Qualities for Sustainability: A Toolbox for Turbulent Times

Our last three articles have focused the nature and impact of the Religion Singularity…
namely an increasingly turbulent and unpredictable environment.
This we we shift toward what it takes to survive and thrive in that environment.

[su_note note_color=”#e6e6e6″ radius=”0″]Peter Drucker once said, “Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.”

To this I would add the caveat, “…especially when you have to build the car while driving it.

Forecasting even the immediate future in a time of escalating uncertainty and change is even more dangerous than being a passenger in Drucker’s car. Speculation in such circumstances can be little more than an educated guess: light on the educated and heavy on the guessing.

Yet speculate we must, asking such questions as, “How do we lead a faith-based community or organization into a future that it is breaking in rapidly and uncontrollably all around us, and the final shape of which is impossible for us to predict?” We have hinted that this involves the capacity for experimentation, but perhaps we can be a little more specific. To let’s frame the question a little differently, “What are the qualities necessary for us to make successful voyage through the unpredictable environment generated by the Religion Singularity?”[/su_note]

agile scottieAgility

To survive and thrive in an unpredictable environment, our organization must develop agility. Agility means the power to move quickly and nimbly around obstacles and toward opportunities. But agility also means the capability to make vital decisions swiftly and effectively, deftly pivoting between paths containing varying degrees of danger and opportunity.

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Perhaps equally important as cultivating the capability of agility is nurturing our capacity for vision. All the agility in the world will literally get us nowhere if we don’t know where we are going, which is a near-impossibility in an unpredictable environment. Our inability to know with any certainty what will be the future physical form of the worshipping community makes it difficult to distinguish between those paths the move us toward that form and those that move us away from it. Yet even when we can’t know precisely the place we want to end up, we can still know what we want to be like when we get there. Knowing that we can evaluate the possible paths before us based on whether they move us toward or away from that vision. This is why our faith-based communities and organizations must possess vision in order to in an uncertain environment.[/su_note]


To put it bluntly, it is impossible to be simultaneously fat and agile. The more mass we gain, the more inertia comes with it. More inertia means we will have a lot more trouble changing direction, which by definition decreases agility. This means that if we want our organization to acquire the capability for agility, we must also help it become lean. For us to becoming lean we must shed all forms of excess “weight” by eliminating all forms of waste.

[bctt tweet=”To put it bluntly, it’s impossible to be simultaneously fat and agile.
—Ken Howard” username=”faithxproject”]

If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that our faith-based communities and organizations contain many forms of waste. Traditionalism, dogmatism, clericalism, and any other “-ism” – in which a created form is worshipped nearly as much as the Creator – are ways in which we enable waste. Another way we enable waste is our failure to exercise good stewardship of our congregation members’ time, talents, and treasure. If we truly desire to be become lean, we must help our faith-based communities and organizations jettison every unproductive organizational process and structure. Meanwhile, in the place of those things we have discarded as waste, we must leverage the unique gifts, skills, and callings of every person in our congregations and organizations to the fullest, knowing that getting lean reduces our inertia, which results in greater agility. Finally, if we are to get lean in a strategic fashion, we must have a clear and transcendent vision, so that we might distinguish between those aspects of organizational structure and process that support the vision – and must be kept – and those that do not – and must be eliminated.

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Contextual Attentiveness

In order to identify and steer clear of  obstacles and move toward opportunities, we must be able to help our faith-based communities and organizations actively and continuously monitoring their environments for obstacles and opportunities.[/su_note]

teamworkCommon Cause Community

In order to minimize competition and maximize collaboration between our faith-based communities and organizations and other faith-based communities and organizations serving our communities, we must be able to make common cause with those that have similar visions and are heading in similar directions. In set theory this is known as centered-set community, in which membership is determine by shared vision and goals, and it is the opposite of bounded-set community, in which membership is defined based on boundary conditions: all the ways in which our distinguish our organizations from others. Faith-based communities and organizations in turbulent environments must share the attitude of Jesus that “whoever is not against us is for us.”
(Mark 9:40, Luke 9:50)

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Rapid Hypothesis Testingprototype-review-refine

When operating in an unfamiliar and rapidly changing environments, we as leaders of faith-based communities and organizations will frequently be making “educated guesses” as to the most effective course of action. To thrive in such an environment, we have to be able to rapidly make and test strategic hypotheses, quickly discarding strategies that fail the test and continuing with and perhaps tweaking strategies pass it, repeating this process as often as needed.[/su_note]

MWM-portrait-small-RGB-POSActionable Metrics

To effectively test hypotheses we are making,
we must know how to develop evaluative measures
that provide us with the data necessary
to help us understand how well our chosen strategies are working,
and whether and how we need to adjust course.

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And this last capability brings us full circle, back to Agility.

To survive and thrive in escalating uncertainty and accelerating change, we must be able to help the faith-based communities and organizations we lead do all of these things quickly, adroitly, and as often as needed.[/su_note]