Wednesday, March 28, 2012

continuity and change

"The most effective leadership anchors change in the values, competencies and strategic orientations that should endure in the organization."

Ronald Heifetz, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership

Without change, we are stuck in the status quo. Without continuity, we are disoriented, in chaos. Without change, we live a stagnant pool of water. Without continuity, we are in permanent white water, without a paddle or a raft.

The need, clearly is for both continuity and change. In the gospels Jesus clearly values the tradition, but embodies innovation: "you have heard it said, but I say unto you." In 18th century England, John Wesley values the living tradition of Anglican theology and spiritual practice, while experimenting with a range of new missional initiatives, such as field preaching and class meetings.

In our own time there is a call for change, and the discernment is around the "values, competencies and strategic orientations that should endure". What should continuity look like in our own changing United Methodist reality? I would begin with our theology of grace, which is deep, rich and lifelong. I would continue with the conviction that we are a holiness tradition, but one that embraces personal and social holiness. We value the local congregation and want to attend to its vitality, while also sensing that it is healthiest when it is also connectional. And we rejoice in a personal experience of the gospel that occurs in a two thousand year history of faith among the followers of Jesus.

Continuity is rooted in our Wesleyan spiritual practices: searching the scriptures, generosity with the poor, constant communion, singing, testimony and small groups (see my A Way of Life in the World: Spiritual Practices for United Methodists). These "ordinary channels" of grace (to use John Wesley's phrase) put us in places where we are more likely to receive the gift of God's saving presence. Over time, spiritual practices take institutional forms, and so we move from class meetings and field preaching to camp meetings and sunday school classes, and then to seeker services and cell groups, and perhaps now to emergent worship and missional communities. The institutional forms change, and yes, the change occurs slowly, for we become invested in the institutions.

Our calling in the present moment, it seems, is to discern the underlying practices embedded in the institutional forms. We want to communicate the gospel outside the walls of the church; where does this happen now (in social media?). We want to share our resources with those who seek access to the basic necessities of life: food, shelter, education. In a missional context we are flexible and nimble, aware than institutions built for these very purposes in prior generations may no longer serve these constituencies today.

If United Methodism is to flourish in North America, it will be less institutional and more missional in the near future. We will sell many of our buildings, reset many of our financial baselines and restructure many of our institutions. We will clearly identify many of the initiatives that anchor us in passionate mission----I would include Africa University and Imagine No Malaria, United Methodist Committee on Relief and Re-Think Church among these, you might add others. We might ask the Upper Room to teach spiritual practices to a new generation. We might make the resources of our theological schools available to the world free, through open source learning; M.I.T. has pioneered in this way). And we might initiate an intervention with young adults, calling them to service, creating a path that leads to a graduate degree in our denominational schools, forming cohorts of like-minded men and women who will absorb the best of our tradition and lead us into this uncertain future.

We may look very different in five to fifteen years, but if the change is grounded in the values that have anchored us, in the competencies that reside among our best leaders, and in the strategic orientations that flow from who we are---God's people who think about, feel, live and share a gospel of grace---we will not only survive. We will flourish.

1 Comments:

Blogger city said...

nice idea.. thanks for sharing.

9:30 PM  

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