Thursday, May 8, 2014

Creating Holy Chaos

How many of you have sat through meetings in your churches that were supposed to be Planning Sessions? You know the ones I am talking about. The idea is that you gather the people in leadership roles to think about the future of your church. These things happen on the local level and the denominational level. People are encouraged to think outside the box, to bring new wine to the old wineskins. You arrive under the assumption that whoever put together such a meeting understands that there are things that need to change and improve. You might even need to go in a different direction than the one you have been going in for the past 100 years. And so many of these conclaves any idea that is truly new, truly different, or the least bit radical tends to be shot down by the 7 last words of a dying church- "We've never done it that way before!" Churches are often so ordered, so driven by rules and traditions, that no one can remember the last time anything really new ever happened there. In a Church founded by and devoted to "The Radical Man" himself, Jesus of Nazareth, it seems rare that anything radical ever takes place anymore. These brainstorming sessions are often where ideas go to die. In my opinion, what our churches need are a few more wild and crazy moments where rules fall away and the Holy Spirit takes over. What we need is some Holy Chaos!

Somewhere along the way in my youth ministry career I attended a Critical Concerns Course at the National Youth Workers Convention led by Craig McNair Wilson.  McNair had been a guru in the imagination think-tank of the Walt Disney Company, originating many of the street theater groups you see in the World Showcase at EPCOT and at one time serving as a personal assistant to Michael Eisner. He taught us the creative brainstorming system used by the Imagineers at Disney. I used it over and over again during the last 10 years of my ministry, and found that it works on many levels to help your team actually be creative.  I share it with you today. It can be a wild and woolly process. It may just create some Holy Chaos in your midst. And it may be just what your church or ministry needs. There are 7 steps- and the order matters greatly.  They are:

The list you see above is from a 1998 strategic planning booklet I did for FUMC-Kissimmee. (Note the excellent use of a 1995 version of Print Shop!) Now here's what it all means:
  1. Before you gather for brainstorming, there needs to be some agreement on why you are getting together. Are you tackling a specific issue, or looking at your ministry as a whole? Are you just "thinking out loud," or do you actually intend to do something with the ideas you come up with? People need to know these things in advance so they can do some some personal creating ahead of time and be prepared for your session. And the entire process should be bathed in prayer- before, during and after. You want and need the energy and creativity of the Holy Spirit to fill the room.
  2. Allow people to throw out ideas and concepts with total disregard to cost, feasibility, practicality or any other judgement. To accomplish that, you must do this...
  3. Begin every statement with the phrase "Yes, and..."  This does 3 things. It prohibits people from being negative and using their usual opening phrase, "But that won't work!" It allows for the expansion and enhancement of ideas already expressed, and it gives people the freedom to piggyback on ideas. This is a very important step. We would often put a jar on the table (like a swear jar) and make anyone who didn't begin with "Yes, and..." make a donation.  :)
  4. Again, no negative thoughts allowed. No matter how ridiculous or impractical an idea may seem, this is NOT the time to point out flaws. It is also not the time to wimp out. If you have an idea, share it- and share it boldly! The idea is to come up with ideas!!!
  5. Just when you think you may have drained your brains of ideas, give one final push. You don't want a flurry of ideas. You want an avalanche!!! If people seem tired, then push even harder. I remember McNair saying something like "exhaustion often precedes inspiration."
  6. The wackier the better! Your wildest dreams may inspire someone else to share THE idea you have all been waiting for. To get some of your church members out of the box, you will have to SHATTER the box first! Some of history's greatest inventions began as wild ideas. Never discount the outrageous. Allow for the Holy Chaos!
  7. By this point you should have covered all 4 walls of whatever room you are in with ideas, from the brilliant to the silly. Now is the time to pull out your vision/purpose/mission statement and decide which of these ideas can best help you accomplish your goals. You can follow these steps: List the needs you are hoping to address, and then group similar and related ideas into categories under the needs they might address. Pick one area of concern and then select the ideas that best respond to your church's particular needs. Expand on the ideas selected, helping others to see the possibilities they hold for your situation. This is the time to express doubts, to look at practicality and to raise questions. It is also a time to be very honest with yourselves about where your weak spots are as a church. By now you should be deep enough in the process that you know better than to discount an idea simply because it seems too big or too expensive. Keep brainstorming how you can make it happen given your reality. Keep thinking about which ideas will bring you closer to fulfilling your stated purposes. Reach a consensus about which ideas you want to go forward with or explore further. And then repeat the critical thinking with the next area of concern.
I led youth ministry teams, church councils, church staffs and a couple of business groups through this process, and I can tell you that it bears great fruit. If you would like to know more about it, email me at or find me on Twitter @Youthguy07 anytime and I would love to help your group experience the thrill of true brainstorming. through it. Our churches need to think in new ways. Our churches need to experience the radical call of Jesus and the wonder of Holy Chaos. Let me know how I can help you!

Because of Jesus,

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