Envisioning an Integral Church
We need to begin telling a new story about reality and life, including faith, for science is showing us it’s a brand new (and very often surprising) world out there.Too often when I go to mass, I’m leaving a 21st century worldview (open, evolving, new realities emerging, Creator as intimately involved, drawing us into the future) and entering a Medieval worldview (closed, finished, static, Creator as distant and past).In fact, we need to combine the Universe Story and the Christian Story in a new, emerging Integral Story.
Drawing from the principles that lie behind the process of evolution, we can develop principles of an integral approach to organizations which attempt to consider all dimensions of reality.These principles include:
The integral approach to church thus will be about “evolving” the church, rather than “reforming” the church. Evolving the church into a transformational community will be about evolving a more inclusive, holistic, integral structure.An Integral Church will work to integrate the best of the Traditional, Modern and Post-Modern worldviews that the majority of their members hold into a more inclusive and complex perspective and structure
Remembering that a basic principle is “include and transcend”, in evolving the church we are not throwing out the old; neither is an integral church about putting structural band aids on existing institution, but evolving a more inclusive, holistic, integral structure
Among all the elements of an Integral Church, I want to highlight three essential elements:
1. Leadership. Leading from a broader, integral vision in which he or she critically questions his or her assumptions and beliefs, an integral leader will recognize the needs of the situation and bring to bear the style of leadership appropriate.An integral leader neither directs a group’s decision nor is hands-off as they make decisions, but creates the atmosphere or environment where the group can discern the best decision.
2. Use of Power. Power will be used in an enabling rather than controlling way, power with rather than power over.
3. Institutional Structures. An integral church will be composed of empowering circles rather than a rigid, top-down hierarchy; any hierarchy is an enabling/empowering hierarch.In an integral community, structure and roles are seen as processes that are always evolving rather than as a static entity.The church is a process with structural, institutional elements, as well as communal, sacramental, moral and spiritual elements.A key element for evolving an integral church is liturgy because it goes beneath thinking and concepts and speaks to our imaginations about new ways of seeing.We need liturgy and ritual that tells a story of complexity and unity, of an evolving world, of an evolving relationship with the Divine, of belonging and purpose, of being drawn into the future by God’s love.
Like Jesus, our mission, the mission of an integral church will be one of “wholemaking”, which is the literal meaning of “catholicity”.An integral church will foster a “transformational” rather than “translated” religion and spirituality, one that helps people experience the divine rather than just talking about it.An integral community will focus on helping people experience the awe and surprise of the divine.To become the church we want, we need to transcend the “I” and the “It” for the “We”, we need to focus on both the individual and the communal, on both the spiritual and the social.Especially, we need to focus on what all hold in common rather on our differences.
Smith, Paul.Integral Christianity. The Spirit's Call to Evolve.Paragon House, 2011.Based on his experience creating an Integral Church in Missouri
Thresher, Tom. Reverent Irreverence: Integral Church for the 21st Century: From Cradle to Christ-Consciousness. Integral Publishers, 2009.Based on his experience creating an integral congregation in Washington.
McIntosh, Steve.Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution.Paragon House, 2007.
Wilber, Ken. Integral Spirituality. Integral Books, 2006.
For information on upcoming workshops on Integral Church, contact Tom Smith-Myott, 612-385-9233