While I was at Duke Divinity School, the term “traditioned innovation” was all the rage. It arose as an attempt to find a middle way for the church between rigid traditionalism and unfettered pursuits of relevance. In short, as God transforms the church for the future, we remain connected with our traditions even as we innovate for ministry in this new age.
Similarly, I’ve found a deep joy in structured flexibility within congregational ministry. Like traditioned innovation, structured flexibility also seeks to provide a middle way, but this is between inflexible structuralism and chaotic spontaneity. Some people thrive in these poles, but as a leader, I find much more potential for success somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.
For instance, for our Sunday worship service, we choose our songs and write the call to worship for each service as many as six weeks out. This allows us to do is cast a vision for a consistent trajectory of worship, sometimes around a common theme or toward a particular end. Yet, as we get closer to the day, we also reevaluate the choices we made weeks ago to see if something else has arisen in the life of the community that necessitates a reshaping of our worship time. There’s flexibility within the structure.
One wonderful example of how this worked well for us happened on Sunday. For Across the Spectrum, our special needs outreach ministry, we developed a yearlong plan with themes for every service. On Sunday, we focused on rest and calm. Come to find out, one of our regular attendees who lives in a group home had a visit from a family after a long absence, and our sister was distraught when she couldn’t return home with them. She needed rest, even more than we had planned, so we allowed some space for her to cry and share her laments. We also know that these loves to sing, so to boost her spirits, at the end of the service, we invited her and some friends to sing for us to help foster rest in her own soul. In these moments, our structure allowed for a needed flexibility not only to meet the needs of this one sister, but for others to experience how vital times of rest can truly be for our lives of faith.
Structured flexibility is quickly becoming a core element of ministry for us at CLC and for my identity as a pastor. This is most surprising to people who know me well because they know I tend toward spontaneity and procrastination. I didn’t truly appreciate the gift of structure until I saw the fruit it bore when combined with a healthy dose of flexibility. If you find yourself unsure how to respond to particular needs in your community, consider whether an increase in structure or an allowance for more flexibility may help you to respond to those areas of need.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.