“We get lulled into the false belief that knowing the category of the gathering—the board meeting, workshop, birthday party, town hall—will be instructive to designing it. But we often choose the template—and the activities and structure that go along with it—before we’re clear on our purpose…Reverse engineer an outcome: Think of what you want to be different because you gathered, and work backward from that outcome.”
― Priya Parker, The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters
Lately, I have been thinking on this idea of reverse-engineering ministry related to evangelism and discipleship—frankly, on following Jesus all together. What do I want to be different because I follow Jesus? Why do I think following Jesus matters—for my life or anyone else’s life or the world?
I have this daydream that somehow, at some point, I will be able to harness all the various institutions around The Episcopal Church to send out a very short survey to every Episcopalian and Episco-adjacent people we cand find.
The survey would ask this:
What would be different in your life, church, and community if there was no Jesus?
What would be different in your life, church, and community if there was no Episcopal Church?
What would the answers be?
Where would the intersections be between a life without Jesus and a life without our branch of the Jesus Movement?
And what would the answers say about the outcomes we are achieving? Are we doing what we think we are doing? Does Jesus and/or our tradition matter in the ways we as leaders assume when we are planning our events, our programs, and our liturgies?
Right now, in this very strange moment of time, we have the ability—maybe even a mandate —to stop making assumptions about the outcomes of our ministries and our faith. Right now, we can course-correct if needed. We can reverse engineer everything from our vestry meetings to our choir practices to our approach to discipleship or evangelism. Right now, we can ask— we need to ask— “what do we want to be different because we are gathering as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement?” What do we want to be different in the individual lives of those who gather? In our congregations as a whole? In our neighborhoods, in our towns, or in the literal atmosphere and soil of the earth?
Just because we call it worship, we cannot assume that people are in fact worshipping. Just because we call ourselves the church we cannot assume that the title alone imparts some special ability that allows us to be the church without any intentional instruction or practices to that end. As author Priya Parker says over and over in “The Art of Gathering,” how we gather matters. And right now, in the midst of a global pandemic, on the cusp of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, as our climate begins to crash around us, and wars continue to rage, how we— the body of Christ— decide to gather matters desperately.
My challenge to myself, and to all of us, is this: Let’s become clear on our purpose, and then let’s work at every level to make sure we are gathering in ways that support that purpose. From committee meetings to Sunday Eucharist, let’s make sure that all we are doing is both rooted in and pointing toward the loving, liberating, abundant life-giving, world-transforming life of Jesus and his way of love.
With much gratitude,
Staff Officer for Evangelism