DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Space Between

Written by: on June 3, 2015

I’ve never been a fan of the Oreo cookie. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the whole thing that I don’t like…I’m not that crazy. The cream part in the middle, that’s where you’ll find me. In fact when I was younger (hmmm, including yesterday) I used to remove the top cookie, eat the middle and either leave the wafers for someone else to eat or throw them away. For me, the good stuff is what happens in the space between the hard places of the top and bottom wafer.

oreo-twist-off1

Liminality is defined as a place in between. To some it’s a place of uncertainty and incompleteness. For others it’s a place of discovery and possibilities. Liminal space is a place of the no longer, the not yet, and the might be. It’s a fascinating place to find yourself; especially as it relates to the church.   Canadian Author and Pastor, Len Hjalmarson put it this way: “Churches are entering a nowhere land that has come into being in the turbulent waters of societal shift. We have become like travelers with maps that are outdated and that no longer describe the landscape. The sense that our maps no longer function increases our sense of lostness, as well as our anxiety about the future. “ (Broken Futures, p.2)

We love maps, GPS systems and tracking devices of all kinds. It’s comforting to know where we are in relationship to where we’ve been and more importantly to where we’re going. It also helps us to know where everyone else is as well. The challenge for leadership in churches during these messy or chaotic times of uncertainty will require a different set of tools. Helping people to navigate their cultural context can seem like an imposing task, unless of course we recognize the importance of using the resources that God has given to us as opposed to the way things have always been done. Hjalmarson refers to these resources as frameworks, therefore the role of leadership is to help people find meaning and purpose within them: “The meaning-making view assumes that people are naturally in motion, always doing something, and that they need, rather than motivation to act, frameworks within which their action makes sense.” (Leadership in a Chaordic Age, p.5)

Perhaps then one of the transitions we need to be unafraid to make is the transition from clean ministry to messy ministry, being unafraid to encounter, even welcome, healthy conflict which can used to filter through how our past contributes to our future. Conflict in these spaces in between need not be feared, rather embraced in as much as the clear purposes, are not sacrificed or compromised. A few observations about the transition from the clean, stream lined institutional view of the church to one that embraces the complexity of messiness:

  • A traditional model seeks to have very clean organized systematic and predictable way of doing things.
  • The challenge of leadership is to engage the life of the culture and thereby be opened up to messy ministry. It cannot be programmed, but guided to discover new expressions of our faith within the changing culture.
  • A clear understanding of grace should deepen our capacity to listen to and assist those caught in the messiness of life.
  • A clear understanding of truth should hasten our motivation, to direct people away from sinful characteristics, knowing that sin will need to be accounted for.
  • It allows for failure, rewards the courage to try…through failure we often find success…failure is messy.
  • Despite the mess, there should be a hopeful assurance that God can take the broken pieces of our lives and make something beautiful.

Canadian culture has not become more complicated. It has undoubtedly become more complex. However, leadership practices and organizational models, from a Christian perspective, have fallen behind the rate of change. The solutions that are possible in the liminal spaces of complex adaptive systems are important to examine, as they will be beneficial to understanding the key relationships that exist between the main components of the church: people.

People who are part of a congregation and people in the ever changing community. Understanding those relationships requires a preparedness to embrace new possibilities that may be both surprising and difficult. Yet they are necessary to experience the growth that has eroded away over recent decades. Leadership in the spaces between, where we’ve been (as a church) and where we’re going, will be necessary to allow people to enjoy the transformative excitement of new discovery, just like the middle of an Oreo cookie….Don’t get me started on the Double Stuff Oreo!!

About the Author

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Deve Persad

12 responses to “The Space Between”

  1. mm Julie Dodge says:

    Great post, Deve!

    But first, let me ask you, have you tried the Oreo S’mores? Vanilla wafer cookies with chocolate and marshmallow in between!

    As I read your post, I also recalled Hjalmarson’s discussion of the higher contextual culture of some Asian perspectives. I recalled the discussion about how the Asian students in a study focused more on the context of an object than the object, whereas western students focused on the object. In social work education, we measure specific competencies, one being the ability to adapt practice to shifting contexts. I wonder how this might play out if we in the church were more attentive to the context instead of the object? How can we as leaders help our members engage better in their context and re-chart our maps? Just a thought…

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Julie, your thoughts are always appreciated – except when it comes to Oreo Smores – got to say, that I’m a purest there, straight white icing for me!

      Hjalmarson’s example of Asian students provides an excellent lens, I think, for this discussion. As church leaders if we take time to understand the nuances of the context within which we function, then we will learn so much more about the ministry that serves a particular community’s needs and utilizing and empowers a community’s resources. Our church’s even within the same city should be diverse in function because of the differences of the community surrounding them. So many possibilities…

  2. Deve,

    Awesome words. Real, honest, spot on. Thanks.

    So often, and understandably so, we do not like messiness. But the reality is that messiness is who we are, particularly as a church. We are human, and part of the bundle of humanness is that we will mess up. We will not always get it right. In fact, we will often not get it right. To hear a pastor acknowledge these truths is refreshing.

    You say, “Perhaps then one of the transitions we need to be unafraid to make is the transition from clean ministry to messy ministry, being unafraid to encounter, even welcome, healthy conflict which can used to filter through how our past contributes to our future. Conflict in these spaces in between need not be feared, rather embraced in as much as the clear purposes, are not sacrificed or compromised.” I so agree with you. Conflict can bring deeper and better relationships. I have experienced this many times. People who are afraid of conflict are unrealistic. Put any two people together and there will, at times, be conflict. Yes, that even happens in churches. Thank you for being a realist, my friend. As I have said before, I would love to be a part of your church. Your parishioners are blessed to have you at the helm.

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Hey Professor, thanks so much for your insight on this. I was reading something just yesterday regarding how unprepared Christians are to handle conflict, which then makes them unable to interact with conflict in a healthy manner. In my own experience, I have been the benefactor of those who have encouraged and sometimes pushed me to engage conflict, stay in it and look for the God-given solutions to get through it. None of it is easy, and often those who seem to incite conflict but refuse to engage are often hiding hurts from the past. So thankful for the Spirit of God to help us in all of this, and for godly role models.

  3. Jill H-W says:

    Hi Deve – I really appreciate this post. I am also one of those who love inviting others into the liminal spaces: to open up to the moving of the Holy Spirit and let go of the older, “safer” ways. This is what I’ve spent much of the last 20 years or so doing, and I think it’s telling that my email signature includes this verse from Isaiah: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. I love encouraging people to have their eyes and ears open for that new way which the Lord is creating!

    But what about those who like the chocolate biscuits of the Oreo cookie? I would love to hear more of your thoughts (and Hjalmarson’s) on how to bring them with you into the uncomfortable, often scary messiness. I make it sound like they’re all the same, but really there are many varieties of chocolate biscuit-lovers and ways that they will oppose change.

    The other question I would love to hear more on is: what value do the biscuit-lovers bring to the liminal spaces, and if we are truly a body with hands and feet and eyes and ears (1 Cor. 12), then what contribution do the biscuit-lovers make? What about their gifts do the cream-lovers need? How do we welcome them and humbly learn from them as we lead them in liminal spaces? Sounds like it’s going to get even messier!

    … then there’s the reality that all this takes a lot of energy as well as spiritual maturity, and often it’s a very painful process which can be discouraging! No wonder some people choose to retreat to the chocolate biscuit!

    Thanks for raising these thoughts, and for inviting your reader to reconsider the possibilities of liminality.

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Jill, thanks so much for responding to this in this space!! It’s great to hear from you and I continue to pray for your health as I follow your blog.
      Thanks too for embracing the Oreo analogies. You raise some excellent questions.
      My own take, is that too often churches are planted because of dissatisfaction with the former ways (old biscuits). However, what if it were possible to take the best of the old biscuits, honour that, and show how it contributes to the new spaces we find ourselves in currently? The idea of mutual submission as a body of Christ is key to this, whether these are generational differences or music preferences or liturgical differences.
      This idea also relates to your second question as well. Particularly when we start considering the effects of having multicultural mixes of people within the same church family, all with their own ideas of a good biscuit. 🙂
      Definitely the biggest challenge is time – none of this is easy, but my premise (I’m expanding this thought for my dissertation this fall) is that it is worth the investment because it allows those in leadership and the community as a whole to evaluate, recognize and make changes according to the work of the Holy Spirit rather than predictable programming that almost seems generic from church to church.
      Your thoughts, based on your experience would always be welcome…keep well!

  4. Deve…
    Thinking about your post and Julie’s response in which she mentioned the study conducted on differences on objects/context, putting these two together might seem to be among the essentials we need to learn/relearn.

    The challenge might be that we might be “tasked” with learning principles and presence rather than methods and outcomes. How do we cultivate flexibility and adaptability?

    Thanks for your careful and thoughtful and thought provoking post.
    Grace…

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Carol, I would agree with your thought on raising the level of importance on principles and presence. In fact, part of my major focus for next year will be that presence is so important that it is shaped by the principles (I use the term virtues) that the Spirit of God works in our lives. Therefore, the idea of cultivating flexibility and adaptability are necessary and vital for our current and future leadership endeavours.

  5. Liz Linssen says:

    Hi Deve
    Love the illustration. Oreo cookies and theology – why not?
    I love where you write,
    – A clear understanding of grace should deepen our capacity to listen to and assist those caught in the messiness of life.
    – Despite the mess, there should be a hopeful assurance that God can take the broken pieces of our lives and make something beautiful.
    So often we forget that Jesus ministered in messy places. As He said, it’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Jesus came to bring peace and wholeness into confusion, to bring healing and freedom into sickness. Therefore it follows we should seek to minister in such places too. May God give us the strength and love we need to share His grace freely. Great post.

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Liz, the ministry of your church is a good example of messy ministry, based on what you’ve shared with us. Too often church leaders strive for programming that moves us away from the emerging work of God’s Spirit, in the lives of individual and the church as a whole. Embracing the mess leads us to new people and new places of discovering God at work…at least that’s my take…

  6. Hey Deve, good work here with the material this week. You stated that: “The solutions that are possible in the liminal spaces of complex adaptive systems are important to examine, as they will be beneficial to understanding the key relationships that exist between the main components of the church: people.” Though I agree with this statement in a theoretical/academic sense I struggle how to encourage practitioners to actually examine such solutions. What would be your suggestions for the “man in the middle” to actually do to examine solutions and how those solutions will effect people in his particular situation of liminal space as well as all of us leaders regarding the liminal space we currently find our western churches swimming in. I find we as academics/theorist have a great ability to define the problem but not the solutions.

    • mm Deve Persad says:

      Mitch, great question and in fact it is one of the key questions to which answers aren’t readily available. However, it becomes part of the “messy” solutions – where the people in the middle learn to recognize how God is working in and through them, then being affirmed and empowered to follow the work of the Spirit in their lives. Not easy, but as you say, it has to be accessible to everyone. I’ll chew on it some more, thanks for the push.

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