In Dr. Dwight J. Zscheile’s seminal book The Agile Church, the professor of congregational mission and leadership at Luther Seminary lays out an alternate vision for churches that have struggled to respond to a rapidly changing culture and widespread decline. Learning churches, says Zscheile, are about fostering spaces in which people can learn, practice, and play. They create a wholistic environment for adaptive work—where people can explore tough questions in relative safety. For example…
- How do we share our faith with younger generations that don’t seem interested?
- How can we form meaningful community with our neighbors in the name of Jesus?
- How can we give witness to abundant life in Christ in a broken world?
Zscheile suggests 10 disciplines that, if practiced regularly, help to create a community of learning in a church, forming an agile faith able to respond to a fluid landscape….
1. Cultivate space for conversation and practice.
2. Address fear and shame. Be willing to become vulnerable. Acknowledge doubts, mistakes, and failures. Embrace grace and create safe spaces that breed transparency.
3. Engage in crucial conversations that focus on attitudes, assumptions, practices, and approaches. Name the competing commitments that hinder transformation.
4. Interpret the present in light of the past. Hold on to what is good and present and working and be willing to jettison that which no longer serves the mission. Take time to re-frame your identity and priorities.
5. Discover open spaces. Meet people where are they are rather than expecting them to come to church. Move meetings and events to open spaces.
6. Be fully present. Enhance your capacity to observe your surroundings. Listen to what is said as well as what is not said. Play the role of a journalist. Ask probing questions. Raise issues that others failed to do.
7. Practice your way forward. There is no learning and growth without the discipline of practice.
8. Translate the church’s traditions and witness in meaningful ways for the people we seek to serve. Allow those you’re seeking to reach out to help with the translations.
9. Be willing to improvise. Learn while doing. Embrace imperfection. Try a new approach. Push boundaries.
10. Take time to reflect on your results. This leads to rethinking assumptions and reinventing new possibilities.
To face the particular challenges of “such a time as this,” agility is the spiritual muscle we must develop. It’s both practically important and theologically central to our life with Jesus. It’s impossible to follow the leading of the Spirit, described by Jesus as “the wind [that] blows wherever it wants,” without an agile posture…
Jim LaDoux is the longtime Director of Coaching Services for Vibrant Faith. Jim lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife—he has two adult sons. He’s been a coach since 1992, and has a Master of Management Arts and is a certified PCC (Professional Certified Coach).