Monuments, management and movements

Welcome to the Candour blog. In this format I will have less to say and invite more interaction and conversation around the ideas expressed.

The first task of leadership is to define reality, but what reality are we defining?

As I travel around the Church I’m finding there are three different understandings of time that are shaping the reality (realities) we live in. This is what makes planning for the future so difficult. It is a bit like being lost and asking an Irishman for directions: “if I were you, I wouldn’t get there starting from here”.

Where is “here” and what happens if our “here” is an unreality presenting itself as a reality?

The three different views of time is a framework that may be helpful to work some of these issues through. For those who want to think on a theological level we need to engage with Biblical time view where chromos and kairos intersect; God the eternal present intersects with now.

The “present past”
The “present past” is like walking backwards into the future. Those who have this view, consider the future by looking to the past. This approach to time can be evident when a congregation grapples with what to do with its buildings. This “present past” viewpoint can mean restoration and perseveration to some past ideal. Yet, when I look at the history of the Church it was built with an eye to the future. As time passes we can attribute a value to a building that was never there in the first place. All too often when a church considers its buildings, they live in the past believing it is the present. A building that was fit for purpose in one period of time may not be so in another period of time. People who live in the “present past” build monuments.

  • Have you noticed that when people tell stories of the past (good and bad) it as though they are living that experience in the present?
  • What are the strengths and weakness of this view?
  • How is this view represented in the Church today?

The “present present”
Those who have this view are sometimes confused and not sure what “all this” means, let alone what to do now. Those who live in the “present present” are busy. They are full of activity with little or no thought to “why are we doing this?”

For those in the “present present”, time is cyclical – an unending treadmill of now with little hope of a future. Priority is given to policies and procedures because these are the only things that give value to the “present present”. This view could best be described as those who can’t see the woods for the trees. This view of time is disconnected with time past and time future leading to action without meaning. The key activity of “present present” is management.

  • What happens if our understanding of time is locked into the “present present”?
  • What evidence do you see of this behaviour in the Church today?

The “present future” 
Those who live in the “present future” understand that the power of now is the determiner of the future shape of things. The future exists not as a “far off dream” but only as a result of the decisions, commitments and actions that are made in the present. I believe the “present present” is the timeframe from which Jesus taught of the kingdom of God: a future reality that is present in the actions of the kingdom of NOW.

Those who live in the “present future” are the true visionaries. They not only dream, they do. They do what needs to be done in the present and it comes into being. People who live in the “present future” join movements.

  • What would it take for the Presbyterian Church to become a movement?
  • How well does our Church treat visionaries?

As with all frameworks there are always exceptions. While I have typecast each perspective, there is a place for all three. The question we need to ask is…

“What order of preference should these perspectives have in driving the behaviour in our Church?”

Andrew Norton

The Rt Rev Andrew Norton is the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. Andrew has a passion for leadership developed during 28 years of ministry and his work in the business community as an executive leadership coach.

9 thoughts on “Monuments, management and movements

  1. Yes I loved the metaphor of the Life saving club that glorified its past history becoming a museum that no longer saved lives but spoke alot about saving lives thank you Moderator loving the insights Mua


  2. For the PCANZ to become a movement, I wonder if she might need to do something radically sacrificial – laying life down for the sake of another. The kingdom movement is about the King, and the King’s Movement started with sacrifice. Don’t new things always begin with sacrifice?


  3. A paradigm shift is required for PCANZ to become a movement. Nothing short of a reformation which revisions the gospel in new ways will make sense in our day. The gospel need a change of clothes, changing out of its rather tattered full of holes neo-platonic dress supplied by Augustine of Hippo to a new evolutionary dress much more in keeping with the becoming God of the Hebrews. Evolution is the way we understand reality not through neo-Platonic thought. When the scales of neo-platonic thinking have been removed from our eyes and we read the scriptures again, they will open us to experience the wonder of God. Jesus parables of the Kingdom of God and our part in it will again speak to our present generation.
    Such a paradigm shift requires faith, courage and love. Love because we will need to live with a rich diversity of people in different paradigms until the new one is accepted which may take a generation or two.

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    • We each are on a journey – – seeking to understand the gospel of Jesus, What he said fits that journey so in reality, wherever we are on that journey we are the “professionals” some don’t recognize. It does not really matter what our work or employment is if we recognize his presence as we seek to use the gifts we have been given by God.


  4. Using terms like “monument” is not to suggest the thing is dead. The church is not dead. It is static perhaps but not dead. It has the ability to find itself as a movement once again as it has in the past. The church is alive. Yes, and organisation but a living organism.

    The difference between an organisation which is monument and one that is movement will come down to leadership, one that is passionate about the identity and purpose of the organisation. I say “leadership” because it is not a passionate individual but a collective or community of passionate individuals that is instrumental in the new event. In our case as a church, this means more than a passionate Minister but a passionate community of leaders, all sharing in the same hope, faith, and love.

    What is partly maintaining the present monument is an over emphasis on governance. That is, we seem to understand the function of leaders as defined by the governance function. Good people are too often appointed to Session/Council. We emphasis the “need” for people to “do their bit” and joke that it is a life sentence without benefit of parole. We need the job done and we look for the best available to do it instead of looking for “the best” and developing them as ministry leaders with some of those leaders being required, from time to time, to exercise a governance function as a subset of their ministry.

    A movement requires passionate leaders and a passionate leader is a sacrificial leader. I venture to say we ought to recognise no other sort. If the Elder is not functioning and growing first as a ministry leader they should not be on the Council. Movements are born and maintained by those sacrificially committed to the identity and therefore purpose of a group. Not by the hirelings who are drafted or “employed” to manage what is, but by those committed to what could be.

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  5. Hello Andrew . You say , rightly , that the task of leadership is to define reality and ask :”What reality are we defining?” Leaving aside secular reality for the moment our task , as leaders in the Church , is to emphasise our connection to a reality that threads its way through the writings in the Tanack , the Christian Scripture , the witness of the apostles , the writings of the Church Fathers the apostle and nicene creeds , the crusades , reformation and the holocaust etc. The reality we are commissioned to speak of is God’s work in Creation , the covenants He made with His people , the experiences His people had of His saving presence , the rules and regulations He helped His people formulate ; His command to be just and generous to widow and stranger and to work toward the completion of His Kingdom .The reality we are commissioned to speak about , and to honour , are all the beautiful strories within the Tanack ; the poetry and devotion of the Psalms , the battles the prophets engaged to inspire their people to renew their committment to the laws outlined in Numbers and Leviticus with a new and more humane understanding of sacrifice and we have also the wisdom of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes . We are commissioned also to embrace the beatitudes and the touching parables of Jesus in the Gospels , His exorcisms and healing along with the searching commentaries of our life with Christ in the Epistles . The reality we , as leaders of the Church , are commissioned to speak of is the Father’s incarnation in Jesus the Nazarene . The baptism of Jesus and the Father naming Him “His Son”; the crucifiction of Jesus , His resurrection and ascention and the pouring out of His spirit at Pentecost . And , as leaders , ordained by the laying on of hands in the tradition of the apostles , we , as they were , are commissioned to work in the world encouraging those we meet to join us and work , as Jesus did , to establish the Kingdom of Heaven .And the first fruits of this Kingdom were manifest in the buildings and congregations established by those first apostles . Buildings into which new converts were housed to be as one with each other , alive in their day , as we should be in ours , as the corporate body and blood of Christ Jesus ; keeping His presence alive in ourselves and in the world by our prayers our hymns and our adoration . Indeed , we embrace a reality where our past , beginning with the creation of the world to its end time , is celebrated and continually made alive in the present moment . A relaity in which we can claim to be as one with Jesus as He is as one with His father ; Maker of heaven and earth . This is the reality we in the Church belong to ; flesh and bone , sweat and blood , pain and sacrifice . It’s a reality of immense trajectory and beauty . It’s a reality which we bring to life in our services of worship . It’s a living presence that touches all of us engendering feelings of embodiment with cosmic ssignificance . Thank you for the opportunity to respond . Yours cheerfully . Ivan


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