This post comes directly from the Mid-Council Report (p.36-37). In this section we discuss both the challenge and the incredible potential that we Presbyterians have--and that most of us don't even recognize--to truly see creative, innovative transformation of the church we love today and why we believe our recommendations are the first steps toward a brand new day.
A brief powerpoint The MCC Report Made Simple: Flat. Flexible. Faithful and links to other resources are available here.
In To Change the World, University of Virginia sociologist, James Davison Hunter wrote,
“Change is often initiated outside of the centermost positions. When change is initiated in the center, then it typically comes from outside of the center's nucleus. Wherever innovation begins, it comes as a challenge to the dominant ideas and moral systems defined by the elites who possess the highest levels of symbolic capital.”
For true lasting change to occur (even within an institution) those in the “center” and those “outside of the center” must be engaged in the conversation. It is the interaction of the margins and the center that creates the new possibilities. And it is exactly that interaction—and the lively experiments that would come from it—that we recommend become the primary work of the church for the next season.
For a generation of Presbyterians who were reared on political, regulatory, and institutional approaches to problem solving, this recommendation will stretch us tremendously. We will need to develop the capacity to learn from our rich diversity; to have hard conversations about competing values and often unspoken issues that keep us from health and growth; and mostly to trust each other enough to attempt innovative experiments—many of which will likely fail—in order to find successful adaptations that will take us into our future together.
Historian and President Emeritus of Union Theological Seminary, Louis Weeks said, “No group of Christians has adaptation more in their DNA than Presbyterians.” We concur. A tradition that reconceived a communal function for what had been “bishops”; that adapted its polity from the European church-state models to a completely new context in a then new country; and rethought and reproduced its core values in numerous diverse contexts worldwide through its mission endeavors, has the capacity to revitalize itself for a post-Christendom and increasingly post-denominational context.
In his book on “the natural history of innovation,” Steven Johnson writes about the “adjacent possible.” The “adjacent possible” is the new innovation, the new discovery, that is only possible by first taking one step, or making one decision. The only way to get from the phonograph to the iPod is through a series of steps. Innovation does not come through giant leaps, but through one trial-and-error attempt at a time. That first step leads to more possibilities that could not otherwise happen, like how opening one door into a hallway offers more doors that could not be seen from the previous room. The “adjacent possible” also always allows for the possibility of returning back through the one door we have passed through and trying a different option.
Our proposal invites the church to live into the “adjacent possible”. It invites us to be a people who together take wise, deliberate “provisional” steps; who experiment with ways of being together, who ‘try on’ relationships, who make temporary covenants without fully leaving behind the historical, geographical connections that have shaped our polity to date.
Steven Johnson’s contention is that all innovation is “the story of a gradual but relentless probing” of what could come next given the pieces and parts at our disposal. We advance, he writes, “by taking available resources and cobbling them together to create new uses.” So, while the condition we find ourselves in is dire, our capacity for change has never been greater. As we will show you, not only is our situation urgently in need of all the wise creativity we can express, but the “available resources” available to us are significant, indeed.
Questions to Consider
- What theological and historical resources do we as Presbyterians have to draw on that will enable us to be more innovative today?
- Louis Weeks said, "“No group of Christians has adaptation more in their DNA than Presbyterians.” What is your response to that? What do you think hinders us from being more creative for the sake of the gospel today?
- What do you think would happen in the church if we truly began to experiment with new ways of being church, new structures of supporting congregations, and new missional experiments in each of our local contexts?
- In what ways could you envision the recommendations of this report becoming a spur for more trust-building, more connection and more interaction between the 'center' and those on the 'margins' in the church's life?