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Losing control

Leaving baggage, training behind can be helpful, say leaders at Presbyterian Global Fellowship meeting

September 1, 2009

Solana Beach, Calif.

Learning to manage one’s life is a form of success, but giving up that success is necessary when trying new things, said speakers at the closing of the Presbyterian Global Fellowship meeting here Aug. 21-22.

The theme of the regional gathering, hosted by the Presbytery of San Diego, was “Moving Back into the Neighborhood.” The goal was to identify practical ways for congregations to make gospel connections with their communities.

PGF seeks to reclaim the missional purpose of the church and works to transform mainline congregations into missional communities following Jesus Christ.

On the first day, the Rev. Alan Roxburgh had outlined the differences between adaptive change and technical change. Roxburgh is vice president for Allelon Canada, a movement of missional leaders.
Technical change builds on what came before. It is continuous, developmental and anticipated. Technical change involves doing what you’ve been doing, just better.

Adaptive change, on the other hand, is disruptive, unanticipated and discontinuous. It requires new skills. It’s not manageable and can even been seen as a threat.

Roxburgh and fellow speaker the Rev. Mark Lau Branson, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, expanded on these definitions during the second day.

“When we’re doing adaptive change, we need to actually learn to do it a step at a time,” Roxburgh said.

He then outlined five phases of church transformation: awareness, understanding, evaluation, experiments and commitment.

Experiments are important because they allow room for small groups of people to look at simple ways of moving, Roxburgh said. Experiments create a space for people to see examples and then act.

“We experiment our way into new practices,” he said.

In his work, Roxburgh said he has learned three things:

  • Churches learn best when they learn from each other
  • Churches don’t want to learn from each other
  • Presbyteries can give a great gift by inviting churches to get together

“All of us have a huge amount to learn,” he said.

The speakers told participants to put themselves in the position of being able to receive. This means dropping baggage — like evangelism training and church meetings — and coming with one’s own stories. Dialogue and conversation are not just about giving — they’re also about being able to receive from others.

Conversations are more important than preaching skills, Branson said.

“Jesus is saying, ‘You will not hear what God’s up to in your neighboring communities if you bring your baggage with you,’” Roxburgh said.

He was referring to Luke 10: 1-12, in which Jesus sends teams out to towns to tell people about the kingdom of God. Small-group discussions of this passage were a key part of the conference.

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