Friday, February 22, 2008

Beyond Our Control

One of the best reads I have come across recently isn't available in the bookstore or on (at least not yet). It is Missional Mapmaking by Alan Roxburgh and may be accessed at

Most of us are familiar with the idea of paradigms. I was first introduced to the concept several years ago by a friend who had read Joel Barker's book with that title. Barker built on the work of philosophers of science such as Thomas Kuhn (see The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) in challenging leaders to reconsider the lens (or mental models) they used in viewing the context in which they worked.

Roxburgh takes the idea further by explaining how the mental maps we have inherited from the modern experiment have been applied (inappropriately he argues) to the church. The rational approach of modernism is characterized by the idea that everything--the universe, government, industry, denominational hierarchies--can and should operate like well-oiled machines. Plug in the right resources (money, equipment, people) in the right order and you get the expected results. It is a simple cause and effect process. There are two major problems with this command and contro approach.

First, it objectifies people--that is, they become commodities not persons. We neglect to see people created in the image of God as spiritual individuals and as integral parts of a value-laden community.

Second, it doesn't work (especially in the church)! People don't want to be controlled or used. They pick up on it when it happens (although it may take some time).

Roxburgh shares his testimony about trying to apply strategic planning in a church and discovering it was like trying to "herd cats." Many members agreed to the plan, but they had no passion for it and the plan sat on the shelf and gathered dust. Some just decided the plan wasn't for them and went elsewhere. He comes to the conclusion that it is alright to be a "cat" and that often the cats in the congregation are those who are speaking the words of the Spirit.

For some time, I have had hangups about strategic planning, especially in the church and those entities that support the work of the churches. In denomination-like entities, they tend to become self-surving, oriented more toward survival than ministry. I appreciate that Roxburgh has articulated some things that I could not put into words about my misgivings.

Now, he does not condemn strategic planning in some areas. When you fly on an airplane, you want it to be the successful end product of a thorough planning process; however, the production of an airplane and the journey of discipleship are not the same. One must allow for the work of the Spirit in the life of the believer and the faith community.

What is the Spirit saying to us about our maps and mental models? How can we be sensitive to the leadership of the Spirit while remaining accountable to those we serve? One way may be to seek to recover the mission of God and make it our own.

1 comment:

Mike Young said...

I find Roxburgh's observation that you point out regarding the objectification of people very helpful. Our paradigms force our thinking toward function rather than relationship which leads us down a path on which our plans often revolve around "staffing" our programs with human capital rather than making connections with "spiritual individuals created in the image of God." The values of our communities of faith are skewed toward accumulating more people and we begin to apply an "economies of scale" mentality to our sacred work. (i.e.: the cost of producing an additional “unit” of a product decreases as the volume of output increases). This is a modern framework placed on the church. Our ability to apply biblical frameworks to counter this thinking is hindered by the fact that we have reduced biblical studies to tests of orthodoxy and/or “Dr. Phil” styled self-help advice. Rather than allowing scripture to form our “value-laden” community, we bend scripture to fit our modern values. Our communities are value-laden; however often it is our modern culture rather than scripture that forms the values.