genetic diversity

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)

Fifty Years of Church Planting: the Story as I See It..

This is the first chapter of Fresh and Re:Fresh. David Fitch penned this for the book about a year ago. It remains a good summary of the issues.
* * *

Over the last three decades, I have watched church planting change dramatically in Canada and the Northern parts of the United States. Back in the sixties/seventies, we used to send fifteen or twenty people from one local church into another place several towns over that was “under-churched.” We would hold worship services, teach Sunday school, have a children’s ministry. We would set up shop. We would choose a pastor who “had all the tools” as they would say. He (most often a male) would be young, energetic and able to work like crazy. We would send out pubic announcements expecting many who were looking for a church to just show up. And if we did the basic services well, then we assumed the little gathering would grow into a self-sustaining church in 3 years. In many ways, these church plants resembled franchises.

Church planting worked like this because there were still large numbers of Christians to draw from for a congregation. We were in the great post-WW2 expansion in North America. New towns and subdivisions were springing up left and right. And just as each town needed a supermarket, a library and public schools, so also it needed a church. One could assume that out of the many thousands moving here into these new habitats, some would be Christians and need a church. So we planted churches like franchised local grocery stores. This was the era of Christendom. Read the rest of this entry →

Instilling Missional Habits

During the summer David Fitch wrote the following piece on his blog. It’s a great summary of some of the work we have to do in transition.

How do we lead a church community to engage mission as a way of life? How do we steer a congregation out of evangelism programs into everyday missional living? How do we train a congregation out of Christendom habits and instill post Christendom virtues (character for living faithfully in post Christendom)? I think leaders walk along and among their communities. Along the way, they lead by consistently (and kindly) rejecting some old habits and directing the imagination towards other possibilities. This is the never-ending work of cultivating missional habits of imagination among a people. Here’s my list of what to reject (slowly put to death in a congregation) and what to direct (nudge people forward) a congregation’s imagination toward. I’ve learned a lot of these things from missional thinkers/practitioners but have found all these things to be surprisingly simple and possible in my own life. Read the rest of this entry →

the end of Christendom?

Michael Krahn has been blogging and posting extensive notes of the sessions he has attended, as well as referencing other bloggers who attended the Congress.

One of the more interesting discussions is on the whole question of a “social” gospel as opposed to regeneration as the heart of the issue. Mike quotes from Jonathan Dodson that “social action doesn’t create [the] new community:”

Although social action mission creates community, it doesn’t create new community. Regenerated, new creation is the unique work of God the Spirit (Tit. 2.11 ; Gal. 6:15 ) through faith in the Son (Tit. 3:6-7 ; 2 Cor. 5:17). If we convert people to community and social mission alone, and not to Christ, we offer a very incomplete gospel. Regeneration is both social (Matt. 19:28) and spiritual (Tit. 3:5). The Spirit, not social mission, makes men new


This is both helpful, and partial… Read the rest of this entry →

The Congress

I attended the church planting Congress in Calgary last week. It was a great experience overall. I dislike being away from home for that long, but it was worth it. Gathering with seven hundred leaders and pastors from across Canada is an encouraging experience.

Does that mean that everyone “gets it?” Not a chance. Some never will. It’s important that we recognize this up front. Frankly, I think if we all saw the seriousness of our situation many of us would be jumping off bridges. Many others would be leaving ministry. Some would be on their knees a lot more…

I have echoed many of my blog posts on the Congress on RESONATE.

Today I wanted to note a resource that has been really helpful to me over the years. Vineyard USA publishes Cutting Edge magazine. To this day it is a free publication. They have had some outstanding articles over the years. The latest issue has a couple of good ones, the best probably being an interview with the authors of Evangelical Ecclesiology. The article title is “Theological Foundations for Church and Culture.”

But the article I want to quote from in this post is the last in the magazine, an interview with Charles Park. This one hurt. In short it reaffirmed that in terms of leadership development for the Canadian church (broadly defined I might add) we are way behind the eight ball. Working from some ideas in Blue Ocean Strategy, Park argues that the Vineyard has tried to operate in the big sea of seeker sensitive, when God has designed it to operate in the small sea of postmodern ministry and mission. He notes that entering the big sea means less impact, and skews the development of leaders toward a culture that is dying. Where then will they find leaders equipped for the new culture? In my head I am hearing, “this is a call to Canada.”

I was looking for something else and stumbled across a blip penned by Jordon Cooper about three years back. Jordon is one of the brightest thinkers in Canada, and also happens to be more widely read than thirty million of us. Jordon’s outlook is very bleak also (but not without HOPE mind, but our hope isn’t in the church now is it?). In that blip he writes,

“We look for [the] defining locations and people for a lot of different reasons. The main reason is that most church leaders are not church leaders. As George Barna said a couple of years ago, most pastors are wonderful people but are not leaders and so we naturally want to appoint leaders to go where we are afraid to go ourselves. Charlie Wear said something to me years ago in a Denny’s in Fullerton and it was something like, “If you have God’s calling, why are you waiting on the permission of someone else?” but that is strongly built in to how we see ourselves in the big scheme of things. Despite everyone calling themselves a visionary leader, very few people are that. Most are followers, even among “leaders”. Even on Resonate there has been two discussion threads that start with, “Where is Canada’s Brian McLaren ?” or in other words, why won’t someone tell me what to do within my church?

“My other reason for why we do this comes from our own intellectual laziness or fear of making a mistake. A couple of years ago I read the amazing book [The Ingenuity Gap] by Canadian political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon who introduced me to the idea of a global ingenuity gap .. In it he points out that all over the world, the experts don’t know nearly as much as we think they do and make decisions based on too narrow a knowledge. This leads to the wrong answers, partly because they haven’t looked at all of the questions yet. After a while it is easier to follow someone else that has had success and assume that they have it all figured out. Coming out of a post-theology modernity, the temptation is to follow the lead in the area of programming. The results are a bunch of clone churches based on Axis or whoever else is edgy and cool.”

All this to say, I believe our situation in Canada is far more bleak than 90% of Canadian leaders realize. Frankly, I’m not sure we want to know. Ok, honestly — I don’t want to know.

If you love the church, hit your knees more often….

A longer version of this post is HERE.


Fitch – Ch Planting and Missional orders

A great video of David Fitch at the Cultivate gathering. What has changed post-Christendom that impacts church planting? Is church planting even the right word (loaded with assumptions of modernity and Christendom). What is the place for missional orders?
Filmed by Bill Kinnon.

Dave Fitch – the Cultivate Talk on Missional Orders from Bill Kinnon on Vimeo.

Review – Movements that Change the World

movements_changeSteve Addison. Missional Press, 2009. 142 pages. (Available in Australia from Koorong Books) Study Guide available free.

The Forgotten Ways surveyed church history, systems theory, and the practices of adaptive leadership in the context of recovering a missional ecclesiology and missional practice. Movements That Change the World eschews the systems perspective for a social-historical survey of missional movements that have changed their world. It also incorporates some organizational theory, in particular the adaptive leadership perspective. Read the rest of this entry →

Spontaneous Combustion

Roland Allen writes that the spontaneous expansion of the church is enhanced under alternate conditions:

1. when new converts immediately tell their story to others who know them

2. when evangelism is the work of those within the culture

3. when true doctrine results from the experience of Christ rather than only classroom instruction

4. when the church is self-supporting and provides for its own leaders and facilities

5. when new churches are given the freedom to learn by experience and are supported but not controlled. The great things of God are beyond human control (strong echoes of Newbigin here)

Movements that change the world..

movements_changeI finished this book by Steve Addison on the weekend.. thanksgiving weekend.. and found myself thankful that Steve took on this task. The book represents an eclectic survey of movements and data – a unique hybrid of research, observation, passion and faith. I really enjoyed the last third. My only criticism is that a systems perspective would have added depth and color to his analysis; but really haven’t Alan Roxburgh and Alan Hirsch given us enough of this already?

Addison’s approach is different enough from The Forgotten Ways that it is a nice complementary volume. He is working at integration of theory and practice and does an admirable job. Overall his work is both inspiring and convicting: we in the west are in deep trouble and the maps we used in the recent past do not show us the way forward. Will we relearn dependence on the Holy Spirit in this liminal place?

The last third consists of two sections: Rapid Mobilization and Adaptive Methods. He opens with a quote from a contractor who is less interested in the buildings than in building builders. This kind of vision and passion is the sort that forms dynamic movements. The chapter closes with a look at Ralph Moore and the Hope Chapel movement. I love this, “we’re not smart, we’re relentless.”

I was also struck again by the parallel between LTGs, Wesley’s bands and classes, and the triads being employed by groups like Life on the Vine. FORGE Canada will also use triads to anchor discipleship and formation on mission. I loved the simple little formula employed in the mini churches of Hope Chapel while reviewing bible material:
What did you learn (head)
What did God say to you (heart)
What will you do (hands)

Ok, more later..

Roland Allen, in the “Spontaneous Expansion of the Church,” describes seven ways to inhibit growth and expansion. I am recounting six of them here:

1. when the church is dependent on paid leadership

2. when the spread of the gospel is controlled out of fear of error, and both error and godly zeal are suppressed

3.when it is believed that the church is to be founded , educated, equipped, and established in the doctrine, ethics and organization before it is to expand

4. when emerging leaders are restricted from ministering until they are fully trained and so learn the lesson of inactivity and dependency

5. when conversion is seen as the result of clever argument rather than the power of Christ

6. when professional clergy control the ministry and discourage the spontaneous zeal of non-professionals. They may protect the new believers from charlatans (Acts 8:9-24) but they also block unconventional leaders like Peter the fisherman


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