thanks so much for all the comments (none!) on my discussion of the book, the abundant community: awakening the power of families and neighborhoods by john mcknight and peter block. i can’t say that i blame you, though…i would not comment on this disjointed collection of random thoughts. in fact, i wouldn’t have read them.
but buckle your seats, passengers, i’m about to bring this baby in for a landing.
to review, mcknight and block make the point that our consumer culture has placed such a high priority on productivity and efficiency, that systems have become the rule. systems “seem to make the world safer and under control. In adopting system life, people choose to yield sovereignty in exchange for the promise of predictability.”
i would argue that the contemporary/attractional church model is a system (i.e.: one prominent church leader whose blog i read every day wrote, “Systems without vision will keep people busy. Vision without systems will keep people guessing.”). systems have no place in the new testament church and “cannot provide satisfaction in domains that require a unique and personal human solution.”
people lack connection–are emotionally empty–and that emptiness is killing us slowly from the inside.
mcknight and block contend that the answer to our collective loneliness is community. they describe a “competent community” as having three properties:
– a focus on the gifts of its members
– a commitment to nurture associational life
— the consistent offer of hospitality, the welcoming of strangers
these collective properties create the communal conditions for the emergence in families and neighborhoods of certain capacities:
– acceptance of fallibility
that all sounds absolutely biblical! the authors go on to explain more fully…
The system way is an ordering for the purpose of somebody other than the people producing it. The community way absolutely depends upon whatever is produced being what people want to produce. Community structure is based on desire; the system way is based on third-party interests and needs analysis.
and, finally, the much-delayed point…
god has used this collection of information, mashed together, to convict me mightily. i have no desire to change church methodology, but i have a compelling desire to change me. i confess that i have been trying for years to apply systems-thinking to the fellowship i planted. i didn’t realize it, and my motives were pure, but my attempts to bring structure to our “organization” were misguided. perhaps even unbiblical. following is the part of the book that was most eye-opening for me.
Self-chosen order does have its challenges. People who hear about self-organization say, “But what if people don’t want to do such and such?” The honest answer is that it will not get done. Then they say that someone has to do it, and they do it themselves (boy, am i guilty of that!). This is how an organic process works. No one claims that a community system is efficient.
Over and over again, we find with institutional people that they cannot abide the idea that what is going to get done is what people want to do. And some things are not going to get done. So what?
This is not an argument against structure and order, just about how they are produced. What we are talking about, is taking the path to community competence, is changing our relationship to order. It creates the minimum needed. In systems, the first thing we do is create more order.
i cannot tell you how many of my pastor friends “cannot abide the idea that what is going to get done is what people want to do.” i am certainly in that number. and until recently, i thought my god-ordained role was to call people to faithfulness. i thought my job was to create a smooth-running, efficient biblical community.
apparently, there is no such thing. certainly not in the book of acts.
so i am reformed. i have seen the light. i have been healed of my ocd. i’m not saying i am suddenly comfortable with “…some things are not going to get done. So what?“ but i am committed to “self-chosen order“–making room for my people to exercise their gifts according to their priorities and passions. i have always claimed that i seek to follow the direction of the holy spirit. well, maybe he will direct a little more if i direct a little less.
i will keep you updated. in the meantime, i would love to hear what you think about my conclusions.