Becoming A Provocative Church

Hebrews 10:23-25
23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Adaptive Leadership has much to offer leaders when it comes to understanding their roles, and applying effective leadership principals. The Productive Zone of (Congregational) Disequilibrium is a phrase which captures several change oriented ideas into a single description. Readers can learn more detail in The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Heifitz, Grashow, and Linsky, 2009. Let’s break down this phrase to understand what it means to provoke one another to love and good deeds.

Productive = How do we know when our church is being productive? It’s all about the mission. In John 13, Jesus gives a new commandment – loving one another. “By this they will know that you are my disciples.” So, our church is being productive when the disciples therein become more loving than they were before. Are we more loving on this date this year than we were one year ago? When the answer is yes, then we know our church is accomplishing part of its mission. We are more loving as a result of being involved in this faith community. When the answer is no, then our church is not so productive; not provoking one another to love and good deeds. Being productive is advancing the mission Christ has given to God’s Church.

Zone = That space wherein things are moving, flowing, and rolling. This is the place in congregational life wherein there is sufficient challenge to help motivate (provoking) us to rise up and be God’s people at a higher level than we currently are. This is also the place where the challenge (provoking) does not exceed our capacity so far that it becomes anxiety and we regress or withdraw. This is where Holy Spirit inspired pastoral and lay leadership judgment is needed. How much challenge is enough, but not too much? How much provoking leads to productivity without red-lining the engine?

Disequilibrium = Though the Adaptive Leadership gurus don’t mention it, this concept really comes from Family Systems Theory. Every system seeks to maintain its homeostasis (equilibrium). Translation…congregations unconsciously and sometimes overtly seek to maintain the status quo. I was with a congregation recently who was laughing about another church who wanted a young, motivated pastor to lead them into numerical growth. When they did call thusly described pastor and numerical growth happened, conflict also arose (predictably from a Family Systems perspective). When new people enter the system, the status quo cannot stay the same. This means relationships and positions of influence must change. This is one time when the congregation’s true desires rise to the surface. Is it more important to include the newcomers in positions of influence, or to maintain my influence and relationships as they are? Growing congregations who navigate growth well are those who realize and accept that things will change (disequilibrium) when growth happens.

Effective pastoral and lay leaders are those who prepare their congregations for the disequilibrium which comes with positive change. They preach and teach about how things will be different next year at this time compared to now. They describe the journey ahead, framing disequilibrium as preferable. They invite disciples to embrace disequilibrium, recognizing this is what it’s like to be part of a growing church. Ultimately, effective pastoral and lay leaders engage in provoking behavior, knowing this leads to the productive zone of disequilibrium.

May we become provocative today; provoking one another to love and good deeds.

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA