Strategy? Or Manipulation?

I’ve been exploring questions of community and church.   Over the last week I’ve tried to adress two important questions connected to community.  Today, I’ll adress the third. 

That question is “What is the role of strategy in building community in the church?”

I think this question further breaks down into 2 questions, which I’ll adress seperately in this post:

A) Isn’t being strategic really being manipulative? 

B) How important is the specific strategy that Fellowship Church has chosen?

First question first:

I’m open to the possibility that being strategic could mean being manipulative.  It seems like there must be something about the point at which you’re decieving people is the point at which it becomes manipulative.

The thing I don’t quite get, though, is that somehow, the only people who have to justify themselves in this area are the people who talk and think about what they are going to do.  The bottom line is that everybody has a way of doing things. 

I hope you’ll forgive the fact that I’m doing the annoying church-y thing of starting each of these with the same letters.  But what it comes down to is this:

We can be stupid, we can be stubborn, or we can be strategic.  Perhaps I’m slanting each of these by my word choice.   Maybe it would be nicer if I said we can be random, we can be traditional, or we can have logical reasons for doing what we’re doing.  

Ultimately, though, we choose whether we’re going to be traditional, random, or have logical reasons.

And I would say if your randomness or if your tradition are getting you what you want, you ought to keep going in that direction.  My point is that this is still a decision.

People often say “I listen to the Holy Spirit.  That’s what guides me.  It’s not tradition.  It’s not randomness.  It’s not strategic thinking.”

I think this is true.  I think sometimes the church ought to make decisions that appear foolish.  I think that we ought to be open to the Holy Spirit’s prompting.

Here’s a problem, though, and I hope you’ll forgive me  if this sounds accusatory:

As a general rule, most people are very excited to ask others to submit to what they believe the Holy Spirit is prompting them to do.  Often times, the very people who believe  most in this idea are the least likely to submit when the Holy Spirit is telling some one us to do something.

In short, it seems to me that people who believe that the Holy Spirit frequently guides us in directions that aren’t strategic, often times these people believe the we ought to listen to these people, and not other people, about just what we ought to do. 

I’m so thankful that God is a God of order, logic, and rationality.  I am so very thankful that many times  the Holy Spirit’s promptings are justifiable in terms of logic and rationality. 

I would submit that The Holy Spirit’s promptings are cultivatived in a culture which is carefully exploring the rationale and reasons for what it does.

The other subquestion is: How important is Fellowship Church’s specific strategy?

Leading people into a growing relationship with Jesus is the point.  Community is the best way to get there.  We’re building community in the best way that we know how for the time and place we exist in.

A really great guy who attended our church was not attending a small group.  He said to somebody “Look, I’m not going to do something just because everybody else is.  My small group is this weekly gathering of men at Finders.  My small group is my friendship with Pastor Marty.  I don’t need to show up at the time I’m told and the place I’m told.”

He’s not wrong.   If he’s careful.

His argument isn’t altogether different from somebody who says “Look, I don’t need to go to church.  I can worship God in the forest, I should be worshipping him all the time, right?  Why limit myself to just once a week?”

My answer is that church doesn’t set an upper limit on worship– it sets a lower limit.  Similarly, small group doesn’t limit people into being in only one community.  But it does guarentee that the person is in atleast one community.

A person who thinks the forest is a better place to worship than church, he is likely to start with the best of intentions.  But I think it’s pretty easy for him to get off-track, and not worship at all.

And a person who isn’t intentional about community, I think it’s easy for him to drift from belonging to showing up to a group, to not showing up at all.

Our implementation of community is not perfect.  It’s somewhat relative to our culture.  But it is one valid way to reach the goal of community.  And the scary-dangerous things is that there are lots of imposters to community, lots of ways we can delude ourselves…

And while the specific form of community is a bit up-for-grabs, for my money, the goal of community in general is not up-for-grabs.  It is an essential.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

One thought on “Strategy? Or Manipulation?”

  1. Many of your points are quite valid.

    Strategy, however, as you are describing, has a tendency to become manipulation, even when begun with the best intentions.

    This is a big difference between Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic and Protestant practice. We do not strategize in the church the way you describe. For us, strategy means spiritual warfare.

    Orthodoxy functions in the church in a radically different way, emulating on earth the relationships between the persons of the Holy Triad, and in so doing manifests a community of persons that does not need to be shaped by religio-social engineering. Some Westerners understand this (C.S. Lewis, for example), but no Western church lives this way, as far as I know.


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