[FYI - this post is a long one; a sort of a multi-sermon, too-many-ideas rant.]
There are some benefits to being multi-vocational.
One of those benefits is the creativity that comes from the vocations colliding. In these collisions, there are certain words and phrases and concepts that -- when looked at from the perspective of another domain -- bring such stark clarity that the tension of an issue gains such definition that it quits existing as an abstract concept and starts looking "real."
There are some disciplines in life and study that naturally lead to this type of cross-hybridization. Ethicsis a major one. Granted, every professional discipline has its own process for deciding its own rules. Most of them take on the name "Ethics" - even though many classically trained ethicists would squirm at the broad brushstrokes these disciplines use to paint their rule-making process. But Ethics, at its best, involves discussions of value that automatically bring in more than one voice. Similarly, there are entire disciplines in the Sciencesand the Artsthat are sprung out of the combinations of other disciplines.
Every so often, I find strange ways to combine my Religion and Computer Science training.
Not only is my income related to how I blend them (and focus on them individually at different times) -- but I've reached a point where part of my identity comes from how I blend them.
If I cannot find ways to cross-pollinate them, I'm lost.
Can that scale?
Computer science and programming are oftenfocused on scalability. Developers often live by the D.R.Y. principle: Don't Repeat Yourself. In programming, if you find yourself typing something over (meaning: copying-and-pasting) then you can probably do it better. The process of making it more abstract, in order to not have to duplicate more code ... that process is what it means to refactor the code. To boil it down to its essence. To add another layer to make the code more flexible, more reusable, more readable for future developers who will see your work.
And then, all code ultimately faces a stage in its life where it's "shipped." This may involve deploying to a remote computer; or, building and running the program locally; or, running it on some other device. There are tons of possibilities for shipping.
But early in the design process, developers have to consider where all the code will / should run. When shipped, where will the code be living?
Often, if it's a memory-intensive or processing-intensive set of tasks the code is doing -- there's the question of "well, could multiple instances of that code be running?" Often the concept of scalabilitycan turn into this: is there a way, when needed, that the code can replicate or new instances of it can be started to ease the load.
Obviously that's an over-simplified explanation of one type of development process. And there are entire investigations I'm not alluding to that developers have to face -- especially when considering "cloud" scalability.
Can the Church scale?
What a ridiculous question! Can the Church scale?!?
(Hasn't it already?)
No -- but in all seriousness, this is often a question that congregations (and less importantly, legions of church consultants) are asking when they talk about mission. Can the church scale?
This means different things for different congregations. And I think congregations need to figure out why they're asking it. Here are some models I think they're trying to follow:
- Saving the World, one individual at a time -- If Jesus commanded to "Go and make disciples" then the churches should continue and try to make every person into a Christian.
- Cultural cache -- If the Church can reach a critical mass, then it can influence government, public policy, and help make the world a better place.
- Operational efficiency -- If the Church can run itself more efficiently, then it can serve more and spend less time on its own business.
- Church for all people -- If the Church can create enough communities where people can always find a place of people like them, then the Church can be accessible to all people.
All of these types of "scalability" and "mission" (in addition to ones I'm most definitely missing) need some of the core theological questions asked of them: what does it mean to be church? What does each of these models say about Jesus? What do they say about God and how God works?
Efficient for whom?
In my small strand of Christianity - the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) - there's a tendency that many congregations face as their demographics become older and fewer. The churches ask what they can do to be more "efficient."
Often, but not always, it's a veiled question they're really avoiding about whether they can still afford to pay staff, have a building, do church the same, etc.
My cynical view is that this is a way for congregations to avoid asking the theological questions, and instead, stealing a page out of 20th-century business management books.
I hear from clergy and photojournalist friends that the job "marketplace" is leaving them out to dry as positions become fewer and HR and personnel overseers say that the positions don't bring enough value for their expense.
Obsolete by Technology?
I see low income jobs around my community where the threat isn't from cost/benefit analysis but instead from technology making the jobs obsolete. These are jobs where people spend their days on repeat -- not really challenged and, often, not doing anything new.
I know of jobs that are going away -- not because of wider demographic sustainability questions, and not because of technology making them obsolete -- but there are jobs going away because there's no one to pick up the mantle. In the past, previous generations had stepped up and filled the gap; now, in some cases, newer generations have looked at the jobs and said, "nope, not for me."
ALL OF THESE HAVE LITTLE, IF ANYTHING, TO DO WITH CHURCH SCALABILITY
If the church needs to scale in order to keep itself alive; or to make sure another generation of ministers are gainfully employed; or to get a 21st century audience to repeat a message just as our 1st century predecessors did ...
... then the church doesn't really need to scale.
Why the Church should scale
Church repeats; it's a good thing
Even though in programming, it's a sign of bad design or lazy development for code to repeat itself ... in church, it's an asset and a virtue. Churches are built on practices that shape how we believe. We don't repeat the Lord's Prayer every Sunday because we think the words are poetic or beautiful. We pray them to shape us as individuals and to shape our communities.
Churches not only repeat what we do each time we gather; but we repeat what others do. In the "marketplace of ideas"; churches have it in our history to take the practices that work for our brothers and sisters and see what they would look like in our own context.
I'm leading a Bible study on Paul's Letter to the Romans at Heidi's and my church during this season of Lent. Paul's letters weren't just transmitting ideas ... he was introducing entire communities to each other and their common leaders who were sharing their best practices. The list of saints in each letter are just the start of the practice-shaping he was doing.
Our modern church "tribalism" and "brand-loyalty" makes me think we've missed this fact. (Our churches aren't each called to be unique and different from each other; it is just called to be Christ's body in each neck of the woods.)
Efficiency can sometimes be avoidance
Discussions on efficiency often value the "simplicity" or the "quickness" of doing something.
"If only our minister could trim down the prayer list so people aren't on there for more than two weeks ... then we'd be able to have a shorter worship service."
We had a funeral this weekend and had a wonderful time remembering one of our older members who died last week. Her funeral wasn't unique or remarkable; it wasn't cathartic, nor was it tumultuous. It was the good, slow work of sending one of our loved ones back to God.
Whenever I hear discussions about the Church "deserving better", "more efficient leadership" ... I think back to this member's funeral. The work of the church - of helping bring Good News to the world - isn't about efficiency or a race against time. It's good, slow work. It's letting ourselves be shaped, not with precision or into a mold, but instead by the waters of baptism that we remember and hearken back to throughout a continual decision to follow the Way of Jesus.
The Church shouldn't scale in order to become more efficient; it shouldn't scale in order to not repeat itself.
The world needs more congregations of the Church to stand for the needs of the powerless in their communities. They need the Church to lose its self-righteousness and help serve others. They need the Church to be an incubator for ideas to see what is possible; and then, when something works, to replicate that as it also scales out its other ministries.
The Church can and should scale. My hope is that its leaders (and its periphery legions of consultants) can find the right times and the right reasons in making it happen.