PHILOSOPHY to Multiply
Sent by the Father, Jesus chose to minister on planet earth only three short years. At the end of that period of time, He told the Father in prayer, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4).
Jesus never made his disciples physically dependent on himself. He told them, “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Holy Spirit will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). We have it so much better today than when Jesus was on earth with His disciples. The problem the followers of Jesus had – He could only be at one place at one time. When he was in Galilee Jesus could not be in Jerusalem. When he was in Caesarea Jesus could in be in Bethany. He was limited.
But on the day of Pentecost all of that changed! Pentecost was the day the church of Jesus Christ went global. “Go and make disciples of all nations” is the command He gave us. Jesus understood that decentralized leadership would help the church to multiply.
With Jesus as our Head, the vision of Nazarene leaders has always been to find the best practices of both a centralized and decentralized global movement. A book which talks about the characteristics of the global, networking world we have moved into is “The Starfish and the Spider”, by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom.[i] It is not a religious book. But in many ways the principles it contains describe how the Church of the Nazarene is emerging with unstoppable power as a global Great Commission movement led by the Holy Spirit. There are massive differences in the way a centralized and a decentralized organization operates. We live in a world that has moved toward decentralization in a number of ways. Brafman and Beckstrom use the contrasting illustration of the difference between starfish and spiders to demonstrate what the future will look like with a values-driven, connectional movement.
A spider is a creature with eight legs coming out of a central body. It has a tiny head and usually eight eyes. If you chop off the spider’s head, it dies. That’s exactly what happens with a centralized organization. A centralized organization has a small group of leaders who are in charge, and a specific place where most key decisions are made. If you get rid of that small group of leaders, you paralyze the organization.
In contrast, a decentralized organization is a totally different entity –– it is actually a starfish. At first glance, a starfish is similar to a spider in appearance. But the starfish is decentralized. The starfish doesn’t have a head. The major organs are replicated throughout each and every arm. In reality, a starfish is a neural network of cells. Instead of having a head, like a spider, the starfish functions as a decentralized network.
Starfish and spiders look alike. They both have arms. But a starfish doesn’t have a head. If you cut a starfish in half, it won’t die. Instead, you’ll have two starfish! The starfish is a decentralized, neutral network of cells. Unlike a spider, there is no central command. The authors contend the best organizations of the future will be part spider, part starfish.
Here is some more great news. This is exactly what the Church of the Nazarene is! It is centralized enough to maintain shared beliefs, shared values, shared mission and shared responsibilities.[i] However, it is decentralized enough to empower 480+ districts to multiply leaders and ministries, organizing the church “in culturally conditioned forms” all over the world!
Decentralizing is Key to Multiplication
The creation of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-1400’s changed communication throughout Europe. Through the rise of the Industrial Revolution that began in England, people communicated by mail, telegraph or telephone. As we have moved past the Industrial Revolution and now into the “Information Age,” a more massive change than both of these has taken place in our lifetime. With the creation of the Internet and how Google has changed our ability to gain information and knowledge in the 21stcentury, the world we live in is totally different. General Superintendent Gustavo Crocker insightfully describes this revolution in his presentation, “From Gutenberg to Google.”
Every organization in the world today is being impacted by Google. Computer communication is now embedded in the way we talk with each other and by the time you read this paragraph, it is estimated the number of people in the world using a mobile phone will soon reach 5 billion. As organizations, universities, churches and districts change, the way some leaders have operated in the past may need to change as well. Traditional leaders are being replaced by new leaders who are catalysts. Below we offer some ideas about how our leadership thinking may need to adjust in the future.
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So how can pastors and superintendents operate in this new world? What might this mean for new thinking by church and district leaders? How would a decentralized district with a focus on multiplication need to change to multiply more effectively? Building on this adapted thinking, there are five “legs” of decentralized districts that multiply.
Leg #1 are circles. These are small, relational groups of leaders that naturally form. Once you join, you are an equal. Its up to you to contribute to the best of your ability. The internet allows circles to become virtual. Many of us are members of a decentralized circle both on and beyond our districts. In circles there are no rules, only norms. Members enforce the norms with each other. Self-enforcement has more power than rules. The more time we spend together, the more trust builds and the more we are motivated to contribute to the movement of God.
Leg #2 are catalysts. In a decentralized network, a catalyst is a person who initiates a circle and then fades into the background. They instigate connection and get the circle going, then give control to the members. They are an inspirational figure who spur others to action because throughout our movement circles don’t start on their own.
Leg #3 are values. This is the glue that holds our movement together. For us, it is our shared values of Christian, Holiness and Missional. We are unapologetically connectional.
Leg #4 is our pre-existing network. We have something special that we share together which no other church on earth has developed. We are a de-centralized global network of 30,000+ churches, connected to one another in 160+ countries! We have enough centralization to be unified in beliefs, polity, definitions and procedures as articulated in the Nazarene Manual. But throughout our 480+ districts, every pastor and superintendent are empowered to creatively innovate and multiply!
Leg #5 are the champions. These are the innovators and leaders among us who are relentless in promoting new “culturally conditioned forms of the church” as they emerge. Unlike a catalyst, there is nothing subtle about them. Whether it is an international church in Cali, Columbia or Oaxaca, Mexico, a Cowboy Church in El Paseo, Arkansas, a High-Impact Church in Fargo, North Dakota, a Hoops Church in Apopka, Florida, a Dry Bar Church in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania or a Marketplace Church in Frankfort, Germany, the champions among us are the real heroes! As superintendents we serve them and resource them as they lead our movement with innovation.
Also building on this adapted thinking, the authors suggest ten “rules” to remember as decentralized districts seek to keep multiplying.
Rule #1: Small can be better. This may sound counterintuitive, but in the future, new smaller, innovative churches will be able to operate in ways larger churches cannot. It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.
Rule #2: The network effect. Every week we add new churches and new members all over the world. Every new member has the potential to add value to the Nazarene network as we continue to expand through compassion, evangelism and education.
Rule #3: Creativity & chaos are together. On a decentralized district, it pays to live with some disarray. If we value creativity, we must learn to accept some chaos as normal. This helps allow a culture of innovation.
Rule #4: Knowledge is at the edge. We must never make the mistake to think the district has all the knowledge local churches need. In a decentralized network, the new learning is always discovered at the fringe of the church. We must capture and catalogue the learning of those who innovate and stay close to them as they play their part in fueling the movement.
Rule #5: Everyone wants to contribute. Every district we have, has pastors and leaders who are learning things we don’t know. We must always maintain the humility of learning from everyone around us (Luke 14:11). Everyone wants to share and contribute to the movement.
Rule #6: Be careful what we criticize. Within a decentralized district there will always be people who do church differently than we would do it. It is possible for us to walk hand in hand without seeing eye to eye. In the Old Testament story of Jehu and Johonadab, we have two very different leaders. "...Jehu greeted him and said, 'are you in accord with me, as I am with you?' 'I am,' Johonadab answered. 'If so,' said Jehu, 'give me your hand.' So he did..." (2 Kings 10:15).
Rule #7: Why do catalysts rule? Because they inspire. They are crucial to the long-term health of a decentralized district, because they inspire people to action. Help them “run with perseverance the race Jesus has marked out for them” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Give them a platform to inspire. Be aware it may be counter-productive to also put them on the Advisory Board!
Rule #8: Our mission and values are the fuel that drives the church. This is why a decentralized district always keeps talking about why we do what we do, continuing to emphasize what all of our diverse churches and ministries have in common and how we relate to the global movement of God.
Rule #9: We want to measure and monitor the right things. Because we are decentralized does not mean we don’t measure and monitor – its how we do it. Somewhere between a cheerleader and a grateful mentor will probably do it.
Rule #10: Keep empowering, trusting, multiplying and decentralizing. A decentralized district is always giving authority and responsibility away to new leaders, even when we know some may thrive and some may not. Not everything we try will work.
At the core of everything we do, we keep building trust throughout our districts. We want to take away the blockages that keep us from building higher levels of trust between pastors and church leaders. We seek a culture where everyone is free to offer their ideas without being categorized or put into a “pre-judged” box. We seek feedback at District Assemblies so everyone can participate in the issues we address. Amazing things happen when everyone is allowed to contribute.
It is possible to find the sweet spot between being a centralized and decentralized district. We must have enough decentralization to promote creativity and innovation but sufficient structure for shared beliefs, values and responsibilities. Because of our polity, Nazarenes can have the best of both worlds! On 480+ districts throughout the world, we are focus on continual improvement and cultivating our commitment to multiply.
Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom, The Starfish and the Spider (London, England: Penguin Books, 2006), 221 pages.