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. 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.” 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. 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.” In Quinn’s observations, “large hierarchies are a natural seedbed for the emergence of a conservative culture.” 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.” 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. 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. 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.” 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.” 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.
 “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.
 Robert E. Quinn, The Deep Change Field Guide: A Personal Course to Discovering the Leader Within, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass), 2012, x.
 We just had a conversation this afternoon about the difference between compliance and engagement in the elementary innovation school we work with.
 Ibid., 6.
 Ibid., 32.
 Ibid., 9.
 Ibid., 18.
 Would love to discuss this more during our weekly chat.
 Ibid., 113.
 Ibid., 39.