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Over the past number of years as I was involved in church leadership I noticed that our language about leadership tended to speak about governance, management, vision and goals. These were good things with which to busy ourselves. But sometimes in the end we are left with managed development of the church - which often meant controlled and limiting. Something was missing. I think it has to do with the entrepreneurial spirit in a chaotic world. What we need is to adventure out for Christ with entrepreneurial ambition into new horizons. 

Along the way in my various roles, I noticed a few things:

First, that giving people room to use their gifts and to encourage them to develop mission meant that I (the church organization) needed to give them freedom to see and respond. Authorizing (deputizing) people means that they do not need Council’s decision to act. I like to believe (along with Bakke, Joy of Work) that vesting people with authority and responsibility allows them to experience what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God and to live as ambassadors of the Kingdom. Their humanity and their call to serve in Christ’s kingdom are at stake. Too often as a church council we seek to manage (read control) people through the decision making process. I believe we need to grant considerably more freedom. The entrepreneurial spirit engages this part of our humanity and our calling as Christ’s ambassadors. 

Second, there are times when our visioning processes fail simply because we do not see alternatives clearly enough. To experience alternatives requires that we experiment with the ways we live and tell the gospel among new groups of people in our communities. We try and we fail. While we hate failure there is always a learning curve as we engage with people. Every new business knows this. Every designer and engineer deals with this. Every inventor deals with this. New things are achieved not through flawless management decision but through experimentation. Which means that one thing the church needs is to create space and funding for experimentation – which means allowing space for failure. I find it interesting that in the church where we celebrate forgiveness and hospitality, we allow so little space for failure. Entrepreneurs know that there are more failures than successes , but find every attempt is filled with learning. 

Third, I have been reading about chaos theory lately. It is not really about chaos or randomness. But it does tell us about the power of small nudges and our inabilities to predict outcomes. One thing I learned again is that control is an illusion. I am grateful that God has all things in his hand, because in church life I know how little I have in mine. For me this means I need to ask two questions: first, I need to wonder how God is nudging us along the way and second, I need to ask (as a leader) how can I nudge the congregation along the way of faithfulness. 

God nudges. Which means I need to be open to the push and pull of God. When a new family comes among us, I wonder what gift is God giving us? It is not merely how can this person become one of us, but how is God inviting us to be transformed through the new gift he has given. I do not want the person to be conformed into “one of us” as all of us to be conformed to Christ and his mission. 

As a leader I nudge. The question is in what direction? Nudging is an imprecise activity. When I read material on business culture or church culture, I notice how complex this really is. But living faithfully in this complexity requires that we attend to a few simple matters: we know the mission of God and the values we need to affirm. These nudge us in the right direction. 

Over the last number of years I have come to the conclusion that we need to allow more chaos into the life of the church. Not the chaos that leads to violence, but the chaos that makes us open to the nudges of God. 


Neil, I really like this. I personally am wired toward a lot more control than this, and surely our denominational systems are set up to give predictability and control. I pray that the spirit of creativity and adaptability may overwhelm my craving for control. And led by the Spirit I may be more willing to let myself BE controlled rather than to control. Keep on nudging us.

Thanks Neil, this is a good reminder. I recently had a meeting with our elders and we talked about the need to leave room for failure and stretching in trying new ministries or new ideas. Ministry is messy, but that's okay.

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