As I write this blog post, I’m waiting (un)patiently for the 2017 solar eclipse. It’s been 38 years since an eclipse of this magnitude could be viewed from the contiguous U.S. To prepare, I went to the local library and picked up a free pair of eclipse glasses. With the aid of these, I can safely and effectively look at the Sun without doing damage to my eyes. Now, there are other ways of doing this, pinhole machines, welder’s masks, and various other mechanisms…you can even follow the eclipse live online. But from my vantage point, looking through the lens of these glasses allows me to do two important things. First, I can actually see what’s going on. The lenses allow me to look directly at the sun, the thing I’m focused on. I can see more clearly what is happening and how it is happening. Second, I look without causing any damage to myself. They offer a measure of protection from the intensity of the thing I’m looking at.
IN the College for Congregational Development, we often speak of the models we teach as lenses. We use them to see our congregations more clearly, to assess what is really happening. We frame a situation by looking at it through the lens of a particular model.
As church leaders, we are sometimes asked to enter into situations that are burning with intense conflict, situations that are complicated and fuzzy and not all that clear. When we look at them, the force and intensity of the situation may cloud our vision, or leave us only seeing spots. However, like those eclipse glasses, when I look at a church system through the lens of a particular model, situations that are white-hot can be cooled off a bit; Situations that are a bit fuzzy can come into a clearer focus and I can reflect upon a perspective that wasn’t available to me without them.
Now, when I use these eclipse glasses I’m not looking at reality…but a modified form of it. They also aren’t useful in every situation I encounter, ( I won’t try to drive with them on or watch t.v. with them, for instance) and they are definitely not able to capture all of the complexity of the thing I’m focused on. But, because of them and intense issue was able to be brought into focus, I was able to see something I couldn’t before, and I protected an essential system I need for my body to operate in a healthy way.
In my experience, the models we teach have allowed me to look more clearly at congregations and congregational systems and to bring into focus my own leadership and influence within these systems. At other times, using a lens from CCD, I’ve been able to diagnose and assess fiery conflict, thus increasing the range of my choices and allowing a little distance between the problem and me. In addition, I’ve been able to intervene in a church system in ways that offer a measure of protection to parts of it that are essential for full-functioning. In essence, the models are practical aids that I use regularly in my ministry. Almost every week, I engage a model as I assist congregations that are becoming healthier, more faithful and more sustainable in fulfilling their calling to be the Body of Christ in their particular context. I hope you’ll come join us at CCD and engage these models in your own ministry, you’ll see things more clearly.