Upon becoming Christians, people are asked to “live for others” and to “give your life away” in service. What I have found is a significant number of people find this impossible. You see, many people live their lives reacting and responding to the circumstances they encounter. For some, it is a "victim" mentality. They are victims of their circumstances, tossed like the disciples on the rough seas, before Jesus came to calm the waters. They see the power as outside themselves: The power is in the circumstances. They are blown back and forth by the winds buffeting their lives. They simply do not believe they have control over their lives. How can you give away something you seemingly have no control over?
I first discovered this phenomenon some years ago as we tried to create a learning organization in our business. As we attempted to move from top down decision-making to empowered teams in the workplace, we reorganized our compensation to provide monthly, quarterly and annual bonuses for achieving the local goals of the teams. We also set up systems to allow the people to redesign work processes to let those closest to the work have a stake in improving work flows. For a number of our people, the bonus plans seemed to have no impact motivating higher levels of performance. Nor could we see much energy from these people to bring forth ideas for improvement. Upon exploring this issue, we found that a significant number of our people did not believe anything they did could change the outcome. Therefore, having bonuses tied to achieving team goals was not motivating, because they did not see how their actions could cause us to achieve the desired goals.
As I further studied this issue, I heard this orientation described as living in the Reactive/Responsive mode. My Organizational Development and Change professor called these people lunchbox employees. They just want to come to work, punch in and have someone tell them what to do, put in their eight hours and go home. They do not want to assume the risk of making decisions, and they do not cherish the concept of empowerment. They didn’t thrive in the new organization.
Further reflection on this orientation encouraged me to study why people conclude they have no power to chart their future. Through my study, I discovered the work of Robert Fritz, who has spent 25 years studying the structures in our lives and organizations.
Robert poses an alternative to the Reactive/Responsive orientation. The alternative is to live your life in the Creative mode, taking responsibility for your choices, and navigating through the many crossroads of life by making intentional choices. Robert Fritz describes these alternatives in his book, “Your Life as Art.” Robert advocates a practice that Peter Senge describes as one of the disciplines of the learning organization, Personal Mastery.
Personal mastery is a practice of constantly clarifying what matters most to you in the form of a personal vision, and then seeking a clear understanding of your current reality vis-à-vis your vision. Once you establish a clear vision, and clearly understand reality, you will create a tension in your life that is only resolved by moving towards your vision. This practice will help you organize your actions for the purpose of achieving your vision.
To experience a glimpse of this practice, close your eyes and envision living as a disciple of Jesus, exemplifying the life he models in scripture. Then, shift to a look at your current life, your work, your family, your busyness. See the contrast, and feel the tension generated by that contrast. We call this tension Structural Tension, and it is a tool that can change your life. Senge credits Fritz with the development of this discipline.
One of the core purposes of the church is to equip us to live out the purpose God intends, rooted in the gifts He has given each of us. Fundamental to this effort is helping people see that living in the Reacting/Responding mode, where we have no power to change our lives, is a poor choice. How can we redirect our lives to fulfill the purpose God intends if we live in the Reactive/Responsive mode? If we can equip people to live life in the Creative mode, then we can unleash them to live life to the fullest. So, as we encourage people into a deeper spiritual journey, a journey of intentional discipleship, as we encourage them to discover their spiritual gifts, and God’s purpose, let us also give them the tools to live this life.
What transformed the disciples from a timid, fearful band of men to the Apostles who changed the world? The Holy Spirit, promised to all believers, empowers us today as in the first century. We can’t be victims of circumstances if we believe God has a purpose for our lives. Even the circumstances we encounter have a purpose in God. Many times, that purpose is worked out in trials and suffering, the very circumstances we bemoan. To fulfill our purpose, God has provided spiritual gifts and the power of the Holy Spirit to achieve what we never could alone. His strength will get us through anything we must endure.
So, I encourage those who study the emerging church model to consider adding another element to the mix. The transformational journey begins with a commitment to a deeper spiritual walk with Jesus. As we go deeper, we seek to discern our gifts, since our calling and purpose are rooted in the gifts God has granted us. The church’s role is to support our deeper spiritual journey, and equip us to find and fully utilize our spiritual gifts. Teaching people how to live in the Creative orientation is a tool that can equip believers to change course and live out their purpose and calling.
The practice of Personal Mastery has changed the course of my life and my work. I returned to school to pursue an Executive MBA, sold my business interests, and moved into a time of reflection, meditation and prayer to find God's direction. What has unfolded is a result of creating structural tension and working to achieve what matters most in my life. My decompression from the 60-hour weeks that consumed the last 15 years of my career allowed me to quiet myself and listen to God. The still, small voice has guided me to align my desires with God's plan. The Creative orientation has provided a structure to assist in creating the things God is calling forth in my life.
If you are intrigued by the possibilities articulated here, I would be happy to be in dialog about how to create an environment where people can learn this creative process.