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

Staying Fluid

Written by: on April 11, 2013

Margaret Wheatley is an innovative thinker about change and organizations. Her book Leadership and the New Science draws on three aspects of current discoveries in science and applies them to leadership. She examines: quantum physics, self-organizing systems and chaos theory. What is remarkable is how right on she is. Change is happening at an increasing rate. Mechanical fixes don’t work because they are stuck in a Newtonian thinking. That thinking only looks at the parts of system change and not the whole. Change can be an opportunity for something fresh to begin.

I listened to a talk by Jamie Vollner on education. He said schools must change. The school system we have was designed back in Jefferson’s day. Since the 1970s our present system does not work for the type of students we have and the technological culture we live in. I resonated with the critiques he gets from some parents. They sound so much like what people in our churches are saying. They think things don’t need to change except to go back to the way things were. He calls us out of that thinking by simply stating, “We can’t go back.” A combination of nostalgia and amnesia clouds people’s ability to change. It was never as good as those who are backward looking state. It is so like Wheatley’s insight that a mechanical fix will not do. A rigid inflexible closed system is unlike what occurs in nature. We are to operate like a self-organizing system that adapts to its environment while remaining consistently true to who it is.


The strengths of this book is that it causes one to rethink how organizations can and will change. Church and school are a networks of interrelated relationships, each one affecting the other. Jamie’s thesis is that schools can no longer accomplish its mission without the support of the community and parents. Each affects the other. How schools succeed is how churches succeed. We see ourselves open to the environment in which we are embedded. We need to see the whole picture of what is happening and not just the parts. Then we can adapt our mission to the culture around us. Change is an opportunity not something to be feared. Schools cannot do it alone and neither can the church. We are interrelated to our community. The city is a system of which we are a part. What we cannot do is withdraw from the life of the community; our independence will kill our effectiveness.

Here are my take-a-ways from reflecting on both of these authors:

One: To change the church we must have a firm grasp on its mission.

Two: The church has to be open and adapt to its environment. Wheatley states that we can work with forces of change instead of trying to control them.

Three: We have to help the community know what we are about. No one has a clue to what happens in a church that has not been in one. And even if they did it is tainted by experiences and expectations of the past. We are to live out the mission of Jesus in the community in ways that are tangible and comprehensible.

Four: We communicate “what’s in it for them.” Now this can be translated to mean we capitulate to the consumer mentality of the seeker church model. Instead, I think, we shift from communicating to our city our expectations for them and communicate what we offer them. Salvation is a gift given that reorients people to a fresh way of life that is no longer self-serving but life-giving. Our witness is about how aligning our lives with the purpose of God is better than what we now have. As Walter Brueggemann said in a recent talk, “A society that acts out of sync with Yahweh cannot sustain itself.” We work the whole system of our city to help envision a way of life that benefits all people.

Walter Brueggemann, “Practicing Neighborhood Amid Empire”. http://vimeo.com/55755360. (Accessed April 3, 2013)

Jamie Vollmer, Schools Cannot Do It Alone. Santa Clara, Calif. :Enlightenment Press, 2010.

Jamie Vollner Public presentation in Tacoma, March 28th. Viewed April 9th Tacoma Cable Channel.

Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2006.

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