Adaptive model applied and experienced

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The Transition Team for the congregation I am serving as a first time Specialized Transitional Minister (STM), has for the past months been feeling the weight of the reality of the necessity of Adaptive transformation and the lack of value of Technical tinkering as we delve into the congregation’s past and look around at it’s current reality. Several have now said openly in meetings “this is turning out to be a bigger and more overwhelming job than I thought,” or variants of it.

What is wonderful to me is that even as they verbalize their state, they are not quitting. Though overwhelmed, they fully see the value of what is necessary. That, I believe, is verification that the theory is valid, that the process works, and that God is at work among us.

The process of getting to this point is worth summarizing to give some context.

… … …

When we (the Transitions Steering Team) got to a point in the process where it seemed time to begin to come with more concrete proposals out of the information we had gathered and distilled, it felt completely inappropriate to press forward. Even as we had enough information and some pretty clear indications of what kind of proposals would work, it just did not feel like time to jump into that. We had identified some key ingredients for this congregation based on what had been most productive and engaging in the past, namely that any new proposals which had the following elements to them had a very strong chance of being well received and successful for the congregation’s life and for the Kingdom:

– a small (intergenerational) group

– a clear, focused purpose for the group

– a sense of service or mission/gospel outreach

– short, specified time frame for it’s existence

You will recognize quite quickly that SERVE projects, or CRWRC disaster assistance projects are perfect examples of that combination.

We had also identified the highest priorities or values of the congregation. They are, in descending order of importance:

  • Fellowship, welcoming, hospitality, connecting
  • Serving and Helping, giving (of self) & generosity (of self)
  • Worshiping
  • Involvement (participation, engagement)

So, we had a framework, we had some hints. But it didn’t feel like time to jump into concretising them.

Instead, we set aside time for what I’ll call now a ‘discerning conversation’ as a team. We had some amazing breakthroughs in that conversation. For instance, we went from someone on the Team saying “we (as a congregation) don’t know how to be honest with each other” to that person being very honest with me about their reluctance about me specifically coming to do the job, and then annoyance at what the person heard as my “blunt” and consistent calling for hearts to change. In response I merely said I was honoured to be having such an honest conversation.

In another part of that time someone said “if our worship style has not changed significantly by the time this is done, I will consider us (TST) to have failed” which became an opportunity to explore for the “whys” behind the person saying that, which brought us to adaptive matters instead of surface matters. And when all else was stripped away, we — figuratively speaking — came to a point where the only thing left on the table was an elephant, and we all had at least our eyes if not one hand on the elephant and we fell silent. In our open, discerning conversation we had been led right up to the core questions of adaptive change, and were speechless and overwhelmed. And yet it was clearly a moment of insight. Something that was already changing slowly gained momentum in that moment. But, the Team members were clearly overwhelmed, as they indicated in debriefing the experience: “This is hard. I thought we would pull some ideas together and be done” said one. Another said “This is more than I signed on for”  and I heard “I’m overwhelmed” said with visible distress. I was more than a bit concerned we’d have resignations coming. But a clear sign of hope came when I checked with the person I’d had the honest conversation with where they were right now with my persistent calls in liturgy and messages for hearts to change, the person responded without hesitation “Oh, our hearts need to change, definitely!”

So the Team had come to see that without a return to God, without God “giving us a new heart and putting a new spirit in us” discussion of, even proposition of almost any technical changes did not have much purpose except busy-work or producing something that looked tangible out of our time together.

The summary point I want to make is that it has been challenging to consistently stick with a scripturally guided adaptive change agenda. It is much much easier to be not only a diagnostician, but then a prescriber as well. It feels terribly risky to not give — or allow for — superficial solutions, and keep pointing out that something deeper needs to drive the changes.

But what is proving beautiful now, at this point, is that having faced that reality, a deeper change is beginning. Many of the religious and ritual practices remain the same, but something about the atmosphere, the attitude while doing them, is clearly shifting.

So, it seems true to say, that having faced the core problem, which is in each of our hearts — which is not repaired easily with picking new songs or new kinds of songs or old songs or old kinds of songs — what already is, is experienced differently. And that is fruit. That is Kingdom harvest.


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