Ministry as a Living System

I have just returned from three days at Airventure 2015 at Oshkosh WI. It is the largest aviation celebration in the world. Many of you know of my passion for aviation, that I have built and flown three airplanes, and currently am working on my fourth project. Building an airplane and safely piloting one is no small feat, but is something that anyone with the proper motivation can succeed at.

I built my first airplane (which took 8 years) completely from plans. I had to learn how to fabricate parts, shape and form metal, weld, rivet, and assemble. I built (assembled) my engines on two planes, so Gary & Hummelbird0001some mechanical skill also played into things. In addition I installed all of the electrical components, instruments, radios, and navigation as well as conducted flight tests that fulfilled FAA requirements. Flight testing is more than just taking off and landing. It includes taking the plane through a series of specific tasks that tests its airworthiness–stalls, steep turns and emergency procedures. I even had an actual engine failure that caused me to make an emergency landing in a hay field (thank God the cows weren’t in the way).

I think that my passion for flying and building airplanes is why I am drawn to integral theory as a lens through which to understand and navigate the complexities of ministry development. Simply put, evolving your ministry is not easy. There are so many moving parts. And then there are all of the people involved, who have minds of their own.

While integral theory is somewhat like rocket science, it can help us map out a holistic approach to ministry development. By holistic I mean engaging the whole of ministry instead of focusing so much on any of its parts. Think of the difference between a holistic approach to healing as in alternative, natural or Asian medicine as opposed to the more common approach of Western medicine that is often focused only on symptom treatment.

One of the first things to really “get” is that ministry is a living system. All living systems have in common an innate movement toward greater complexity and a yearning to evolve. You can even see how your ministry has a soul–its own purpose as well as its struggle to fulfill it. And, just like a person, your ministry has a pain body, shadow qualities, and a story to prove it. Evolving your ministry (getting to the next level) happens much the same way as how you and I evolve.

If you study any developmental model like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or Spiral Dynamics, you understand that getting to the next level is like being born into a greater reality. Yet, these rebirths do not come easily or without effort. Understanding the effort as well as the process, helps to align with the forces that support integration, awakening, and evolution.

Think of your ministry as a social-self (holon) where your church culture, history, demographics, programs and mission form a collective consciousness. This makes all that you are and do as a ministry as unique and magnificent as you are and do as an individual. Its journey is much like your journey in the sense that your ministry’s life situation is often an out picturing of the internal dynamics of leadership intentionality and church culture (identity, values, history, and centrism) in a similar way that what shows up in your life is an out picturing of your perceptions and meaning-making. This means that getting to the next level is both a process of integrating shadow dynamics (disowned or orphaned parts of ourselves) and creating a new identity consistent with who and what we have come here to be. As for the church, getting to the next level is a process that includes identifying unresolved issues (shadow qualities), integrating disowned parts (healing and reconciliation), and creating a new identity (culture) that is mission centered (the difference we wish to make in the world).

Church and human evolution also entail awakening to greater emotional and spiritual maturity. Since churches are mostly family systems first, and organizations second, this means that we need to transcend the dysfunctional aspects of the family and get to a more mature expression of community that is free of projection, politics and drama (no small order for churches). You may believe that this is not possible or even realistic. I would say that absent of an intentional process of growing emotional and spiritual maturity, you are correct. This is why the Q Process™ workshop (Art & Practice) is so integral to getting to the next level.

Here is something that Rev. Larry Schellink sent me last week:

As you may know Denese (Rev. Denese Schellink, who is a transition  ministry consultant) has offered the Q Process training twice in recent months and about 45 people have completed the work. What a difference already in the harmony…it is palpable energetically, and the conversations reflect much greater self-awareness, even when there seems to be something missing broken or not working “out there.”  I feel like we can manage change with much greater resilience now. With gratitude, LarryIMG_0068

I know I sound like a broken record with respect to the necessity of shadow work, but the reality is that we cannot get to the next level as a ministry unless our people get to the next level in their own personal lives. As I mentioned earlier, we conducted our first Q Process™ workshop six week class last June for our Board of Trustees and key leaders. Now that the word is out about the impact of the program (we put together a video testimony for the promotion of an encore class that begins next week), we have over 80 people signed up. We have also scheduled an all-day Saturday workshop for September to pick up people who were unable to come Wednesday evenings.

So, what does any of this have to do with airplanes? Getting the church to the next level is like building, testing, and then piloting (mission fulfillment) an airplane. It takes time. It requires skills that translate into tangible progress. It takes coherent support and understanding to the overarching process. And it takes a passion for the ultimate thrill of going all in on something that is “experimental”.

The Integral Ministry Model is, indeed, experimental. While aspects have been field tested in the Pilot Program, the reality is that we have yet to be able to point to a completely finished product. Such is  Jane’s and my objective and inspiration as Unity Spiritual Center’s co-ministers.

Blessings, Gary