreach and mission with your cores values. Know who you are as a congregation and acknowledge your strengths. At the same time, do not be constrained by perceived limits. Encourage excellence in ministry to emerge from the gifts and passions of church members and friends.
- Don’t be afraid to take risks. Do your homework, then go for it! Reach beyond what you know, acknowledging that you may not always succeed. Recognize that all vital and growing churches try things that don’t work and that failure is a necessary stepping stone to success. Admit well-intentioned failures, recover quickly, shake the dust off your feet and risk again. The attempt to avoid failure at all costs often makes failure more likely.
- Create a culture of continuous learning, evaluation, innovation and art. Permission-giving is essential in order to encourage others to try new things. Analyze and learn from others without hampering the creative tension that stimulates imagination and propels congregations forward into bold action. In his book, Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation, says that his directors joke that only one mention of Star Wars is allowed at each meeting. He explains, “When film makers, industrial designers, software designers or people in any other creative profession merely cut up and reassemble what has come before, it gives the illusion of creativity, but it is craft without art. Craft is what we are expected to know; art is the unexpected use of our craft.”
- Have a “not know mind”. Korean Zen emphasizes having a beginner’s mind that admits confusion, is open to anything and is willing to move beyond what is already known to experiment with new things. The phrase used to describe this state is to have a “not know mind.” The “not know mind” is emotionally intelligent, vulnerable, non-reactive, and comfortable living with uncertainty. The most effective congregations today have “not know minds” and are continually growing and pushing the envelope of creativity and innovation.
- View differences as a gift to be tapped rather than as conflict to be avoided.
Intentionally seeking dialogue with those holding a variety of views inevitably strengthens organizations and sharpens focus.
- Seek collaboration. The old model of one leader at the top making all the decisions doesn’t cut it in today’s confusing and constantly changing world. Great spiritual leaders today elicit wisdom from many sources and welcome the gifts of all, knowing that the best ideas often come from the least expected sources. Leaders guide group vision-casting with confidence, have a generosity of spirit, offer gracious feedback, encourage thinking outside the box and are clear that no idea is too crazy to consider.
- Be humble, fearless, resilient and lead from your heart.
“If you’re not confused, you don’t know what’s going on.” In the midst of the constant nature of change in our world, one thing doesn’t change. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Yet even Jesus would do whatever it takes to engage our world by embodying a radical, suffering love that reaches out to all as neighbors.
Things probably won’t settle down in 2016. So, go ahead, create some confusion and change the world! And may the grace of God go with you.