CCU Blog

Are You A Church Paradigm Pioneer?

What Is A Paradigm?

A “paradigm” is a typical example, model, or pattern of something. Our lives are guided by our paradigms. They act as the set of rules in our mind that define the boundaries of our perception of reality and tell us how to behave inside those boundaries to be successful. Paradigms influence everything from the way we make our bed in the morning, to the way we conduct business, to the political candidates we support.

A Paradigm Story

WatchFor 60 years the Swiss dominated the world in watch manufacturing. They were first in the watch-making industry with no one in close second. Then, something happened.  A paradigm shifted.  Their market share dropped from 65% to less than 10%.  What happened? The digital quartz watch. Suddenly Swiss excellence in manufacturing gears and mainsprings was irrelevant. Fifty thousand Swiss watch makers lost their jobs and the nation faced an economic crisis. The ironic part of this story is that the digital watch was invented by the Swiss themselves. Their decision makers, however, couldn’t envision a world without gears and mainsprings so they didn’t even protect the new technology. The new invention was picked up by Seiko of Japan and the rest is history.

The Paradigm Effect

Our paradigms define our view of reality.  A Paradigm Shift is the introduction of something new that changes the rules and brings everyone “back to the drawing board.” Because we see the world through our paradigms they can blind and deafen us to other possibilities, other paradigms. This is referred to as the “The Paradigm Effect.”  The quartz watch was a Paradigm Shift.  The Swiss were blinded by the effect of their “watch” paradigm and could not envision a world without gears and mainsprings. 

The Paradigm Question

Joel Arthur Barker, and expert in paradigm dynamics, suggests the following question to begin pressing paradigm boundaries:  “What is impossible to do in your organization today, but, if it could be done, would fundamentally change it for the better?”  Your answers to this question in any given area of endeavor will begin to point you toward a new future of what could be.

Paradigm Pioneers

To be a Paradigm Pioneer you must have the courage to risk releasing an old paradigm and envision what the future could look like with the new paradigm actively in place.  So here’s a key question for Christians and especially Christian leaders: What is your paradigm of “church” and are you open to a Shift?  We all have a paradigm of Church.  Our paradigm includes our ideas of what we should wear to church, what a church building looks like, what kind of songs should be sung, and the role of pastoral leadership.  However, if you ask yourself the paradigm question (see above) regarding “Church”, then what might God want to initiate in your city that could result in remarkable spiritual transformation and visible unity.

A New Paradigm of Church

Allow me to suggest a biblical idea that I invite you to study, pray about, and dialogue with others.  Here goes – Jesus’ ecclesiology is far different from what we typically see in our churches today.  Jesus’ ecclesiology is focused on a cohesive expression of his family that is influencing and transforming cities … together.  

Consider these New Testament truths:

  • Jesus fervently prayed that his followers would be “one”, even “perfectly one” so that the world would know and believe (John 17:21-23).  In this passage, Jesus directly links the effective accomplishment of the Great Commission (knowing and believing) with the visible unity of his followers.
  • The Apostle Paul directed the majority of his epistles to all the believers within a city or region. “To all those in Rome” … “To the church of God that is in Corinth” … “To the churches of Galatia” (a region) … “To the saints who are in Ephesus” … ‘To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi” … “To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae” … “To the church of the Thessalonians.”  Therefore, all the imperatives to love, honor, be kind, forgive, forbear, be devoted to, etc., are incumbent on all the believers to one another within the city and not simply to their local gathering.  Paul addressed the “Church of the City”.
  • We typically apply Paul’s “body” metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12:20-22 to our congregation, stressing our individual need for each other – “The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you.”  But since this passage is directed to “the Church of God that is in Corinth” a more accurate application needs to include clusters of believers or congregations not being able to say to another congregation “I have no need of you.” First Conservative Church can’t say to First Charismatic, “I have no need of you.”  Jesus’ vision for his Church is a movement characterized by visible unity within the context of an entire city or region.
  • The metaphors of the Church in the New Testament all speak of one cohesive Body – Christ’s Bride, Christ’s Body, One Temple, One Man, and One Loaf.  Paul exhorts all the saints in Philippi to be “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel (Phil. 1:27).
  • All Seven Letters in the book of Revelation are written to the City Church and not simply a single congregation within the city.

Jesus makes it clear that he only speaks and does what the Father directs (John 12:49-50).  The core value of Jesus for the oneness of his followers, therefore, reflects the heart of the Father.  The implications of this are profound.  Our Lord’s desire must become the priority of the Body of Christ.  The Church must pursue and embody the prayer of our Lord for the visible unity of his followers.

The strong implication of these passages (and many more) is that the Lord’s under-shepherds, as stewards entrusted with the care of the saints, must play a vital leadership role toward breaking free of established cultural norms (old paradigms) and pursuing Christ’s call to supernatural unity and visible witness.

Email logo draftCity Church Unite exists to serve as a supportive catalyst in the lives of leaders and churches to nurture the oneness and vitality of the Church of the City.  Pastors play a strategic role of embracing and modeling Christ’s heart for the unity of his people in the Church of the City (the broader Body).  Their Church family and ministry peers will be influenced by their example.

Are You A Church Paradigm Pioneer?

Remember the Paradigm Question – “What is impossible to do in your organization today, but, if it could be done, would fundamentally change it for the better?”  The idea of a unified Church of the City – congregations devoted to one another and working together to spiritually transform their community – challenges our strongly established paradigm of Church.  We are all deeply influenced by our independent, western culture.  Don’t be surprised, therefore, if you sense a natural resistance within yourself (see the Paradigm Effect above).  We can think of many reasons why “it will never work.”  However, if the Holy Spirit began a movement of reconciliation and extraordinary love among Christ’s followers and The Church became a redemptive source of healing and unity in broken, angry, and fragmented communities … just imagine the Kingdom impact!  The ultimate question, of course, for all of us as members of Christ’s body is “What does God’s word call us to do?”  I invite you look at the passages, consider the implications, and ask the Lord of the Church if this truly is the desire of his heart for his followers.  -TW

Father, We realize that we have deeply embedded ideas about what your church is and what it should look like.  We affirm that our primary commitment, Lord, is to you and your word.  We want to be willing to release false assumptions and courageously embrace a new vision of your church if we clearly see it in your inspired word.  Grant us faith, wisdom, clarity, and courage to be paradigm pioneers.”  -Amen

For further reading:

City Church: Working Together to Transform Cities by Kelly Malone

A Disruptive Gospel by Mac Pier

This blog article is part of a 31 day devotional entitled 31 Days of City Church, currently under development by City Church Unite.  We value your comments and questions.


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