Joseph R. Myers knows a thing or two about community. As owner of consulting firm FrontPorch, he helps churches, businesses and other organizations promote and develop community. In Myers' latest book, Organic Community: Creating a Place Where People Naturally Connect, he maintains that the secret to cultivating community in the body of Christ is to create environments conducive to natural, or organic, growth. Gone are the days of master planning a sense of community, Myers says. Instead, churches must allow community to develop freely, without the pressures of guidelines mandating growth.
We recently caught up with Myers to ask him about the small-group paradigm, the process of community and synchronicity's role in collaboration.
MINISTRY TODAY: Are churches' small groups necessarily inorganic if they are organized by demographics or other affinity criteria?
JOSEPH R. MYERS: Simply put, no. But the question I invite us to ask is, "Do people naturally organize or order their lives into demographic—or other—affinity groupings?" A survey of one's own life will quickly reveal that, yes, people do order their lives in this fashion. Most small-group organizational models are rooted in organic order. We watch what people do and use our observations to create a model. The problem comes when we force this model on every individual for all seasons of life. We develop subtle (and not so subtle) demands that insist that people order their lives around our version of what we observed as organic order. We then promote these models as the "best" way to experience, the "only" way, etc.
I'm not suggesting that we not plan or develop some environments that would help people with their search for belonging. We can create environments where people naturally connect and find community. However, we must recognize that we can't organize, develop, plan or strategize for a particular result. We are not manufacturing cars. People enter an environment and create their own results. They are their own life artists.
MINISTRY TODAY: Can you elaborate on your statement that community isn't the product we are looking for but the process that we long for?
MYERS: It seems the buzz around community has created a mind-set that community is a product or even a marketing strategy. If we can convince someone to "purchase" our particular model for community, they will then find for all time a happy experience of whole community in their life (e.g., "If you'll join a small group then you'll find true, authentic community"). This isn't the function of community in a person's life. Community is a journey, not a product. It's not an end. It is the experience you have with others as you journey through your life. We long for community with us on the journey; our journey isn't toward a product called community.
MINISTRY TODAY: How do you suggest pastors create community within their churches if they're wary of the care-group model or otherwise try to create it formulaically?
MYERS: First, know that community is already present. We don't need to create community. What we can create are environments where community can flourish. Second, don't overpromise what one environment or experience can deliver. We have a habit of "up-ing" our promises to get people to attend our events. Third, concentrate on helping people find community in their everyday lives. We want people to experience health in the whole of their life, not just in the church context. It would help if we would provide handles of help and hope for their daily journey. We could help people learn the art of being a good neighbor, or how to be a helpful community soccer coach, or practicing the gift of hospitality. These are puzzles of community that people experience daily.
MINISTRY TODAY: As you state, forcing connections among people is awkward and uncomfortable. So how can church leaders move from master planning to organic community?
MYERS: Brennan Manning's quote helped me: "If we really knew the God of Jesus, we would stop trying to control and manipulate others 'for their own good,' knowing full well that this is not how God works among His people." Most master plans are primarily an attempt to control and manipulate people for their own good. We first need to acknowledge our own need to provide excessive help to others. Once we free ourselves from the trap of providing controlling, excessive help, we're well on our way to moving to a more organic-ordered life and ministry. The shift from master plan to organic order is primarily a shift of thought. The nine tools presented in Organic Community help make this shift. Once we start thinking in an organic order frame, we'll begin to use the language of organic order. The invitational language of organic order will encourage an organic-ordered community.
MINISTRY TODAY: You liken the church to an organism rather than an organization, so why isn't the cell-group model an organic method of creating community?
MYERS: I believe any model has a chance to be organically ordered. The cell-group model can be a way to create environments where community emerges naturally. However, as with any model, if it is promoted as the only way or the best way to create community, the model has now become the master in a master plan.
MINISTRY TODAY: How is the concept of synchronicity an example of collaboration instead of chaos?
MYERS: Master plans displace power by giving control too significant a role. Control is illusory power—it has power only if we believe the illusion that there is such a thing as control. But real power resides more in the complex hands of spontaneous, oscillating synchronicity. Control doesn't bring order to life. It doesn't have that power. There is something else that exercises and expresses power in self-organizing, organic ways.
When I tell people to give up on the illusion of control, they sometimes think I am advocating chaos, but this isn't the case. We do need order, but we should be less concerned with limiting chaos and more interested in achieving a sense of synchronicity. When fostering community, we should be looking for the fluid, graceful movement of birds flying in pattern or a school of fish gliding through deep waters. We are looking for the kind of order that comes from organic, synchronized spontaneity.
MINISTRY TODAY: You write about the need to move from scarcity to abundancy, so what are some suggestions for leaders to contemplate?
MYERS: The move to abundancy involves understanding that there are more resources available than what most of us consider. Many leaders see their congregation as the only resource for accomplishing the mission God has invited them to. However, this isn't true. When there is a compelling mission (one that isn't focused on accomplishing strategies of church growth or self-preservation), there are many who will help in collaborative ways.
Another form of scarcity is when the church promotes itself as the primary resource for a person's life. For example, we sometimes teach people that we are the best place to find belonging and community. By doing this, we teach people to see their lives as only having a scarcity of resources.
You may have noticed that I'm using the word abundancy. Abundancy doesn't mean limitless. The spirit of abundancy is a spirit of possibilities. Abundancy knows there are many possibilities—some that are well in place, some that are known, and some that are yet to be discovered.
The third form scarcity often takes is operating from a position of "black and white." Either/or thinking is a thought process of scarcity. Whenever we begin to think that there are only one or two options—this or that—we are operating from a spirit of scarcity. Feel free to think of many options. There are very few times in life when there are truly only one or two options.
11 INNOVATIONS IN THE LOCAL CHURCH: HOW TODAY'S LEADERS
CAN LEARN, DISCERN AND MOVE INTO THE FUTURE
Authors: Elmer Towns, Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird
Publisher: Regal Books
File Under: Leadership
In 11 Innovations in the Local Church, three church-growth experts team up to offer insights from a study of churches nationwide that are currently incorporating innovative trends. Lending their authoritative voices on the subject, the authors highlight these trends while reminding readers to evaluate each one in light of their own situation and adopt only those that appeal to one's sensibilities.
For those easily offended, beware: These authors don't pull punches. While covering one of the biggest trends in church circles today, "organic house churches," the trio writes: "The Constantinian model of Building + Clergy + Program = Church neither stands up to the biblical picture nor to the test of mission, and it has not led to a more godly culture or more godly people." Ouch!
Other popular types of church innovations covered include multisite churches, cyber-enhanced churches, intentionally multicultural churches and attractional churches. At the close of each chapter is a helpful section called "What We Need to Consider," which addresses some of the pros and cons of each type of innovation. Whether you're studying for the pastorate, planting a church or serving an established parish, the takeaway value of this book is more than worth the time spent devouring its meaningful insights.
Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (4); Insight (4); Theological Depth (3); Readability (5).
Reviewer: Sean Fowlds
MONEY MATTERS IN CHURCH: A PRACTICAL GUIDE FOR LEADERS
Authors: Aubrey Malphurs and Steve Stroope
Publisher: Baker Books
File Under: Stewardship
Operating a fiscally healthy ministry is challenging these days, and finding effective money management and fundraising models can seem endless. Aubrey Malphurs, a professor, church consultant and former pastor, and Steve Stroope, a senior pastor of a large church, combine to offer a "one-stop source" of applicable information. Their goal? To help leaders of any size church or ministry create a culture of giving that supports savvy, faithful and legal financial practices.
The authors begin by guiding readers through a biblical understanding of stewardship and then teaching how to develop donors and maximize contributions. This foundation leads to a discussion on systems, policies and structures for developing a strategic budget; enacting an effective audit process; projecting income and expenses; working with banks; paying staff; and addressing debt. Malphurs and Stroope also detail the steps for preparing, implementing and following through on a capital fundraising campaign.
Chapter-ending questions help readers assimilate the material and could be an effective tool for small-group or staff discussions. Appendices include a detailed summary of the authors' theology of financial stewardship, an extensive pre-financial campaign questionnaire, detailed campaign position descriptions and a suggested campaign timeline. All are constructively catered to those handling the books.
Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (5); Insight (5); Theological Depth (5); Readability (4). Reviewer: John Michael DeMarco
MOVING ON, MOVING FORWARD:
A GUIDE FOR PASTORS IN TRANSITION
Authors: Michael J. Anthony and Mick Boersma
File Under: Pastoral Ministry
Unlike previous eras when clergy remained at the same church for years, today's ministers are often familiar with navigating the uncertain waters of job change. Yet for those seeking a new place to serve, such a season of transition can still be accompanied with moments of fear, loneliness and despair. At the root of their departure usually lies some form of conflict or unrealistic expecations. The result is that many pastors are forced to take time for healing and renewal, while others wind up leaving vocational ministry altogether.
Authors Michael J. Anthony and Mick Boersma—both professors at Talbot School of Theology and former pastors—try to prevent the latter with a comprehensive look at the personal needs of ministers.
Based on a survey of nearly 200 pastors (including youth and children's ministers) spanning several states and denominations, Moving On, Moving Forward is designed ultimately to increase a ministry leader's future effectiveness for the kingdom. The volume's first part addresses how pastors can prepare for a job transition by focusing on God's perspective of ministry rather than simply their own. Using plenty of anecdotes, examples and a conversational tone throughout, the authors show readers how to develop a personal mission and vision statement, and to construct a plan to achieve the goals that flow from this commitment.
Part two helps those considering a ministerial job change to take a deep, honest look at the circumstance and emotions beneath the surface of their impending decision. Also included are tips for writing a letter of resignation and negotiating a severance package.
The final section of the book explores the relational needs of the pastor's family that must be considered as part of the decision-making process, as well as situation-specific topics such as résumé writing and networking principles. Anthony and Boersma conclude this useful guide with material on dealing with search committees and how to more effectively negotiate a salary. Ministers in transition will certainly appreciate their blend of compassion, experience and practical insight.
Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (5); Insight (4); Theological Depth (4); Readability (5). Reviewer: John Michael DeMarco
BEYOND MEGACHURCH MYTHS: WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM
AMERICA'S LARGEST CHURCHES
Authors: Scott Thumma and Dave Travis
File Under: Church Growth
It's debatable whether the biggest churches are necessarily the best churches. But what's undeniable is that megachurches influence today's society. With this in mind, the authors of Beyond Megachurch Myths set out to critique today's largest congregations and draw lessons from them for other leaders.
Scott Thumma, a researcher at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, and Dave Travis, executive vice president of Leadership Network, present extensive research from their organizations' Megachurches Today 2005 survey. Using stats, stories and scholarly measurements to highlight the megachurch trend, the authors point out, for example, that the number of Protestant churches in the United States with weekly attendance of more than 2,000 has almost doubled in only five years. They also debunk seven common myths that contend megachurches: are too big to be good; are driven by personality cults and will fade away; are selfish and self-centered; typically water down the faith; are bad for the overall religious economy; only serve people of the same race, class and political views; and grow because of the show or performance.
Added to this are valuable suggestions for pastors of congregations of all sizes, making Beyond Megachurch Myths not only an uplifting read, but one that teaches church growth principles without belittling those who aren't part of the megachurch trend.
Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (4); Insight (5); Theological Depth (4); Readability (5). Reviewer: Chris Maxwell