Tag Archives: Strategies

Time for Tactics, Part 2

In the previous post I argued that the Church is distinctive from other institutions in that it need not develop its own strategy. Rather, as an eschatological community, the Church lives toward the strategic vision of the Kingdom of God. This is best exemplified in the gospel parables wherein Jesus describes this Kingdom vision; the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, a lost coin, a widow’s offering or a bit of yeast mixed into flour. With this strategic plan set before us, the Church then must live into that vision. This requires that we live by what I identified as tactics. Though some of us wince at the militaristic connotations of tactics, the root of the term simply means an opportunistic, time limited action. Within that definition is also a subversive element. A tactic is an action which takes what is and uses it for another purpose all together. For instance, Michele de Certeau illustrates how an employee tactically uses work supplies for personal gain such as writing a grocery list on a post-it note. It’s innocuous, but the employee takes the opportunity to use work materials for his own gain. That is a tactical action.

The Church, as a resident alien, lives within this tactical context. Systems and institutions act in their own strategic interests. That is why our surrounding culture encourages the Church to set it own strategy. The world runs by the strategic, long range self-interest of persons and systems. That is, in essence, what we might call sin– the willful decision to act in the interest of the self rather than out of a relationship with God. The state of the world is such that sin defines all the world’s actions; it is fallen. Hence, the sin-riddled world must work strategically. In order to sustain perishing institutions, to feel some sort of control, the emphasis falls on strategies. As a tactical community, the Church takes what is, and uses it for a redeemed purpose. We as the Church subvert the strategies of the fallen cosmos to bring in glimpses of God’s strategic vision.

So, how might we as the Church live into this tactical reality? We need not look far since the Liturgy is the one practice which is truly the Church’s own. The Liturgy presents the practice of tactical action within a strategic frame.

There are so many ways to define the Liturgy, most of which raise significant questions about idealism and denominationalism, but here I am using Liturgy simply to mean the form of using repeated actions in daily settings, or what liturgists call Ordinaries and Propers. No matter the Christian tradition the phenomenon appears by looking at a month’s worth of bulletins. From these orders of service it is easy to see that there are some elements which repeat week after week; these are the strategic elements, or Ordinaries. Even the least liturgical tradition has repeating practices like a welcome, prayers, and the offertory. Within this ordinal frame, there are pieces which occur only once such as the specific scripture readings or prayers for the day; these are the tactical elements, or Propers. In more liturgical traditions these are exemplified in the Collect which is a short prayer which reflects the themes of the lectionary texts.

The structural aspect of our Sunday gatherings reveals just how tactical action function within the established strategy of the Kingdom of God. The strategic ordinaries remain constant, yet the tactical propers are contextual and responsive to the time and place. In essence they are the pieces we choose, we enact, and we contribute to the liturgical proclamation and celebration of the Kingdom of God. As an example, consider the prayers of the congregation. In some traditions this would be called the Prayers of the People or in others the Pastoral Prayer. During this segment of worship the world, its events, and its people are lifted in petition to God. As a tactic, these petitions respond to events around us with uniquely Christian response.

To be sure, the tactic is still shaped by the overall strategy, but we as the Church do not define the strategy. Our action is to tactically bring the world to God’s strategy. Outside of the liturgical assembly we do the same, except in reverse. Once we exit the building, we have the opportunity to tactically bring the Kingdom of God to the world, be means of our witness, service, and proclamations.  We are the tactical icons of God’s Kingdom strategy.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Discipleship

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….”

2 Comments

Filed under Discipleship

Keeping Time

This message was shared with the Church of the Brethren Office community September 29th 2010.

“Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home* and ate their food with glad and generous* hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” Acts 2:46-47

There is a story, of which I can’t speak to its accuracy or veracity, about two neighbor boys. One winter day they began to talk about snow and the coming holidays. In the process they soon realized they were talking about two different “holy days”. When the one talked about 8 days of gifts the other perked up: “What do you mean eight days?! Don’t you mean one?” From then on this Jewish and Christian pair entered into the world of comparative religion. That spring, the Christian boy attended his first Sedar and experienced the whole exodus narrative in one multi-sensory night. The trade off came finally on Easter morning when the two attended the celebration of the resurrection. When it came time for the sermon, the pastor took off his watch and laid it onto the pulpit. The Jewish boy, accustomed to the question and answer of the Sedar ritual turned to his friend: “What does that mean?” Having experienced the fullness of the Hebrew symbols, the Christian boy rolled his and sighed: “Nothing.”

Keeping time must be a multi-million dollar industry. Not accounting for the changes in smart phones, we are at a fever pitch about time. Calendars to keep events, watches to tell us time, alarms to make sure we get there on time, and probably timers on our computers to tell us when its time to leave. So its no wonder the boy was dismayed when the watch came off, it meant that time had no hold on that Easter service. No matter how long the roast had been in the oven, the preacher would go on and on….and on….and…

Really time is precious. The idioms of our culture make it clear to us: Time is of the essence, Time is fleeting. Time is money. It’s difficult to say which came first, the nice capitalist awareness that time is money or the ability to count milliseconds. No matter the correlation we can easily say we have an unhealthy sense of time. We turn on lights so we can work into the night and we light up the desert so we can play into the morning.

So its no wonder that worship attendance in any christian community is waning and its no surprise that any activity during the week barely draws a tenth of the congregation. “We just don’t have time!” I call BS on that. I mean with all that money being spent on making the most of our time, on keeping track of time, of managing our time how is it possible that we can have no time? If we gaged minutes by dollars spent, our clocks should be turning backwards!

The answer is simple: we’ve missed the point. Once we exit the baptismal waters, our relation to time completely changes. No longer are we defined by a need to cram everything into the few seconds of a lifetime, but are in fact managed by Everlasting to Everlasting. Its no wonder that Jesus’ words in Revelation hold together past present and future- I am the Alpha and the Omega (22:13). In one sentence, the beginning, present and end are one. Our time is defined by our living in Christ, living in the past, present and future. In essence time stands still before Christ and, by our adoption into Christ, before us.

That must have been something understood by the first Christians Luke tells us about in Acts. From our capitalist, time is money obsession, those disciples didn’t have a clue: They spent their day singing, eating and listening to sermons. I mean really, what got done! Didn’t they have missions to enact, congregations to support, pensions to maintain. Hell, didn’t they have a budget to balance? …Wait, that’s us.

Well, in a short and simple answer, no. No they didn’t have to work and produce like their lives or their church depended on it. Their daily rhythm was defined by other things: It was defined by Christ, crucified, buried, and risen. Each day was a microcosm of all history: its beginning and its end. What mattered most, what mattered first of all, was being present to the great I am.

So we read of things which sound strange to us today such as the practice of gathering at the church house to pray into the sunset while lighting the vigil candle as if Christ was buried each night. And we read of how, before dawn, these same followers of Christ would return as if Christ was rising again each new day. We read later of monks who maintained such practices by not only praying at night and morning, but at the 3rd, 6th, and 9th hours to remember daily the significant moments of the crucifixion.We read of the early preachers calling Sunday, not the Sabbath but the eighth day, when creation was begun again in the rising of Christ. We read in the Didache that Christians were to fast on Tuesday and Thursday so as to mark their weeks by the resurrection of Christ. ALL of time, not just hours of work and leisure, were defined by the resurrection of Jesus. The calendar was not set by imperial decree, but coincided with the coming of the Messiah. The only thing we have left to remind of this is the antiquated marker of the age as Anno Domini.

So then, friends, what measures our day? Prayer with the living Christ, or an arbitrary system of seconds and minutes? I wish I could say that taking off my watch was a way of living into Christ, but really, it means nothing. I am still tied to a means of production, I am still tied to an alarm, and I am still keeping time by whatever means helps me produce. This does not mean that time isn’t precious, but simply to say that are there not better, more faithful ways of living each day than by production? Might not we be better off as the Church to organize ourselves around practices of what Benedictines call prayerful work, of labora et ora?

Brother’s and sisters, may our ancestors in Christ remind us that there is nothing better than to eat, sing, and pray together in Christ.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sermon

Testing the Deep End

My family gathers every other year in Michigan for a family reunion.  This is often a vacation of sorts for my extended family.  One day is usually set aside for a visit to Lake Michigan for running the sand dunes and swimming.  If you haven’t experienced Lake Michigan in August, beware it’s not as warm as it sounds.  Each of us have developed our own strategies for entering the water.  There is the jump right in approach: Start running about 30 yards from the water’s edge, building up enough speed that once you are in the water there is no turning back.  Some chose the slow and agonizing approach: Walk directly into the water, rather slowly with the body straight as a board without any joint movement.  This one usually entails at least two restarts.  The last variation often takes the form of simple and hesitant touching of the water, usually a toe with the rest of the body showing the clear hesitance in its steep angle away from the water.  Those who chose the toe approach usually get in the water just in time to pack up for the day, if at all.

I imagine that many of us resonate with these approaches to the lake.  What is more, I have the feeling that these responses can also describe our approach to the Groundswell- running in without abandon, resistantly wading, or just testing without any desire for commitment.  Though Li and Bernoff see immersion in the Groundswell as inevitable, they helpfully provide us with tools to make the plunge happen on our terms.  In other words, they are not the crazy uncle calling from the deep end; “Come on in, the water’s fine!”

At the risk of oversimplification, two words seem to me to capture the insights of these two chapters- Study and Strategize.  These two actions provide the tools to make sure our immersion goes smoothly.

Study

Though market analysis is a common practice today, in both secular corporations and ecclesial communities, studies of the Groundswell are significantly more complicated.  Not only are there age demographics to observe, but in each traditional category it is essential to understand what the constituents are doing with social media.  Thus, Li and Bernoff outline six approaches to new media (41-45).  This ladder of participation helps reveal what is happening in social media platforms.  The interesting thing is that the percentages fluctuate depending on the age demographic in question.  To make our study even more complex, in some cases percentages of a demographic overlap.  Simply put, a Joiner can also be a Collector by adding tags to different sites.

What is striking about the data gathered in this kind of study is that participation ranges.  As an example, the blog for the Young Adult Forum has around 70 views when a new post is published.  On any given post, however, we are lucky to have more than two comments.

In order to facilitate such a study, Forester has provided a tool for navigating this complex sets of data.

Strategize

Unlike in the past, strategy comes second.  It used to be possible to construct a plan or vision, do the demographics and then implement the plan.  Advertising then took the burden of convincing the demographic that such a product was useful or needed.  Now, Li and Bernoff warn us that people come first.  That is the study element of the third chapter.  In chapter four, they further drive this point home in their acronym for planning: POST, People, Objectives, Strategy, Technology(67-68).  By placing People first, it is essential to ask what the constituency is ready for.

It is only after studying the people that we could even begin to establish Objectives.  What is it we want to accomplish with our first toe in the water?  From their corporate marketing perspective, Li and Bernoff name five kinds of activities corporations take on in social media; Listening, Talking, Energizing, Supporting, and Embracing.  Each of these actions consistently echo the relationality of social media.  For our work as a denomination, the last two categories seem most promising, especially given the perceived isolation of many pastors and congregations.

Questions for our consideration:

What does our membership look like in terms of social media use?

We have a number of surveys in process, and talk a lot about the life of the denomination.  What are some ways we can begin supporting and embracing our membership?

Where would you place yourself on the ladder (Creator, Critic, Collector, Joiner, Spectator, Inactive)?  Are there parts of the ladder that make you nervous?

2 Comments

Filed under Book Discussion

Defining the Groundswell

Even a new pastor is quick to learn that congregational business often doesn’t end after the closing prayer.  The conversation just moves to the parking lot.  So it should not surprise us when Li and Bernoff warn that “your company’s customers are talking about your brand right now on MySpace, probably in ways you haven’t approved.” (8)  Yet, given the rapid growth of social networking and the internet, its easy to miss the fact that the conversation has moved from the parking lot to cyberspace.  It may not have worried us a few years ago as people sent emails to one another praising or panning the Church of the Brethren, it should give us pause today.  Now, given the public nature of social media and the ability to disseminate opinion and resources so publicly, we must account for this new wave of interaction.

So then, what are we facing in this second generation of the internet, Web 2.0.  Li and Bernoff are pretty clear that “power” or energy in this new digital age is at the bottom, at the grassroots.  They have coined the term “Groundswell” to help make this new life visible.  Groundswell, in their parlance, is “a social trend in which people use technologies to get the things they need from each other, rather than from traditional institutions like corporations.” (9)  Note that the phenomenon is not about advertising or brand management, but rather utility.  People locate, download, and use the content of the internet for their own purposes to serve their own needs.  No amount of advertising can sway such use.  Think of Facebook.  How many billboards or commercials have you seen for Facebook in the last week?

As good Brethren we probably bristle a bit at all the business lingo involved in this conversation.  Brand, image management are all words and concepts with speak of commerce and seem not to be translatable to Church-speak.  Yet, if we look closer, I think we can see that these very concepts have impacted our way of understanding the denomination.  Though we avoid the ideas of persuasion, it seems to me that we do have a kind of trickle down perspective to our work.  We produce and distribute resources for consumption by our constituents, much as our corporate counterparts do in the secular market place.

It is striking to me that despite the commerce jargon, the Groundwell perspective is more akin to our relational theology.  This is clear when as Li and Bernoff note that it is more important to “concentrate on the relationships, not the technologies.” (18)  In other words, its not about Facebook or Convio, but what those platforms can do for the higher strategy of building relationships, relationships between CoB membership themselves and between the members and ourselves as denominational ministers.  A technology or platform is not judged by its corporate payoffs, but by its utility in building relationships.  “If it’s designed well, people will use it.  They’ll tell their friends to use it.  They’ll conduct commerce, or read the news, or start a popular movement, or make loans to each other, or whatever the site is designed to facilitate.” (13)

So then, how are we understand the uses of our technologies?  In other words, what are people doing in the Groundswell?  In chapter 2 we finally get a view on what is happening in the grassroots of the internet.  In essence people are creating content, connecting and collaborating with others, reacting to and organizing other media.  We must ask if the platform enable connections, effortless to sign up, shift power to people, community contribute content to sustain it, is it open to invite partnership. (36-37)

Questions for our consideration:

What are your initial reactions to this way of understanding social networking?

What struck you as you read these first two chapters?

Are there some notes of caution to keep in mind?

What would have to change in the way you as a denominational minister interact with social media given the Groundswell perspective?

4 Comments

Filed under Book Discussion