As I look at the last two or three years at Mosaic, I see a broad three-part trend: from stable to sustainable to growing:
Stable: In 2011 and 2012 we worked to protect, evaluate, and repair our core to keep it strong enough to navigate several major transitions.
Sustainable: In 2012 and 2013, we shifted our focus, strengthening the stabilized core so it could continue operating into the future.
Growing: Since mid- to late-2013, we’ve been building out from that stable and sustainable core.
These three stages are the story of an organism in recovery after a crisis. And now, post-crisis, the key challenge will be to grow in ways that don’t undermine our hard-won sustainability or stability.
In other words, growth needs to be organic.
This word, organic, is one we’ve used for a long, long time to capture a value that’s important but hard to define. It has to do with doing church in ways that bring life instead of stifling it. It includes emphases on sustainability, fruitfulness, nourishment, rhythm, balance, and other vaguely biological concepts.
One of the problems with the word, though, is that we tend to use it sloppily. A lot of times when we say something is “organic,” we mean things like:
- it seems to happen on its own
- it’s simple
- it’s minimally structured
- it isn’t hard
- I don’t resent it
- it feels right
And while organic things can be all of those bullets, together they are a pretty misleading definition.
Organic systems–our bodies for instance–are highly organized, tremendously complicated, and energy-intensive. But organic systems also have this innate ability to maintain homeostasis–an internally controlled balance of input and output, work and rest, growth and decline.
An organic system seems simpler than it really is because all its underlying parts and sub-systems are optimized to collaborate. Each has a specific function, and each is designed to interface with and support the others as they solve problems or complete tasks. That’s why it doesn’t seem hard to pick up a pencil, even though it requires breath-taking coordination of the nervous and musculoskeletal systems.
This is why I’ve been talking so much about trees and intentionality and core values lately. In the coming months:
- non-organic growth will create all kinds of branches that accomplish little on their own as they rob the others of strength; or
- organic growth will produce fruit, shelter, and beauty that honor and delight God as they feed, protect and inspire people.
Which kind of growth we experience will depend largely on us and the decisions we make. Now is the time to get in the habit of choosing organically.
Rubber Meets Road
The most immediate personal application for me is both intimidating and exciting: I have to say no to some stuff. I have to do some pruning.
It’s intimidating because over the course of the past year, I’ve already said no an awful lot in order to make room for pastoring. I’ve pared out dead wood and suckers. I’ve lost branches that were important, but not important enough. And at this point, there is not much left to lose that isn’t really hard to part with, for me or the for the people I care about or serve.
But it’s also become clear that I am over-committed, and that it’s making everything suffer. What makes the prospect of personal pruning exciting is what comes after: new freedom to focus and invest in things that really, truly matter a lot.