Saturday, February 21, 2009



Once topography is embraced (see previous post), the next task is often that of organization. It can't really be avoided. Sooner or later we will find ourselves adopting or shaping some sort of a paradigm which will guide the way we navigate the terrain the map describes. However, unless we are intentional and thoughtful about it (and sometimes even if we are) our tendency will be to simply slip into the default mode(s) offered by our culture. There may, however, be unintentional consequences that are far from neutral. Structures, models, paradigms, or just ways of being together, that on the surface may appear helpful and useful in terms of "getting things done," reflect sets of values and assumptions of their own that too often work against what it is that we may have been organizing to do in the first place.

The culture in which I live, and am most familiar, places a great deal of value on speed, efficiency and productivity. Produce more, faster, and for less is often the tune that plays quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) in the background, and we find ourselves moving to the un-relentless rhythm even after we no longer are consciously aware of the music. Subtly, over time, having blurred the distinction between a corporate entity and a relational community, we come to accept the conventional wisdom that people exist to serve the needs of organizations, rather than organizations to provide the framework in which people are given the support they need to flourish. Business leaders deal with people with the good of business in mind, rather than dealing with business with the good of the people in mind. Of course there are those who quickly retort that these two are not mutually exclusive, and in many respects they don't have to be, but much hinges on how one defines "good." - and perhaps how "good" might be understood depending on which model you begin with as the "default" setting.

In reflecting on the passage from the last post (Luke 6:12-19), in addition to the sense of topography it seems to reflect, it may also give us some clues as to how we go about structuring the way we travel.

Luke 6:12-19 (NIV)
One of those days Jesus went out to a mountianside to pray, and spend the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, who he also designated as apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.
While it may sound like simply stating the obvious, what we see Jesus doing as He emerges from His time in prayer and begins the task of calling together His ministry team, is beginning by selecting people. Let me explain what I mean by that.

If we assume that Jesus was operating from the default setting that many in our culture do today, we might see Jesus doing something like this: Having spent the night in prayer mapping out his ministry structure and all the various skill sets and positions He would need to put a productive organization together, He then went about the task of selecting the people with the right qualifications to fill those positions. Create the job description, and then look for the most qualified people to fill the position. What is generally assumed is that what matters most is the smooth and efficient running of the organization, and that the "value" of those who are invited to come and be a part of this is determined by how well they contribute their unique contribution to the smooth running of the organization. Sit on a few search or personnel committees, and you will quickly get the feel for this kind of perspective.

But what if we assume that Jesus might not have been operating with this set of assumptions? What if His time in prayer was less about building an organizational structure that needed to be staffed, and more about focusing His attention in such a way that He becomes more aware of seeing others the way God sees them. What if the Kingdom He is trying to establish is less about efficiency and more about responsiveness? What if it is less about productivity and more about faithfulness? What if it is less about building and serving an organization, and more about creating relational connections that serve people and provide ways for them to flourish? What if it is less about finding people with the right skill set for what I want to build, and more about helping people discover the skill set they have been given, and allowing them to flourish? What if it even means making room for people who might very well fail, but who need the opportunity to respond anyway?

As I think about what I see Jesus doing here, and what He seems to be building over the time He is with these twelve people He has called, it seems to me that what we observe comes much closer to the second set of assumptions than does the first. He appears to call people not to predetermined positions, but to a way of living and being with each other.

Interestingly enough, it is a way of living and being with each other that we find being described as the passage continues. From His time in prayer, Jesus invites people to come and be with Him, and from there they move to a "level place" to go about the work of being with people, and helping them find healing and restoration from whatever it is that is diminishing their ability to live as whole people, in whatever form it manifested itself.

It is not that organizational structures or job descriptions are inherently evil in and of themselves, but rather that unless we have things turned the right way around, they can become problematic, and sometimes take on a life of their own that actually drains the life out of the people who wind up serving them, rather than allowing them to serve us.

I am reminded of a conversation I had with someone a while ago (who works in a different location than I do). As we talked about an issue that came up regarding an employee, when it was suggested that perhaps, if we to take the time to view the whole situation from God's perspective, according to the principles of God's Kingdom, that maybe sacrificing a little of our own convenience and allowing a little longer for a task to be completed in order to accommodate some significant family issues, the suggestion was summarily dismissed as a bunch of "theological crap" -- so bound are we to the notions that derive from culturally instilled values that place personal convenience and efficiency over the relational concerns of people who are trying to provide for both the financial and relational needs of their family in a world that makes both quite challenging. It is interesting that it is often the case in our culture that we can be more tolerant of large amounts of time being wasted by technology or entertainment (in a number of various forms), but much less so if it is a person that inconveniences us.

Default settings matter. Perspective matters. The order of things matter. Whether we wind up serving our structures, or whether we build the structures we need in order to help us serve, matters. Whether or not we get this, and allow this to get us, matters.

As I reflect on this passage, I come away not only with an appreciation for the topography that is reflected here, but also with some glimpses of what is going on among those who are traveling through the terrain. To quote a friend and mentor, Chuck Miller, "We need to be the people of God before we do the work of God."

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