Archive for February, 2013

The Corps of Discovery

February 18, 2013

On January 26, 2013, the Rev. Dr. Tod Bolsinger led a workshop for the Presbytery of San Diego Leadership Connection Day on Leading Adaptive Change in a Changing World. He began by talking about the amazing journey of Lewis and Clark, who gathered a team together (The Corps of Discovery), to leave the east coast, and find a water passageway that would take them all the way to the Pacific Ocean. August 12, 1805 was the fateful day when Lewis and Clark realized that everything they knew about their world was wrong. It was on that day, that they realized that there really was no waterway to the Pacific. They realized that the Rocky Mountains were nothing like the Appalachian Mountains they were used to. The Appalachians were more like hills. The Rockies were so much bigger and so much more challenging than anything they had imagined before.

Lewis and Clark thought they could canoe all the way to the Pacific Ocean. But, what do you do when you realize there is no water passageway? How do you adapt and adjust and figure out how to canoe the mountains? Their savior turned out to be a Native American woman, Sacajewa, who didn’t speak English, and whom was nursing a child. The “experts” (Lewis and Clark) needed help. They realized they were in uncharted territory. Neil Armstrong knew more about the moon when he stepped foot on it for the first time than Lewis and Clark knew about the Rocky Mountains. We have not been prepared for the future. We have not been prepared for the present. So, what do we do?

At the moment of crisis, we do not rise to the occasion, we default to our training. In the church, what do we default to? We most often default to programs (old tricks), preaching (talk longer and more forcefully), and personal touch (try harder). But, what happens when none of these defaults work anymore? We have systemic problems with no clear answers.

How do we know when we are dealing with an adaptive challenge? An adaptive challenge is usually identified in the following five ways:
• We have had a cycle of failure
• We have had a flight to authority
• We have had a chorus of complaints
• It is the same old fight, and
• It is the result of yesterday’s success.

We need to figure out what kind of challenge we are facing and then shift the system to discover new strategies for addressing that challenge. This is the job of ruling elders on session. This is discernment work. What is our mission? What stuff do we need for our mission? What would be different if being missional was our central organizing principle? When we have technical competence and good relationships (trust) then we can address our adaptive challenges.

In a book called Change or Die, the author wrote about numbers of people with heart problems. They had been told by their doctors that they had to change something about their life or they would die. In a study of these people, they discovered that 90% of the people chose to die. For them, the change was too hard. They couldn’t do it. Only 10% chose to change. Half of the people who attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are still drinking. Stopping bad habits is not that easy. So, how do people change?

The book describes three ways people don’t change and three ways people do change. We have learned that people don’t change out of Fear, Facts, or Force. Scaring people might change them for the short term, but it quickly fades away. Facts are interesting but often don’t lead to changed behaviors. And you can’t force someone to change. Change can happen through Relating (a new community of friendship and support), Repeating (developing new practices and new habits), and Reframing (new ways of thinking). These three ways of changing are actually very Christian and are concepts we find in the scriptures.

Adaptive leadership is hard. Adaptive leadership always involves conflict and requires trust to get through it. Adaptive leadership clarifies our competing values, and forces us to decide which direction we are going to go. Adaptive leadership cannot happen alone. Like Lewis and Clark, we need to build our own Corps of Discovery for today. We need to assemble a team of people, with a variety of gifts, a variety of perspectives, and a variety of insights. If we work together, we can begin to make progress on some of the most difficult problems facing us. We can glorify God, serve Christ in a rapidly changing world, and follow the Holy Spirit to discover new pathways into the future, even when we realize there is no waterway to the Pacific Ocean.

Internal Injuries

February 10, 2013

On January 26, 2013, the Rev. Dr. Joe Small led a workshop at the Presbytery of San Diego Leadership Connection Day on “Internal Injuries: Living in a morally divided denomination”. He talked about the democratic captivity of the church. We are being held captive by the mistaken notion that we can solve moral problems through a democratic process of voting where the majority rules. This has not worked and it will not work. Both conservatives and liberals are upset with how “stuck” we have become.

Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, once wrote an essay on The Power of the Powerless. He wrote about how people survived in Czechoslavakia under the former Soviet Union. Havel asked, how can people live the truth where the lie is taken to be the way things are? He told the story of the Green Grocer. All of the stores in the country were required to place a sign in their window each day with the communist slogan “Workers of the World Unite”. This was part of the lie that everyone was required to “buy in to”. But, one day, the green grocer decided he was not going to put the sign up in his window. He takes it down and throws it away. He doesn’t want to live in that lie anymore. If he was the only one who did that, probably not much would have happened. And if he did nothing else, probably not much would have happened. But, what if he talked to others about what he had done? And what if the others would also take down their signs and they all decided to live differently? If they would, they would begin to create a second culture. They would live the truth within the lie, and slowly, over time, the culture would begin to change.

The suggestion of the workshop was that we need to do something similar in the Presbyterian Church (USA). The current system is not faithful, effective, or healthy. What if we said like the news anchor on the old movie “Network”: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” We live as a different culture within the church. We do it for the whole. We don’t have to live this way anymore, so we don’t. We are called to bear witness to the truth in season and out of season. We are called to preach the gospel all the time.

Our current denominational system has believed that unity equals uniformity. This is not so. Unity actually gathers some very diverse elements into a whole. We have assumed institutional unity and tried to enforce diversity. However, the Bible assumes diversity and urges us towards unity. Differences can lead to divisions, but they don’t have to.

One of the questions for us today is whether we can live with people who share very different opinions on moral issues. Theoretically, yes, this is possible. And sometimes we experience where this actually happens. But, if we attempt to compel people to accept our moral positions, or force them to act against their own moral convictions, then we are wrong.

Our General Assembly week, that meets once every two years, actually increases the divisions in the church rather than decreasing them. About a month before the Assembly, the committee chairpersons and resource people gather for about three and a half days of training. Only about two hours of that time is spent discussing the actual substance and content of the issues coming before the Assembly. All of the rest of the time is spent on process and Robert’s Rules of Order. There is no prayerful discernment and no communal study of scripture. There is no sense of needing to wait and listen for issues that may take us decades to decide. The sexuality debates that we have been having for the last forty years are changing positions the church has taken for the last 2000 years. These positions won’t realistically change that fast. Rather than forcing decisions prematurely, we need to focus on our relationships and our life together, discerning the mind of Christ together. We keep trying to solve these differences with polity solutions, but they don’t have polity solutions. They have theological solutions, and we need to spend more time in theological conversation together to arrive at those conclusions.

We mistakenly think that when a vote is taken at the General Assembly, that God has spoken, and that we know God’s will for the church on that matter. But, the problem is that out of 1.9 million members, we have about 700 people voting, which is less than one percent of our membership. Some of our moral issues get decided on votes of 52% – 48%. Do we really think that such a close division among so few voting members lets us know the will of God on that matter? These 700 commissioners are asked to vote on over 300 issues in a week’s time with strangers they have only known for a few days. At the congregational and presbytery level, we spend more time in prayer, Bible study, discussion, and building relationships, before attempting to make decisions on such important matters. This does not happen much at the General Assembly. Much of the debate time is also taken up with process motions and Robert’s Rules, and very little time is given to the actual substance of the matter. Commissioners are given only three minutes, or two minutes, or one minute to make their case. So, there is no time to delve into the depths of the issues and really consider their ramifications. People “back home” mistakenly assume that the Assembly has spent a lot of time reviewing the substance of the issues themselves. This is often not true. This is part of our democratic captivity. This kind of practice results in deepening the divisions within the denomination, rather than lessening them.

Some of our members wonder how the Assembly can take certain positions which seem to contradict the teachings of the scriptures. One answer is that we really don’t know the scriptures that well. The Office of Theology and Worship conducted the same survey twice – ten years apart. In answering the survey, a majority of Presbyterians said that they receive the only Bible they get during the week during the weekly worship service. This means that most of our members are not reading and studying the Bible at all. The only thing they know about the Bible is what they hear in worship. That is inadequate. In the survey, a majority of pastors said that the only time they spend in the scriptures is for the preparation of sermons, teachings, and Bible studies. This means that they are not reading it for their own spiritual growth and development.

We have major moral divisions in the church. We are causing internal injuries to ourselves. At some point, we have to start living like the Green Grocer. We have to start living differently. We have to stop participating in an unhealthy system. We have to create a new kind of culture. Regardless of what others might think, say, or do, we must begin to live differently. Because we won’t think our way into a new kind of living, we must live our way into a new kind of thinking.

Can We Just Be a Healthy Dog?

February 3, 2013

At a recent meeting we held to discuss issues going on in our denomination, one of our pastors stated that we are part of a disintegrating denomination. One person said that we are part of a dysfunctional denomination. And one pastor said that he would like our presbytery to just be a healthy dog. It raised the question: regardless of what the other “dogs” are doing, can we just be a healthy dog?

My wife is a dog lover. I have friends who are dog lovers. We have a family member who works at an animal shelter, rescuing sick, injured, or unwanted dogs. We have another family member that adopted a Katrina dog – a dog that had been traumatized by Hurricane Katrina and is now experiencing the love and stability of a healthy home. If you want your dog to be healthy, what do you do?

You would be concerned about their physical health. You would feed them healthy food in healthy portions. You would take them to the vet to get their shots. You would bathe them and keep them clean. You would keep them away from dogs with lice, fleas, and tics. You would keep them away from vicious dogs that have been trained to attack. You would provide a healthy environment. You would create a home and a culture that is caring, loving, honest, and respectful. You would act consistently so that the dog would know what to expect. You would invite your friends to bring their healthy dogs over to your house. You would let them play together in your yard. You would put a fence around your yard, so your dogs wouldn’t run out into the street and get hit by a car, and to keep out the unhealthy animals that might infect your dogs. You would seek to minimize or eliminate unhealthy exposure. You would seek to both protect and strengthen your dog, knowing that they can move out into a challenging world if they have a healthy environment to come back home to.

As we have tried to cultivate a “healthy dog” presbytery, we have focused on being spiritual, missional, and relational. In 2003, we adopted the Essential Tenets and Reformed Distinctives as a statement of faith, carrying on the orthodox, Biblical, Reformed faith handed down to us by our forebears. We believe an emphasis on spiritual formation, spiritual practices, and spiritual disciplines is important for a healthy community. In 2008, we adopted a statement of our missional vision, saying that we were no longer primarily a governing body, that we are now primarily a relational community, and that we hope to someday become primarily a mission agency. God by nature is a sending God and we are His sent people. We are seeking to discover what God is up in our world and discern where Christ is inviting us to participate in the work of the Holy Spirit. We know that all effective ministry is relational. It is always about relationships. Without relationships, ministry does not happen. God, in His very nature, is a relational God. This is the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are in relationship with one another, and invite us into a covenant relationship with God through His only Son Jesus Christ, and into a covenant relationship with a community of Jesus’ followers.

One of our goals as presbytery is to cultivate a safe, inspiring, encouraging, healthy culture where our members and churches can thrive. In Tim Keller’s book Every Good Endeavor, he says that “in the Reformed view, the purpose of work is to create a culture that honors God and enables people to thrive.” That is what we would like to do as a presbytery. We would like to be a culture that honors God and enables people to thrive. We would like to be a healthy dog.

How can your congregation be a healthy dog, addressing your adaptive challenges, and moving boldly into the mission of God that the Holy Spirit is leading you in to? How can our presbytery be a healthy dog, coming alongside of you, to assist in your missional development? What relationships beyond our presbytery are keeping us from being a healthy dog? What relationships are holding us back in our missional development? What relationships can help us grow as a healthy dog? What is God’s will for us? How can we be both faithful and fruitful?

I think we have a pretty clear understanding of what our challenges are. We know what the questions are. But, we don’t know what the answers are yet. We want to take the next six months to do a lot of listening, have a lot of conversations, and do a lot of praying. We want to hear from you. In our world of rapid, discontinuous change, how can we be faithful to God’s call on our lives to be His missional people? When others might bring us down, and when systems might hold us back, how can we just be a healthy dog?