Seth Godin, Resilience and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

By Julie Richardson Brown

I don’t remember when I first stumbled upon Seth Godin’s blog. I do know that for some time I’d heard his name, knew his work (most notably Tribes) and had sloughed him off as just another babbling voice claiming to have The Answer to any company’s, entrepreneur’s or organizational leader’s cry of “What do we do now?”

I’ve read about moving cheese and making it stick and where the tipping point is and...blah, blah, blah. And while all sorts of writers have made all sorts of claims on what it means to be a leader, what it means to be a brave visionary, what it means to navigate new ideas and be a successful “change agent,” I’ve yet to see more than a handful of those in church leadership positions (lay, ordained, or otherwise; local church, various judicatory levels, or otherwise) use these secular world notions applied to church in a way that makes much sense or effects transformation. So it all just winds up being an impressive bookshelf lineup.

Until now. I really believe that Mr. Godin’s got stuff to say that matters--just about every day. And I’ve considered starting an online clergy discussion group to discuss his writing and his work in terms of, “What might this have to say to us, Church?”

And then the post on Seth’s Blog for this morning, Friday, April 26th, popped up in my inbox andJesusJosephMaryPatrickandALLtheSaints! I thought, “This is briliant! And my church that I love (and daily struggle with) so needs to hear this!”

It’s about resilience, people (“the ability to shift and respond to change/the ability to survive and thrive in the face of change” as Godin defines it). I call resilience what it means to hold on, rise above, move forward and emerge transformed in the midst of the most rapidly changing social, religious and technological landscape that the world (and, by inclusion, the Church) has ever known.

As the CC (DOC) continues to ride the rough waters of said landscape, with declining budgets, theological disagreement and a general and pervasive fear of “What’s next and how will we get there?” as massive boulders along the way, it seems like maybe this--resilience--is something we might do well to think about in new ways.

Lucky us. Seth did it for us.

The choice, he writes, is “build something perfect for today, or build something that lasts,” because, “perfect today no longer means perfect forever.” And then he offers four approaches to resilience. I’ll let you read about them in full if you choose to do so here, but what I want to focus on is the first two of the approaches, “Don’t Need It” and “Invest in a Network.”

Godin ranks these as the two braver approaches--in churchy language we might say “the two more prophetic approaches.”

We don’t need--any more--enormous buildings, top-heavy structures/leadership or processes of being that, far too often, aren’t much more than a series of hoops to jump through. We don’t need an “in crowd” (Disciples Royalty, as some of us snarkier ones say), and we don’t need General Assemblies that are barely--if at all--affordable for the vast majority of our churches and membership (and so, by default, a good number of voices get left out).

What we need is space for grace to happen. What we need is a true inclusion of all people, all gifts and all theological viewpoints. What we need is open and honest and non-gatekeeping accountability in our education, commissioning, ordination and Search and Call processes. What we need is a willingness to let go of job titles that no longer make sense and funding streams we all fight over and territories (geographical, theological and philosophical) that we try desperately to protect.

I realize that I’m using broad strokes here, and I know that behind what I write are real people and real lives and real jobs at stake. Believe me, I get it. But we cannot hold on to and hide behind a crumbling way of being (no matter how good it once was) in hopes that we’ll get it stabilized enough to stay there--when what we ought to be doing is clearing the rubble so that something new can be built.

And we ought to be doing this building together, or, as Godin would say, “investing in networks” as we do. “When your neighbor can lend you what you need, it's far easier to survive losing what you've got,” he posits (and correctly).

Somewhere along the way we People of the Chalice have forgotten what it means to live this life and faith together. The result is a lack of institutional trust, policies that force diversity (often, in my opinion, falsely) as opposed to honestly loving, respecting and welcoming one another, and competition for what little money exists, or, worse, a lack of understanding about why the Disciples Mission Fund really does matter (even if how it is collected and dispersed might need a little work).

It’s one of the very worst byproducts of fear of change--a desperate effort to cling to our own corner of the world so that we can maintain some pale sense of security.

The stories of our faith teach us differently. Ruth and Esther did not become heroes of our faith because they did a great job maintaining the status quo. And not a single one of us, I’d wager, would, today, lift up King David as a model of spiritual leadership. But God used him. And most of our churches would just as soon judge a pregnant teenager as we would think that maybe she might be carrying the Son of God. And rarely do we follow Jesus well enough to live out of a sense of abundance (you know...more than enough loaves and fishes), because too often we’re bemoaning scarcity.

My friends and colleagues, we can do better. And please know, I do not pretend to have all the answers, but there is not a single issue I have named here that I am not willing to work with others on towards solutions. One of the worst traits of church people is a tendency to name all that’s wrong and yet not be willing to be part of effecting change. So let’s not even go there.

Let’s be prophetic. Brave. Let’s take a page from the playbooks of our ancestors in the faith, even if it means wandering in the desert for a while, so that we can find a new Canaan and there settle, at least for a while, giving thanks as we do for the God who got us this far in the first place.

A God who, in fact, has given us all that way we need to enter into a new way of being.

May we be resilient enough to trust that same God to walk with us, among us, and through us all along the way.

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