Open Source Church

In August, I had the privilege of leading a couple of workshops for the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley’s  Christian Education conference called the Main Event, seeing old friends and making a new one in keynote speaker/preacher Landon Whitsitt. Landon is the Vice Moderator for the 219th General Assembly of the PC(USA), and co-host of God Complex Radio with Carol Howard Merritt who shared thoughts about the Peace of Christ on this blog in 2008.

Landon is a great guy and another important voice in the denomination and the Church Universal and after hearing him speak at the Main Event and talking to him afterwards, I grabbed a copy of his book Open Source Church: Making Room For The Wisdom of All (Alban Institute Publishers, April 2011), which I finally finished yesterday (The latter is not indicative of the quality of the book. I just take a long time to read…usually because I spend my spare time on the computer or watching TV).

Open Source Church is a remarkable book that offers a model for being/doing Church–one that addresses problems of membership decline and leadership burnout and can help congregations grow and flourish as the body of Christ in the 21st century.

The model itself isn’t new per se but the lens in which Landon looks at the Church’s call in the world or the metaphor he uses to show how the Church can have a meaningful impact  is brilliant and exciting!

To put it simply, Landon draws from open source technology practices to dream of ways in which the Church can be more faithful to God, its mission and its members who are called to embody Christ’s teachings in their daily lives. Here is a snippet of the book’s concept, which Landon shared with folks at the Main Event:

Great stuff, huh? Here are some other powerful insights from Landon’s book that also grabbed the attention of my mind and heart as a pastor:

Being an open source church is about making sure people can do the things they think they need to do to make church work for them. Too often churches and their organizational structures are so firmly established that it is virtually impossible for someone to come to church and begin contributing to its life in a meaningful way. These new people feel like they are stuck at every turn…

What would you do if every time you suggested a new idea, you were told that the church had either already tried that or that it wouldn’t work here or that we are not the kind of church that would do something like that? I can tell you what I would do. I would go find another church. Most people want to have a church experience that is more open that it is closed. They want to be a part of a group that will accept their contributions, not force them to merely be a cog in another machine. By and large, being treated like a cog is what people deal with everyday at their jobs. People don’t get to be creative…

Why can’t the church be the one place in someone’s life where it is not only acceptable but also expected that they act creatively and contribute significantly to the life of the church community and the community at large? If we Christians understand God to be the ‘creator of heaven and earth,’ and if we believe we are all made in God’s image, then why can’t the church be the place where we each find permission to operate out of that understanding of belief. I believe this is precisely the kind of place the church should be…

Some even are or fairly close to being the type of church Landon imagines. And many more churches can be a place where room is truly made for the wisdom of all if we as Christians can allow ourselves to be guided by one basic principle which Landon expresses in the video above and in the book: To proclaim Jesus Chris is to proclaim freedom and to proclaim freedom is to proclaim Jesus Christ.

The unfortunate reality, however, says Landon, is that much of life (especially the church) is guided not by freedom but by a need to control–a need for power…

A lot of churches see congregational leaders as the gatekeepers of the church’s mission rather than the unleashers of it. Members of congregations have a lot of ideas about how to be the people of God, and many times it seems that congregational leaders see their job as making sure no one “goes off the deep end.” A culture of micromanagement will stifle any mission or ministry that a member might try to start.

Not only do churches see congregational leaders as gatekeepers, pastors do too…especially me! Granted, I don’t believe that my sole purpose is the gatekeeper in the current church where I serve (which incidentally follows much of the open source model albeit unintentionally) but there are days where I feel that I’ve spent most of my time making sure some folks don’t go off the deep end.

Sometimes its necessary but other times  I wonder if I’ve over-functioned in the role or remained in “gatekeeper” mode too long at moments, stifling the creativity of those who truly aren’t going off the deep end. Or maybe because the one or two going-off-the-deep-enders zaps so much energy, I choose to do more things myself, thus leading me quicker to burn-out. Worse, it excludes others from sharing in the work of ministry.

I will continue to ponder the meaning Open Source Church has for me as a pastor, the church where I’m serving and the Church in the weeks and months ahead.

At any rate, Landon’s book is a convicting, astute and heartfelt must-read for church leaders and congregations. Once you do read it (or if you have already), let me know how you might share this book in your church, i.e. with a Sunday School class or Session/church board; as a mid-week small group study series or Christian Education workshop; with a selection of folks who are more technological minded and active users of Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Blogger, YouTube, etc.

Or just share your thoughts about Landon’s premise. I’m open to more conversation.

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