“Even the visionary companies studied in Built to Last need to continually remind themselves
of the crucial distinction between core and noncore,
between what should never change and what should be open for change,
between what is truly sacred and what is not.”
Jim Collins states that enduring organizations have two dominant characteristics that are complementary opposites. The first is a strong conviction about core ideals that never change; these are purpose and values. The second is a clear understanding that everything else must change in order to preserve the core. Collins says it takes clarity and discipline to understand which things in the organization belong to which category.
People who populate our churches often demonstrate little clarity about the difference.
Take Sunday school as an example. Few know that the origin of Sunday school dates back to 1780. Four purposes or needs were identified in the community and Sunday school was an experiment as a means of addressing those needs. As the idea of Sunday school spread and the culture changed, the four original needs became reduced to only two: building relationships and nurturing discipleship. These two remain as the core purposes of Sunday school.
If Jim Collins would to look at our example, he would say that the core that should never change would be building relationships and nurturing discipleship. He would then identify the noncore, or method for accomplishing the core objectives, is the traditional Sunday school hour on Sunday morning.
Simply, what the church is about is the core, or the essentials, and not about the method. Building relationships and nurturing discipleship is at the core of our mission. The method, the traditional Sunday school hour, is not. The question before the church is, “Are you emotionally attached to the method or the core?”
Jim Collins is correct, of course. Sometimes emotional attachments get in the way of intelligently discerning the difference between what must never change and what can change, the difference between the core and the noncore.
Make no mistake. The Sunday school example should not be heard that I am against Sunday school. Nor is it my intention to eliminate Sunday school from our ministry. I use this as an example of the difference between what is “method” (Sunday school hour) and “core” (building relationships and building disciples). When we realize that it is the “core” that is important and not the “method”, then we can explore additional methods for advancing the “core.”
I have invited a few of our leaders to share with me in a period of discernment. From the outside, their work together may be called long-range planning. Though this is what they will do, their real work will be to clarify the difference between what is at the core of our mission and what is merely method. As our world changes; so do methods. Rotary style phones were only a method, the idea of easy communication is a core. Rotary phones have been replaced; the core value of easy communication has not. I wonder where the rotary phones are in our shared approach to ministry. And once identified, are we prepared to get over our emotional attachments to them for a more effective approach?