“In the somewhat strange but evocative language of living systems, the church in the West is facing what is called an adaptive challenge. According to the theory, adaptive challenges are situations in which the organism (or organization) is challenged to change and adapt in order to improve its chance of survival. Adaptive challenges come from two possible sources: (1) A situation or significant threat or (2) a situation of compelling opportunity; or both. The threat scenario poses an ‘adapt or die’ situation to the organism or organization. The compelling opportunity scenario might simply present itself in the promise that the food source is far better in the next valley, and opportunity that galvanizes the organism or organization into movement and action. For the church, both forms of adaptive challenge present very real issues for us in our day. Threat to the existence of the institutional church comes in the form of rapid discontinuous change, and compelling opportunity comes in the form of a massive, almost unprecedented openness to issues of God, spirituality, community, and meaning. Both are good reasons to change, and the signs are that we are only just beginning to respond.
In terms of the threat, the nature of our challenge in the West is not from overt, state-sponsored persecution, as it was for the phenomenal Jesus movements in the early Christian period or in China. In fact, the lack of this has probably contributed to the malaise in which we find ourselves, because we got all institutional and mainstream and were subverted to being just good middle-class folk. As mentioned in chapter 2, the threat for us is much more from politico-socio-cultural forces and takes the form of rapid discontinuous change (including sociopolitical, environmental, biological, technological, religious, philosophical, and cultural threats and opportunities).
Only fifty years ago, based on what we knew from the past and a thorough assessment of current conditions, we could forecast the future with high levels of predictability. We would then develop a strategic plan, with milestones along the way, and expect that, all things being equal, we could achieve the desired result. It was called strategic planning, and it was based on the idea of slow continuous change. The future was just a projection of the past with some adjustments. Now, because of constant innovations in technology and the resultant redundancies of whole industries, hypersensitive global markets that react to the slightest of disturbances across the globe, terrorism, the shift in geopolitical forces, etc., we are living in an age where it is just about impossible to predict what will happen in three years’ time, let alone twenty. In other words, change for us is discontinuous, and it is increasingly rapid. And it is a real threat to the institutional church, which doesn’t normally respong well even to slow continuous change.
Listen to some key thinkers in the area of missions and missional organizations:
North American culture is… moving through a period of highly volatile, discontinuous change. This kind of of change is a paradigm of change not experienced through all points in history, but it has become our norm. It is present and pervasive during those periods of history marked by events that transform societies and cultures forever. Such periods can be seen in events like that of the Exodus, where God forms Israel as a people, or the advent of the printing press, which placed the Bible into the hands of ordinary people and led to the transfromation no just of the church but the very imagination of the European mind, or the ascendance of the new technologies like the computer and the Internet and the emerging marriage of biology with microchips.
Paradigmatic readjustments are demanded of us in this situation. Peering ahead in the twenty-first century, there is little doubt we are teetering at the edge of chaos…. this is a good thing because at the edge of chaos is the sweet spot (for the church) where innovation takes place if handled correctly.”
My questions: Why is that change (especially in matters of methodology and function) is so difficult for the church today? Is it not biblical for the ecclesia to be relevant to it’s context? How can church leaders begin to confront the core of church philisophies and theologies to reconstruct a missional DNA out of an attractional DNA? How can we recover and call on what Hirsch calls our “latent missional potencies?”