Ants have no king, or queen, or hierarchy. Their colonies look chaotic; but they aren’t anarchic. Each ant gives off task-specific pheromone markers – I’m gathering food at the moment; I’m removing waste right now – and each ant can identify not only the pheromone but also the number of ants already engaged in the task: if there are sufficient, it will carry on with whatever it was doing when it picked up the trail; if not, it will join in and help. The key to the ants working together is the high volume of low-level communication, which allows them to be self-regulating, directing, correcting.
Top-down regulation, and centralised communication, structures have huge inbuilt limitations. Come to think of it, this is no bad thing; perhaps they even exist by God’s design. A lot of time, effort, and expenditure can be thrown at making such structures work; but perhaps the church isn’t supposed to be organised that way. I’m not saying – and neither does Kester – no leaders; but do we have leaders because God speaks to his people through their leaders (i.e. controlling, however broad the parameters might be), or do we have leaders to help God’s people discern his will for them as a community themselves (i.e. releasing)? Having previously spent five years on the staff of a large church; having had pastoral oversight of around 300 people; and having communication oversight for around 1000 people, plus others beyond the church interested in learning from us; I feel well qualified in the limitations of such structures.
If a community is too tightly regulated, it is stifled to death; if too anarchic, it devours itself. In nature it can be observed that, on the spectrum between these two extremes, life thrives not in the centre-point but at the edge of chaos…The edge of chaos is a risky place to locate oneself. But I want to be part of a church that thrives, and fosters life in the wider community; not one that ultimately focuses in on itself and withers. And if that means learning from the ant, it won’t be the first time God has advised it to those who feel secure [Proverbs 6:6]…
The Complex Christ , church , emergence theory