coverJoseph Myers earlier work, The Search to Belong, is possibly one of the must-reads for anyone interested in community building in the postmodern world. His second work struck me as less noteworthy, though still helpful.When Organic Community was released I did a quick look around the net and found that Jordon had already written a short reflection. He writes that, “Myers is describing a community centric vision of a church (or business) rather an a hierarchical centric generated vision of the church which demands conformity with the vision above all else.” That’s not a bad summation of the move from clergy and leader centered paradigms to organic and chaordic. Jordon summarizes with three more points..

1) I think this is a lot easier to do in new communities rather than old ones: churches do have certain expectations of their leaders (Pete Ward uses the illustration of prisoners and guards acting a certain way in prisons because that is what is expected of them by each other). For some reason, many cling to the idea that their pastor needs to be a visionary leader, perhaps to justify [that position].

2) True community and traditional churches are incompatible. Part of the problem is the idea of a pastoral calling being a career and also the view that church leaders are interchangeable parts that can be swapped in and out for the good of the community. In both ways, the commodification of those who are a part of the community destroys it and makes it not much different then any other profit driven company.

Simple insight, profoundly disturbing. I know this isn’t news to most of us, but it is sobering to recognize that paradigm shifts are the most fundamental.. and difficult.. kinds of shifts to induce. They threaten our very reason for existence, since they hit at elements of personal identity. That’s why this kind of change is usually strongly resisted, and those who attempt to induce it are often demonized.

I’m reminded also of an insight from The Tipping Point (or was it Clay Shirky?). Whoever.. they made the point that a large group is a different kind of organism than a small one .. it has its own rules, requirements, purposes..

Jordon continues with his fourth point..

  • As good as Joseph Myers book is (and it is excellent), it is a minority voice in a crowded market of people trying to sell the exact opposite of what Joe is writing. The leader/pastor has been so ingrained in how we see the church and we have spent so much time [building up those people], it is going to take a long time and a lot of discussion for the church to move away from it. Ironically, for the first bit, it may even take a strong leader to have the church to stop thinking in terms of hierarchical leadership and start thinking in terms of community (rather than just blather on about it).

This last comment provokes a lot of reactions in me. My first thought is this: “so, we have to become the enemy in order to induce change?” My second thought is that Jesus was extremely confrontative of certain kinds of behavior, particularly behavior linked to religious control.

But this latter point is the reason so many leaders leave rather than stay. They can no longer work within the system, no longer support its goals or methods, and they know that to change it will require head on confrontation. They know the pain and trauma that will bring. Rather than generate division, bitterness and a huge fight, they walk away. How does it go? It’s more fun to make babies than to raise the dead?

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to this question. In some cases at some times, the Lord may call us to enter such a battle. But generally, it’s better for things to die a natural death than for us to dig the grave and push people into it. Many churches have been reborn from the ashes at the gates of the cemetery. Brokenness roots humility, which creates openness to change. The seed falls into the ground, and something new springs up.

6 Comments on Organic community

  1. Len, I think the system will self-implode over the next 50 years. As you stated, pastors are rejecting their own systems because they are coming to the point where they realize it kills them. My own pastor graduated in a group of twelve friends 30 years ago. He’s the only one left, and from my perspective he’s not doing well either.

    Also, I got to have lunch with Joseph in New Mexico a couple of weeks ago. He’s working on a new book that seems like a barn burner.

  2. […] NextReformation » Organic community […]

  3. don says:

    Len … agreed, S2B rocked our world here on the island. identified and validated so much of what we were sensing, bit couldn’t quite articulate. helped us realize we weren’t (totally) nuts in winding down our small group ‘structure’ … when everyone else was madly scrambling to prop their up. joe gave us the term(inology) for community environmentalism … if you have community life or small group staff their role maybe that of creating spaces and places and environments where community can take seed, get rooted, grow and flourish,

    … when organic community came out it seemed to me to be more of a leadership book? myers identifying the values and shifts that a new breed of leaders will have, or already ( naturally, generationally? whatever ) have as they begin to lead different organizations in different ways for a different time? between you in this post, coop in his book review, and joesephrmyers in his books, you’ve pretty much nailed my 2007. i am tracking with a few guys who have chosen to fight through this, i just couldn’t. sure love watching the one that are though …

    … thanks again for articulating this, as usual!


  4. Tim Bailey says:

    So many nails hit on the head here. It is so difficult to pastor through created community. I think part of the problem is being more in love with the thought of community than people. I recorded a question/answer video for our community- a 120 year old church. It’s a little long and boring, but some of the questions address these issues. Getting some interesting feedback. (it’s on my blog)
    I think if we value intimacy, vulnerabilty and authenticity more than “community”, we can make it through. It doesn’t make us popular, but pastoring has never been about that, has it? Or is it just me? 🙂

  5. len says:

    Tim, Don, yes, I think it takes wisdom to know when .. or whether.. to enter the fight. I think there are at least three valid responses, and one needs to honestly assess one’s personal and collective resources.. and hear from the Lord.. before deciding which is right.

    1. walk away. It ain’t worth it
    2. Engage and forge a plan and process for transition for the whole community
    3. Build something new and separate while maintaining the essence of the old (essentially plant a church)

    For long established congregations I think 3 will be the most common road. btw Fresh and ReFresh shd be out any day now and there are some good stories around 2 and 3.

  6. […] Related: this post on Organic Community and reflections from Clay Shirky […]