"Sharing Best Practices" Needs Discernment
When I was on vacation in Colorado, I went to a hippie store in Boulder (okay, that probably doesn’t narrow it down). But they had singing bowls there and I was looking for one to use in devotional settings. The clerk introduced me to the Eastern concept of different sized singing bowls responding to different chakras, or energy centers. While that idea doesn’t fit with my worldview, it was neat to have him bang the singing bowl and hold it up and feel different parts of my limbs and organs responding to the different tones. Different tones evoked different responses in my body.
In the United Methodist Church today, we also are part of the Body of Christ. Some parts are growing, some parts are shrinking. And we are called to see what we can do to cause the Body to respond in one voice to God’s call to be faithful.
Out of all the Call To Action considerations and recommendations, there’s one that virtually no one disputes is a good idea: the sharing of information. By sharing “best practices” and good ideas across annual conference lines, then all the other conferences can be informed and inspired by successful ideas and they can build on them in their context. Surely all churches can respond to a good idea, right?
I’m also a big fan of sharing information and best practices. However, I’m concerned about what our goals are with the idea, and if our expectations are a bit unrealistic to how the Body of Christ responds to best practices of another.
In my google reader, I was clued into the following video. It is sand on a metal plate that responds to different pitches (frequencies) of sound by vibrating differently. Look at how the sand forms shapes and structures differently at different pitches [vimeo video link, warning: shrill noises that bother cats, may want to do it with the sound off for the last half of the video]
Those who are at the low end of the spectrum don’t resonate the same way as those at the high end of the spectrum. They make different shapes, they form different lines, and they do so in a harmony that is both memorizing and beautiful. But the resonances at the different pitches are different.
I wonder if this video is a representation of what our expectations are with the sharing of best practices. Just like sand on a metal plate, and singing bowls, our churches do not resonate to the same things. Our contexts are different, the way we order our values are different, our sermons are different. We shame clergy who steal sermons from other people because it wasn’t written to their context. We should have the same concern with stealing “Best Practices” even if they are the Best Ever.
This is not to say to not share information. Absolutely share information, disperse best practices, share stories of success. That’s absolutely the best way to go about being connectional. But if we think that we can adapt whole-hog the best practices of another successful church, even if your District Superintendent wants you to, then we will be often disenchanted with the results.
Shane Raynor recently posted an apologetic that megachurches are more efficient than small churches. That’s probably true, and I’m glad Jesus told us to be efficient (/snark). But in all seriousness, they resonate at the efficiency level differently than other churches. However, like the sand on the metal plate, small rural churches resonate at a different level. If we took an “efficient” program from a megachurch and tried it in a small church, I give it a 50/50 chance of working because it would resonate at a level that the local church may not respond to.
Perhaps we are called to be like the clerk at the hippie store. We find what bowl best resonates with the Body. We find what frequency makes the right pattern of sand on metal. But the bowls and the sand won’t be the things that resonates with the church: discerning what to do with the bowls and sand will.
How “Best Practices” will change the church depends on training laity and clergy to be better Frequency Operators in their churches. Part of that training must include prayer, asking for discernment from the Holy Spirit as to what fits and what doesn’t. Sometimes even a $60,000 gift doesn’t resonate with what you do with a church and when you turn it down, it would be marked down as a failure on a church metrics report. But it was certainly in line with what resonates with your church. And that’s what matters.
Make no mistake: my conflict is not with the individual goals of the Call To Action. Yes, our church is in decline and yes, we ought do something. I’m certain that at General Conference the delegates (not representatives) will approve something similar to the proposal. But sharing best practices will not save the church and at this point serves mainly to make the rest of the overarching changes palatable.
What will save the church depends on the quality of discernment. It depends on the clerks and the frequency operators. It depends on discernment and relevance to the church’s context. It depends on prayer not products, on mediating difference not metrics, on resonance not requirements.
How might you encourage a better sense of resonance in your congregation amidst all its programs? And how can your congregation become better Frequency Operators in their contexts?