Today I’m participating in a Synchroblog to discuss what is emerging in the Church. You can find other great posts from a diverse group of voices by checking out the linked FB page.
“Life seeks systems so that more may flourish. Life is in the business of creating more life. An interesting way to observe this phenomenon is in a system’s creation of niches- specific areas or talents distributed with clear lines of ownership. In business, we talk about niches as a competitive strategy. We advise one another to find our unique contribution and move it into the world. We talk about the need to beat out others for our space and the need to dominate in our market. We see differentiation in nature and interpret it as the key to competitive advantage. We look at the prevalence of narrow specializations and see it as the road to supremacy.
We couldn’t be more wrong. Life creates niches not to dominate, but to support…They aren’t competing to destroy one another. They are using their differences to find new ways of living together.”
– Margaret J. Wheatley and Myron Keller-Rogers, in “A Simpler Way.”
When eleven-ish years ago a group of people decided to begin describing this conversation that had been happening about church and culture and philosophy and life as “Emergent,” it was a very intentional word choice. The concept of emergence is widespread across many disciplines- art, architecture, philosophy, economics, and of course, science- and in each unique environment, it speaks of a new possibility that arises out of the fullness of all the old possibilities. It is not, as I said in my post below, a totalizing word. It is rather a word that seeks a reality that makes room for as many possibilities as one could imagine. It even holds within it the old possibilities rather than pushing them away.
It has become messy when we have mistakenly placed a layer of competition atop our spiritual emergence, because then it has become bickering about authority and rightness and book deals and platforms and church politics and whose leader is best/coolest/said it first. That happens when you are human. And it particularly happens when you are an American human taught that the most competitive one always wins. That’s why I deeply appreciate the wisdom of Wheatley and others who remind us that we have often assumed nature and life are competitive just because we are, and that in reality nature is a far more cooperative organism than we’ve likely given it credit.
In the broadest way possible, I believe what is emerging in the church is this very realization- the realization that the Realm of God and the world God has lovingly created is not about competition but about contribution. It is the realization that those things that make us unique do not need to be leveraged against one another in battle for supremacy but rather accessed in service to one another for fullness of life. It is the hope that we can find ways to create communities and organizations and life systems that allow a multiplicity of possibilities to spring forth in niche ways- and that we can then use these differences to find new ways of living together. What is emerging is the desire for us to be the kind of people that work with one another rather than against one another, and that we can absolutely find ways of doing this without giving up our own identities. It is the beautiful possibility that we can have our niche and a diverse supportive community, too.
On a personal level, it speaks to my deepest prayer, which most days goes something like this: “Loving God, teach us to choose life rather than death, to value the power of collaboration over the pain of competition. Give us the courage to lay down the cadre of weapons we’ve created to dominate each other, and courage still to take up the path of the One who leads us toward you and one another in love. Amen.”