Forces in Tension - continued

It is now much more than a week since I posted my thoughts about "two forces in tension", thinking about recent experiences of the balance between collegiality and independence, especially in the context of the Baptist Churches of New Zealand. I knew I wanted to write more, though, because right at the time I was putting that post together, I was attending the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit in Hamilton, where I heard some great insights about this very issue. The speaker on this particular DVD presentation was Andy Stanley of Northpoint Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. He is the son of Sunday morning TV Bible teacher Charles Stanley, but a lot more engaging than his Dad! Andy is an inspiring speaker and leader and has written numbers of helpful books about church and faith; I liked "Visioneering." One of the reasons I endeavour to get to the Global Leadership Summit each year is because of the high quality speakers they recruit. This year there were only two out of the ten speakers with whom I didnt really connect. That's pretty good for $150.00! (For Eastview people, we have a copy of the Summit DVD, so will be hearing some of these speakers at Brown Bag Lunches in February).

The talk was called "The Upside of Tension" and was especially apposite after I heard the discussions - both formal and informal - at the Baptist national Gathering this year (see last week's post). In a faith community - or a family of churches - there are, said Andy, always "problems to be solved and tensions to be resolved." The task of leadership is to enable that to happen. But leaders, he says, must also discern when they are dealing with a problem that cannot be solved, a tension that should not be resolved. These are "tensions that must simply be managed," and in a great organisation they can actually be "leveraged" for the greater good. For example, he said, the tension between work and family life. Both are important. If we don't have a work life, we can't support our family. But if we don't have any home life, we could lose our family. This is a tension we can't resolve and most of us don't want to. Attempts at resolving them just bring new tensions. In industry such tensions are often quite specific to the core business of the company, so, in a Medical Centre for example, you have a constant tension between doctors spending adequate time with individual patients, and them seeing enough patients in a day to pay the fixed costs of staff and facilities. A tension to be managed.

I could immediately think of a number of such issues in our faith community. As I started to list them, Andy gave three pointers to distinguishing these "tensions to be managed rather than resolved."
  1. Does the issue/problem/tension keep resurfacing, eg seasonally?
  2. Are there mature advocates for both sides?
  3. Are the two sides really interdependent?
These were really helpful questions to ask as we took time, individually or in groups, to consider the specific paradoxes that we deal with in our context. In a chart format, we listed problems and tensions that we thought may fall into this category - issues that if resolved woud simply create new tensions and barriers to growth. I came up with several:
  • Singing vs Preaching in the worship service. This was topmost in my mind as I had started thinking about my next sermon - Revelation 4, which is about heavenly worship. Yes, this tension keeps resurfacing. Yes, there are mature advocates for both sides, and yes, the two sides are really interdependent. The musical worship focusses us on God, softens our hearts and enables people whose spiritual pathway is "Sung Worship" to connect with Jesus. Without it our service could be cold and spiritless. But without the teaching we can end up with immature and emotion-driven believers. What? You wanna fight over this? I told you it was a tension that will never be resolved. In my reflecting on it though I noticed something I have never seen before. At our church we have no set liturgy and the number of song brackets in the service is different week by week. But if you leave out the notices, kids talk, prayers and offering, we usually devote exactly the same total number of minutes to singing as we do listening to the sermon, about 25m each. Fascinating!
  • Pastoral Care vs Mission as the priority for time and money. Its fashionable to go for the latter these days, but for centuries as a settler church we focussed on the former. Both have a place. Its a tension that keeps resurfacing, it has mature advocates for both, and the two sides are in reality interdependent. If we don't have any relationships within the faith community, we won't have any energy, people or resources to do mission. But if we don't ever look outside our four walls, we will not only be failing to obey Jesus' Commission, we will die out within a few generations. Managing this tension is a leadership task that we overlook at our peril.
  • Volunteers vs Professionals in the ministry tasks of the local church. Historically this has swung back and forth over the centuries. Qualified clergy are great resource people but they can abuse and exploit the authority that role implies. Relying on volunteers for everything is often the only option in places like China and Nepal, but in twentyfirst century Auckland we have some choices in this matter. Do we recruit someone who is gifted and called to, say, children's or youth ministry, and run the risk of others, like the parents, leaving it all to the paid pastor? Or do we rely on time-poor volunteers so we can all use our gifts and learn about sacrifice, and end up with erratic and inadequate programmes (or improperly-cleaned bathrooms)? There are mature advocates for both sides. We have to manage the tension and "understand the times" (1 Chronicles 12:32).
  • Age or Gender-related Sectors vs Unity. This one applies to everything from what time you have Youth Group, to the size of your Sunday School classes, to men's breakfasts and women's retreats, to the question of multiple services based on musical preferences. It is a tension that keeps resurfacing whichever option you opt for. I recall in my last parish, where we had four weekly services based on style preferences, having to manage a potential split in one service, between people aged twentyfive who wanted to sing Hillsong and people aged twenty who wanted to sing Parachute! A metaphor I used at that time was to describe the local church as a large ship with multiple decks, on which different things are happening. At any time people are free to move between the decks, because it is the same crew and the same skipper; they are all set on the same course. The danger, I felt, is when each sector boards a different vessel, agreeing at times to sail in convoy but in effect being free to wander off on their own course, taking their share of gifts and energy with them. That's not a bad metaphor for the tension needing to be managed in the Baptist Union, as we consider how best to relate to one other and be mutually accountable, without losing the core value of congregational independence.
  • I also thought of the tension in leadership between giving staff and volunteers autonomy and resources, while still needing boundaries and accountability.
This paradigm, says Andy Stanley, is a concept we should name and understand with our leadership team. If we are all familiar with the terminology of a "tension that needs to be managed," we have a shared language that helps us defuse these conflicts when they present and represent in our faith community.

But I also found the notion quite freeing in a personal way. Last post, I shared about a drawing I did for my supervisor to describe a really uncomfortable dichotomy in my faith and professional life. My stick figure held in one hand a piece of barbed wire, in the other a teddy bear. The wire came directly from a talk I heard that week, about the pain of deciding to follow Jesus, about sacrifice and having a slave mentality. Following Jesus, said Mick Duncan, is like taking hold of a piece of barbed wire. The teddy stands for the time I spend my grandkids, fun time, and for the neat job I have, which exactly matches my ministry gifts. Barbed wire or teddy bear? You may think the answer is obvious but I found the dichotomy challenging. But Andy Stanley has helped me see -it is a tension that will never be resolved, it can be managed and maybe even leveraged, and in company with Jesus, I can live with that paradox.

To Chew Over: is there one of these unresolvable tensions in your life? Can you manage it?

Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.
Force me to render up my sword, and I shall conqueror be.
I sink in life’s alarms when by myself I stand;
Imprison me within Thine arms, and strong shall be my hand.

My heart is weak and poor until it master find;
It has no spring of action sure, it varies with the wind.
It cannot freely move till Thou has wrought its chain;
Enslave it with Thy matchless love, and deathless it shall reign.

My power is faint and low till I have learned to serve;
It lacks the needed fire to glow, it lacks the breeze to nerve.
It cannot drive the world until itself be driven;
Its flag can only be unfurled when Thou shalt breathe from heaven.

My will is not my own till Thou hast made it Thine;
If it would reach a monarch’s throne, it must its crown resign.
It only stands unbent amid the clashing strife,
When on Thy bosom it has leant, and found in Thee its life.
George Matheson