innovate or die! that statement sounds a bit drastic but could be applied to any organisation over time - culture changes and moves so fast that innovation is essential. it's one thing to say it, but how in practice can innovation be cultivated? there is usually a problem - the status quo! people like things the way they are and have vested interests in it. new ideas can be a threat, dangerous or heretical even.
gerald arbuckle is an anthropologist who has studied organisations, cultures and churches and the processes of change. i have become an avid reader of his work as i mentioned in the last post. in his brilliant book refounding the church he explores the importance of dissent in leadership if there is to be newness. dissent sounds a very strong word but actually this what he means by dissent:
There can be no constructive change at all, even in church, unless there is some form of dissent. By dissent I mean simply the proposing of alternatives, and a system that is not continuously examining alternatives is not likely to evolve creatively.
he suggests that for newness to take root, there are two kinds of dissenters - authority dissenters and pathfinding dissenters. i think there’s a parallel here in the language that has been used in the church in various places with permission givers/loyal radicals/sponsors perhaps being the equivalent of the authority dissenter and pioneers the equivalent of pathfinding dissenters.
pathfinding dissenters devise ways to bridge the gap between gospel and culture. not only do they dream up appropriate strategies, but they actually move to implement them. they are dreamers who do - (i love this expression and used it as the title of my talks at breakout). given the challenge of preaching the kingdom within an ever changing world he says we need creativity of quantum leap proportions. renewal of existing strategies is insufficient. rather we require radically different and as yet unimagined ways to relate the good news to the challenges of the world. pathfinding dissenters are needed within the church to critique or dissent from the conventional and ineffective wisdom of the present. without these courageous people the church simply cannot fulfill its mission.
the task and position of the authority dissenter is somewhat different. they are somehwere in the structures of an organisation or church able to make decisions with responsibility. their challenge is three fold. they need to spot and encourage and recruit pathfinding dissenters. this in itself isn't always easy. it's amazing how often safer options are chosen in leadership with whom business as usual is just fine. then secondly they are to use/deploy the gifts of the pathfinding dissenters for the benefit of the organisation/culture/church. and then finally they need to broker space for this dissent so that it can flourish without being forever under the glare and critique of those who like things the way they are. this relates to the tactic in the last post - the new belongs elsewhere - if it is to have a chance of genuine newness emerging.
i think this recognition of the importance of dissent is inspired. one way i think about dissenters is as those who have the gift of not fitting in. they see and imagine differently. they can't help it. it's who they are. it's the gift that they bring. in terms of ministry in the church this is prophetic ministry. i have elaborated on this in my breakout talks so won't say much more than that here. jesus and all the prophets before him were dissenters who made the world new through their dissent.
it is also the interplay between the two dissenting roles that is worth reflecting on and is often a hidden part of the complexity when newness genunely emerges. dave andrews identifies a very similar combination and in his writing the term he uses is sponsor - see for example his idiots guide to changing your church. he goes so far as to say that if you can't find a sponsor/authority dissenter don't get involved. let me give an example - st laurence church in reading. newness has come there in the form of creating a community that is innovating in the gap between gospel and the culture of marginalised young people. this has happened through the pathfinding dissent of chris russell and team and has flourished because of the authority dissenting of the arch deacon who brokered the space, the budget, and dealt with the challenge of the status quo of both the existing congregation and their interests and the politic of the diocesan strucures.
dissent and the new belonging elsewhere sounds like i am advocating a leaving or separation from the church. but i am not. more about that in the next post - refounding.