Turnaround Fellowship, part 3 – Flexibility and Nimbleness

00016906Note: This is the third installment in a series of blog posts, entitled, "Turnaround Fellowship." The intent is to stimulate discussion and offer suggestions to help Churches of Christ prevail in the 21st century.

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Churches of Christ are not known for their flexibility or their nimbleness. These are two different virtues. Flexibility has to do with openness to new ideas and willingness to change. Nimbleness refers to the potential speed of change. Our fellowship would benefit greatly from some growth in both.

First, let's discuss flexibility. Churches of Christ have come a long way in their willingness to change. It's true, though some of my colleagues may have spit out their coffee when they read that last sentence. I can remember a time in which the thought of using ANY idea generated from outside Churches of Christ might have been a problem. For that matter, any idea generated from outside one's circle within Churches of Christ might have been suspect. It's not really that way now. For that, we should all be thankful. However, we have a long way to go here.

I was on the phone with a church leader in another part of the country recently who had never heard of Rick Warren. I'm not saying he didn't like Rick Warren. He had never heard of Rick Warren (and I got his permission to mention him on the blog J). Whoah. I mention this not to suggest we pick up the ideas from everyone out there, but to say we need to be aware of others out there.

Many church leaders do not read widely, do not attend churches or events outside of their own congregation—much less other Christian groups. This causes an unconscious form of myopia to develop. Over time, our world gets smaller. We are only capable of seeing the grapes grown in our own backyard, and don't realize we're living in Napa Valley. This isn't good. Isolationism in ministry is generally a recipe for mediocrity.

Inflexibility can be pictured as a chair with four legs, resting on fear, arrogance, naivete, and ignorance (not in the pejorative sense…but rather, "not knowing."). This is an ugly foursome:

  • Fear – of the unknown and of the congregation if change were to be enacted.
  • Naivete – failing to see that change is needed and failing to see possible solutions because of isolationism. Sometimes naivete comes from apathy, "I don't know because I don't care to know."
  • Arrogance – Unwillingness to admit that change is needed because of a lack of humility.
  • Ignorance – Lack of skill at knowing how to choose the right changes and exact healthy change process.

Any four or all four of these can play a role in creating a stiffness that makes it difficult for a church to change or move in any particular direction. If not paid attention to, this stiffness can become rigor mortis.

When the need to move forward or change is perceived, it's important that the church and it's leaders are willing to go where they genuinely sense the Spirit leading, rather than being led in effect by those who will object regardless and thus halt progress. There are some in every church who are simply counter-dependent. You could say, "Jesus is Lord," and they would object to the tone in which you said it and would wonder where you were going with it. Interestingly, such people gravitate toward churches that don't change, not churches that do. Like stagnant water breeds disease, so do non-moving churches. The virtue of flexibility is the ability for a church to say, "this is where we believe God is leading now and for the immediate future. We will make adjustments along the way if we need to and will remain open to input. We're asking everyone to be open to those new movements for the Kingdom's sake. Here we go."

Churches of Christ are a part of the Restoration Movement, which might seem to intrinsically make us a bit more change averse. It doesn't have to be the case. Let resolve to limber up and fear less. As we limber up, people will sense that new ideas and passion are welcome. The church will have more new ideas because people know leadership's default answer isn't "no," and that the idea has a reasonable chance of being implemented in their lifetime.

Nimbleness doesn't mean doing everything quickly. It means having the capacity to move as quickly as is prudent. A wide-receiver in the NFL doesn't run at maximum speed to get his morning newspaper. He runs at maximum speed when he nees to outrun the Cornerback…and is able to do so. Churches of Christ need to structure themselves to be able to move quickly. Culture and circumstances change quickly. Opportunities arise quickly and sometimes have small windows of opportunity. Many churches struggle to be effective and miss opportunities they could have seized simply because they can only move slowly. They have no other gear. There is a time to move slowly. There is a time to be ready and move quickly, when it's prudent.

Imagine that your church sensed the need to bring an additional minister on. How long would it take from the time the decision was made in leadership to the time he or she was in the office down the hall? In most churches, the over/under is a year. Too slow. Why would it take that long? In most churches, it would need to be announced, feedback received from the congregation, a team formed, a team meets to discuss qualities, and the net is cast over a period of weeks or months. Then, it's weeks or months of interviewing, and weeks or months of deciding, extending offers, and moving them. Too slow. By the time the hire is made, what was an emerging problem may now be a catastrophe. I want to be clear that there are some transitions that need to take time. But, taking our time is not usually our problem. Being able to respond to new opportunities and problems that present themselves with appropriate nimbleness is more often the problem. It's simply something we need to work on.

Healthy churches expect God to bring opportunities their way. They have an eye on today and an eye over the horizon, looking for challenges and what God might bring their way. They expect the awesome, and when it happens, they are not surprised. To them, it's simply God doing what He likes to do. Like Peter, they look at those around and ask, "Why are you surprised?" (Acts 3:12). It may be that if we expected more, God might deliver more. If we expected God to move more, we might stay more ready. Like a hockey goalie, we would be ready for the opportunity to come at us briskly, and be ready to respond briskly.

Thorough and slow are not the same thing. This isn't an encouragement to do everything quickly, but to prepare the church to move at a speed appropriate to the task at hand. That will necessitate cultivating an atmosphere of change and movement in the congregation so that people look forward to change and expect it. It also requires the church grant leadership the freedom to move and that leadership make responsible decisions that build the trust of the Body. For more on how to structure the church for flexibility and nimbleness, you can click here.

Flexibility allows the church to move. Nimbleness allows us to move at the appropriate speed.

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Share Your Thoughts

3 thoughts on “Turnaround Fellowship, part 3 – Flexibility and Nimbleness

  1. Great post Tim. Our rigidity and protectionism is legendary. I think it can be a strength but in this environment it becomes the albatross around our necks.
    Could it be that we are suffering from to much success in our heyday? Our “fastest growing religious body in America” time was euphoric and culturally defining. Perhaps that cultic memory is too much to shake off.
    I was almost in tears as I read your writing. This needs to be published and pushed. Not in the homogenized fashion of most of our writing but in straight forward prophetic language that can cause motion and be used by the Holy Ghost (yeah I said Ghost)to promote revival…

  2. I think geography does play some role. Dallas was much different than Southern California is. However, with technology and with a little effort, exposure to new ideas is still readily available. In fact, in many areas of the country, it just has to be looked for. It may not be some of the big stuff like CATALYST, Willow’s Leadership Summit, etc., but there is some great stuff. At the very least, there are usually some good neighboring churches to learn from.

  3. As expected, a good post.
    Two of the churches I have served with were geographically as far from the CoC hub as possible (for both congregations, the nearest CoC college was 8 hours away) and thus had little awareness of some of the unwritten assumptions on what a CoC should be. This, I felt was a plus and a breath of fresh air. However, besides myself, in each congregation there was only one other person/family that had any connection to events (i.e., lectureships) taking place. Thus, for both congregations, they became very open to working with other local non-CoC congregations in the community (they did not know this was taboo in some places) but still their isolation did show up in many other ways. So your point of needing exposure beyond ourselves is very crucial.
    Grace and peace,
    Rex