Over the last five years one of the conversations I have had again and again relates to genetic diversity, the loss of it in western churches, and the long term impact on leadership development and kingdom growth. Stuart Murray recognized the seriousness of this problem in at least two of his books, and I am thinking particularly of Church After Christendom. Murray notes that we must “create not clone,” if we aim to see the kingdom advance. This is not necessarily a natural impulse for established churches. We reproduce what we know, because we overlay a strategic layer and a strong measure of control through financial structures.
We do this, of course, because we are comfortable with what is familiar. We do it with good intentions, because the structures we have known took us a fair distance. We enjoyed a measure of success with what has gone before. As a result, we project into the future that what worked then will work tomorrow. We fail to take into account the overwhelming reality of cultural shift. We thus fail to innovate and adapt.
The implications of this are loss of genetic diversity, loss of working knowledge of how to learn and adapt in a wide diversity of contexts. When we select leaders consistently for a few key traits, traits formed in response to certain cultural contexts, we gradually marginalize other types of leadership. We end up where we are, with thousands upon thousands of pastor-teacher types, and very few healthy prophets and apostles. (Though they are still out there, mostly working as plumbers and carpenters and in para-church organizations). Even our young leaders are largely formed for roles that are rapidly vanishing.
In biological terms, we have reduced genetic diversity significantly. Where now is the knowledge we need to adapt to new circumstances?
What has actually occurred is seen regularly in nature. As an organism reduces the range of its possible responses by virtue of narrowing genetic diversity, it becomes extremely vulnerable. A single virus or bacteria can wipe out an entire generation or species. This is nearly what has happened with the church in the west. Certainly in specific towns and cities, particularly in the UK, this can be seen to be occurring. Hundreds of church buildings stand empty. I wonder how far we are away from this same scenario in Canada?
It strikes me that the solutions are already in progress. Perhaps the largest single factor in recovering genetic diversity is becoming connected to a larger network. What this looks like in practice is conversation and relationship and learning. I’ve written a great deal on this and I won’t try to summarize here; I particularly valued the work of Margaret Wheatley and Fritjof Capra in this regard. Capra writes,
“emergent structures… are the informal structures: the alliances and friendships, the informal channels of communication (the grapevine), the tacit skills and sources of knowledge that are continually evolving. These structures emerge from an informal network of relationships that continually grows, changes, and adapts to new situations.” (Creativity and Leadership in Learning Communities)