Sunday, August 15, 2010

Deliberate Revolutionaries

Life in the Kingdom of God is about living in revolt against the "principalities and powers of this world" that do not line up with God's ways. Greg Boyd identifies some of these principalities and powers in his book The Myth a Christian Religion. They include patterns of this world like individualism, nationalism, sexism, racism, etc. These are patterns that are ingrained into our thinking and being as most of us have been raised to breathe this air as if these patters are natural and necessary healthy breathing.

To be transformed by the renewing of our minds means that we are revolting against these patterns. We are revolutionaries, those who stand against the norm and offer an alternative pattern.

The question this: How do we revolt in a way that actually brings lasting, deep change that results in transformation of individuals and systems? Let me start by posing how I do not think it happens, however too many times we assume that it does bring change. Too often we turn to catchy sound bites, radical vision statements and calls to commitment. We establish structures to get people mobilized (i.e. house churches, small groups, organic structures, etc) and then we stand before them and motivate them to get involved. We depend upon innovation, motivation and information and expect people to quickly line up with the kingdom. I have observed two results of this approach:

Result #1: Surface change that lacks deep transformation. It gets people involved in the short run and it often looks like success because people are mobilized to accomplish certain tasks. For the most part this is what we hail as success in the church. We point to numbers of people involved to demonstrate how successful something is. Recently, I read a Tweet which pointed to the number of people who had served in short-term missions from a specific church. Is this a measure of transformation? Is this what it means to be a Christ follower? This Tweet revealed that is a benchmark for this specific church, but I don't see where such a benchmark actually lines up with deep change in our lives. It looks good on paper. It is measurable and reportable. It can get people excited about involvement but it only looks at surface change. The problem is that it waters down the revolution to program involvement. The rest of their lives might line up with the patterns of this world, but their church involvement looks revolutionary.

Result #2: Hurt that results from forced change. There is also another result that comes with radical visions and new structures designed to get people on board with the revolution. People get hurt because they are being forced to change instead of being led into embracing the change. They are told that this is THE new form for the revolution. They are fed information and logic about why this new form is the right form and then told to go do it. Many join in but their lives are too steeped in the patterns of this world for them to get what the revolution is all about. They go through the motions, many times undermining the experience of the revolution by their lack of passion for it.

But there is another way of generating a revolution. Let me call it "deliberate revolution." In reality this is an oxymoron because by definition, revolutions are radical and and traumatic. They depend upon a charismatic figure who fights to carry out the ideals of a vision and runs over whoever is in the way, all in the name of those ideals.

But the goal of a Kingdom revolution is a way of love. And to lead a revolution in the pattern in any other way than love will undermine the goal of love. Therefore, this revolution cannot be forced. It must be deliberate, which means that it must be generated in such a way that the people involved attain an understanding of what it means to be a revolutionary and then begin to own it themselves.

What we are called to do as God's people goes way beyond the development of a cohesive strategy to get people involved in our programs. The Kingdom calls for a revolution of our lives and simply adding a new structure, a clear vision statement or radical mantra has no power to instill this within our people. Instead, we must think deliberately. What exactly does this mean?

1. Instead of centering the revolution around charismatic hero who gears people up to enter the vision, we need to think in terms of a college of leaders who are working together to figure out the future. The benefits of this approach are numerous. First, it is the only way to come close to understanding where the people are so that we can meet them there and lead them into the revolution. Second, it is multiple voices are promoting the revolution. If there is only one voice, then people tend to rally around that person instead of embracing the message. Third, we have the benefit of multiple gifts and perspectives that are learning to work together. Fourth, those on this team are forced to lead by listening to one another, which is a pattern of life that should infiltrate the entire system of the church. This has impact upon the "senior pastor" model of church leadership. Having the "get-r-done" kind of leader who makes things happen can actually work against the kind of movement toward revolution that is deliberate. Yes such a leader might get things done, but people will only line up with the program and fail to embrace the way of revolution. People will rally around the individual leader rather than God.

2. Be patient. Deliberate revolutions develop more slowly because we have to wait upon a core group to "get it," which means that they get it with their lives not just with their mouths.

3. Identify the charismatic voice and take advantage of the ability to rally people around a key message. Use this momentum gained in the larger venues to move people toward participation in various ways that will help them embrace the revolution. We must be clear, large venues only help people mentally grasp the vision for revolution. They don't equip them in the life patterns that line up with the revolution. For the larger crowd, identify four or five central points to the revolution and bang those points like big drums. Repetition is crucial. Don't try to communicate everything about the revolution to the larger crowd. Keep it simple and broad based.

4. Use simple and multiple media for communicating the meaning of the revolution. Of course there are sermons, but we need to add to this, blogs, vlogs, booklets, forums, etc to get the nature of this revolution in understandable terms. Long complex arguments are essential at some levels, but for the sake of developing movement toward a revolution, pamphlets, newsletters, articles, youtube, blog posts and other ad hoc communication are essential. Bottom line, how do we boil down some of the crucial aspects of the vision outlined in The Myth of a Christian Religion or whatever visionary book of your choice into bite sized chunks so that the stocker at Wal-Mart or the overworked executive can understand and embrace the vision?

5. Measure success according to the terms of the "ways people live" and not just in terms of their involvement in programs and structures. While we should not shy away from programs and promoting them, our measuring stick should not be how great our programs are but instead we need to measure the ways that people are doing life and facilitate the Kingdom at those points.

6. Develop a clear and concrete process for helping people embrace the revolution, instead of developing a concrete program where people are expected to live out the revolution (i.e. house churches, organic small groups, missional groups, Wesley's 4-level structure, etc.). While we want to develop these structures in the future, we must first think about how we move people into them so that they embrace the life of the revolution. If we simply think in terms of structures, then people will embrace those structures without understanding the kind of life that makes those structures work.

Alan Roxburgh has been my change mentor. In his book Missional Map-Making, he outlines a four-step process that can inform our way forward. These are:

•Step 1: Assess how the environment has change in your context. At our church we use Judges 17 to help people process this point. We also have other venues for doing this step, including all of the ways we have to help people get connected. These venues will be used to help people understand the world in which we live and how the Kingdom of God stands in contrast to the ways of the world, i.e. Discover Jesus, Short-term groups, Semester groups and classes, Refuge, etc.

•Step 2: Focus on redeveloping a core identity. We are developing the Discover the Kingdom class and Relationships 101 class as essential ways to develop a core identity that fits what we are called to be as a church in our context.

•Step 3: Create a parallel culture. As we identify leaders in Discover the Kingdom we can begin to put this into practice.

•Step 4: Form partnerships with the surrounding neighborhoods and communities. This is the doing part and it is easy to jump strait to this point because the results seem tangible.

This process does not downplay doing. It simply provides a logic for moving people in healthy ways toward the doing so that it has lasting impact. In the short-term, we can begin doing this on an organizational level, as there are many ways that we are doing this over the next year. As we move through the 3 steps above, this will become more organic. Also as we get more people into step 4, it will become more clear how we develop our missional structures for the future.

In summary, when we think about a deliberate revolution, we are developing processes where we can discover together what our future looks like. When we think in normal terms of a revolution, we strategize structures and visions and promote them so that people will get involved with our ideas. We might very well know what kinds of structures will be developed in the future. However, if we want to create ownership, commitment, and a way of life that fits those structures we must think in terms of processes toward a new future and not just a structure to implement a vision.

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