Inherently unstable forms of church

I’m reading ‘The missional leader’ by Roxburgh and Romanuk, albeit painfully slowly.  Something I’ve just read has triggered a response from me.  On p.60, they say:

adaptive change happens by cultivating emergent zone culture.  This involves the ability to create multiple experiments around the edge and then connect them with one another to form a co-learning environment.  It’s a bottom-up rather than top-down process.

This ‘experiments on the edge’ stuff gets me, because it is inherently unstable and totally opposed to the form of church that I have inherited from the modern generation.  When I do church, I am supposed to build from the centre and from the top.  That’s what I was told anyway and it’s a lot more comfortable that way.

But there’s something about ministry on the edges.  I kind of think it’s where Jesus would be.  I don’t think he’d be too worried about the grand plan, about strategic thinking for advancing church growth (unlike me!).  I think he’d be in the odds and ends of church rather than the programmes.  I think he would be more interested in the organic experiments in how to make Christ real to those who walk alongside our church community than in any churchwide strategic plans that I could come up with.

I don’t think he’d be up for building stable forms of church where there is a system and you can be confident that everyone has gone through that system.  I think he’d be into inherently unstable forms of church where no one can predict what the outcomes can be.  Forms of church where in all honesty there’s no plan for next year, next month or even tomorrow – only a determination to try to keep in step with what the Spirit is doing today.

I WANT to walk like that, to be careless about the future, to be concerned only with who God wants me and this church to touch today!  I want the unstable forms of church because I suspect God is there more than he is in the more ‘stable’ ways of doing church .

But I also don’t.  I don’t want to pay the price of day after day and month after month and year after year never knowing where the Spirit will blow next.  I want a system.  I want to have measurable outcomes.  I want to be able to say to myself, ‘well done, good and faithful servant: you have met your targets’!

When I put it like that, how can God be calling me to anything but inherently unstable forms of church, a collection of apparently unconnected God-experiments which perhaps he may connect up in his sovereign will?!  And one day when I am old and can look back on my life and work, perhaps he will also show me the connections and the beautiful order of those apparently random experiments…?

Image: Simon Howden /

What are your random experiments at the edge of church?  One of mine is a book club where we’re reading one of John Ortberg’s books and meeting to discuss it in two months’ time.  As a result of reading Roxburgh and Romanuk today, I have texted about 25 people who walk with our church community (Christian and some who are not sure!) and invited them to join us.  It’s an experiment on the edge because it’s not a regular group and I don’t even know if it would run again another time.  As such, it’s anathema to the ‘modern’ part of me, but the postmodern missional part of me is beginning to say ‘so what?’  What if Christians and non-Christians get closer to Jesus as a result of this?  What if we get closer to one another?  What if we have a God-encounter as we begin to dialogue together about our God-walks?  What if…?!

And, yes I confess that a little part of me begins to ask ‘what comes after this idea?’…  But that part is on hold for now.  Only today is mine; tomorrow still belongs to God.


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