“Go With The Slow” – Costco’s caption of their most recent The Costco Connection – intrigues me. Yes, many ads of products fill the inside, but the main focus in their Health section concerns subjects such as de-stressing, wellness, spiritual focus, being present, and mindful eating. These articles contradict what would be expected for a company that produces a net profit of $1.709 billion in 2012 and 19th on the 2014 Fortune 500. Could it be possible that a business, one that directly impacts over 71.2 million members (2013), would be more willing to lean into a destabilization than the church? Costco appears to recognize that disequilibrium – doing things different than before – brings about new possibilities and creativity. By encouraging people to actually slow down, Costco could be setting herself up for failure as people take time to reevaluate and assess their budgets. Or is she?
Reading Wheatley’s and Hjalmarson’s articles addressing liminality, chaos and order, leadership and more, I reasonate with the truths about the need for the church to move in a different direction than where we have been and are headed. As a church, we emulate businesses who seek to grow bigger and more efficient. We define good management by getting certain people not just in another seat, but “off the bus” (I appreciate Good to Great, but we have missed the point in some ways). Gaining new members and disciples becomes the big hairy audacious goal with a focus on numbers. Worship services need to excite and stimulate with new gadgetry and better bands. Yet, I can’t help but wonder, are we simply building on “habits and customs” that will actually “kill [us] in the new space [we are] enter[ing]” as Franklin and his Expedition did? (Alan Roxburg, “Derivatives with a Twist”).
Then I come back to Costco’s “Go With The Slow,” and realize what a profound message for the church. It’s not about doing something different for difference-sake, but rather, what would it take for the church to actually take time to listen? Discern? Wait? Intentionally choosing to stay in a liminal place, the church welcomes the threshold as a place that does not provide answers, but rather creates a posture of leaning into what the Holy Spirit might say. This could be the time to “rediscover God’s purposes in history.” (Len Hjalmarson, Broken Futures) By allowing the church to hold both oars – the past and the future – we have an opportunity in this identity-shaking time to humbly ask God to speak into the “spaces inbetween.” (Broken Futures)
About seven years ago, I left full time ministry in my church. A good church, she does the best that she can. But I no longer had the capacity to focus on building nicer offices, razzle-dazzling congregants with the best new idea, and more meetings that supplanted relationships. Mind you, I did not serve as the senior pastor, and I recognize there are concerns and pressures that I don’t understand. However, the time came to leave when I no longer had opportunities to meet with parishioners because I had to create another program. I took myself off the bus.
As a result of that decision and the 2008 financial crash, I fell headlong into a liminal place. That’s when I first understood what it means to wait. And wait. And wait. In fact, Sue Monk Kidd’s book When the Heart Waits became a source of comfort in finding someone who understood. She speaks to the struggle:
Back in autumn I had awakened to a growing darkness and cacophony, as if something in the depths were crying out…Orphaned voices. They seemed to speak for all the unlived parts of me, and they came with a force and dazzle that I couldn’t contain. They seemed to explode the boundaries of my existence. I know now that they were the clamor of a new self struggling to be born.
In many ways, the church cries out in the same way. She is struggling to be born again into a new space. But in order for that to happen, we need to let her cry out in the waiting. We need the time to listen to God, to each other, to ourselves.
Meg Wheatley offers wise words in her organizational dynamics work. She speaks language that makes sense to me when it comes to how an organizational leader can operate as a host and convenor of people. (Hjalmarson, Leadership in Chaordic Age) She became my hero when she made the choice to move towards chaos and uncertainty, rather than trying to create yet another system to make everything work in a controlled environment. But even more than her leadership and uncertainty research, she strikes me profoundly when she addresses listening:
I have learned that when we begin listening to each other, and when we talk about things that matter to us, the world begins to change. Human conversation is the most ancient and easiest way to cultivate the conditions of change — personal change, community, and organizational change. (http://www.margaretwheatley.com/articles/listeninghealing.html)
What would it take for the church to be about listening? Or as Dietrick Bonhoeffer, could we be Christians who “have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share?”