3 Opal Connection Zone [2012]

  • The Opal Connection Zone ~ Core Elements List of 30 Concepts and 15 Skills
  • The Opal Connection Zone ~ Building the Big Picture
  • Humanity in The Opal Zone: Introducing Eight Human Universals That Frame Our Stories
  • Embracing Humanity: Key Tools and Skills
  • Individuality in The Opal Zone: Introducing Formation, Integration, and Maturation
  • Embracing Individuality: Key Tools and Skills
  • Community in The Opal Zone: Introducing Two Concept Clusters that Affect Our Connecting
  • Embracing Community: Key Tools and Skills
  • Organizationality in The Opal Zone: Introducing Three Concept Clusters that Affect Our Ministry Systems
  • Embracing Organizationality: Key Tools and Skills
  • Introduction to Culturology, Ecology, and Futurology Skills
  • Culturology in The Opal Zone: Introducing How Processes and People Alter Our Stories
  • Embracing Culturology: Key Tools and Skills
  • Ecology in The Opal Zone: Introducing Viability, Reproducibility, and Flexibility
  • Embracing Ecology: Key Tools and Skills
  • Futurology in The Opal Zone: Introducing Strategic Foresight for a Constructive Kingdom Trajectory
  • Embracing Futurology: Key Tools and Skills

The Opal Connection Zone –

Core Elements List of 30 Concepts and 15 Skills

This page introduces the concepts and practical skills that are interwoven into the final Opal Design Systems curriculum. Although the concept categories and skills listed here will appear in the curriculum, they will show up in integrated ways with other elements – not in the order shown below.

Humanity in The Opal Zone

1. Human life – material plus immaterial, made alive by God’s breath

2. Gender

3. Sexuality

4. Generations

5. Tribes

6. Race

7. Nations

8. Civilizations – larger scale influence by empires, religions, philosophies, and paradigms

Individuality in The Opal Zone

9. Learning and Creativity Styles

10. Spiritual Formation Systems

11. Lifespan Development

12. Faith Development

13. Opal Integration at the Personal Level

Community in The Opal Zone

14. Community and “Divine Dominoes”

15. Community and Leadership

Organizationality in The Opal Zone

16. Healthy versus Toxic Ministry Systems

17. Change versus Transition

18. Opal Integration at the Congregational Level

Introduction to Culturology, Ecology, and Futurology Skills

Culturology in The Opal Zone

19. Basics of Cultural Field Work

20. Basic Questions of Culture

21. Basic Kinds of Kingdom Cultural Workers

Ecology in The Opal Zone

22. Viability / Survival

23. Reproducibility / Extension

24. Flexibility / Adjustment

Futurology in The Opal Zone

25. Plausible, Possible, and Preferable Futures

26. Trend-Tracking: Fads, Short-Term Trends, and Drivers of Change

27. Non-Linear Extrapolation

28. Scenario Writing

29. Pushing versus Pulling Into the Future

30. Constructive versus Destructive Forms of Collaboration

Embracing The Opal Connection Zone: Key Tools and Skills

Skill #1. Humanity, Polarity, Complementarity, and Parity

Skill #2. Humanity and Respectful Engagement

Skill #3. Individuality and Life-Dominating Problems

Skill #4. Individuality, “One Anothers,” “Each Others,” and Fruit of the Spirit

Skill #5. Community and Theodicy

Skill #6. Community and Redemptive Purpose

Skill #7. Organizationality and Communal Discernment

Skill #8. Organizationality and Ministry Supervision

Skill #9. Culturology and Change Processes

Skill #10. Culturology and Change Agents

Skill #11. Ecology and Organics/Mechanics/Organizationals

Skill #12. Ecology, Fractals, and Scalars

Skill #13. Futurology: Spiritual Reverse Engineering Our Trajectories to Kingdom Culture

Skill #14. Futurology: Practice Sessions in Charting a Course

Skill #15. Futurology and The 100-Year Plan: Creating a Guidebook – Not a Blueprint – for Missional Next Generations

The Opal Connection Zone –

Building the Big Picture

In this curriculum, we’ll explore seven areas that contribute to building an intercultural Opal Connection Zone that moves toward Kingdom Culture. Well look at from three to eight topics in each area, along with two or three practical skills that naturally arise from each area. The seven areas are:

  • Humanity – General aspects of being image-bearers of God, how they shape us both to individuals and cultures. They include gender, sexuality, generations, tribes, race, nations, and civilizations.
  • Individuality – Specific aspects of individual being (like learning styles and creativity) and how we grow (spiritual formation, maturity).
  • Community – What brings us together as groups and communities, and how do we keep from splitting apart over difficulties and differences.
  • Organizationality – Our leadership systems, whether our ways of organizing lead to healthy or toxic impact, and ways to look at the processes of change.
  • Culturology – How cultures come together, change, and transfer their legacies to next generations. Ways of looking at cultures, and six kinds of cultural workers in Kingdom enterprises.
  • Ecology – Our relationship with the earth. Organic models for a diverse range of Kingdom enterprises that are viable, reproducible, and sustainable. Toxic clean-up when organizations go awry.
  • Futurology – Core skills of strategic foresight and keeping on a constructive Kingdom trajectory as individuals, communities, and cultures.

Maybe it would help to think of our Kingdom enterprise (church, ministry, or agency) as the opal, and these seven aspects as individual patches of color flashes in the opal. It sort of makes sense to have seven areas, to correspond with the colors in the spectrum. I still recall them from back in high school chemistry, where our very fun teacher, Mr. Peter B. Weitz, used the memorable acronym for them: ROY G. BIV. (Cool how they spelled out a name, using the right order of their positions in the spectrum: red – orange – yellow – green – blue – indigo – violet.) Don’t know that I’ll color code everything from here on out, but who knows … perhaps that would help at least some people, depending on their learning style configuration!

All seven of these colors/areas show up in opals, in random arrays that are unique to each stone. So, too, the unique combinations of all seven shape our personal stories and our communal stories, and how they interconnect. All together, I think we’ll find that they send this cluster of messages:

  • Who we are affects all we attempt or do. (Humanity and Individuality)
  • Where we root in or integrate ourselves in community affects our relationships and growth. (Community and Organizationality)
  • How we connect things and ideas affects who connects with us. (Culturology and Ecology)
  • Where we are going affects our present and our presence. (Futurology)

How do these seven areas fit with the truth that we are created as “ikons” – image-bearers – of God’s image? At last … let’s find out!

Humanity in The Opal Zone:

Introducing Eight Human Universals That Frame Our Stories

I would suggest there are eight universal factors that set up the general story framework for each people group or culture, and that we need to take these into consideration when we look at the specific storyline that God is creating in each individual in that group or culture.

These eight elements are:

  1. Human life – material plus immaterial, made alive by God’s breath
  2. Gender
  3. Sexuality
  4. Generations
  5. Tribes
  6. Race
  7. Nations
  8. Civilizations – larger scale influence by empires, religions, philosophies, and paradigms

We’ll focus in on each of these in due course, and especially look at how they affect our stories today in the post-Christendom West. Sometimes I might cluster some of the eight concepts in the same post. Also, occasionally I’ll post some examples or more detailed resources I’ve produced, in case you want extra reading on a topic.

I see these eight universals as layers in the “onion of humanity,” with life at the innermost core, moving toward civilizations as the outer peel. As with an onion, the outer layers are more likely to wither and change over time, as nations rise and fall and disappear, and – as we are now experiencing – the paradigms of civilizations like Western Christendom can ascend or fade. The inner layers are more likely to be stable, but that doesn’t always make them fully secure from harm. How often when cooking, I’ve found an onion where the center went rotten, and that even affected a few more layers out.

The order of these elements is important, which is partly why I numbered them instead of just putting them in a bullet list. I see them unfolding in Scripture in this order, and I think that’s significant. We are, first of all, told in Genesis that God made us human. Then we’re given the more detailed account of humanity being formed into male and female. With gender comes sexuality, and with Cain, Abel, and Seth come generations. Eventually, there are family-based tribes, especially in the aftermath of the flood, these become races with Noah, his three sons, and their wives. In the aftermath of Babel, people are dispersed in language-based tribes and with migration, these become nations. And, over time, clusters of tribal-racial-nations form around the influence of civilizations, empires, and dynasties.

I also see this as significant in terms of the spiritual warfare storyline given to us in Scripture. It seems Satan and his forces attack us at any and every one of these eight layers. And, I’d suggest, the closer to the core their attacks, the deeper the damage seems to go. (More on this in another Key Tool and Skill discussion, but as an example, someone who has severe personal identity problems – a core humanity issue – often also has gender identity and sexuality issues.)

Embracing Humanity: Key Tools and Skills

Skill #1. Humanity, Polarity, Complementarity, and Parity

The basic idea behind this tool is that three interwoven concepts apply to each of the eight human universals:

  • Polarity – each “layer” has God-ordained differences within it. For instance, the gender layer includes male and female, and the brain physiology of men and women differs.
  • Complementarity – those providential differences are designed to mesh so that, together, people with opposites can accomplish more than they could alone. Opposites need not be in opposition to one another.  For instance, when both genders work together, each can find ways to use their gender-based brain strengths to cover the other’s challenges.
  • Parity – God created the differences among people, each distinctive shows something about His being or character, and He values them equally. For instance, sometimes the Scriptures talk about God’s love for people with “masculine” or fatherly images, sometimes with “feminine” or motherly images.

So what? I think this gives us a good basic framework for evaluating whether a particular theological view is balanced or not. For instance, some views of women in ministry might emphasize polarity between men and women, downplay or deny the complementarity of genders, and act in ways that deny parity by valuing only the ministry of men. Other views of women in ministry downplay polarity, as if there are no essential differences other than physical; and emphasize complementarity – or perhaps even deny it and suggest women are superior to men – which means that there is a problem with parity. In a world of all kinds of conflicts over differences, this should be a very practical tool!

Skill #2. Humanity and Respectful Engagement

Respectful engagement is the core skill of multiculturalism, as I wrote about recently. Basically, it’s about how to be considerate in relating across human differences and being more than just humane about it, but being incarnational. As followers of Jesus, it is our opportunity and responsibility to move toward others, embrace their differences, and listen to and learn from those who are unlike us. In this, we represent Jesus. For an example of this, see the add-on article that I blogged before, “Quakers Crack the Caricatures.” It relates my experiences in an inter-religion discussion group.

Over the years, I think I’ve discovered another side of this skill. There is more to it than just relating with parity – valuing others as peers whom God likewise created in His image. When there is conflict over a specific “layer” in the onion of humanity, I’ve found that it often helps to leave that layer and go to the next deeper one.

For instance, it can be easy to get into a fracturing theological discussion with someone who believes there is nothing immoral about homosexual behavior, when I believe there is. Though there is strong disagreement at that level, often we can find agreement at a deeper layer. As an example, homosexual men often see themselves as having gender issues with their masculinity, which puts them in the same space as heterosexual men who deal with personal wounds that affect their masculine identity. Also, gays and lesbians often go to therapists for common human problems that don’t necessarily have anything to do with their sexual orientation – such as family dynamics issues, addictions, phobias, etc. – which puts them on the same footings at the human life level as those with other orientations.

Also, I’ve seen over the years that sinful or unsavory lifestyle choices which bother us about other people often have deep roots in wounded sense of humanity and identity. When they become disciples of Jesus, we may wish that they’d stop these behaviors so we feel more comfortable with them. But God may be working on the deeper issues that feed the surface behaviors, so we need to cut them some slack and let the Spirit do its work. This is part of what I learned from seeing God at work in my friend Lanny. Attempts to stop his addiction behaviors just forestalled yet another episode until some warped underlying identity issues were addressed by God’s love shown through a group of guys who loved Lanny back to life.

So what? Being missional is about connecting with the people God providentially puts into our path. Respectful engagement is a way to help us keep in mind that God values all His creation, even if we find there differences confusing or convicting, disgusting or delightful.

Individuality in The Opal Zone:

Introducing Formation, Integration, and Maturation

In introducing human universals in the last post, I suggested they were like an onion. Let me switch to a different agricultural metaphor with them now so I can connect humanity with individuality. What if we looked at those eight human universals as various components that make up a civilization’s soil, and individuality as unique seeds that get planted in that civilization? The seed would take in elements from the soil and develop in a way that differs from what it might be in another kind of soil mixture.

There are five aspects of individuality that I would suggest affect the nature or “DNA” of each seed/plant (formation), how it grows (integration), and what it produces (maturation). These are as follows (in no particular order, although I’ve assigned a number to pick up where we left off in the Humanity section and match an eventual blog post number):

9. Learning and Creativity Styles

Much of what makes us who we are is our “providential package” of learning styles, and the specific kinds of creativity that typically go with those learning styles and their various combinations. We’ve already looked at this extensively, but I’ll have a few things more to say about creativity.

10. Spiritual Formation Systems

There are entire systems that have evolved to help us as disciples develop our devotional skills, personal character, spiritual gifts, and/or ministry skills. Some are more holistic than others, and therefore probably more suited to the post-Christendom world as it is unfolding. We’ll explore at least five approaches, including their strengths and gaps.

  • Richard Foster’s Celebration of Disciplines – which focuses on personal and social “spiritual disciplines,” some internal and some external.
  • Renovare – which focuses on six historical theology streams and the practical devotional and discipleship skills each contributes to our whole understanding.
  • Gary Thomas’ Sacred Pathways – which gives us nine customized development approaches based on approaches similar to multiple intelligences.
  • Monvee – an emerging system which customizes discipleship based on a combination of learning styles with resources drawn from historical “church fathers” (and maybe “church mothers”).
  • Hirsch’s and Kise’s SoulTypes and other systems based in the Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator – which focus on how we are motivated or energized, how we perceive or take in information, how we make judgments or decide, and how we are oriented or relate to the outer world.

11. Lifespan Development

In a given culture, there is a fairly standard process of stages people go through as they progress from birth through death. This is not exactly universal, though there are similarities worldwide. (For instance, it seems that “adolescence” in the U.S. now often extends beyond the late teens into the mid-20s. Other cultures still have rites of passage at puberty that call children into the stage of adult.) Even with a “process profile” in a particular culture, a specific individual varies in how he or she responds to the expected development process.

12. Faith Development

Each culture has its own definition of “maturity.” But in biblical terms, what constitutes “spiritual maturity”? We find a threefold framework in 1 John of childhood, young adult, and mature adult – along with some possible markers that help us distinguish among these different stages. Hebrews and other books give us other clues to how faith develops and what character qualities and/or skills seem to mark various stages. We’ll overview these stages in individualized faith development, and take a brief look at James Fowler’s Stages of Faith Development model.

13. Opal Integration at the Personal Level

When we have an “opal integration” section, it will weave together the current category’s topics with those of the previous categories. This time, we’ll consider how Humanity and Individuality come together.

Embracing Individuality: Key Tools and Skills

Skill #3. Individuality and Life-Dominating Problems

All of us have wounds, areas of brokenness, temptations, lack of maturity, foolishness, and perhaps even addictions. How do we deal with each different kind of problem – especially if it becomes life dominating? Or is there one “answer” or “skill” that covers them all?

So what? Maturity is not the absence of problems. It involves overcoming our problems. We need a cluster of practical approaches that lead us both away from what brings corruption and toward what brings ennoblement. This cluster includes a combination of healing, restoring, resisting, wisdom, intervention, interception, and prevention – depending on the issue or dynamic we’re looking at. Such skills help us move from formation, through integration, to maturation.

Skill #4. Individuality, “One Anothers,” “Each Others,” and Fruit of the Spirit

What is “maturity”? How do we “measure” it – or should we? How does maturity relate to “leadership” – or does it? At some point, all the talk of abstract concepts about transformation needs to translate into concrete actions. It has to go from envisioned to embodied. And isn’t that really what being “incarnational” is all about? The way I see it, the 20+ “one another” and “each other” New Testament passages and the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit give us guides to maturity. They show us practical actions that demonstrate our development as disciples. These concepts are so pervasive in the New Testament epistles that, without them, however could we claim we are “mature” or capable of “leadership”?

So what? If truth isn’t lived out, what good is it? This cluster of tools gives us some real-world measures and markers that take us from the abstract to the concrete. These are important issues for us as individuals, and for how we relate in community and how we organize ourselves … which are the next two categories we’ll explore.

Community in The Opal Zone:

Introducing Two Concept Clusters that Affect Our Connecting

In a way, the entire Opal Zone ideal is about community – how individuals should come together as gatherings of disciples, how such gatherings and out-goings of disciples should relate with their neighbors, how neighborhoods should relate with larger cultures and social transformation. In the posting on Start with the End in Mind, Part #2 of 2, I suggested that that Opal Zone interweaves:

  • Multicultural, intercultural, and Kingdom cultural.
  • Welcoming, mobilizing, and transforming.
  • Contextual, countercultural, and enterprising.
  • Contributive, collaborative, and constructive.

Those all deal with community in some way or other. So, maybe it seems redundant to have a separate focus section on “Community.” And actually, this section is one of the shorter ones, with only two clusters of topics. They deal with how we connect in our social settings, as does the next section on Organizationality (now that’s an awkward word!). The key idea about our setting is this: Where we root in affects our relationships, and our growth (both qualitative and quantitative).

14. Community and “Divine Dominoes”

I like the idea of seeing God’s providence in terms of links and layers of dominoes that, together, set up chains of connections that play out our interlocking destinies in a community context. It puts in a more visual form such concepts as interdependence (chains of dominoes: our lives are inextricably joined) and Spirit-led generosity (playing a domino: giving someone else what appears to be something we should keep for ourselves, because they have need of it sooner than we do, and it keeps them “in the game”) and open systems (surprise insertion of a new domino chain: where we anticipate that outside forces can play a role to change the dynamics in our seemingly closed circle of relationships).

15. Community and Leadership

Every type of community has leaders, regardless of what system or structures they use to organize their members. One of the most critical issues for creating and maintaining a healthy community is who we allow or disallow as leaders, why, how we choose them, and how we should sustain them. Are “leadership gifts” enough? What biblical criteria should we use to discern if a particular person has the threshold of maturity needed to serve as a public leader? How much power should leaders have, and what are biblical limits to authority roles? What’s the difference between “taking authority to lead” and “giving authorization to lead”? What distinguishes between whether a person is qualified to lead, unqualified, or disqualified? How do we discern if a leader should be removed, restored, reinstalled? In a time of vastly different theories for organizing and leading, such questions become even more important, as we should not expect all leadership paradigms to survive in the unfolding holistic paradigm era.

Embracing Community: Key Tools and Skills

Skill #5. Community and Theodicy

As I observe Christian communities in the West, too many times I see what appears to be a lack of discernment about good and evil. Sometimes we implant ourselves into a culture, supposedly for the sake of the gospel, but then absorb anything in that culture, whether possibly pro-biblical, clearly anti-biblical, or something in between. Other times our lack of discernment results in an overfocus on “spiritual warfare” – hyper-manifestations of supernatural power and spiritual forces. Still other times, it functions in hyper-rationalism, even to the point of denying that God’s providential intervention against social or spiritual evils is possible.

Somehow, we’re missing a comprehensive and coherent framework for dealing with the dynamic issues of good and evil, suffering and perseverance, and the natural and the supernatural. I believe that framework is found in “theodicy.” This is more than the concept of God justifying His character against the forces of evil. It is a storying approach to theology that recognizes that the “watching universe” includes the Triune God, angels and demons, people now alive and saints who have died, and all nature.

So what? This may sound all theoretical and impractical. But I find theodicy crucial for understanding our times and discerning what to do under the leading of the Holy Spirit. This is especially true in times where our cultures are turning more to the occult. We need to lean on God’s person and character, AND live in the reality that we’re in the midst of a spiritual battle. If we don’t, I don’t think we can wrestle with issues of whole-life stewardship and living in the Light, which results in pushing back the darkness while progressing Christ’s Kingdom. No theodicy, no social transformation.

Skill #6. Community and Redemptive Purpose

God instills a unique “redemptive purpose” into each gathering, church, or Kingdom endeavor to ground its contributions toward fulfilling the Great Commission in its locale and beyond. Redemptive purpose is more of a vision that is already carried and embodied in a community. It is a (super)natural imprint that manifests itself over time, rather than a vision which someone casts and all move toward.

Identifying redemptive purpose uses a process called “appreciative inquiry” – facilitating the participants in perceiving what God has particularly implanted within the group in that unique setting. Appreciative inquiry looks more at what is there in the positive to capitalize on, rather than look for negatives to correct. The redemptive purpose of a group is what calls forth its members’ passion. It stirs people’s hearts, brings them tears of sorrow and joy. It motivates their projects, both within the community of disciples and toward those who are not yet disciples.

Though redemptive purpose can be identified, it cannot be isolated from either the neighborhood in which the congregation is embedded – and that setting’s unique spiritual battles and forms of evil – or from the Kingdom cluster of churches in the larger community and the complementary resources they supply. Think of it as a “virtuous virus,” based on the “spiritual DNA” of the combination of people and setting at the beginning of any new gathering. All that is said and done sends messages that pass around this purpose to congregants old and new, infecting them with renewed motivation and momentum, which they pass on in turn to the next generations.

So what? A group’s redemptive purpose in their setting is the equivalent of an individual’s “providential package” and spiritual destiny. Assuming these come from God, it may seem like they should fly on autopilot, but that is not the case. It is bigger than any single leader, single team, or single generation. Overcoming a redemptive purpose’s challenges, and transferring it to others, depend on all community members together, but not any one of them alone. It takes intentional effort to move toward fulfillment.

Organizationality in The Opal Zone:

Introducing Three Concept Clusters that Affect Our Ministry Systems

We will look at related issues of organic systems in the category on Ecology, but for now, we’ll consider issues of organizational systems. Organizing can be a strategic activity, helping us prepare to accomplish goals and projects that embody our passion. Or, it can end up stifling our dreams, taking over and perpetuating itself, and then dominating us rather than serving us. Our studies in this area will help us keep organizational systems as good servants instead letting them become bad masters.

16. Healthy versus Toxic Ministry Systems

There are many critical elements to consider so that our systems serve missional purposes rather than thwart them. Healthy ministry systems embody solid motivations, clear communications, follow-through on what is planned and promised, financial responsibility, moral accountability, and empowering and equipping people to do what they’re designed by God for.

Ultimately, our organizational systems embody personal and communal character issues like integrity, maturity, purposefulness, perseverance, morale, and transformation. In his book, The Ethics of Excellent, Price Pritchett states: “The organization can never be something the people are not.” So, whether a group’s leaders and/or other participants are “healthy” or “unhealthy,” that is what their organization’s “social fingerprint” will be.

What does this mean for our gatherings? What are typical ways that unhealthy and immature people create toxic ministry systems? What would be models of healthy and growing people who create healthy and growing organizations? How do we recover from spiritual abuse and toxicity at the corporate level?

17. Change versus Transition

“Change is inevitable, but transition is intentional.” In an era of an ever-increasing rate of change, we need to be even more diligent in our attempts to be like the Old Testament sons of Issachar who “understood the times, and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). This involves “reading” what goes on with our organization on the inside, as well as outside changes and cultural trends that affect what eventually could (or should) happen inside. It also involves instigating transitions, through a variety of skills (such as diffusion of innovation, unfreezing moves, and open/closed systems) and forward modes of movement to keep on a positive trajectory while avoiding stagnation, drifting, orbiting, and repulsing away from the goal of Kingdom culture.

Two overall approaches to transitioning Christian organizations dominate the scene these days. Assessments from each one look for different indicators, because their definitions of “success” and subsequent goals are different. The first approach is “organizational leadership.” It focuses on how to use incremental changes to alter or upgrade controllable internal issues in order to be effective (“do right things”) and efficient (“do things right”), and to maximize the organization’s impact through its mission, vision, and values. The second approach is “strategic foresight.” It focuses on how to catalyze sometimes-dramatic changes in an organization’s paradigms and systems, in order to become more viable in the face of uncontrollable external shifts in culture, and to optimize and sustain its viability through ongoing transitions. We’ll take a closer look at each system and the “so what” of the differences each can typically make or mistake.

18. Opal Integration at the Congregational Level

In this “opal integration” section, we will weave together the most recent categories’ themes of our setting (Community and Organizationality) with the previous categories’ themes of our story (Humanity and Individuality).

Embracing Organizationality: Key Tools and Skills

Skill #7. Organizationality and Communal Discernment

How many of the New Testament passages we attempt to apply solely to our own selves were actually intended to be applied as communities, in community? As my friend Dave Robinson has noted, in the era of King James English, it was far easier to distinguish which passages were meant for individuals and which for groups. For subjects, possessives, and objects, the KJV for singular was thou, thy or thine, and thee – as in “Thou [singular] shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13). The KJV for the plural was you or ye, your or yours, and you or ye – as in “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you [plural] will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

When it comes to figuring things out in community – such as in vision, values, directions, and other decisions – how are we supposed to do that if we want a participatory paradigm instead of a CEO single-leader-decides-everything model? Communal discernment and consensus are not skills we witness much in our highly individualistic mainstream cultures, although these skills seem far more prevalent in non-Western cultures. Since these skills are not exactly on our radar, we’ll consider a number of tribal models of council meetings and decision making. These include approaches that involve young and old, and/or both genders, and others that consider the impact of seven years to seven generations. We’ll also look at a related model suggested by my friend Kathy Koch of Celebrate Kids, Inc., for setting up a “personal board of directors” to help us as individuals make wiser life decisions.

So what? In the unfolding era of organic paradigms, skills for forging and sustaining community life are far more valued than in traditional paradigms and organizational models. So, if we want our gatherings to flourish, it will be important for us to see approaches to “living life in the plural” that are more pluralistic in terms of participants and more inclusive in terms of “leadership” gifts welcomed.

Skill #8. Organizationality and Ministry Supervision

Churches that attempt to mobilize God’s people to use their spiritual gifts often find that the ministry systems fall apart along the way. The most common problems relate to leaders/organizers. Typically, they have no training in how to catalyze teams, how to supervise volunteers, and/or how to mentor others. Also, if our “membership” in a church gives others permission to “mess” in our lives, how do we keep it from getting too messy?

This toolset for ministry catalyzing and supervising includes an analysis of how the old discipleship paradigm impacts us (i.e., where one person is the expert and he/she keeps professional distance between him/herself and subordinates) and the new paradigm (i.e., where we see ourselves in situations as co-learners). Practical tools include: (1) The 360-degree assessment (being reviewed by our supervisors, by ministry peers/team members, and by recipients of our ministry). (2) Complimenting with specifics so people are reinforced in doing things well, and correcting so they can do things better. (3) Practicing intervention, interception, prevention, redemption, and restoration at the corporate level.

So what? Healthy ministry systems are crucial for qualitative growth of individuals and quantitative growth of the community. If we do not practice feedback tools, we will fail to help people mature in their personal character and develop their spiritual gifts and related ministry skills. Without such growth, we do not have a living, viable body as a church or gathering – we have a corpse.

Introduction to Culturology, Ecology, and Futurology Skills

We’ve gone through an overview of four out of the seven categories in the system for building the opal zone. A bit of a big-picture overview seems in order as we venture into the final three categories, to help show how they integrate with some of the others.

The skills in these next three categories (Culturology, Ecology, Futurology) bring to completion the skills from these other four (Humanity, Individuality, Community, Organizationality). Altogether as a set, they give us the ability to consider a more complete range of a culture’s status. For instance, we need to adapt the Community skill of appreciative inquiry and conduct them on a culture instead of just a group, along with an organizational systems analysis. These will help us better understand that culture’s past and present. We need to engage in the Futurology skills of the preferable futures process to determine our best redemptive possibilities for the future, and the trajectory skill to figure out how best to get there. Then we need to work through the entire set of Culturology assessments to see how to bridge our present toward our preferable future, and how to find the cultural change agents who can best help us get there.

That holistic process will take us from past, to present, through to future. Within that process, I’ve laid out a four-dimensional way of working through the analysis needed to build an Intercultural Opal Connection Zone:

One-dimensional descriptive lists simply detail a culture, based on observation. It does not include much analysis of the culture, except to note features that fit in a standard profile of categories of cultures. The first dimension process is where we use such skills as asset mapping, appreciative inquiry, and listing of socio-cultural problems.

Two-dimensional comparative charts capture the clashes between cultures by comparing and contrasting two or more distinct cultures. For instance, we might consider comparing older with newer generations in the same culture, or measuring an actual culture against the ideal culture to identify toxic practices. (i.e., the utopian “transculture.” (For Christian disciples, I use the term “Kingdom Culture” to describe our utopian or transcultural ideal.)

Three-dimensional interactive and interpretive models place a specific culture within the broader context of the set of all cultures. That shows multiculturalism – the respectful co-existence of multiple cultures. But it also gives a way to begin considering interculturalism – the dynamic collaboration of representatives from multiple cultures who help each other fill in their transcultural gaps and file off their transcultural excesses. We can also use the 3-D model to consider what kinds of individuals and/or teams can best facilitate the constructive interaction of two cultures that have enough differences that it will otherwise cause significant culture shock that would be counterproductive to cultural transition processes.

Four-dimensional proactive systems give us a way to see how cultures, paradigms, and civilizations change over time – especially in relation to uncontrollable external changes in global cultural systems. The fourth-dimension approaches rely on futurist studies, global systems analysis, subcultural studies, or macrohistory to track social trends that are driving significant, long-term changes, to interpret the ascendancy or decline of civilizations, and to discern what may “emerge” soon. They tend to focus on strategic foresight and cultural sustainability.

If we want to move in a sustainable trajectory of integrative Kingdom culture development, we need to understand the uses (and limitaitons) for each of these four approaches, and apply them with discernment. As a set, they will be especially useful in helping us discern plausible ways our culture’s futures [note the plural] could unfold, and that allows us greater degrees of intentionality in choosing what we believe to be God’s preferable future for us, so we can pursue it.

A final note: This summary may not make full sense at the moment, but I suspect it will be something we return to for help as we work through detailed procedures later.

Culturology in The Opal Zone:

Introducing How Processes and People Alter Our Stories


Culture is our most complex creation as beings created in God’s image. Together we create cultures, but they also shape us and the next generations. As missional disciples, we strive to be “people of peace” and become better neighbors, co-workers, and friends – regardless of wherever God takes us and whatever culture He plants us into. So, the more we understand in general about how people function in culture, and the more perspective we obtain on our own specific cultural default settings, the more aware we can become about our roles, and any additions or corrections we need to make for social impact by filling in our paradigm gaps and filing off our toxic tips.

19. Basics of Cultural Field Work

The term field work may strike fear into the hearts of some, but it’s basically just about learning to observe, analyze, and interpret what we’ve looked at and listened to about a local culture. A relatively easy way to consider field work is to consider the various departments at a large university. Each department gives us a domain of culture to examine for how people live their everyday lives: arts, entertainment, sciences, politics, psychology, sports, etc. etc. etc. And, as we understand more fully how people live their lives, we can see what paradigm lies underneath those choices, in terms of values, philosophy or theology or worldview, life strategies, and lifestyles. It doesn’t have to be super complicated. Also, if we reflected on it, I wonder if we’d see that all of us already do some degree of missional cultural field work, if we’re at least trying just to understand who our neighbors are, so we can respond in ways that make us better neighbors to them.

20. Basics Questions of Culture

The list of core culturology topics is more extensive than probably anything we’ll deal with, other than issues related to information processing modes/learning styles. We will address such cultural system questions as:

  1. What is culture? What culture is (pervasive) and what culture is not (neutral).
  2. There is an ideal “Kingdom culture.” It is scripturally comprehensive, integrated, and robust. It is not an overemphasis on one type or category of Scriptures.
  3. Why do Christians have such trouble talking about “culture”? It is more concrete than we are used to – we are more abstract and philosophical about things. Also, when it comes to understanding culture, we are just plain lazy.
  4. What is “cultural capital” that is possessed by a cultural group and then passed on to their next generations? How does it relate to a group’s “redemptive purpose.”
  5. How does cultural capital differ from a paradigm?
  6. What types of cultures are there – what frameworks can we use to understand the range of cultures? Frameworks: Cultural integration points (what brings people together). End states (what people move toward). Cultural spaces and power. Cultural style layers (what kinds of arts and entertainment people like). Cultural communications perspective (high context, low context). Cultural orientations (guilt-based, shame-based, power-based).
  7. How do sets of cultures relate with each other? What’s at the core of “culture clash” and “culture shock” – and, by extension, cultural reconciliation and healthy adjusting/assimilating to culture?
  8. What is the ideal “Kingdom Culture”? If all gatherings of disciples are moving in that direction, are we supposed to end up looking the same? If not, what areas is it legitimate in which to differ?
  9. How do Christian cultures relate with local cultures? How SHOULD (and shouldn’t) Christian cultures relate with local cultures? Syncretism, co-existence, transformation, colonization, counteraction/resistance, marginalization, offensive, isolation, parasitism, collaboration, co-creation, interdependence, etc.
  10. How do cultures tend to move or change over time, whether due to unintentional change or intentional transition? What makes the difference between mere change and intentional transformation?
  11. What are key types of trajectories, in local cultures and Christian cultures moving toward Kingdom Culture? Toxic movement: static, orbiting, drifting, repulsing. Healthy movement: integrating, compositing.
  12. What kinds of people can best help facilitate long-term transformative transition?
  13. How do subcultures/alternative cultures form? How do virtual cultures form?
  14. How has your thinking about cultural formation changed since you first started writing on the subject in the 1990s?
  15. How could cultures relate with one another in the Kingdom? How SHOULD Christian cultures relate in Kingdom Culture? Old versus emerging forms of ecumenism and/or collaboration.

21. Basic  Kinds of Kingdom Cultural Workers

If it is an accurate assumption that culture is complex, how could we expect simplicity in the issues of cultural transformation and how people serve as change-agents therein?

I would suggest there are multiple frameworks that give us clues for understanding who helps create cultural changes and the distinct ways they play their roles. Some of these frameworks come directly from Scripture. Others arise from observations of networks focused on change. Still others may be combinations of the two. Examples include:

  • Catalyzers and sustainers, based on the APEST/APEPT model from Ephesians 4:11-13. There Apostles and Prophets are viewed as church planting catalyzers, while Evangelists, Shepherds (Pastors in some versions), and Teachers are viewed as church sustainers. Notably, all five workers are charged with equipping members in the Body of Christ for their own works of service.
  • Relational and informational workers, based on 1 Peter 4:11, where those who serve are contrasted with those who speak (teach). This is not saying that service doesn’t teach or that teaching isn’t relational, just noting the very broad categories given in spiritual giftings.
  • I’d suggest there is a range of roles that includes three sub-categories for each: welcomers (help people enter a culture), assimilators (help people fit into a culture), and challengers (help people change their culture) for relational workers; and “culture readers” (inside observers who help compile details about a culture), cultural analysts (help compare and contrast cultures) and cultural interpreters (help figure out where a culture fits in with the entire set of cultures) for informational workers. This framework is based more on my own observations of cultures.
  • Global (macro-setting) and local (micro-setting) workers, based on the traveling ministries of apostolic teams and the rooted-in ministries of local church participants.
  • Monocultural, bicultural, multicultural, and intercultural workers, which deals with a person’s level of “cultural fluidity” and ability to bridge two or more cultures, either through relational intuition or informational analysis.

Taken all together, these frameworks and relevant examples give us a way to do “cultural MRI” to at least outline the shape of individuals and teams who spark and sustain social transformation. Eventually, I hope to have a series of self-assessment and “360-degree feedback” tools to help individuals figure out the kinds of roles that are most natural for them and why, and how that helps them figure out where they best fit on ministry teams to serve, teach, and lead other disciples.

Embracing Culturology: Key Tools and Skills

Skill #9. Culturology and Change Processes

In this section, we will synthesize into a more coherent picture the various bits and pieces we have explored on paradigms, culture, organizational strategies and structures, and communities. This will anticipate the roles to be played by our explorations into Ecology and Futurology, but not detail them.

So what? From my mostly destructive experiences of church planting strategy design and church transition consulting, I’ve become convinced that a key reason for these “ministry meltdowns” lies in leaders’ inability to consider a comprehensive, integrated process of building or rebuilding church culture. The less comprehensive and integrated the elements in their change process, the more likely a meltdown within just a few years. If that doesn’t make us slow down and spend time thinking intentionally, I don’t know what will …

Skill #10. Culturology and Change Agents

In this section, we will look at how various kinds of ministry workers play their roles in social and organizational change processes. We will look at the various frameworks from “Basic Kinds of kingdom Culture Workers” and consider how each framework helps us thing about change processes.

So what? Similarly to the logic for breakdown in the change process, if we don’t consider all the kinds of change agents who could and should play roles in social or organizational transformation, we’re limiting what God could do. And, I’d suggest, we quench the Holy Spirit by despising some of the gifted people He sends to be part of the ministry we’re attempting to do. Are we that sure we can do it all ourselves that we’re willing to block others from participating?

Ecology in The Opal Zone:

Introducing Viability, Reproducibility, and Flexibility


Ecology is about systems. Systems are, in part, about how the various elements in a set of things or in a live organism interact with each other. If a system encounters poisons, or severe outside conditions, or internal weaknesses and vulnerabilities of other kinds – then it is very possible it may not make it. And so, ecology is also about sustainability. As I’ve considered the concept of sustainability, it makes sense to me to look at three aspects:

  • Viability – Can it survive and thrive as a healthy system?
  • Reproducibility – Can it repeat or transfer its vitality and viability by extending into another generation its literal or figurative DNA?
  • Flexibility – Can it make mid-course adjustments to improve and/or innovate itself for unexpected changes in surrounding conditions?

All together, sustainability is about stewardship – making appropriate uses of an organism or system, and not exposing it to toxic situations or unhealthy practices which will contaminate it or deplete its resources. So, this kind of stewardship applies to all creations and creatures, not just to our relationship with the earth. (Although we may not explore environmental stewardship directly, I expect it will arise as a mini-case study to illustrate a point.)

22. Viability / Survival

Churches and other organizations are like organisms: They cannot survive if their systems are weakened too much by attacks from the inside or the outside. There are at least three main ways that organisms and organizations can sustain their viability and survivability:

  • Prevention – maintain health (such as through preventing exposure to toxic organisms or substances).
  • Intervention – regain health (such as through toxicity clean-up when they have been exposed).
  • Diversity – retain a range of DNA in a “community” of organisms in order to bolster immunity. Otherwise, if there is too much uniformity of DNA, the species or community may fall prey to a fatal disease. This is what happened with the Irish potato famine, since a huge percentage of all potatoes were of the same variety and therefore were susceptible to the same plague that wiped out the harvests. This is also the idea behind “heritage plant” gardens that grow old-stock varieties, and “seeds of change” to retain diversity DNA through seed banks.

23. Reproducibility / Extension

We can learn a lot from the study of genetics to apply to reproducing disciples, gatherings, churches, and movements. For instance:

  • When human DNA is missing, doubled, or broken, the offspring typically are sterile, if they survive at all.
  • DNA can be damaged over time by internal or external agents, and that can lead to mutations in the offspring, if they survive at all.
  • Some types of organisms (and organizations) that appear similar may not be as compatible in their DNA as they look, and their offspring can turn out weak or sterile, if they survive at all. I’d suggest this is what happened in a church merger situation I observed, where a very young church plant merged with a near-dead church, and the resulting mix faltered significantly.
  • When no fertilization occurs in species where normal reproduction is based on cross-pollination, the resulting plants or animals are substantially weaker than the original. For example, each progressive plant grown from a cutting instead of from a seed is weaker than the previous generation. The robustness of a cloned animal is lower than its predecessor, and its life span is shorter. (In the mechanical paradigm, a simulacra – a copy of a copy of a copy – has parallel problems to the cutting or the clone.) In the church realm, it may be that “franchise models” or other popular methods of church planting may not succeed because it does imports spiritual DNA from elsewhere instead of cross-pollinates it with spiritual DNA from local sources. A similar issue may be behind not-so-successful attempts to reproduce in the individualistic West the ideas behind successful church planting movements in community-oriented non-Western regions.

24. Flexibility / Adjustment

Life requires adjustments. Organisms (and organizations) that fail to adjust in the face of significantly changed conditions may not survive. Those flexible enough to respond are more likely to make it. So, the ideas behind micro-evolution and how species (and societies) deal with different or changing conditions give insight for our personal or social transitions. Here we will consider such ideas and situations as:

  • Open systems (where outside forces can “break in” and influence the system) versus closed systems.
  • What happens when non-native plants become parasites in a new environment, or a parasitic animal or bird like a cuckoo takes over the territory or nest of another?
  • What happens when non-native plants are transplanted in an environment with conditions unfavorable to them (it takes more resources to sustain them), and why native plants may require fewer resources (e.g., xeriscaping – gardening with plants that have low requirements for water).
  • Why the same plant may survive but be diminished by a severe environment, such as trees above the tree line end up as “Krumholtz” (dwarfed versions).
  • Eco-tones as an overlap ecological zone where species of plants and animals from several distinct nearby habitats can still survive together.

Embracing Ecology: Key Tools and Skills

Skill #11. Organics/Mechanics/Organizationals

It’s easy to make these mistakes: thinking that emerging organic world is not at all organized, and thinking that the mechanical paradigm of the traditional organizational world doesn’t operate by ecological systems. Somehow, there is a paradoxical zone where the paradigms of both organics and organizationals co-operate, even if they don’t always cooperate. In this skill, we’ll look at mini-case studies from the worlds of traditional (hierarchical) and organic (flat) forms of organizational structures and work on discerning how we don’t always have to set organic models against organizational models. Each has its inherent strengths, limitations, and vulnerabilities.

So what? Especially in our in-between world of global paradigm shifts, we cannot escape the realities of paradigm clash and the hybrid organic-zations. We need the assets of each paradigm and their methodological models. Somehow, we must find ways to turn the competition of organics versus mechanics into collaboration … both in terms of paradigms and between the people who hold to each.

Skill #12. Ecology, Fractals, and Scalars

Once we are more adept at recognizing general factors in the mechanical and organic paradigms, it will be helpful to our organizational skills to look at the specific issues of fractals and scalars. These deal with degree of intensity or repetition in the same principle or pattern within a system. We will consider a number of practical and everyday mini-case studies in sets that embody these features – everything from fractals espresso, Café Americano, and house coffee to spiritual gifts, one anothers (general discipleship), and leadership qualifications (complete set/comprehensive discipleship).

So what? One way we can bridge the usual divides between the mechanical and organic models of organization is through fractals, scalars, and related modes of measuring. This bridging ability is especially crucial for our era, in which these paradigms and models are in competition.

Futurology in The Opal Zone:

Introducing Strategic Foresight for a Constructive Kingdom Trajectory

Note: The overview for this final category is significantly longer, as I need to consider six content areas and three skills.


As long as we’re alive, we’re moving into the future, whether we want to or not. The key questions are whether we want a future is that is merely possible or one that is providentially preferable, and whether we are passively moved toward whatever happens or will actively affect what happens.

If we are more determinist than Christian, we believe the future is fated and we can do nothing about it but accept what GOD/God/god decrees. For fatalists, life is a closed system with only GOD on the inside, and we are on the outside with no role in our destiny or in moving toward it. If we are more Christian than fatalist, we believe life is an open system where we make choices, God providentially influences and intervenes, and we can also refuse the influences of Satan and evil. Also, we understand that our choices have consequences, and that the ideal is us working with God as Christlike agents of reconciliation in His world. Based on our theological perspectives, we may argue about how much difference the decisions and actions of God and humans, angels and demons each make. We may argue over how much God knows about our decisions and/or controls. But there is a definite border between Christianity and fatalism, and the personal character of the God/GOD in them.

Futurology is about moving into our possible futures (note the plural), and choosing the most preferable future to work toward, using intentionality and insights gleaned from the practices of “strategic foresight.” This section addresses the core skills that futurists use. These are not precise formulas for “predicting” the future – that would be too linear, too reductionist. Instead, they are rooted more in fuzzy logic and are more squishy than firm. In fact, I’ve given a presentation entitled “Futurists as Archaeologists of the Present,” which addresses the question, How do we discern what will shape our futures when the dust of the present hasn’t even settled?

That doesn’t mean that these skills are on par with mystical or occult approaches – we’re not talking about some Postmodern Ouija Board here! No, it’s not about being ooky-spooky nor being overly precise. These skills help us consider our corporate past and present carefully, and they’ve been tested in the real world for about 40 years to see how things that are unfolding might create many possible futures. (Note: Some tribal culture practices for sustainable futures that foreshadowed this more formal futurist discipline have been used for centuries, if not millennia.) They are designed to start open-ended dialog than succumb to close-minded fate. The “what if?” conversations these skills spark allow us to consider our options more intentionally and select the direction that looks to lead toward the most preferable possibility. And, for Christians, we want the future for ourselves or our group or our culture that resonates most deeply with biblical goals set by God.

I’d suggest the processes involved in looking toward the future are important to us because the future and hope are intertwined. Hope – and prayer! – both involve imagining a future different from what would otherwise be inevitable. The Holy Spirit uses hope to activate faith in moving us into a more constructive and preferable Kingdom future – regardless of how the local social institutions value or devalue Christianity.

25. Plausible, Possible, and Preferable Futures

In classical Greek, as well as the Koine Greek of the New Testament, there are four “moods” for verbs, based on how certain it was as to whether an action actually happened (or will happen). Here they are, in order from the most certain to the least:

  • It absolutely did/will happen, no question. [indicative]
  • It very well may possibly happen. [subjunctive]
  • It might sort of plausibly happen. [optative]
  • It absolutely won’t happen unless it is commanded to happen and committed to obey. [imperative]

In this section, we’ll use related concepts to help us discern the difference between futures that are plausible, possible, and preferable. That will help us seek God’s providence and empowerment to follow the best goals for our situations in time and culture as men and women, girls and boys, who seek to become like Jesus Christ.

In fact, I’ve based the entire idea of Kingdom Culture on living out socially the character of Christ and on being obedient to God’s commands. However, we do not naturally know what God’s desires are, even if we can learn and discern some things about His character from the natural world around us. To know what God wants, we have to turn to specific revelation in His Word. And those things we find there shape our understanding of what it means to demonstrate faithful obedience and growth as Christ’s disciples. In other words, those applicable biblical imperatives would never happen in our lives if God didn’t command them so we knew what He desired of us, and if we did not intentionally make efforts for life-long obedience. These turn what is merely plausible as disciples into what is preferable.

26. Trend-Tracking: Fads, Short-Term Trends, and Drivers of Change

Futurists keep up with diverse aspects of societies, and especially look to discern what is changing.  This is done through a technique called “environmental scanning,” which assumes that the order things tend to change in a culture can be captured by the acronym STEEPER. So, like a chain of dominoes, once a significant cultural change occurs in Society, Technology tends to follow suit. As Technology changes, that impacts the Environment, and all of the above start working themselves out in terms of changes for individuals and groups in their Existential (identity) issues. As more people’s lives are affected by what started as a social change, the last three areas to follow suit are, in this order, Politics, Education, and Religion. These final three are the most “conservative” in terms of how tenaciously they cling to the ways of the past. (Sidenote: After working at a seminary for over a decade, I have to wonder if combining Religious Education intensifies the sluggishness of transitions …)

The trick with trend-tracking comes not so much in identifying social changes, but in discerning which are just pop culture fads (probably two years or less of social influence); which cultural trends have short-term impact (at least five to 10 years of influence); and which are “drivers” of long-term, deep-level change (50 years or more).

This concept is especially important to us: We are smack dab in the middle of a confusing era with substantial changes globally in prevailing paradigms and contemporary cultures. This level of upheaval has happened in Western civilization only three times since the founding of classical Greek culture over 2,500 years ago. Could this mean that missional models will be “drivers” within the next primary paradigm, while emerging and multi-campus churches and church planting movements prove themselves to be mere faddish blips on the seismographs of social change? Whatever “wins” has crucial consequences for how we interact in our cultures.

[NOTE: I learned these concepts from Christian futurist Cassidy Dale, who, I believe, is the one who expanded the STEEP framework into STEEPER.]

27. Non-Linear Extrapolation

“Non-linear extrapolation” is the fancy-dancy technical term used for a mind-mapping technique. You start with a “what if?” question about a significant social change, and spin out a dozen or so possible consequences of that change. Then you take each of those consequences and ask, “So, if that were to happen, what might result from that condition?” and spin out another dozen or so possibilities for each item. And so on and so on for a series of maybe four to six layers of what-ifs.

As with other kinds of mind-maps, the origin issue is mapped in the middle, and each item in the next layer out is mapped in a separate circle attached to its predecessor by a spoke. So, with just a couple of repeats in the if/then process, you have a map of several hundred items. This gives you a reasonably sized dataset in which to look for patterns of consequences that could likely arise from the original question. The search for common consequences from different what-if paths in the map opens the way for discussion of possible long-term changes and indicators along the way. This all forms the base for creating scenarios.

[I also learned this concept from Christian futurist Cassidy Dale.]

28. Scenario Writing

Trend-tracking sets the stage for non-linear extrapolation, which then sets the stage for scenarios writing. Scenarios take into consideration all the concrete evidence and abstract thinking about cultural change, and spin it into realistic stories. These are not the usual stories, though. They are specifically designed to be open-ended … unfinished … in order to generate dialog among the decision-makers who consider them.

Scenarios capture the emotional realities that underlie the social research. And, since they are stories, they can use some of the usual literary conventions used in novels and screenplays. For instance, there are many variations of the “Winners and Losers” framework. A contemporary example would be the declining denomination that turns to church planting as a way to restore forward momentum and growth, but will the existing congregations get on board to support these efforts, or will they fail? Who would “win” or “lose” in this scenario, how would winning or losing be defined, and what could prevent a lose-lose situation from these decisions? There are many other types of scenarios, and it could get easy to get overcome by the variety and the details. The key thing to remember is: Scenarios help the people who must sort through plausibilities and possibilities of “what ifs,” in order to decide on their preferred “what we will do.”

29. Pushing versus Pulling Into the Future

The previous foresight tools moved gradually from exceptionally abstract to more progressively concrete in terms of evidence, and from conceptual to storylines in terms of outcomes. In this and the final content section, we shift to much more personal and risky – but practical – questions: What process or paradigm do we choose for our story’s “plotline” in moving toward our group’s future, and who will likely make healthy or unhealthy collaborators with us in that process and why? These relevant questions are intertwined. Section 29 addresses the process more than the people, and Section 30, the people more than the process.

The idea of either pushing or pulling into the future comes from my friend Jay. An avid reader, he keeps up with the latest books on leadership perspectives from business and Christian publishers. In the mid-2000s, Jay said something along these lines to me: “You know, a lot of these Christian visionaries and futurists [and then he named some well-known seminar speakers and authors] tell us about moving toward the future, and they’re pointing us forward, trying to lead us there. ‘It’s that way – follow me!’ Once we get over the hills and to the horizon with them, I think we’ll see a bridge from where we are to an island in the middle of a big lake. And over on the other side of the bridge will be people off the radar like you who are waving us over, ‘Come on, you can make it!’ Where we’re trying to go, you’re already there.”

And so, in effect, it’s like the traditional visionaries are pushing people toward what they see as the [theoretically] right way to go, and the holistic practitioners are pulling people toward the lifestyle they already [practically] live. Which primary process does our gathering or group use to govern our journey into the future, and is that what is best, or only what is available? Do we want primarily to be pushed forward by those for whom the destination may be hypothetical and external to who they already are? Or do we want to be pulled forward by those who already seem to live where the future is headed? How can – or, can – both push-and-pull work together successfully? And how do we handle the conflict if our group, team, gathering, or church is divided on this question?

30. Constructive versus Destructive Forms of Collaboration

One of the stickiest issues in the Kingdom is how to be the Church [capital “C”], not just the church [little “c”]. In the current era of shifting paradigms, this is even more of a concern, since adherents of some paradigms inherently want to create learning communities that are more “open source,” while others expect such endeavors to be closed/limited. Some want to collaborate, with everyone participating as learner-leaders, while others want more control, with leaders-and-followers. Some want a holistic approach to unity, others a pragmatic activity-based approach, and others a traditional theological approach.

Whose is the governing paradigm in this work? That will significantly influence whether attempts at Kingdom collaborations are constructive or destructive. And it may be that the peer collaborator types will be overpowered by others. This is nothing new. Similar problems have often arisen in missionary settings, where non-collaborative people take over the process from people whose paradigm is collaborative and who wanted to be inclusive but now find themselves on the outside. How do we keep a group’s story as an “ensemble cast” instead of being kidnapped by soliloquys? What happens if we don’t? How can we restore balance if things have gotten off kilter?

Embracing Futurology: Key Tools and Skills


It is important to synthesize and apply what we learn for ourselves, and to leave a legacy that is learnable and adaptable for those who come after us. This final set of three skills takes us through a process from bringing together concepts and applications of the Opal Connection Zone curriculum, to seeing how they work in several mini-case studies, to developing our own local strategy plan to guide … not bind … the work of those who take up our ministries after us.

Skill #13. Spiritual Reverse Engineering Our Trajectories to Kingdom Culture

For this skill, we’ll work our way through a integrative chart that demonstrates how to catalyze social transformation that is missional. It shows key elements and processes required for intentional transition. It also synthesizes most of the content sections and other skills from the entire curriculum.

Skill #14. Practice Sessions in Charting a Course

This skill takes us beyond the theoretical process of social changes and gives some application practice with a few mini-case studies. This will help build our holistic ministry design muscles so we are more prepared to create a guidebook for our own gathering, ministry, or setting.

Skill #15. The 100-Year Plan: Creating a Guidebook – Not a Blueprint – for Missional Next Generations

If your church gathering, ministry, or community agency was charged with creating a 100-year strategy plan, how would you do it? Or, perhaps a better starter question would be, would you do it? Why or why not? If so, how much “strategy” and how much “plan” would it contain? Who would you turn the plan over to, when, and why? How would you prepare next generations of learner-leaders to receive it and do whatever it is that you want them to do with it? How, if at all, could you ensure the plan gets used wisely instead of gets turned into a rulebook?

So what? The intention behind this series of three skills is NOT about creating The Plan, it is about getting familiar with future-oriented processes. It also forces us to look beyond ourselves and our own lifetime, so we consider carefully what we are handing off to the next wave of Kingdom workers. Hopefully our intentionality in guiding their futures will enhance how we face our own …