Why do some missional ventures that look so good “on paper” fail so miserably in real life? Why do some of the best-laid plans for mission end up not actually accomplishing all that much? Because of how I’m wired up, I have a propensity to believe that an efficient system, a simple plan, an elegant strategy should automatically yield good results. But this just isn’t the case sometimes. Why is that?
One answer, I think, has to do with the relationship between discipleship and mission (yes, I know we shouldn’t bifurcate those two things from a theological standpoint, but from a practical standpoint I think it will help us). Last year my friend Tim Catchim wrote a little blog post that got me thinking about this. (Incidentally, Tim has also recently published a fantastic book with Alan Hirsch called The Permanent Revolution.)
In the post, Tim quotes Karl Weick, who writes, in his book Making Sense of the Organization,
whenever you have what appears to be successful decentralization, if you look more closely, you will discover that it was always preceded by a period of intense centralization where a set of core values were hammered out and socialized into people before the people were turned loose to go their own “independent, autonomous” ways.
Think of decentralization as mission, and centralization as discipleship. It seems to me that when we push for rapid mobilization for mission before taking the time to build a solid foundation of discipleship, we see ineffective or short-lived mission. The way Tim put it was “decentralization before discipleship equals dissipation. Decentralization after discipleship equals movement.”
Discipleship is the “intense centralization” process that happens before the “decentralization” of mission. Discipleship is where the core values are hammered out, where people are socialized into a new way of life before being “turned loose” to join Jesus in the renewal of all things. The disciples were trained extensively by Jesus for three years before being sent to “make disciples of all peoples.”
The problem is, as Tim points out, that most of the centralization/discipleship that occurs in churches is purely information-based. We expect a sermon/Sunday service to be sufficient for training, equipping, forming God’s people as disciples of Christ. As most of us know, it ain’t working. This is not the kind of centralization we need.
We ought to take our cues from the way Jesus “centralized” his own disciples. He did teach them, of course, giving them a theology of the kingdom that took awhile to digest. He wasn’t light on information! But he also lived out his mission in front of them, and then invited them to do what he was doing. In short, the disciples were able to imitate the things Jesus was doing, and this formed a key part of their training regimen in missional living.
3DM has a useful tool for talking about this process, shown below:
“Innovation” is the goal (disciples living out their missional calling, making more disciples of Jesus). But we can’t get there if all we do is give great information. We also need to offer our lives as an example to imitate. So Jesus gave them the Sermon on the Mount (information), but he also sent them out two-by-two do cast out demons and heal the sick (imitation). Imitation is the missing ingredient in most of our discipling (centralization) processes.
Thus one reason missional ventures fail, whether they be church plants or missional communties or training programs, is that we attempt to decentralize before we have sufficiently centralized. We try to send folks out on mission without really discipling them into a way of life that will sustain mission. We try to get them to move into missional innovation without giving them adequate experiences of imitation first.
Does this resonate with your experience? Can you think of examples of merely information-based discipleship/centralization? Examples of dissipation (decentralization before discipleship?) I would love to hear your thoughts.