Friday, 16 April 2010

Denial is not just a river in Egypt.

The last few days have been very quiet aound our part of West London. Suddenly thousands of people have become fans of a volcano beneath Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull, (ay-yah-FYAH'-plah-yer-kuh-duhl - apparently!). Let's hear it for lava that's what I say. But not all appreciate the quiet - some people I oevrheard on the bus today were saying that they found it all a bit too quiet and 'spooky'. They have got used to the having the equivalent of the M25 over their heads. Without it things are not normal and 'as they should be'.

This reminded me of the definition of 'culture' as ' the way we do things round here' usually expressed in terms of 'that's not the way we do things round here' or 'we've not done it like that before'. Leaders ignore culture at their peril and also the fact that it is the 'big issue' in terms of change and development. The way we do things round here is not just about the obvious things - work practices, traditions and customs but the less obvious and tangible ways such as attitudes, behavioural  and relational patterns.

I speak form personal experience as a leader who has had a measure of 'success' in helping organisations to change and move on, as well as experiencing the flip side of not having much apparent and immediately obvious success at all! I am not just speaking of church but also my experience in helping to shape the future development of a Higher Education institution in the West Country. Church, business, college or family - all have ways of 'doing things round here'.

Lessons learnt aplenty. Some contexts are ready for change and have enough of a critical mass of people to embrace some of the hard choices and hold on to a vision during the hard times. This doesn't mean that compromises aren't needed or time scales revised - after all we are dealing with people and the way they have done things sometimes for generations. But it is vital to hold onto the vision that will enable an organisation to be sustainable, grow and respond to the challenges of what are very fast- moving and culturally changing times. For churches the change of religious and social contexts are enormous and have far reaching implications - a bit of tweaking here and a new service there are simply not enough.

From the Church of Englands perspective I think there are two key challenges:

To shape leaders who deeply rooted in God in Jesus and understand the need to re-shape church culture to serve a developing Post Christian context and have been given training and vision to do this courageously, corporately and creatively. They will also need the support, mentoring and back up from those in 'management' and who provide resourcing at Diocesan level.

To look beyond 'Mixed Economy'. Although many agree with the concept of a  mixed economy church, as in the tradional alongside the emerging and fresh expressions, the truth is that this can only be sustained as a vision for a limited time. David Muir down in Exeter likens our situation to that of countries being oil based economies. Oil is a finite resouce so it is important we move into mixed economy (gas, electric etc etc) so that we are able to make the transiion away from it. If Christendom, as the big shaping narrative or 'the way we do things round here' is on the way out, then to keep assuring existing church communities that they will continue to have a parallel existence much as they are is to create a false hope. If Christendom continues to go the way it is most of them won't as they will find themselves ill-equipped to be resilient and sustainable. My experience is that leaders at Diocesan and National level tend not to see it this way and even deny this is happening. To resist the closure of unsustainable buildings for example is a case in point. Some cash strapped Dioceses, (as most are), are already cutting back on resources to further develop emerging and fresh expressions of church. Many congregations demonstrate an anxiety and sometimes anger which can be directed to leaders who try and develop a culture of responsiveness and flexibility.
Denial is not just a river in Egypt as they say and to live in a state of denial leads to leaders and deeply committed Christ Followers feeling despair and worn- out.

This is a very real issue for the church. Let's be planning now for Post mixed economy and shape leaders, structures and church communities in the way we do things - then.

Please let me have your thoughts about this.

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