Change is Inevitable, Transition is Intentional-1: Involving Modernist Disciples in Postmodern Ministries Without Letting Them Dominate

Key Thought: As emerging paradigm advocates, we may believe that the mega-church and other modernist ministry models have low or no validity/value for the future of the Kingdom. However, we can’t just toss out modernist-mindset disciples because their approaches to organizational design no longer fit. What will we do if and when they want to join us in holistic, intercultural approaches to ministry?

Part of the challenge we all face in this era of transition is to create a post-modernist-friendly structure that refuses to exclude the linear thinkers, and in fact actively includes them – but also refuses to let them take over and reassert their now “old wineskin” structures into a new paradigm missional strategy. Otherwise, they’ll kill the “new wineskin,” just as sure as the Ridley Scott’s Alien spawn do when they burst forth from their host.

So – a key question for us to answer is, “How do we involve modernist-minded disciples in postmodern-culture ministries, but in ways that create constructive symbiosis among us instead of destructive parasitism?

Modernist Ministry Methods on the “Terminal Illness Watch List”

In 1989, I attended a major training on HIV/AIDS ministry. One of the “empathy exercises” we did involved a scenario where we put ourselves into the shoes of a person with a terminal illness. It went something like this:

You have just finished a visit to your doctor, who broke the news that you have an incurable illness. You will live only 6 months. There are no existing or experimental treatments for this disease. Also, from this point forward you will gradually get weaker day by day – less able to function physically or take care of yourself – until the day you die.

What are your initial feelings at hearing this news? What are your thoughts? What do you plan to do first? Who do you want to share this news with first, why that person, and what will you tell him/her? How will you cope with this debilitating disease, its progressive decline, and its inevitable outcome?

As a student of generational dynamics, cultural changes, and strategic foresight (futurist studies), I believe there are particular paradigm systems that probably will not survive the radical changes we are experiencing in paradigms and cultures. In their current form they won’t fit in the world as it is emerging. Bluntly put, they’ve got a terminal illness. They may try to transition and adjust to the new realities, but if they do happen to survive, they still may end up not being sustainable for the long run.

I may be dead wrong, but I have become increasingly convinced that mega-churches won’t be among the modernist ministry methods that will survive this global shift – or even that can survive it. And, frankly, I’m not sure this ministry approach should survive it. I expressed some of this in comments on a post by Dr. Fitch about mega-church versus missional and on my recent post about Present Validity Doesn’t Ensure Future Value. But the questions of how biblically faithful of a system this is and what unhealthy consequences it typically creates, will have to remain as an exploration for some other time. Meanwhile, my missional ministry acquaintance JR Rozko picked up on a comment I made at Dr. Fitch’s post. He was intrigued by the question of including modernist disciples in postmodern ministries. I’ll address that more below, but first, back to the issue of the survival of the mega-church paradigm system.

I’d suggest there are too many internal factors that make it too hard for a mega-church to transition to more “postmodern-friendly” forms and formats without completely altering its entire current strategy and structure. If it makes such radical revisions, it can’t be from the same old ways of processing information, values, or worldview. In short, it will no longer be a mega-model. Also, any number of external factors could potentially sink the mega-ship quickly. Such as skyrocketing costs for gasoline that makes commuting more expensive, increased costs for power from non-renewable sources, changes in U.S. tax law to remove tax breaks for churches/religious non-profits. (Of course, it could always switch to solely virtual venues, but the same list of questions about that being church come into play that have been asked since the beginnings of TV evangelists and preachers who claimed the equivalent of being an online “church.”) Anyway, as with the Mûmakil in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, a few well-placed sword hacks on the gargantuan’s weak spots, or the downing of its driver, and the mega-elephant trips, falls, and crushes itself under its own weight.

There are many other modernist-conforming methodologies and models besides mega-church. Their leaders, too, must decide what to do in light of the shift from a linear, analytic paradigm to a non-linear, holistic one. Stick with the systems they have? Attempt a church merger or re-plant? Move toward organizational transition?

Change, Transition, and Critical Decisions

“Change is inevitable, but transition is intentional.” I’ve been saying this for a number of years now. Yet I find that transition remains a difficult task for many. It often causes fear, angst, and grief. I saw this firsthand when I spent 5 years attempting to help a conventional-hierarchical-modernist leader transition a church. The paradigm shift failed spectacularly, as the pastor eventually resisted and ultimately snapped back to his personal default of modernist-CEO-control in the fifth year. Then he basically used the next 3 years to roll back most of the attempts at shifts in personal perspectives and organizational shifts.

But we have to face up to transition if we expect our churches and ministries to survive organizationally, become sustainable culturally, and (most important of all) remain faithful biblically. Mere reorganization for a holistic paradigm, plus minor ongoing adjustments on our tweaks, won’t resolve the whole situation in the long run. We’ll need radical re-contextualization. If it’s true that the linear-analytic (“pro-modernist”) demographic is in decline, it will not end with the Boomers. (That’s because the underlying epistemology is partially based in God’s providential design of peoples’ learning styles and native language, not just in their generation or culture or country of origin.)

Meanwhile, congregations and ministry teams that already speak the heart language of the emerging, post-Enlightenment world are not exempt from responding to these macro-changes. They likewise have decisions to make. In light of the continuation of the demographic of pro-modernist learning styles among conscientious disciples, one of their main ones is this:

How do we best incorporate linear, analytic, modernistic, theory-precedes-application disciples in ways that offer genuine participation but still reject the refilling of our new wineskins with their old wine or their pastiche of old patches onto our new wineskins?

This may require significant transitions in their ways of function and teamwork. And that won’t necessarily be easy, even when these more holistic, interconnective organism-organizations already have the postmodern cultural “home court advantage.”

Integrating Intercultural Teams

I suspect that holistic-oriented disciples will have better results in facilitating this kind of integration of culturally complex teams than modernists did. That’s because the new paradigm already sees things in terms of a more comprehensive set of elements, which are interconnected into an interdependent system. Vitality comes from organic inclusion and working through the dynamics of individual strength-based differences, not from the old convention of putting people into organizational roles where they have sort of universal job descriptions that frequently don’t fit reality.

This isn’t all theoretical. I’ve personally observed this dynamic at work in multiple events and social innovation enterprises created by Matryoshka Haus. There, catalyzers (non-linear thinkers) work in tandem with project managers (linear thinkers). Their consistency in doing this is, I believe, part of why they have successful impact in the present and the organic-organizational DNA for long-term suitability, sensitivity, survivability, and sustainability.

I’ve also seen similar dynamics demonstrated in the secular realm of reality TV design programs. However, these episodes usually provide us a negative example to learn from. The lack of developing an organizing theme (communal/global thinking) at the outset causes the diversity of voices (individual/analytic thinking) to overwhelm any chance of coherence for the design project at hand, or for completion with excellence of all the tasks required of “successful” project.

Anyway, if we model our organizational strategies, structures, and teams on the realities of multiple learning styles, I think we’ll have greater success catalyzing intercultural teams out of people from multiple cultural backgrounds. I’ve written about this in several futuristguy pages and tutorials, in addition to the posts just mentioned on Matryoshka Haus and design programs. I’d suggest studying the additional tutorials in this order:

1. Learning Styles – learning style factors that create various information processing approaches: analysis, synthesis, fusion, paradox, and systems integration.

2. Transformational Teamwork that translates learning style realities into ways of integrating teams.

3. Interpolators – bicultural, multicultural, and intercultural people who can best serve as “bridgers” and facilitators in groups that consist of a mixture of learning styles, cultures, generations, and other characteristics that typically cause conflict. This is because interpolators’ personal background and providential giftings have given them reasons to overcome conflict and integrate polar opposites in creative and constructive ways.

To me, the key thing is that linear/analytic-minded people – “modernists” – can still participate and be producers in churches and ministries based in emerging “postmodern” paradigms. However, they just cannot expect to fit into their same old comfortable, conventional modernist roles like “vision-caster” and envisioning, because the new paradigm is about “vision-carriers” and embodying. It’ll be a challenge for modernists to stretch and transition to the new realities of their no longer being the dominant force in our culture, and for postmodernists to stretch and transition to their now being in the ascendant paradigm.

It will take both parties to work out what it means to work within the new paradigm … so the Body as a whole can shine. May the Spirit of Christ give us the will to do this, and the empowerment to persevere with one another in that process!