Managing polarity in the 21st century

So much of congregational conflict these days seems to stem from either/or arguments within the congregation or even denomination. Are we to be faithful to traditional biblical teaching or are we to be progressive and seek new ways to understand that teaching? Are we to stick with what has worked in our congregation over the past century, especially in difficult times, or shall we risk radical change in response to the same difficulties?

Roy Oswald and Barry Johnson suggest that putting these sorts of questions into “either or” terms misses the truth that it is impossible to clearly divide one response from another. They suggest instead that we think of polarities that need to managed rather than choices that need to be made.

A polarity is a pair of truths that are interdependent. Neither truth stands alone. They complement each other. Congregations often find themselves in power struggles over the two poles of a polarity. Both sides believe strongly that they are right. People on each side assume that if they are right, their opponents must be wrong—classic “either/or” thinking. Either we are right or they are right—and we know we are right!

Many religious systems are good at preserving their core ideology. In the corporate world, the average life of a company is about forty years, and a one-hundred-year-old company is impressive for its staying power. In the church, many faith communities are hundreds of years old; their longevity would indicate that they have managed this polarity well. None of these congregations would be around today if they hadn’t. We believe, however, that it is more challenging to manage the “Tradition and Innovation” polarity well in the twenty-first century than it was in earlier years.

More here, with examples of how this all might be accomplished.

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