Postmodern Mission and Networks

We cannot talk about post-modern mission without talking about networks. This is one of those things, like authentic community, that it is essential to understand as we move forward together.

This is also one of the areas where the church is least prepared. But as Liz Weil opined, "Prepare to feel obsolete. It's the first step to moving ahead."

The old church exists in the forms it does because, to some extent at least, those forms made sense in the modern world. In the world that is coming those forms do not make sense, and anyone who clings to them will be fitting flat tires on the old bus. It is important, on the other hand, that rising leaders understand the new forms. For most of them it will be like a fish swimming in water. They were born in this new world and much of it is simply intuitive. (I worry a little for some young leaders who are being shaped by the modern church).

Networks partake of some of those most intriguing qualities of emergence. They are related to smart mobs, like the RESONATE network. Networks cannot really be built or designed, they can only be supported and resourced. They are not engineered from the top down, rather they rise like mushrooms, from the ground up. They can't be controlled or manipulated, since they are by nature de-centered. Networks will explicitly resist such attempts, since central control makes them into something other than networks. Consequently, those attempting to control them are going to be very frustrated. In these transitional times we will need some established leaders in place who understand these things, otherwise the transition is going to be very painful for many of the young and rising leaders.

Perhaps the single largest challenge is that networks are about belonging. What we measure becomes important. We measure things like numbers and giving because they are the easiest to quantify. Success is whoever has the largest budget and the largest attendance. But networks are successful if people connect. How do you measure belonging? Joel Myers writes,

"Spontaneity is difficult to measure, so many organizations do not measure it. And since they cannot measure it, it loses its importance. Yet people "count" the spontaneity in their lives all the time. They do not measure numerically, saying "I've had five spontaneous experiences today." Instead, they tell the story of the encounter:

+ "I met someone very interesting in the deli today." + "I had a great time at the concert. The crowd was really into it. We had such a good time." + "It was as if we had known each other all our lives."

"Stories are the measuring tools of spontaneity, of community, and of belonging. Organizationally, we can measure the spontaneous experiences of community by listening for the stories people share. Then it is our responsibility to tell and retell the stories to create an organizational climate of belonging." (The Search to Belong)

Networks will actually require us to rewrite what we thought we knew about leadership. Rosemany Neave writes that, "This is where networks as a structure come into their own. They reflect a commitment to connect rather than to control; to share information rather than to ration it; to disperse power rather than gather it into the center..." (Reimagining Church)

So.. how does one "build" a network? Margaret Wheatley, Peter Senge, Fritjof Capra, Clay Shirky.. these are the "gurus" of the new order. Wheatley writes that leaders will need to know how to support..

".. self-organizing responses. People do not need the intricate directions, time lines, plans, and organization charts that we thought we had to give them. These are not how people accomplish good work; they are what impede contributions. But people do need a lot from their leaders. They need information, access, resources, trust, and follow-through. Leaders are necessary to foster experimentation, to help create connections across the organization, to feed the system with rich information from multiple sources-all while helping everyone stay clear on what we agreed we wanted to accomplish and who we wanted to be." (A Simpler Way)

And Capra asks,

"How does one facilitate emergence? You facilitate emergence by creating a learning culture, by encouraging continual questioning and rewarding innovation. In other words, leadership means creating conditions, rather than giving directions." (The Hidden Connections)

Who within the church scene has the kind of knowledge we will need as we move forward? I would guess that the greatest knowledge of these things exists in two places in the west.. in the house church movement, the underground church in China, and in the parachurch movement.


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• © 2005 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on September 22, 2005