I recently spent half a day as part of a visioning day for a small not-for-profit volunteer organization.

I took away three principles from the morning:

1. Clarity of identity enables an organization to operate from a sense of abundance rather than scarcity.

2. In order to survive in the complex culture in which organizations currently operate, they must give up competitive isolationist strategies and learn to cooperate.

3. Any organization that is going to thrive in our current context must be flexible.

These three principles hold out particular challenges and opportunities for churches.

1. Clarity of identity – For a church identity is never fixed and can never be defined operationally. Like people, churches are not defined by the things they do but by the way they do the things they do. No specific function defines church.

We are a gathering of people whose primary goal is to be open to the movement of God’s Spirit. We aim to listen to one another, to the world around us, and to the guidance and direction of God. We hold lightly the things of this world because we desire to follow the Spirit who

blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. (John 3:8)

No human agenda dominates. No personality or individual characteristic overwhelms. The Spirit speaks in a myriad of ways. Our only desire is to be radically and deeply open. We want to go where the Spirit leads in whatever direction we discern the wind of God’s Spirit is blowing. Nothing is fixed; nothing is nailed down. We are an unpredictable organization, forming and reforming in response to God’s presence in our midst.

Our confidence does not reside in numbers, programs, status, or any achievement. Our confidence lies in living boldly and fully in God’s abiding and faithful presence. We know God’s Spirit is at work when we are increasing in

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.(Galatians 5:22,23)

2. Cooperation – Isolation is no longer an option. We live in a world that is increasingly interconnected. We are surrounded on all sides by people of different faiths, no faith, and questioning faith. We can no longer assume that, what we once considered normative patterns of behaviour and community will predominate.

There is no longer any place, if there ever was, for arrogance and exclusivity. We may hold deeply and passionately to our vision of faith, but only with deep respect for the passionate and deeply held beliefs of others.

3. Flexibility – It is frightening for churches to be flexible. We worry that if we are flexible, we may lose something essential. We may sacrifice our identity in the interests of adapting to the surroundings in which we find ourselves. But, in a world that is constantly in flux, any organization that is not open to change, will not survive.

To be flexible does not mean abandoning the core value at the heart of our identity. Our core value (see #1 above) is to remain always, and in everything, open to the prompting of God’s Spirit. This is the one non-negotiable. We can be flexible and open because we trust God’s Spirit at the centre of our life together. We want only to encourage one another to open more deeply to God’s work in our lives. We trust God’s Spirit, not any prescribed program.

I do not know what God’s Spirit may be saying to you. I do not know how God’s Spirit may be shaping your life. I only know that, if we both listen deeply to God’s Spirit, we will find a deeper consciousness of God’s presence and action at work in our world. In this way, God will be more fully active throughout the world in ways that will be surprising and fresh at all times.