As we continue our conversation about how we believe God is leading us and where He might be taking us in the next three years, I’d like to begin with a quick story. I have a maple tree in my backyard that has had a fascinating life. We planted it several years ago, but a few years back it lost its leaves, became brittle and seemingly died. That fall, I decided to chop it down but didn’t remove the root ball. The next spring, this seemingly dead tree sprang to life with more than a dozen shoots.
I decided to try an experiment. I looked over each shoot and then picked one to keep. The rest I cut down. I didn’t know what to expect but had hope that it could turn into a mature tree someday. But was that really possible? Could that fragile little six-inch weed-looking shoot actually become a magnificent maple? I wasn’t sure, but I was fascinated by the idea and have remained dedicated to looking after it.
I’ve learned a handful of life lessons rooting for that tree the past three years, as I’ve watched it grow into a 12-foot sapling. Perhaps one of the most significant lessons is related to being. I’ve learned that our tree has always been a magnificent maple, it’s just not big. Watching its determined nature through these early stages of growth, it’s obvious that it’s just as beautiful now as it will ever be – it’s just expressing that beauty in different ways than it will if it becomes a large shade tree someday.
This year, a fascinating change unfolded. I watched over several months as branches began to reshape the tree. The changes were not just in the branches’ size and shape, but under their weight and growth in different directions they began to straighten a curve in the trunk. Whereas before the curve had always been rather abrupt, throughout this year, it has become more subtle – almost unnoticeable.
The whole experience has helped me see just how significant branches are in the early stages of life for a tree. Before, I always thought of branches as more the outcome of a tree’s growth. But I’ve been amazed to see the effect the branches have had on our young little sapling. It seems clear that in these early years of growth, the branches have a very defining role in the overall health of the tree. They aren’t a segmented result of a growing tree, they’re an integral part of its wholistic health and ability to continue to generate life.
I tell that story because I’ve often reflected on the similarities between the life narrative of our tenacious maple and our unique spiritual community. Origins Community also has a uniquely storied and tenacious history. What was once a centralized faith community in Boulder, Colorado has become a decentralized faith community without geographic boundary. That transition, from one thing to another, mirrors in many ways the transition our maple tree has gone through.
Three Years and Counting
In 2016, we began a new journey together as a faith community. Prior to that, there were a number of healthy ideas about what we could be – like shoots emerging from a root ball. But we picked one, and so the experiment began.
We documented our aspirations and referred to the last three years (2016-18) as our Early Stages of Growth – from Seed to Sapling. In that document, we presented a picture of a 40-year-old tree – what we believed Origins could look like as a faith community in the future. The picture demonstrated our commitment to a long-view – an acknowledgement and respect for the fact that the kinds of cultural and structural changes God was calling us into as a faith community would not happen quickly. Our hope was not in what the next few years might hold, but in the power of these ideas as they are passed from generation to generation.
Today, three years into watching this sapling community grow, we are more confident that the picture was accurate. Who we are now, even in our developing, is stretching toward the picture that was captured in those words:
“In forty years, Origins will be a community of believers who will have the benefit of a rich and distinct Christian culture established by the ordinary acts of people who chose to express their faith by being interested, exploring and engaged in the lives of the people right in front of them. They will be a people who are comfortable with, and fully embrace, the autonomy afforded them by their participation in Origins’ long-established decentralized community. Instead of looking to an organization or particular leader for direction or permission, they will have long since taken on their personal responsibility to seek the living God and to cooperate with the Holy Spirit by being images and conduits of their creator.
They will believe that they are uniquely qualified and commissioned by God to participate in, cultivate, and serve the communities in which they live. They will be a people known by their open-handed generosity, graciousness, hospitality and commitment to serve those around them. They will be geographically diverse, promoting Origins’ culture in pockets throughout the world. And while the how-tos and mechanisms may vary from one location to the next, their DNA won’t. It will prod them to be a people more personally involved and actively engaged in addressing the needs of their communities through their faith.”
What we believed then, and know more fully now, is that when you have a long-view like that, it brings changes to how you operate now. It’s a distinct picture of what a faith community can be, and it causes us to depart from common structures and practices used by other faith communities.
What Makes Origins Unique?
As an organization we are truly committed, in our practices and structures, to facilitate a decentralized faith community that is driven to be the autonomous efforts of its constituents. There aren’t many churches attempting to foster a decentralized community or encouraging autonomy. Quite the opposite, most churches promote centralized activities and ask their constituents to deploy the organization’s solutions for their community instead of encouraging and assisting people to create and develop their own. The idea tends to be, “We know what’s best; help us do it,” instead of, “You know what’s best; how can we help you do it?”
As an organization we don’t provide gatherings, programs or services that draw your attention away from the people God has placed in your life – your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. We’re just here to promote and facilitate what God is bringing to life in your community through you. We hold to the conviction that,
“your faith should drive you to be interested in the people right in front of you, inspired to explore others’ needs and engaged in serving your community.”
We exist to help you answer this question: what does it look like for you to live out, promote and share an interested, exploring and engaged culture of faith with others in your community?
What We See Coming – Branches
As Origins’ way of faith continues to grow in our individual lives, it will continue to shape what we look like as a whole. Just as tree branches grow in different directions and to be varying sizes, so too, the way each pocket of Origins Community life differs. The way one individual or group chooses to live out an interested, exploring and engaged faith will not look the same in every space. That variety will be beautiful, but it will also continue to shape our collectiveness.
Remembering that branches are not just the outcome of a tree, but an integral part of its wholistic health and ability to continue to generate life, we will have to remain focused on ways to promote and facilitate a healthy environment for every member.
In the near-term, over the next three years, we can specifically focus on facilitating the following aspects of our collective health:
Praxis is the process by which an idea is enacted, practiced, embodied and realized. Like a tree with strong branches, Origins Community’s overall health is directly affected by each members’ ability to enact, practice, embody and realize the collective life and DNA of the overall tree.
As an organization, we need to grow in our ability to facilitate each member’s growing sense of what it looks like to live an interested, exploring and engaged life with the people right in front of them.
While we won’t dictate what that looks like in an individual’s life, we can work to build tools and structures that allow each person to evaluate for themselves the level to which they are embodying our collective culture.
Resilience speaks to our ability to recover quickly from negative environmental factors and to weather adverse conditions. Over the next three years, we should work as an organization to remove single points of failure. We need to identify essential aspects of our community life that would discontinue without a particular leader, tool or structure. We need to shore up these spaces by allowing for each member to have a greater voice and participation in decision making and creating solutions.
The difference between a decentralized and a dispersed organization is in the sharing of knowledge. Dispersed organizations – like franchises – rely on communication and direction from a hub. They have limited interaction with other members or groups directly, instead they rely on the hub to facilitate those conversations. The downside to this model can be siloed genius. Something truly revolutionary and life giving may be happening in one space without other members having knowledge of it. In a decentralized model, we need to work to develop tools and structures that allow each member to share their experiences with the whole, but also directly with other members.
If we’re ever to be a beautiful and mature 40-year-old tree, it will be because we’ve passed this way of faith on from generation to generation. Over the next three years, we need to diligently pursue tangible ways of allowing the young people among us to learn about, participate in and even drive our collectiveness.
As each person grows in their understanding and participation in Origins’ culture, we need to develop ways to encourage and attentively listen to new ideas to provide maximum flexibility in the way Origins’ members express being interested, exploring and engaged in the lives of the people right in front of them.
As we stated in our first season, “we have to love the process.”
“When we love what we do and who we are, instead of what it might give us or produce, it protects us from failure. We never get to a point where we might be tempted to say, “Well, we haven’t achieved this or that, so it’s time to quit.” Instead, if we love the process – our way of life – then we can’t fail. Loving the process instead of the outcomes empowers us to live full lives with full hearts; we’re able to share from the abundance of our lives instead of constantly longing for the next thing because we’re content, encouraged and fueled by the sort of thing we are, not by what we may be capable of accomplishing.”
We need to get better at celebrating the fact that we really do love this way of faith. We need to find ways to share our lives, enjoy our collectiveness and celebrate our stories.
During this next season, as our focus is on these aspects of our collective health, we will continue to seek God’s direction and enjoy the ways He is revealing Himself to us and others through our living out of this way of faith. Unlike spectators or recipients, like branches stretching from a sapling, the life we receive will be in direct relation to the life we are giving.
Jan. 1, 2019