Problem solving, experiment
Friday, November 14, 2014
There’s a helpful piece of training I had once, about neutral problem solving. This is a method that doesn’t lay blame, or begin listing solutions, but first describes the problem. I found it hugely helpful in working in the engineering industry, and now in the church.
It goes like this: so a couple are overdrawn in the bank every month. One says to the other: you don’t earn enough. The other replies: you spend too much. The neutral problem solving statement doesn’y lay b;ame or prejudge solutions, but plainly says: more goes out each month than comes in.
As the church, this might be a good place for us to start when talking about change / growth / decline / purpose etc. These are conversations we absolutely must start having, sticking our head in the sand at this stage will mean rapid and almost terminal decline. But there is so much heat in them, so much upset and pain, people feeling blame when they have worked tirelessly and given so much that there is little left, that it means we often still avoid them. Last week a young man wrote an article titled provocatively “if you can’t lead then f*** off”, lambasting church leadership that presides over decline without acknowledging the need for change http://www.threadsuk.com/if-you-cant-lead-a-church-dont-lead-a-church/ . I’m not mad on the way he said what he said, or the defensive way he responded to the many comments, which are interesting to read. But in one of the comments he said something like ‘ok, stay in your bubble’ and that has stuck with me as a challenge.
We need to take the blame out of the conversation, and we need to learn not to pre judge what the solutions will be. We can’t come into these conversations with a long list of non-negotiables, because it’s not ‘us’ who we are negotiating with, its culture, and the people outside church structures don’t really care if we continue to arrange ourselves in Diocese’ or whether we remain established, or adhere to the Canons. People are grappling with debt, low paid work, the need for foodbanks, caring for their elderly relatives, feeling trapped in a failed relationship but can’t afford to move out, supporting their teenage child with an eating disorder. And yes, the gospel speaks to all of those issues but how we communicate and where we communicate has to be considered so the message gets across.
We need to begin again to think about how to tell people about Jesus’ life saving love for them, in ways they can understand. To think about what being witnesses to the love of God looks like today. To listen to people, and to become curious, learning to ask questions and learn again. To try and see what else might work. Not how to ‘market’ what it is we want people to have, so we can keep it, because we like it.
Christ emptied himself through the process of kenosis. He became poured out as a servant (Philippians 2:7) He went to where people were, rather than teaching in the Temple so people came to him as the other rabbis did. He did not behave as a person of power who made others bend to his will or accept what he offered. He became a servant of the needs of others, and in this sacrifice opened up space for conversation and listening, which led him to proclaim who he was. These are not insignificant facts; they are clues as to how to go about ministry and witness – as servants, not masters.
For the CofE this is very hard because we have baggage, history and power. We are used to dictating the terms – you do services this way, using these words, in this building, behind this table, wearing these robes. And this is the only way it can be done. End of.
Except it isn’t saying that entirely any more – the fresh expressions agenda can be seen as the licensing of a bunch of experiments to enable learning – how can we reach people and maintain our family resemblance? Keep in contact with our history and ancient ways of doing things, but lay down some of our many ‘given’s’ and see what happens, see what kind of spirituality people are responding to. What are youth workers learning about how young people see spirituality and the search for meaning? New forms of church are not necessarily the answers as yet, perhaps instead they are ethnographic research and what they are learning needs to be talked about and chewed around and considered as experiment. As yet, we are often still persona non grata among clergy and some bishops.
Margaret Weatley’s brilliant book on leadership Perseverance, talks about admitting that “truthfully, we haven’t the faintest idea what to do” and follows it by saying:
“Yet this is not an admission of defeat, it’s an invitation to experiment. Instead of exhausting ourselves with doing the same thing, only faster or with more vehemence, we could shift into curiosity.
Curiosity is a very compelling space – open, rich, friendly. We’re willing to be surprised rather than having to get it right. We’re interested in others perspectives, intrigued by differences, stimulated by new thoughts.
Curiosity is a very pleasant place to dwell. Relaxing even. And most certainly fruitful.
All it requires is letting go of certainty and admitting we don’t know what we’re doing.
Let the experiments begin.”