This week: Conversation 2 – And yet…It Is about you.
We’re reading together the book Changing the Conversation – a third way for congregations by Anthony B Robinson.
Each week you’ll find here a short reflection and reading guide to help you on your way. Previous readings: Intro. Chapter 1. Chapter 2. Chapter 3. Chapter 4. Chapter 5. Chapter 6. Chapter 7. Chapter 8. Chapter 9. Chapter 10.
We didn’t get away with it!
If Robinson’s first chapter (It’s not about you!) gave us the impression that the challenges facing the church are not our fault, and there’s nothing we can do….then we’re half right.
In this conversation, Robinson says, effectively, “it’s not your fault, but you can choose how you respond”. In brief, he works through the following outline when it comes to thinking about our response:
- Understand the real situation including wondering what God is up to
- Watch out for circular and “stuck” conversations that take us nowhere
- Ways of thinking about change – adaptive vs. technical change
- Grieving what was (or might have been)
- Building a sense of urgency about our response
Many years ago I heard a story about a Jewish rabbi imprisoned around the time of the Second World War. Maybe it’s apocryphal and maybe not.
According to the story, the Rabbi spends lots of time thinking, and decides that upon his release he will change the world. In time he realises the impossibility of this task, so determines to start with his own country. When that proves impossible, he instead focuses on bringing change to his town. Struggling even in that task he attempts to change his street, only to find even that task too difficult. After also failing in his effort to change just his family, the Rabbi finally realises that he has the power only to change himself. And so he does (though not easily).
It may not be a true story, but it’s definitely a truth story, and one that I think applies as we think about how to respond to a world in the midst of such wholesale shift as the passing of Christendom and the movement into a post-modern world view.
All we can do is respond personally, manage ourselves. And, in a sense, leave the rest up to God. This brings us to Robinson’s point:
We seldom have complete control over what life brings, but it is up to us how we respond to it. (Robinson, p39)
Robinson advocates giving up on our battle against the change in our world, and instead focussing our efforts on understanding the changing nature of our society, community and church; understanding “what God is up to in our time” (to which I would add “and place”) and then responding with urgency, and creativity.
The image of stuck conversations is a helpful one. When we get stuck in the same conversations, over and over, life and creativity are drained from our community.
Of the four conversations Robinson points toward, which are familiar to you? Which have you noticed happening in your own local congregation or faith community?
- The Blame Game: congregations blaming leaders, leaders blaming congregations, everybody blaming the Presbytery (!)
- We’re not like them: defining ourselves by who we are not, by pointing at others and saying “we’re not them, we’re different”. Do you recognise this stuck conversation in the current political debate in Australia?
- The Magic Bullet: we’re good at this one, searching for the one answer to all our problems. Maybe it’s a new building, or a new minister, or even a reading program like this one. What’s the magic bullet for your congregation?
- If only we could get X new people: They’d fill our pews (and our rosters) and all will be well. Have you heard those kinds of conversations around your place?
What other “stuck” conversations can you identify in your own context?
Adaptive vs. Technical Change
The change theory Robinson introduces here differentiates between technical and adaptive change. It’s worth spending a little time with this idea, and looking for the kinds of challenge that demand either approach (or a mixture of both as Robinson points out).
In simple terms, a technical change relates to a situation with a known “problem” and an identifiable outcome. Make a plan, execute it, and the problem is solved. Building a new shed (or church). Introducing a new song. Electing new elders.
An adaptive change relates to a situation in which the “problem” is unclear, and the solution uncertain. Usually it’s a culture change, or behavioural change that’s required. Merging two congregations for instance, or responding to the kinds of significant social change Robinson outlines in Chapter 1.
Along with understanding the kind of change required in different situations, we might also start to think about the kinds of skills necessary in either situation.
And we might remember that in the real world it’s rarely black and white. That almost always there will be a mixture of adaptive and technical change needed.
Thinking about your world…..
- Can you identify an example of technical change that your congregation has made? Is currently facing?
- Can you identify an example of adaptive change that you congregation has made? Is currently facing?
- What about a situation or challenge that requires a mixture?
- What kinds of skills or approach are needed in those situations?
It seems to me that Robinson hits the nail on the head when he talks about the need to grapple with grief. Sometimes it’s grief over what we had but have lost. Sometimes it’s grief over the loss of an idea, of what might have become. The cost of giving up on a long-hoped-for idea is grief.
Thinking about your world…..
- What are the stories in the life of your congregation that might contain some unresolved grief?
- What about your own journey with your faith community…are there lost hopes or unfulfilled dreams?
Developing a sense of urgency
Robinson provides some great insights into developing a sense or urgency. And some questions on p59 to help unpack them.
The only thing I’d like to add is that before a new way of living, and behaving, often comes a new way of speaking. It’s true that our words can create a tone, an atmosphere; we can speak a new reality into being.
And that’s one of the things that I love about where we (in the Uniting Church in Tasmania) find ourselves in 2011. We are starting to speak in new ways about ourselves. We are daring to lift our eyes to the horizon, and finding new ways to tell the stories of our future.
How are you speaking about the future of your church?