Recommended Resource: Managing Polarities in Congregations: Eight Keys for Thriving Faith Communities by R. M Oswald and B. A. Johnson
Review by Ron Seabrooke
Problems, wouldn’t it be nice to not have any, especially in church and leadership meetings? They are inevitable because we are children of Adam and because we are people who are serious and passionate about our faith. We will not always agree, so how do we process problems and disagreements?
It is very helpful to consider what category your problem fits into, and there are at least four. There are the problems to solve, where you are looking for a solution, such as getting the funds for the leaky roof, or finding a more creative way to recruit Sunday school teachers. Brainstorming and picking the best idea usually works well. Then there are issues, where problems and disagreements are rooted in values, your identity, or basic beliefs such as: how you view the authority of the Bible. If there is a fundamental disagreement the best you can do is separate or draw up some workable boundaries. A third category is that of choices where you have to make an either/or decision: do we hire this person or that one, do we build or plant? Lists are made, opinions weighed, and then you choose.
Polarities are a fourth category, they permeate our churches and cannot be solved using either/or thinking or by ignoring, yet that is often how we attempt to deal with them. Polarities require skill and care to work with both sides equally—skills we may lack. A polarity is a pair of truths that are interdependent, neither can stand alone. The bulk of this book deals with eight polarities: Tradition And Innovation, Spiritual Health and Institutional Health, Management and Leadership, Strong Clergy Leadership and Strong Lay Leadership, Inreach and Outreach, Nurture Aad Transformation, Making Disciples: Easy Process and Challenging Process.
What is valuable in this resource is not the description of the polarities; we know what they are and struggle with them constantly. The book gives tools to assist in managing polarities in a way that not only removes unhelpful tension but enables us to leverage them to become more healthy and balanced.
Managing these polarities involves three elements. Each of the eight polarities are carefully addressed and ideas given on how to help each side work together by: 1. understanding the flow or infinity loop (like inhaling and exhaling) to see how each side is critical, 2. developing a robust user-friendly map that enables everyone to see the key dimensions of the polarity, and 3. developing a set of principles that will enable both sides to work.
We can handle polarities like we do other problems and thus ignore the balance God is seeking to give or we can manage them well, leveraging them in a way that can help us thrive as a congregation.
Managing Polarities in Congregations: Eight Keys for Thriving Faith Communities. Authors: R. M Oswald and B. A. Johnson, 2010. Herndon VA: Alban Institute.
Ron Seabrooke is pastor of Outreach/Teaching at Wallenstein Bible Chapel in Wallenstein Ontario. www.wbconline.ca. Ron and his wife Win have been involved in ministry for over 25 years. They served as missionaries for 10 years in the Middle East and in church planting in Ontario before coming to WBC in 2006. Ron is currently working on his DMin in leadership at Tyndale University/College.