As the people of God we have the common goal of glorifying Jesus. But should we do this by everyone doing the same things as another, or should we let everyone do what they think is appropriate?

You see the issues. Everyone doing the same thing means that we are more likely to have a unified voice, so that those who hear us, hear clearly what is being said. The downside is that you need to be nearby to be heard, and many who are not close by will not hear. The alternative of everyone doing something where they are has the benefit of reaching a wider group of people, but what is heard is less controlled. And may be diluted.

Two types of flows

I have an engineering background, so please forgive me as I raise the issue through an engineering illustration.

There are two types of liquid flow – laminar and turbulent.

Laminar flow occurs in smooth flowing streams. If you were to allow a red dye to be released in a laminar flow stream you would see a clearly visible, bright red line flowing down the stream. A line that did not widen significantly as it travelled along.
Not surprisingly, turbulent flow occurs in turbulent waters, such as rapids. If you were to release the same amount of red dye into this stream it would quickly spread through the stream. You would have a stream wide pinkish colour to the water. You lose the bright clear line and gain the breadth of the colour dispersion.

Flow and ministry

So what has turbulent flow to do with ministry?

As we think about how God may use us to bring the gospel to the world it is possible to conceive of our city as a stream. We could have several laminar flow type points in the stream creating several red lines. In Sydney, given our limited breadth of church membership, this would occur in a fairly narrow section of the stream. There is nothing wrong with such laminar flow, as there are many people in our section of the stream who have not clearly heard the call to respond to the gospel. We can do much to better reach this section.

Or we could go the turbulent flow route. We could energise each person to engage with others in whatever way they saw fit. The problem is that many (even only slightly different) messages confuses people.

So what should we strive to do?

Another Issue

The question is further confused because we are not the determiners of what type of stream we are in; the type of society we are part of. Is our society a laminar or turbulent flow society? Without going into my reasons, it appears to me that Sydney is by and large a laminar flow society. People tend to stick fairly closely to their own groups with a few exceptions (like having children at school creating new relationships between families). This means that even if we were to decide for a turbulent flow model we would need to work to create a different tone to society.

Some suggestions

I don’t have the answers to the question of which model to use, but we must think about these things. I do, however, have some thoughts.

1. There is a difference between a person’s personal journey and how a church functions. I am a great believer in everyone who joins a ministry going through a process explaining what Christians believe and what this group of Christians, here gathered, believe, before unleashing them to commend the gospel wherever they go. To continue the illustration; each person begins with an organised period of laminar flow before being encouraged into turbulent activity.

2. There may be seasons in the life of a church or ministry where it is necessary to consolidate as a group who and what they are, which will mean a period of laminar flow so that the group can be aligned.

3. Laminar flow lends itself to control and little change. If we are functioning as a laminar flow group we should ask the questions ‘are we too controlling’ and ‘are we willing to change in areas where change is permissible’?

4. Turbulent flow often occurs because the water flows over and through many hindrances with little channeling and guiding. If we are operating under turbulent flow we need to ask ‘are our ministry processes or leadership lacking in helping people respond to the stream in which they find themselves?’

5. If our societal ‘stream’ largely operates in laminar flow we often hear the voices from the far side of the stream; those who are fundamentally opposed to the gospel, and so we shape our responses to engage that group. Perhaps we need to explore trying to influence those just a little further away from us by dispersing the laminar flow and make it a bit turbulent, so the colour impacts those nearby, and not seek to change the whole stream. This will mean looking closely at who we have any meaningful contact with, and exploring how to share Christ with them.

6. It may be appropriate within a church setting to have some groups operating in turbulent flow mode and some in laminar flow mode, but we need to think through why we have chosen the particular mode and whether that mode is best for the person, the congregation and the kingdom of God.

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