Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Oobleck and Church Systems

Here's a church leadership lesson I've learned recently, as well as a great do-this-at-home experiment with your toddler (thanks to my friend Blair for pointing out this substance!):

-Take one cup of water and pour it into a bowl.

-Add two cups of cornstarch.

-Mix it around together for a minute.

You get Oobleck, a non-Newtonian fluid named after a Dr. Seuss book. Oobleck is a strange liquid-solid, akin to silly putty, but far more messy and interesting.

If you pick up Oobleck slowly, it pours off your fingers like water. Stir it around with a slow, steady rhythm, and it looks much like a bowl of milk. It's a runny liquid.

Turn your hand into a fist and punch it, and it immediately hardens. Roll it around swiftly in your hands and fingers, and it stiffly crumbles and rolls into a rigid solid, until it leaves the pressure of your fingers and instantly becomes a liquid again.

When engaged with slow, steady, and smooth movements, Oobleck is malleable and easy to navigate. When engaged with quick, abrupt, forceful changes or stresses, Oobleck offers significant resistance and becomes brittle and inflexible.

Church systems are like Oobleck.

In Leading Up, I wrote about navigating church systems, how each church has a complex life of its own in the same manner of a living organism. Each part affects the other, and each system is unique for every context. Navigating those church systems requires patience, grace, and a smooth and steady leadership.

Make abrupt, swift changes and address people with sudden force, and you'll meet a great deal of resistance. Add significant unaddressed stress to people's lives, and they'll be far less open to change.

Make slow, smooth, steady changes, and you'll be met with far more flexibility and a willingness to move. Address people and their stresses with steady rhythms and even tones, and you'll find people more open to change and growth.

Just like Oobleck, it's always a bit messy.

How are you navigating your own church system?

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