Wednesday, January 16, 2008

CovenantClusters: Big on Organic Small in Organization

Before I get into some of the specifics about what it means to me for CovenantClusters to be organically grown, I want to insert this little ramble...barely qualifies as a rant. Posted this reply last week to a wonderful post by my friend Len, mentioning that I would probably have to post it here as well:


I've been pondering your posts on organization...I've been pondering organizational stuff for decades--my degree is even "Organizational Management"! And you have hit four important points about the difference between organic and organization--well done!

For me the simplest way to process the difference between the two is how they deal with the messiness and chaos of growth.

M. Scott Peck has mentioned in his books that he believes humans are inherently struggling with the draw of ease and comfort. I can see where he's coming from. Life in the last 60 years (in the West, at least) has turned in focus (both energy and imagination) from being about basic survival to looking for "value-added", since basic survival is no longer in question for the majority.

Basic survival is the realm where we must deal effectively with the messiness and chaos of growth. This is the realm of liminality...where there is a resulting communitas that make a huge impact on how persons grow and mature into those who can effectively replicate themselves.

When cultures have moved beyond basic survival (at least in the material realm...the spiritual and emotional realms are usually terribly short-changed), people tend to want to move away from the edges--places where FEAR still is an important teacher and motivator--they long for ease and comfort. And this longing is so strong that they are willing to give up the vast majority of their freedom in order to relieve themselves from the vast majority of their responsibilities concerning the messiness and chaos of their own growth and maturity.

This is where we see the management concept known as "organizing our way out of chaos" appear...and it is always the most expedient but rarely the most efficient way to deal with mess and chaos.

When leaders can walk people through the mess and chaos of growth and maturity, they have the potential to replicate that process with others. If they are forever looking for someone to "organize their way out of chaos" they will become both stunted and barren.

This is exactly what Jesus was asking God to do in the Garden....Father, if it is possible, will you organize a way out of this horrible situation I'm facing? But Jesus, being in step with the Father and Spirit, knew that could only happen if it could still be effective in accomplishing the goal. Alas, there was no other way but through the suffering of the cross...and so Jesus embraced the mess and the chaos so that he would be able to take his disciples through that valley...and they could take others through that same valley themselves....

This is why organic is the only way that works for more than two generations: it naturally replicates itself on a regular basis. Robert and I will die sometime in the next 30-60 years (Lord willing), but our influence will not die with us. We have three sons who will (Lord willing) grow into men of God and carry on. It is possible for me to have had 15-20 children (YIKES) and for Robert and I to raise them to be men and women of God (only by God's grace!), but it would require much more overhead and be a much larger operation on every scale. And there is a tremendous loss of attention and affection for everyone in that scenario, resulting in partial efficiency and partial effectiveness....

In the old days, the days of basic survival, it was imperative to have large families in order to have workers for the field! It was also more common for a man to go through multiple wives in the process...and the infant mortality rate was terrible. But those days have passed for many.

If the outcome that any group of Christians seeking to follow the Spirit's leading is anything less than regular replication, they need to go back to the strategic planning drawing board!

Sorry to ramble on here, Len...this is important processing for me as I gear up to the next stage with CovenantClusters, where this kind of exponential growth is hardwired at the mDNA level! I may have to post this myself....

The Abbess' rule is simple: Just enough organization for relationships to thrive; enough chaos for creativity and communitas to emerge; all needs met.

So there you have a smattering of thoughts....I'll unpack them as we travel along.

Go with God.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Missional Order as Church Planting Strategy

Just when I thought there was no more confirmation possible concerning the vision for CovenantClusters, my Missional Order partners over at Allelon post this video of David Fitch from last fall's Cultivate Gathering in Hamilton, Ontario!

Wow...these were the notes I jotted down:
  • Missional order is basically how to plant churches in post-Christendom.
  • Missional order is about 10 people embedded/incarnated in a community, surviving as a community supporting each other in an organic way.
  • Missional order gathers for formation and sends people out into mission --it is a rhythm of life-- and its community must be ready to resist the surrounding culture's idea of "success."
  • Missional order is not about getting, having or using power to lead. It is about constantly giving power away (empowering others) and being mutually submitted to each other.
  • Missional order is about a way of life together as living presentation of the is not about programs and attraction.
Back in August of 2007, when I first heard about the Missional Order Gathering that Allelon was planning to host at Seabeck, something in my gut said that I must go. As I've said earlier, most of us knew that we were supposed to be there, but we weren't quite sure why. Even after we all got home, we weren't quite sure exactly what had happened or what was next....

But for me, this connection of Missional Order as post-Christendom church planting methodology was like a stroke of lightning--the last piece falling into place. And David Fitch and Allelon are the ones saying, "Yup, that's the idea."

Our gracious God has provided his humble little purple abbess with one more powerful piece of confirmation...and, as with every other piece of the story, you don't have to take my word for it!


Friday, January 11, 2008

CovenantClusters is a Covenant Community

Technical Update 1/15/2008: My Techno Husband, who uses a different browser, noticed that there was a code bleed through in my numbered list...I have corrected that problem. Sorry for any confusion!

[NOTE: During this series on CovenantClusters: The Vision Unfolds, it will be important that I keep Abi's Terms updated ... and that you acquaint yourself with what is over in the Scriptorium. There is a link to Abi's Terms in my sidebar, but I will try to be as link-friendly as I can!]

If you want to understand the vision for CovenantClusters, you will have to wrestle with my understanding of the term covenant (yup, it's the very first listing over in the Scriptorium). I have come to find out that there are way too many different thoughts floating out there concerning this word ... and if we are to effectively communicate here, I must help you understand what I mean when I use this word.

Unfortunately, many times it is most efficient to begin defining terms by explaining what you don't mean. Hmmm ... this is very much akin to a type of learning I have coined the phrase reverse mentoring to describe (yes, I just added it in the Scriptorium!) So here goes:

I have found that most people, when they hear the term covenant, think of Abraham and the covenant God made with him to bless the world through his countless descendants. While that's not a bad place to start, I find that too few separate the covenant God made with Abraham from the New Covenant God made with Jesus Christ as our representative. And this is a big deal to me, the separation of these covenants into old and new, or first and second, as some have been calling them. (First and second is too problematic for me, personally.)

I've spent enough time over at Jesus Creed and The Forgotten Ways (and other important blogs) to know that there are many who do not believe as I do about this. I am not particularly interested in rehashing that discussion over here. This is where folks come who want to understand what CovenantClusters is about....

So, we need to take a break here, friends....

One of Abi's basic rules of engagement for discussion is that we must be willing to listen fully to the other in order to be able to understand the view of the other. I usually phrase it like this:

  1. Consciously set aside your own presuppositions.

  2. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind to all God’s truth.

  3. When you encounter an idea that raises a question in your mind, make a note of it right then, but don’t dwell on it. (Keep paper handy to record your notes and questions.

  4. Set aside your doubts long enough to try to understand what is actually intended.

  5. After you have read the entire section, including all references, go back and review your questions. Then, when you're ready to ask me your thoughtful questions, go for it!

Keep in mind that this exercise is not intended to stifle your questions or prevent lively discussion. On the contrary, the search for all of God’s truth requires lively, thoughtful, humble discussion – agreeable disagreement – among God’s people!

This means that you will need find time to go over the Scriptorium and read my entries about Covenant and cHesed (don't miss the link to the chart) ... including the link to Chris McKinney's site, which includes a lot of information from one of our important common sources of information: What the Bible Says About Covenant by Mont W. Smith. (Some of you will remember me mentioning Dr. Smith's passing last November.)

The vision of CovenantClusters is not about a group of people covenanting together to be or do anything new. It is about groups of Christ-followers who cluster together as local representatives of the Body of Christ -- what I call the Christian Hasidim -- faithfully living out the terms and conditions of the New Covenant, cut once-and-for-all on a Roman cross outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem.

Go with God.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

CovenantClusters: The Vision Unfolds!

I have said that 2008 would be the year to reveal the details that have been percolating for the past 24 months. I am inspired to start this today because of some things that MO Blogger Len has been pondering about organic and organizational stuff.

The first thing I did was label the CovenantClusters logo over in the sidebar and distill a kind of Rule of Life (that's missional order speak for a motto). Now, I must say that I have been struggling to find something that is any more succinct than Northumbria's Rule of Life: availability and vulnerability. These two words resonate strongly within me.

But as I was responding to Len's post today, these words just kind of appeared--and I'm going to take that as a bit of welcome inspiration:
Enough organization for relationships to thrive.
Enough chaos for creativity and communitas to emerge.
Every need met.
Do you see them in there, availability and vulnerability? Perhaps they are, for me, tacit parts of the foundation. You will definitely see them in the following posts!

Well, I figured the best way to do this would be to make an outline, the start of a vision statement. So I did. Here it is:

CovenantClusters is...
  • A Covenant Community
  • Organic
  • Incarnational
  • Missional
  • Intergenerational
  • Self-Replicating
  • Neo-Monastic
    • Following a Rule of Life (part of a Seabeck-birthed Missional Order?)
    • Communal (locally, virtually and universally connected to the Body of Christ)
    • Disciple-Making through the Mentor/Apprentice model
    • Berean
    • Simple-living
So, there you have it. That's what I'll be processing and unpacking over the next few weeks. I'll let you in on all the places I've gone and the people I've met and the books I've read and conferences I've attended and then you'll know the answer to The Abbess' most-asked question: What is a CovenantCluster?

Go with God.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Don't wait; be patient....

Two years ago on a fine Epiphany afternoon, I found myself in desperate need of a nap (Surprise! Not....). My kindergartener had quickly fallen asleep, which was usually the only impediment, and I tried to relax and join him in dream-land.

It was not to be. This nap opportunity was interrupted (hehehe) by swirling thoughts and images. Things that I'd been collecting for 30-some years and storing away for "someday" in the back of my brain. Someday ... when my thoughts and dreams about how the Christian life could (should?) be lived might actually become reality.

Really, Lord...I desperately need this nap....

Twenty minutes of non-nap later, I ask: "Okay, Lord. Do you want me to get up and write this down?" Apparently, he did. So, I went down to the kitchen table with my tiny notebook and began to write ... and write ... and write ... and draw charts ... and write. Two hours and sixteen pages later I had documented what has come to be known as the vision for CovenantClusters.

A vision of incarnational-missional community arrived on Epiphany. Of course, I didn't have the vocabulary to describe it that way then ... but the many interruptions, er, appointments God scheduled for me these past two years have provided all the charts, books, vocabulary and confirmation I could possibly want. And after a year of trying to explain this vision to people who were obviously not on the same page ... God brought me to a tribe of brothers and sisters journeying along a similar (parallel?) path. This path does not, at first glance, appear well traveled; but there are many more following it than most would guess ... folks who embrace words like these:

Companionship. Comprehension. Cohesion. Collaboration. Challenge. Compassion. Chaos. Communitas ... even cHesed! (Hmmm ... Brad, what's with the alliterative "c" thing going on here -- did you start it? :^) )

And the most amazing thing is this: that after all the books and people and blogs and conferences that I have crammed into the past 15 months, the vision scribbled down in that little notebook has not changed. It has been given vocabulary and gravitas and context and scope, absolutely. But not one thing that swirled around 24 months ago has needed to be "edited out" in the face of all that I have experienced. There is still, apparently, a need for this vision to be brought to life. Pieces of it exist here and there, but I have yet to find anyone, anywhere with a similar scope and breadth of vision that makes me want to set aside what I have "seen" and join them. I have been tempted, mind you, but only because it would be "easier" to join the work of another than to complete the task God has set before me.

Surely, this continues to be one of the most interesting forms of confirmation of this vision in the depths of my soul. And so I will be reworking that vision to include all that I have learned and look toward sharing a more concrete vision with those companions the Lord will call to join me. And, together, we will bring CovenantClusters to our neighborhoods.

It is going to be a grand year, indeed. And the very first words of confirmation and counsel I received, just days after the vision, continue to ring true: don't wait; be patient.

Go with God.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Looking into 2008....

The Abbess stops for a quick look at 2008, and sees just a few things: three effervescent sons, one lumberjack/IT firewall guru husband, progress building a strong PTSA at my eldest's middle school, a fine-tuned vision and implementation of CovenantClusters, and rest.

Of course, there will be plenty of other things along the way...I have decided, after all, that if I ever write a book of memoirs I will give as its title "An Interrupted Life: What I did on the way to where I was going."

It is where I'm going that is important, after all...or, rather, it is with whom I'm going. And so, as I said in the last post of 2007, I will be signing this year's posts with....

Go with God.