OK, here’s part three of my summary. As before, my comments are in red.
1. Is there a person in charge? Yes = spider and classic traditional church approach. There is more to come later in the book about ‘catalysts’ and ‘champions’ in starfish organisations. Later I shall offer some thoughts as to how consonant such people are with biblical faith.
2. Are there headquarters? Yes = spider and classic traditional church approach. Definitely consistent with Old Testament faith, less so with New Testament, notwithstanding the rôle of Jerusalem in Acts 15.
3. If you thump it on the head, will it die? Yes = spider and although this would be true of centralised churches, especially where there is also a high dependency upon the leaders (including the local ones), you might argue this wouldn’t have happened in the apostolic churches, and hasn’t happened in persecuted churches in recent decades. Not that too romantic a picture should be painted, even of more decentralised churches, given Paul’s statement in Galatians that before his conversion ‘I was destroying the churches’ (softened to ‘I was trying to destroy‘ in some versions). But Jesus saw the church as indestructible.
4. Is there a clear division of rôles? Yes = spider. Does that make churches which practise clear delineations on talents, offices and spiritual gifts spider churches? However, the priesthood of all believers is most definitely starfish on this basis. It depends whether we are stressing equality or diversity.
5. If you take out a unit, is the organisation harmed? Yes = spider. How does this relate to Paul saying, if one part of the body suffers, all suffer? We feel the pain, but are we harmed? ‘The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,’ said Tertullian – was he expounding a starfish church?
6. Are knowledge and power concentrated or distributed? Concentrated = spider, distributed = starfish. Most churches concentrate it in specialists like me. However, there is sometimes a co-dependent conspiracy on this one. Not only do we ‘specialists’ like to be the ‘experts’, congregations sometimes like us to be also, even when we passionately want to distribute knowledge.
7. Is the organisation flexible or rigid? Flexible = starfish, rigid = spider. Most of the church is the latter. This expresses a lot of the tensions commonly felt at ‘grassroots’ in the church, in contrast to the hierarchies. I’ve come across it in ecumenical churches where there is huge frustration that failure to agree by ‘the top brass’ (revealing description) hinders local work. It’s the same with Fresh Expressions.
8. Can you count the employees or participants? Yes=spider. Methodism is particularly obsessed by this, with the ‘October Count’, now renamed ‘Statistics for Mission‘. You can’t help wondering about that newer name: it is a form of branding to give it a respectable label, given the dislike of many ministers for the process? Counting numbers of people has positive and negative examples in Scripture: King David holds a census out of pride and a curse falls on the people, but on the other hand the Acts of the Apostles seems very interested in numerical growth. Note comments about ‘measurement’ happening in a different way in the final post of this series.
9. Are working groups funded by the organisation, or are they self-funding? Former = spider, latter = starfish. I find churches to be a mixture of both. Most stuff is self-funded at a local level, making us a bit more starfish-like, except that with anything major we have to jump through various hoops set up by the hierarchy. Particularly large projects will include applications for grant funding, and that increases the spider content. One interesting factor in Methodism is the issue of trustees. The local Church Council members are but the ‘managing trustees‘ of the property for wider Methodism who technically own the building, yet the primary responsibility for maintenance rests with them.
10. Do working groups communicate directly or through intermediaries? Former = starfish, latter = spider. This is a difficult one in church life. Formally, we tend to be spiders, with different committees reporting to the Church Council, with churches reporting to the Circuit, and so on. However, when we get down to a small scale, especially with church decline, we can be more direct in our communication, because we have become more informal and closer in proximity to each other.
An interview by Matthew Syed with Shaun Murphy, the world snooker champion, appears in today’s Times. Here are the first two paragraphs:
Many attributed Shaun Murphy’s unswerving self-belief to his faith in God after he triumphed in the World Championship this year as a 150-1 outsider. It is a plausible theory. The 23-year-old is an unabashed biblical literalist who views the multicoloured world of snooker through the black and white prism of Christian fundamentalism.
“I am convinced that God has a plan for my life that encompasses success in snooker,” he said when I met him at the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall, the venue for today’s Pot Black Cup, where he faces Jimmy White in the first round. “Before matches, Clare (his wife) prays that God will anoint my hands so that I can play to my full potential.”
Two things struck me about these paragraphs. First is the attribution of Murphy’s belief that God had a plan for his life to ‘black and white … Christian fundamentalism’. Certainty makes you a fundamentalist. When I first read it my hackles rose against the reporter. But I have sat listening this morning to Scott McDermott preach about the need to avoid spiritual indecision in the face of a culture that would prefer us to be indecisive. So no wonder the journalist has to categorise Murphy like this. He’s captive to the culture.
Secondly, I love the prayer for the anointing of his hands so that he can play to his full potential. This takes ‘anointing’ out of the limited, churchy context it is too often constrained within right into the workplace and therefore the place of Christian witness. God bless you, Shaun.