Tony Robinson and Learning to Capsize

If you don’t have time to read Anthony Robinson’s excellent book “Changing the Conversation”, this article is a good summary from the Alban Institute’s website. Robinson writes that church decline is partly about the culture, but also about our behavior as churches, and he invites congregations to engage in adaptive change in the face of circumstances we are not necessarily in control of.  It is primarily a book for churches that want to rebuild their ministry in new ways, but he also acknowledges that

 “There are some congregations where death is not the worst thing that can happen. It may even be the best thing that can happen, because without a death there can be no resurrection.”

Thank you, Rev. Robinson, because that is basically my thesis in a nutshell!

I heard Robinson speak last year and he talked about taking kayaking lessons.  He explained that the first lesson in kayaking is how to get out of the kayak when it turns over.  This is for safety.  After you have mastered capsizing and escaping your kayak, the next lesson is how to get it turned back over and getting back in.

The lesson for me was: we churches need to learn to fail!   Not to seek out failure, but to expose ourselves to that possibility and see what happens.  And when we fail, we need to learn how to get back up and try again.  We need to take risks and make mistakes and fail until we get used to recovering.  That is called resilience.  It is not a new lesson historically: there are ancient churches that have been engaged in public worship and mission for centuries, through the failures of war and natural disaster and migration.  God’s Church is resilient by nature!

But remember: resilience is quite different than rigidity.  To be rigid means you refuse to yield to changing circumstances.  To be resilient means you hold on to the core of who you are and adapt your form as needed to survive in the torrent of change around you.

Thank you, Rev. Robinson, for your wisdom.  And thanks to my reader Jenny for inspiring me to write today!!

6 responses to “Tony Robinson and Learning to Capsize

  1. Thank you! I read the Tony Robinson book and found it very inspiring. Your blog served as a needed reminder to keep on trying new things.

  2. Once again, Gail, great stuff. This book is on my reading list for my Sabbatical this year! Maybe we can have lunch some day! Be well.

  3. We are learning what it means to us to be church at Peace UCC in Fall Creek. Last year, our average worship attendance was 8, including pastor and organist. This winter, in order to save money on heat, we’re meeting at a member’s home on Sunday mornings. We sit around Mim’s table and do Bible Study, sort of after the African Lectio Divina method, and sort of not. This faithful group of people have neither the time, energy, nor numbers to have much of a mission outside themselves. We do bring food every week for the local food pantry.

    Mostly, though, we bring ourselves. Our orders of worship have The rest of us have a psalm, some prayers, one of the day’s text in three versions, and a blessing I bring one order of worship that’s several pages long in 60-point type or so. It’s the first time in a long time M has been able to participate in reading aloud.

    We’ll go back to the church building on Palm Sunday, probably. And we’ll continue to wonder how long we’ll be there and what God has in mind for us. Mostly, right now, there is abundant love among a handful of people who would most likely be disconnected without the church. And for now, that’s more than enough to be going on with.

  4. Thank you for sharing about Fall Creek, Jeanny. This is resilience. Your story makes me wonder: what is the criteria for being an “authentic” church? Does it mean you have “programs”? Mission projects? A budget? If somebody is growing in faith, if “sanctification” is taking place, can we call it church? Does it matter what we call it? I have often wished I could be part of something like a “house church”, but then think how easy it would for it to become a “closed system”. What do you think would happen if a stranger came and joined you at Mim’s table?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s