The Starfish Church

StarfishSometimes I fear we’ve got it all backwards.  I mean, what if we’ve been missing the point for centuries?  What if we’ve wandered far from God’s true Desire and Design for His Church?  It’s certainly hard to believe.  Most Christians, including many church leaders, have little idea about their history.  We just blindly keep doing what we’ve been doing out of tradition.

One of my favorite leadership books is The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom.  It describes the difference between centralized (spider) and de-centralized (starfish) organizations.  In nature a spider and a starfish look similar, but they possess great difference in how they’re organized.  A spider’s power is centralized.  Lop off a spider’s leg and it’s disabled.  Cut off a spider’s head and its dead.  Starfish are different. It’s power is spread throughout the body. Every ounce is alive with reproductive potential.  Cut off a starfish leg and it’ll grow it back.  In fact, some starfish will remove their own legs to reproduce!

Brafman and Beckstrom use starfish as a metaphor to highlight how de-centralized organizations survive and thrive.  In reality, de-centralized organizations, tribes, communities and businesses have always been among us.  However, the rise of the Worldwide Web has flattened and decentralized nearly everything–and this cyber culture is unlike anything that’s ever existed in human history.  For up until the 1990s, centralized organizations, including national governments, have ruled.  Egypt was centralized around a Pharaoh.  Babylon around a king.  Rome around an emperor.  The Catholic Church around a pope.  The Indian tribes around a chief.  For thousands of years, the world has operated from its middles.  The power was focused.  Consequently, all institutions found centralized frames beneficial, whether in commerce, media, education or religion. We were a world of bosses, CEOs, principals, presidents, directors and head honchos.

But the emergence of a web world changed everything.

Today anyone can be a content creator.  YouTube makes everyone a filmmaker.  Twitter makes everyone a commentator.  eBay makes everyone a seller.  Consequently, the middles are collapsing.  Middle class. Middle management. Mainline churches. Mainstream media.  What’s exploding are “starfish” organizations, gatherings and communities.  From Sturgis to Burning Man, from ISIS to the Tea Party, from Drudge to Huffington, from Facebook to Pinterest, from Craigslist to Amazon, from A.A. to Celebrate Recovery.  Furthermore, every web-connected person on the planet can now access information.  Online learning continues to grow.  Web meetings and e-conferences are routine.  TedTalks is the new classroom.

The GOOD NEWS for the Church, particularly the American Church?  A decentralized frame has always been God’s desire for His People.  In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel disintegrated within generations of centralization (around a king).  Prior to “king” Saul, Israel was a decentralized spiritual community.  Leaders abounded, but no one leader controlled.  Even under Moses, the community was led more by its priests and judges than its prophet.  It wasn’t until Israel asked for a king, centralized religion in Jerusalem (thanks to King David) and put God in a temple box (thanks to Solomon) that everything went south.

So it’s not surprising when God relaunched His New Covenant Church in the first century, it was decentralized.  Every congregation met in homes, was led by a body of elders and served by deacons and deaconesses.  In the book of Acts as well as the epistles, we catch glimpses of decentralization.  For example, Paul wrote to the Corinthians and Romans how the Church is like a body (with Jesus as the head).

The first step to radically restore the Church is to confess we’ve got our frame wrong.  It’s like God gave us the blueprint and we built the house our own way regardless.  It’s not that buildings, lead pastors, priests, popes, or programs are bad and that God can’t use them.  He does.  It’s just not how He planned it.

God designed the Church to operate as a STARFISH and we converted it into a SPIDER.

It’s time to RESTORE authentic Christianity and reclaim our STARFISH design.  A Church of the people, by the people and for the people.  And the real good news is I believe the American Church will lead the way.

After all, at the heart of decentralization is autonomy, freedom and democracy.

And that is the American way.

NEXT TIME:  WHAT A DECENTRALIZED CHURCH LOOKS LIKE

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About rickchromey

Dr. Rick Chromey is a theologian, philosopher, historian and cultural expert. He has empowered leaders to lead, teachers to teach and parents to parent since 1985.

Posted on September 18, 2015, in American church, Christianity, Church buildings, Leadership, Preaching and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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