Strategic Experiments

Later this week I am working with a UCC Congregation in Grinnell, Iowa. They are lead by a tremendous pastor, who is vibrant in heart and wise well beyond his years. The event is stewarded by a group of 11, a core team, that has been helping to invite the surprise and possibility that can arise from a group of caring people that come together with some deliberateness. This group too, is vibrant in heart and overflowing with life wisdom. There will be 30 of us or so from the congregation that will gather from Thursday night through Saturday. Sunday will be a celebratory worship and sharing of what we did.

Why gather? It is to give live to 4-6 strategic experiments that will shape the next few years (or seasons) of life in this congregation. Some of those experiments may already be functioning. Some of them may be new. Some of them will be applied to what most would call projects and initiatives. Some of them will be ways to add to a deliberate culture of kindness and love among each other and in their community. The random acts of goodness that can be uniquely refreshed by being together.

When first approached several months ago, the invitation to me was to do strategic planning with them. It is not a semantic battle that I’m interested in, but I must say that I’m proud that we shifted that language to strategic “experiments.” No doubt, we will do some planning together. Committees will be formed, or groups to work together. Chairs, or something parallel to that will be named. But strategic plans connote a certainty that many of us may feel comforted by, but rarely, if ever, exists. Plans often don’t work out as we intend them to, particularly the complex ones. This, despite some really good thinking and preparing.

Strategic “experiments” interrupt, or begin to interrupt the mindset of certainty. Why? Well, life itself is far less predictable than we might claim. Many of us can name with widely shared acknowledgement, things that we thought we could control but then learned quickly that we couldn’t. Raising a child comes to mind. Raising a congregation comes to mind. Marriages and other forms of partnership come to mind. Experiments will give us something to do, definitely. But they welcome a mindset of uncertainty that underlays that doing. Of trying something out. Of letting go. Of sharing observations. Of patience for the unknown.

This ability to become comfortable with the unknown inherent in an experiment, is itself, a core competency. In an individual, it’s awesome. When widely shared in a group, it’s doubly awesome! It creates the very container for not just a plan, but for an adaptiveness to many plans in ever changing circumstances. To not just receive a fish per day, but to learn to fish, to move in the waters, to work with different bait, to come to know the river itself.

I’m grateful to be with these impressive people. In the work we have to do. And in the community building that we will surely add too. And in the capacity building that will come from us experimenting the way forward.

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