Decentralizing: End Vision

Every time I hop in my car, I have a destination in mind. There are a few times when I have driven just to drive, and I was young enough and unattached enough that I could do just that. When I did, I never got lost but I never ended up anywhere either. I just used up some fuel and time. It is easy to get so focused on doing ministry that we lose sight of our end vision. It can feel like driving just to drive. Sometimes we give little attention to key questions like:

  • Why do we exist?
  • What is success?

Without a crystal-clear vision we cannot know if we are always on the right track. It can be surprisingly easy to let the means become the end and the end becomes the means to the end.

A program might be a means to achieve the end vision, but it should never become the vision itself. God has changed the lives of many students through worship services on my campus and so many others and I am so thankful for that. On my largest and most central campus, there are around 10 solid evangelical campus ministries. If you add up the number of students who attend any of these campus ministries along with the number of those who attend church, only about 1,000 of the 18,000 students on campus identify with Jesus. It’s not a scientific count by any means, but lostness on campus is so vast that it’s impossible to miss. I can’t ignore it and I can’t pretend that what we have been doing will ever be so successful that we could expect to have a significant impact on that lostness.

Why do we exist?
BCM of the High Country exists to equip students to multiply gospel communities.

What is success?
We will be successful when there is No Place Left without a gospel presence on our campus and No Campus Left without a gospel presence in the High Country. We have 18,000 students at Appalachian State University and a combined total of 83,283 students on our 14 campuses. Most of these 14 campuses lack a gospel presence and they aren’t on anyone else’s radar.

Burning the Ships
This year we cancelled our weekly gathering, returned our keys to the church facility where we hosted those gatherings, and sold our sound equipment. It hasn’t been a welcome shift with some students, but this is the right way forward. We will focus all of our time and attention on multiplying disciples and movements. The need is far too great to do the same old things, assuming they will make a significant impact on lostness. I believe this is such an important move for us and I am learning so much along the way that I want to share this with you in hopes that you might find it useful and encouraging.

The Starfish and the Spider – Quotes, Principles, Distinctions

The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations

by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom

Key Quotes

  • “This book is about what happens when there’s no one in charge. It’s about what happens when there is no hierarchy. You’d think there would be disorder, even chaos. But in many arenas, a lack of traditional leadership is giving rise to powerful groups that are turning industry and society upside down.”
  • “The absence of structure, leadership, and formal organization once considered a weakness, has become a major asset.”
  • “In a decentralized organization, there’s no clear leader, no hierarchy, and no headquarters. If and when a leader does emerge, that person has little power over others. The best that person can do is to lead by example.”
  • “Starfish have an incredible quality to them. If you cut an arm off, most of these animals grow a new arm. And with some varieties, such as the Linckia, or long-armed starfish, the animal can replicate this magical regeneration because in reality, a starfish is a neural network – basically a network of cells. Instead of having a head like a spider, the starfish functions as a decentralized network…”

Major Principles of Decentralization

  1. When attacked, a decentralized organization tends to become even more open and decentralized.
  2. It’s easy to mistake starfish for a spiders.
  3. An open system doesn’t have central intelligence; the intelligence is spread throughout the system.
  4. Open systems can easily mutate.
  5. The decentralized system sneaks up on you.
  6. As industries become decentralized, overall profits decrease.

Distinguishing Between a Starfish and a Spider Organization

  • Is there a person in charge?
  • Are there headquarters?
  • If you thump it on the head, will it die?
  • Is there a clear division of roles?
  • If you take out a unit, is the organization harmed?
  • Are knowledge and power concentrated or distributed?
  • Is the organization flexible or rigid?
  • Can you count the employees or participants?
  • Are working groups funded by the organization, or are they self-funding?
  • Do working groups communicate directly or through intermediaries?

Implications for Collegiate Ministry

The implications for collegiate ministry are many; too many to elaborate on presently. I will be delving into these in some depth in the future. Every step of the way there is something to be learned, considered, and implemented from this book for those of us who serve on one or more campuses. There is an invitation implied in this concept; there is also a great challenge involved. The invitation is to spread whatever it is you do (for us, the gospel) more effectively and more widely. The challenge looks squarely at our most tightly held systems and the assumptions behind them offering another path.