>Things are necessarily complicated. That is why simple answers often don’t satisfy. This is especially true when it comes to human concerns: sociology, relationships, family systems, psychology etc.

I listened to a presentation the other day that was anti-hunting. I tried to listen with an open mind but I kept coming back to the thought “but you’re going to have to do something”. As sprawl continues to become a reality in most locations, human activity is ever encroaching on the deer’s habitat and we removed their natural predators. Damage to gardens and lawns make the deer a ‘suburban nuisance’. Overpopulation leads to chronic wasting disease. Increased populations become a real hazard for driving. I heard about one state where the insurance company sponsors bowhunting classes. Simple answers like “people shouldn’t shoot Bambi’s mom” just don’t work. Things are complicated and the answers often have to be nuanced and multi-layered.

I like that old quote attributed to H. L. Mencken
For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.”

This is why I am a big fan of Emergence thinking.
I have talked about this before – you may remember the ideas of Philip Clayton or the Scrabble analogy. That Scrabble analogy really works for me. There are tiles that have already been played and can not be removed. Our job is to creatively play the tiles in our hand given the titles that are already down. Two things we don’t have the luxury of doing are A) starting from scratch and B) undoing the past. These are just not options.

Emergence acknowledges that something new grows from something old but then returns to nourish and inform the old structure and forms. We experience and appreciate that, firstly, new expressions come from someplace. They do not come from a vacuum – they owe their life to something previous. Secondly, we anticipate that the new expression will impact the old form and influence it in turn. This is a dynamic relationship. It is also a symbiotic relationship.

We can begin here to integrate the ‘flower paradigm’ ( root – stem – leaf – flower) into emergent thinking and say that the flower is both an expression of the plant, unable to exist without it. But that the plant also needs the flower if it is ultimately to continue to have life.

This would help when we talk about things like worship. Worship is an expression but it is also an edification. It is something to God but also something that nourishes us. When people tried to oversimplify worship the diagnosis never works. Worship is complicated. It involves Mind Body & Spirit, it is communal, is deeply personal, it is historic , it is contextual, it is both ancient and adaptive. New expressions of worship emerge from the heart of the Church but then return to inform and to enrich the heart of the Church. This is dynamic and reciprocal, ever evolving but honoring the tradition from which it came. It is not simple. It is complicated — necessarily complicated!

All content happens in the context. Every form of worship that somebody refers to as traditional or ‘ the way’ was at some point new and innovative. It came out of context. It emerged and evolved – nothing happens in a vacuum. Everything is contextual.


Sometimes it is helpful to have a diagnostic tool to help sort through the necessarily complicated situation. For the last 15 years I have been using a tool called “The Four M’s”. They are Model – Method – Message – Motive.

I know that it may seem cheesy or clichéd or formulaic when you first hear it, all I can tell you is it has helped me immensely.
It does not work in every situation (as almost nothing does) but often it gives me a handle on something so that I can bring it with me.

Takes something as obvious as preaching. When you utilize The Four M’s as a diagnostic, it is amazing how complex preaching is shown to be. Once you acknowledge the diversity of models, add to that the elaborate mix of the methods, look at both the integrity and totality of the message and then do the heart check for motive… you have quite a picture of the landscape.

This is really essential to avoid boiling things down simply to techniques!

I was recently conference with one of my mentors. We were supposed to go to one of four breakout sessions for a ‘ conversation’ about the various topics of the conference was about. We had peaked in the door at the back of three different rooms. Each one was set up in straight rows with a white male standing at the front talking. When we got to the fourth room we saw that the chairs were set up in a large circle. We turned and looked at each other and both of our eyes lit up. I am from a Cell Church background so I love the circle. My mentor is Native American so for him the circle is both sacred and special. We nodded with approval and headed in.

It was more than disappointing as we sat there and listened to one guy — the leader — not just do almost all of the talking but as the expert he was conveying to us how to do it. This was not a round table or an exchange of ideas or a conversation per se… the only part that was a conversation was between him and his protégé about his great technique and performance as the expert.

We didn’t last long. We got up and left and went to a restaurant. We were trying to figure out why they even bothered to put the chairs in a circle if one guy was going to do all the talking as the expert – it defeats the entire point of having a talking circle. I drew the 4 M’s on a napkin and we went through them. As far as we could tell the model was the same as if the chairs had been set up in straight rows and the expert would have been upfront. The message was the same — it would have been the exact same presentation. The motive was the same: for the expert to tell us how to do it like him. So literally the only thing that was different was the arrangement of the chairs. At that point what used to be a method had simply become a technique… and subsequently ceased to be helpful for the purpose that it was originated.

I recently had a chance to listen for contrast between a church in Portland Oregon with one in London England. The church in Portland is known for its new and innovative forms. The church in London utilizes old forms of liturgy and ritual prayers. The funny thing is that the Church in Portland, though it has new forms has a very old ideas. The church in London though it has old forms as very new ideas. The church in London is using these pre-modern models and methods to frame a unique message and combat the selfishness of consumerism that they believe engulfing the soul of our culture. The church in Portland uses innovative and inventive models and methods to combat that same cancerous consumerism – but behind-the-scenes they hold to the old ideas of women’s roles and God pre-selecting who goes to heaven and hell (two name just two). So while the feels is hip and cutting edge and one might expect it to be progressive and post-modern the reality is that the foundations are conservative and fully modern.

Like I said – things are necessarily complicated. That kind of complexity, just looking at these two expressions that are both taking a prophetic stance against the same enemy, requires a diagnostic that is appropriately complex.

I do not have that yet.

I am hoping that my old standby: The 4 Ms – coupled with the Scrabble metaphor, the ‘Plant’ word picture and a growing familiarity with Emergence Theory will give me a more useful tool belt.