Time for Tactics, Part 1

I have been wrestling with the idea of strategies and tactics since reading Michel de Certeau’s important book The Practice of Everyday Life.  In recent months my wrestling has led to some writing in various forms.  Here I offer the first of a two part piece looking at Tactics as the mode of the Post-Christendom Church.  This segment focuses on the need for tactics within the overall strategy of “The Kingdom of God.”  The next segment will use describe how we are to formed into tacticians through the liturgical practice of “Ordinaries” and “Propers”.

The Church of the Brethren recently shared a pastoral letter discussing bullying and provided a number of related resources.  It has been interesting to read some of the initial responses from persons who have accessed the materials.  One person, rather quickly identified the unmentionable element of the whole topic: Don’t we already have a response in Christian Love?  The irony was not lost on me as we worked on these resources related to the increased attention to bullying.  Yes, of course we as Christians are clear about bullying.  Unfortunately, the political and heated moral climate of the United States muddies our clarity.  So, we as Christian leaders must speak.  We must take our historic commitments and traditions for love and peace and connect them to everyday life.  We have to strategically address the issues of the day.

Or do we?

As we met with Stuart Murray several weeks back I related what I senses is a recent emphasis on strategy in the Church.  For example, three of Church of the Brethren agencies have just finished or are in the midst of significant strategic planning process.  Luckily, I have been in the midst of two of those efforts in the last three years.  Stuart quickly caught onto my narrative, knowing just how important articulating a strategy can be for an institution.  Following my description Murray responded rather quietly: Maybe its time for the Church to act more tactically rather than strategically. That statement has stuck with me for weeks.

I can imagine two groups are reacting to that exchange.  I am sure there are those leaders reading this who are running through their head just how essential it is to have a plan for organizing and structuring their institutions.  So the thought of living tactically, that is responding and working in immediate actions, runs contrary to the vary nature of their work.  Budgets, hiring, reporting, and accountability all occur within the matrix of strategies.

The second reaction has more to do with the vocabulary of the conversation.  The most frequent use of strategies and tactics comes in military efforts.  We have come to accept “strategy” as an organizational practice, but tactics still sounds too militaristic.  Yet, a tactic is simply an opportunistic, immediate and time limited action.

I simply ask that you hold those critiques and keep reading.

It’s no wonder so many of the parables start with a very strategic statement: “The kingdom of God is like.”  The strategy is set before us.  Even more to the point we even pray it: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  The question for us as the Church shifts in this light.  We need not create the strategy, but we must be concerned with the tactics.  In other words we should be finding the places to insert a Kingdom ethic, and the slightest opportunity, effect changes toward the vision of heaven.  By shifting to a tactical mode of living we shift from planning to acting, from visioning to doing.

Sally Mogenthaler described this well in an essay on Emerging Leadership in a Flattened Society.  Leadership, she says, needs to be connective, intuitive, and responsive (in Emergent Manifesto, 187).  To me, these three aspects speak of a tactical response to the world.  In working and listening in our culture, we intuit needs, we connect the gifted and passionate people, and we respond.  What is that we do? We act for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God. That is our strategy, our tactics comprise how we live it out.  In the words of that cultural satirist Mel Brooks in the movie Spaceballs, we’re always preparing, just go!

The difficulty with tactical action is that it cannot be sustained.  It is, by definition, limited in time and scope.  As the book of Ecclesiastes says, for everything there is a season.  Unfortunately, we too often mistake our tactics for the strategy, our actions for the Kingdom of God.  When this happens we try to set those actions is stone, make them eternal in their time and universal in their scope.  We want our good idea and helpful practice to continue, and possibly out live its true impact.

An institutional strategy adds to this desire for permanency by setting out a vision without the expectation of intuitive, connective and responsive people.  It is about making the institution survive no matter the people who inhabit it.  Such a strategy so objectifies the project that intuition and connection are barely part of the program.  Even if responsiveness is built into the strategy, it is not guaranteed since every action must be evaluated against the canon of the strategy.  When a Church sets a secondary canon next to the vision of the Kingdom of Heaven it limits the Church’s ability to see a need and act.

Post-Modernity and Post-Christendom are pressing the Church to reclaim its tactical nature.  We are a people pointing to that Strategy of God one place and person at a time.

“the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed….”


Filed under Discipleship

2 responses to “Time for Tactics, Part 1

  1. Steve Reid

    This is a thoughtful post. We begin strategic plans because the dominant culture tells us we should. Your invitation to wrestle with tactics is compelling. What tactics and strategy have in common is the boundary work that these conversations further. The advantage of tactics is the importance of the question what should we do outstrips the question how should we do it (Strategy). However, without the ongoing reflection on who are we both approaches will grind to a crawl.

  2. Joshua Brockway

    Thanks for the common Steve. I agree, the world is pressing us to develop strategies. Personally, I think the wisdom of this is not the need for strategies but the practice of assessment. As the Church we need to set our tactical actions against the vision of the Kingdom of God. By doing so we can evaluate the effectiveness of our actions in proclaiming and living into the Kingdom. But as tactics, these actions can let go of more easily than strategies.

    As a fuller explanation, check out the next post which is now up.

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