I’m not sure if understanding this post is really dependent upon whether or not you remember such things as rotary telephones and carburetors, Sean Connery as James Bond, or generally, the 60’s. And maybe remembering all these things as being new would drive home the point.
When a vehicle breaks down or won’t start, guys will tend to get out, open the hood, and look inside. Ladies know we won’t be able to do anything, but they entertain — or pretend to entertain — the notion that we’ll perhaps be able to spot the problem and fix it. The truth is, if we’re old enough, there was a time we could have poked around and actually done something to get the car running again. Guys, those of you who are old enough, you know what I mean — because you remember the first time you looked under the hood of “one of the new cars” and asked yourself, “Is there really an internal combustion engine in there someplace?” The first time you had it in for repair, you complained about the cost and about the fact that for some reason God only knows, they had to put all this computer and extra crap in there, and it only meant a man couldn’t fix things himself anymore. A racket is what it was, just the big car manufacturers grabbing more of your money. Admit it, you’re smiling. You remember.
Things had stopped being simple, and that meant we couldn’t do things for ourselves anymore. All of which brings me to Execupundit’s Quote of the Day recently:
Expansion means complexity and complexity decay.
— C. Northcote Parkinson
We’ve been talking about church size around here lately, and sort of moved from there onto the subject of simplicity in church organization… and that’s about when I ran across this quote and said, “Huh.” So I’m asking myself, does this quote represent the perils of church size? Is there a direct progression from expansion to complexity to decay? If there is, are there any ways to avoid it, or is the idea just to stay small? And based on the nostalgic scenario I’ve laid out, does the complexity that comes from expansion inherently lead to the disempowerment of the laity, or the discouragement for them to actually engage?
I’m not convinced that size per se is the problem at all, but the way we look at size has to do with the paradigm we use. Now I have to try and explain this.. geez..
Think of the Church in the world.. large isn’t it? Is that a problem per se? Depends how it is broken down doesn’t it? But I think Jesus sees one Church.
So until we are able to work from a different paradigm size.. related to governance and control structures.. will remain a problem. When we start to think of decentered and chaordic and get beyond our need for control (ok big order I know) then perhaps we will think of larger groupings as aggregations of smaller churches or something similar.
Back to complexity. I don’t think we can avoid it. On one level, look around, even the most simple organisms are incredibly complex. Lesson.. God loves complexity. On the other hand I’m not certain that complexity excludes simplicity. It depends on what we are looking for and our purposes in looking. If control is the goal, I have a feeling complexity amps up. Now, what I am doing here .. maybe.. is deconstructing the observer. Or “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Perhaps the same is true of complexity.. it depends what we bring and where we are situated.
I have a friend who speaks in metaphors. Some would say he is the most natural poet they have ever met. But the problem is, it’s a lot of work to listen to him. Most give up too quickly. He has read everything, and while he doens’t have a doctorate, people like Grenz used to call him up for lunch when passing through town. I once heard someone comment to him: “Can’t you just say what you mean?” Later I thought.. why didn’t God give us 2 books instead of 66? And why history, poetry, apocalyptic etc. Why not just one genre.. preferably broken into point form ;)
I’m not convinced that size is inherently the problem, but I’m thinking it can exponentially increase the problem of staying simple. This is one of the reasons I like the term “simple church” — even though most who use the term are small and advocate small, the term actually says nothing about size. I told our own group long ago that I liked this phrase over “house church” because it doesn’t lock us into something before we determine what God wants for us… and on that basis, I don’t care what size it is, as long as it stays simple.
What I’m talking about, of course, is simple/complex local church structure… not the structure of the church catholic, the Body of Christ in that sense. The former is our creation of micro-bits of the latter; the latter is complex to us, but simple to Christ. That’s okay with me, it’s as it should be. Just as we shouldn’t try to create a structure for the global church, I think we should resist applying rigid structure to the microbits as well. Yes, emergent relationships are complex, but in a sense, they arise out of simplicity… viewed top-down, they’re complex, but viewed from the bottom, they’re simple.
I hear you.. I share the fundamental bias against large, particularly when “large” is somehow equated with success or pursued as a value in itself.