Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Messy Church and Deep Change

Written by: on May 10, 2018

Our church is pretty messy. Rather than staff-led, elder-led, denomination-led, etc. we attempt to navigate our life together in such a way that all lead/influence all. We resist hierarchy, control or coercion, and unilateral decision-making that affects everyone. Obviously, that means that we move slowly, as we mutually submit to one another.[1] And obviously, this way is very inefficient, so if one values efficiency, this isn’t the place to be. But if “bear one another’s burdens” relationships are what one seeks, this is a good place. (Although even with that, we most often want others to bear our burdens, but have a difficult time bearing others’, especially for the long haul).

How then, do we navigate change in a place like this? We’ve recently begun discussing the way our church is internally organized. On Monday night, a group of our ministry team leaders convened to begin answering the question How do we organize ourselves as Englewood Christian Church in today’s context to get the work done, and how do we incorporate as many people as possible?

As I prepared to facilitate this conversation, I was simultaneously reading Robert Quinn’s The Deep Change Field Guide. While any number of guides may have proven helpful at this moment, I appreciated the process Quinn encourages, to “change the world by teaching others how to change.”[2] One reason this church made the decision to attempt an approach of mutual submission to one another rather than a model of hierarchy is that, like Quinn, they recognized that intimidation or pressuring for change doesn’t work.[3] Those enacting decisions must also embrace and own them; there must be “buy-in.” Or, on the contrary, “coercion fatally wounds relationships over the long term.”[4] In Quinn’s observations, “large hierarchies are a natural seedbed for the emergence of a conservative culture.”[5] This conservatism isn’t political in the traditional sense, but rather one of resistance to transformation.

Entering our Monday meeting time, I challenged everyone to remember that in a collective learning and imagining process like this, we will need to trust each other. This is essential as we work towards changing the way we are organized to do our work together. Quinn says that “in the deep change process, we surrender control as it is normally understood…. We join with others in relationships of trust.”[6] I would claim that we as a church have already affirmed that value, and attempt to surrender control, not only for the purposes of deep change, but for the very maintenance of our life together.

Why do we need to change? As has been discussed in previous blog posts and by fellow writers, our context is not static, but always altering. In an environment of continual change, both organizations and organisms tend to become less efficient over time.[7] We need to continually evaluate our place and where we fit into the bigger context (organization) or pick up a new exercise and meal habit (organism) in order for the entity to remain alive. (One sign of death is the lack of movement… and stinky decay.)

I am intrigued, however, that even in this midst of trusting one another, we still wrestle with feeling threatened by change. We maintain the status quo (or rut), whether or not it is still relevant in a changing context, because it is comfortable and familiar. Stepping out of that current state is risky and we react with fear.[8] And yet… denying the need to build a new iteration of an entity (organization/organism) leads only to gradual death. Everything has a life cycle. And “unless work is done” to resist the normal process of slow death, “organizations move toward rigidity or chaos. To avoid slow death, an organization must move into a state of adaptive order.”[9] How do we adapt? We can start by affirming that we never “arrived” or “settled”, but are always in process.

I am an idealist at heart. One of my favorite words is imagine. So often this church has sought discernment to join in the work of the Holy Spirit in this particular place, and been offered some wild and crazy ideas. Who knew we’d be involved in housing—fixing homes, building multi-family apartments, property management? That’s not something a church of 150 should have said yes to. Who knew we’d be serving as a nationally recognized childcare and early learning center for children of diverse backgrounds in our neighborhood? Who knew we’d end up being a primary source of missional and Kingdom-related book reviews? This reminds me that deep change—jumping into the deep end—is “based on assumptions of possibility.”[10] As followers of Jesus joining ourselves into being a Spirit-filled organism, we continually learn to trust and submit to one another as we reshape the systems and structures we build to do the work God has given to us in this place. Our reimagining of how that work is shaped will continue to go through conversations and iterations; change will happen slowly, messy (though not chaotically), as this united organism pursues a vision for the common good of us and our neighbors.


[1] “We resist exercising authority over one another, recognizing God alone as ‘Father’ and Jesus as the one who has received ‘all authority in heaven and on earth.’ The imposition of hierarchical order violates our essential relationship with one another as simply brothers and sisters together. These convictions require an order founded on clear lines of responsibility, mutual submission and a shared vision of God’s mission into which we have been called.” Englewood Christian Church, “Themes”, unpublished document, Feb. 7, 2018.

[2] Robert E. Quinn, The Deep Change Field Guide: A Personal Course to Discovering the Leader Within, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass), 2012, x.

[3] We just had a conversation this afternoon about the difference between compliance and engagement in the elementary innovation school we work with.

[4] Ibid., 6.

[5] Ibid., 32.

[6] Ibid., 9.

[7] Ibid., 18.

[8] Would love to discuss this more during our weekly chat.

[9] Ibid., 113.

[10] Ibid., 39.

About the Author

Katy Drage Lines

In God’s good Kingdom, some minister like trees, long-standing, rooted in a community. They embody words of Wendell Berry, “stay years if you would know the genius of the place.” Others, however, are called to go. Katy is one of those pilgrims. A global nomad, Katy grew up as a fifth generation Colorado native, attended college & seminary and was ordained in Tennessee, married a guy from Pennsylvania, ministered for ten years in Kenya, worked as a children’s pastor in a small church in Kentucky, and served college students in a university library in Orange County, California. She recently moved to the heart of America, Indianapolis, and has joined the Englewood Christian Church community, serving with them as Pastor of Spiritual Formation. She & her husband Kip, have two delightful boys, a college junior and high school junior.

11 responses to “Messy Church and Deep Change”

  1. Jim Sabella says:

    What an interesting ministry environment, Katy. Thanks for showing us a bit of an inside view of the setting and how you function together as a team. You wrote that you “challenged everyone to remember that in a collective learning and imagining process like this, we will need to trust each other.” It reminded me of the book The Speed of Trust. Trust cannot be easily gained or achieved, but it takes one moment to lose it. However, almost everyone makes leadership mistakes and our quickness to go from trust to suspicion to out and out mistrust needs to be tempered in a team that works so closely together as does your team. I’m wondering how your team members handle the reality of our frailty and feet of clay and the human quickness to mistrust when hurt or “burned?” Thank, Katy.

    • Katy Drage Lines says:

      You ask such a good question, Jim!

      One way we work with our human frailty is to regularly commit to one another verbally with this covenant:
      “Recognizing we are the people of God, a tangible presence of Christ in this place, we commit ourselves to love God and one another by daily living out the reality of the kingdom in such ways as caring for one another, laying aside self-interest, giving and receiving admonition, giving and receiving counsel, and speaking truthfully with one another.”

      We regularly hurt each other and let each other down, but have committed to work through conflict and do the hard work of maintaining unity.

  2. Stu Cocanougher says:

    Katy, thank you for giving us a snapshot of our current church culture. I find the idea of hierarchy in local church ecclesiology fascinating. I am sure that there are challenges in the areas of casting vision, making difficult decisions, and making sure that every leader is heard, no matter their personality type.

    I am reminded of something that I often say about multiethnic churches vs. homogenous churches… “it is much easier to get things done in a church where everyone has the same culture.” In the same way, a hierarchical leadership structure is much easier, but that does not make it better.

    One thing I love about the church… there is not ONE WAY to operate. I look forward to hearing more about the ups and downs of shared leadership in the future.

    • Katy Drage Lines says:

      You make such a good point, Stu. Yes, multi-ethnic churches are not EASY! We Americans value efficiency and productivity so much that we lose sight of potentially more cherished values.

      And likewise, I too am fascinated by the variety of church structures. Some models work better in one context or another (our anarchical model wouldn’t work in Turkana, for instance). And some seem to better model the way of Jesus than others. But in the end, one particular way is never the ONLY way to order ourselves; that’s a delightful thing about our freedom in Christ.

  3. Lynda Gittens says:

    I appreciate your statement, “in this midst of trusting one another, we still wrestle with feeling threatened by change.”
    Trusting and feeling threatened -is found in many relationships. We trust each other as long as they remain the person we know, don’t challenge us, or even change the relationship. Change request us to become different than the person who we established ourselves to be.
    Thanks for that point

  4. Mary says:

    Katy, it seems that Quinn agrees with you, ““large hierarchies are a natural seedbed for the emergence of a conservative culture” (conservative meaning resists change, not necessarily political).
    I guess there’s lots of reasons. The people at the top like where they are, too many layers of management, too many old ideas about authority. I guess you can take your pick.
    I really appreciate what you are doing at your church. Thanks for including your church’s Theme – it’s clear and I think many churches could take a look at your example. Of course, it’s honest about the difficulty, but then doesn’t Paul warn us about all of the difficulties and give us ways to work through them so we can all treat each other with respect and mutuality as you point out?
    Thanks for sharing a great example of how to make this work!

    • Katy Drage Lines says:

      Thanks Mary. I’ll add that our modal is very frustrating. For someone serving as part of the pastoral staff, there are many times where I can easily just do something on my own (trust me, I want to), but am reminded to step back and incorporate others into the process, which slows things down and potentially complicates things. But in the long run, I don’t want that something we do to be “mine” but “ours.”

  5. Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    So true Katy: “I challenged everyone to remember that in a collective learning and imagining process like this, we will need to trust each other.” Trust is essential in building teamwork and an organization. One thing I find many church leaders often doing is not allowing time for trust to build and be fostered with relationships and they just “demand” people trust each other with their deepest fears, sacred beliefs and concerns. It reminds me of a concept in Safe People by Cloud and Townsend where they promote the concept that trust is always earned, never demanded. When trust is demanded, this becomes a problem in relationships and builds the antithesis to trust and secure relationships. Insecurity and mistrust infiltrate the connections and bonding does not securely take place. This I think is evidenced by some of the pushback our group has given when we are pushed to disclose in our papers or work before trust has had adequate time to develop. How do you earn trust with your team?

    • Katy Drage Lines says:

      Good question, Jenn. We were talking about just that during our Conversation time today after worship. We work to build trust by making sure all (or nearly all) meetings are open to anyone in the church, by being transparent (including financially), by regularly having formal and informal conversations. And so much of it goes back to choosing mutual deference over self-interest (our worship and discussion was focused on Philippians 2 today, which seems fitting).

  6. Kristin Hamilton says:

    Katy, I once made the comment in a church board meeting that messy usually had better results than efficient. Let’s just say that did not go over well. I envy your situation, not only for the courage and imagination displayed by your church, but for the ability to trust each other. That is a unique and beautiful thing.

  7. Katy,
    Lots of great stuff, as always. I particularly liked that you pulled out this: “change the world by teaching others how to change.”
    I think a lot of times we focus so much on a plan or system, when – as Quinn points out so clearly – things don’t change unless the people are changing and growing.

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