The Hairball Church

The Urban Mission Company will have launched by the time most of you read this. 

Two influences have precipitated this initiative.  

  1. How God equips the church to advance His Kingdom.
  2. A little book called Orbiting the Giant Hairball.

Gods’ design for the growth of the church includes many gifts, but Scripture identifies 5 as key leadership gifts. 

                Apostle – extend the gospel. As the “sent ones,” they ensure that the faith is transmitted from one context to another and from one generation to the next. They are always thinking about the future, bridging barriers, establishing the church in new contexts, developing leaders, networking trans-locally.

                Prophet – know God's will. They are particularly attuned to God and his truth for today. They bring correction and challenge the dominant assumptions we inherit from the culture. They insist that the community obey what God has commanded. They question the status quo.

                Evangelist – recruit. These infectious communicators of the gospel message recruit others to the cause. They call for a personal response to God's redemption in Christ, and also draw believers to engage the wider mission, growing the church.

                Shepherd – nurture and protect. Caregivers of the community, they focus on the protection and spiritual maturity of God's flock, cultivating a loving and spiritually mature network of relationships, making and developing disciples.

                Teacher – understand and explain. Communicators of God's truth and wisdom, they help others remain biblically grounded to better discern God's will, guiding others toward wisdom, helping the community remain faithful to Christ's word, and constructing a transferable doctrine.

-the above definitions are taken from Alan Hirsch's The Forgotten Ways

Interestingly when you observe the current staffing of the Church in general, it is predominantly populated by Shepherds & Teachers.  These gifts are focused on establishing and maintaining orthodoxy, systems for teaching and discipling, and keeping the flock together (community). All of these elements are essential to Christian community experience, but they are not the full expression of God’s intent for it. When these gifts predominate the leadership and staffing of the Church, inevitably the focus of those gifts becomes reflected in the structure & character of the church.  This has resulted in churches adept at internal structures to maintain the community but where ‘outreach’ becomes the extra effort the church must make to reach the world.  Internal issues first.  External after.  If all 5 gifts were functional within the life of the church, outreach would be inherent.  However too often I hear church leaders say – “We have to get our discipleship right and then we can reach out”!  That’s un-biblical.  It’s contrary to the intentions of God as indicated by the dynamic of gifts He gave to the Church.  It's also an indication 3 of these 5 gifts don't have a voice at the leadership table.

Consider this: Where are the ‘advancing gifts’ of God on staff in the church?  Since the apostles, prophets and evangelists tend to be a bit disruptive to stability and systems, we don’t see many of them (their gift) hired into the organization.

My contention is not necessarily they be hired, although my clear bias is some of them should be (call them the “R&D" department).  I do contend that they should be integrated into the leadership structures of the church.   Forewarning:  this would be disruptive to the current organizational system of the church, because by nature these gifts are the ones focused on moving the church beyond its current ‘place’, thinking differently, seeing in new ways, and forging ahead into new places and among new peoples. 

So, what do we do?  Many books have been written on this and I may yet add my voice to that list of authours. However, books don’t cut it.  Action does.  Encompass’ new Urban Mission Company initiative is one action step we are taking to empower the apostles, prophets and evangelists.  This action step is inspired by our own encounters with people who have these gifts.  Many of the people with these gifts are lonely, frustrated, marginalized and isolated in churches. 

Our action is also influenced by a concept developed in a little book entitled “Orbiting the Giant Hairball” by Gordon MacKenzie.

His premise, on which we agree, is that within established organizational systems, a ‘hairball’ of policies, procedures and protocols that developed to capture and systematize the life and growth of the organization actually becomes a hindrance to its advance.  Ironically the creatives, the entrepreneurs and the product developers needed to expand the company cannot find the flexibility and creative space to do their thing.  Within his own business, the author developed a relationship between the creatives and the hairball by creating a structure outside the organization, but still within its 'gravitational pull'.  The creatives were placed in ‘orbit’ around the giant hairball of their company’s structures and procedures.  He knew that creatives create, but they don’t do well with financing, production and management.  For that, they needed the hairball’s organizational ability.  So this author became a liaison to help the advance thinkers and the systems thinkers co-exist in ‘productive tension’.  This is our role as Encompass Partnerships. 

We aim to find and empower apostles, prophets and evangelists, developing community and space for them to develop and exercise their Kingdom-advancing gifts. The Urban Mission Company is a company of peers orbiting the organizational church.  However it is not a community that operates in opposition to the church, but rather as the advance troops, the innovators and ‘stretchers’ of thinking.  Our hope and dream is to create the linkages and relationships that will keep the Church moving forward, utilizing all of its gifts.

Until the day when a local community of believers (the Church) identifies and then involves all the gifts God gives it in a dynamic, functioning community of leadership, communities like The Urban Mission Company will work alongside the church to ensure we are training, developing and releasing the full contingent of God’s gifted people into our city to advance His Kingdom in every corner and among all peoples.

Harv Matchullis, Executive Director - Encompass Partnerships

Harv Matchullis