All Companions of the missionary order we call NAMS are called to life at the seams.
As an ex-Army officer, one of the most important leadership lessons I learned was to “pay attention to the seams.” The line where two pieces of fabric come together is where the garment takes its form. But it’s also where the stitches are most likely to give way and tear apart.
Similarly, the spaces between life circumstances where plans and operations come together and either align or fall apart, have the potential to shape future reality but also are the most vulnerable to chaos. Leaders must pay attention to these places in both their personal and organizational life.
I am living in a seam at the moment. One month ago our family transitioned from South Africa to South Carolina after nearly six years as missionaries with an intentional Christian community we helped found.
In the weeks before we left I had a significant conversation with my Bishop, Rt Rev Joel Obetia of Uganda. I articulated to him in an uncertain, rambling fashion, my dream for building new communities of faith that would perhaps never really fit into the traditional Christian (Anglican) system.
As Bishop Joel listened patiently but with intense focus as only the way a man unencumbered by technology or the urgency of next things can, he told me seven things that I share with you in this two-part blog, that I hope may inspire and provide fuel for conversations among NAMS Companions and those who support and love us, as we seek to work together in years to come.
The numbered lines are from Bishop Joel. The italicized sentences are my commentary.
- Operate as if there are no boxes.
Boxes are not inherently bad. People relate ideas to concepts that they already know. In this way we all have “boxes” that we put ideas into. The first cars were known as motor wagons because they were seen as strange new versions of the horse-drawn, wooden wagons people knew well. But when those of us called to create new things operate only in reference to models and forms that already exist we limit our creative capacity to dream and give power to things in the “box” to control and shape the future.
Those of us made to dream of, create, and live out new models of Christian community must not be confined by the boxes that hold the settled local church in our contexts. We must be free to dream of new structures and ways to engage people in this lost and dying world. In other words, pioneers must be free and freed to pioneer.
- A movement will be limited if it becomes the church.
The institution of the church is necessarily an ordered society, slow to change and normally resistant to new ideas. New movements led by the Spirit to renew the church must operate outside of those church structures, otherwise their impact will be limited by the formal and informal constraints of institutional Christianity.
This is not to say that people involved in the movement shouldn’t also be part of the institutional church – they should. Individual presbyters and lay leaders in missional movements should be connected in healthy relationships to others in the more settled body, but their vocational activity cannot be completely controlled by the systems and authority of the settled church, lest the new apostolic work that God has ordained be confined to what already is.
The tension between fluid movement and established structure is difficult to navigate but is necessary if either movement and church are to fulfill their God given purpose.
Part 2 next week will complete the list of 7 things my bishop spoke to me.
— Revd. Gabriel Smith
NAMS Global Operations