Scale-Free Networks as a Structural Hermeneutic for Relational Ecclesiology
The article was linked by Andrew Jones in his post Massive is the New Big. In that post he encourages us to develop a bigger understanding of our connectedness in the kingdom of God. Both he and Dwight refer to yeast and the mustard seed, conveying that it is through the interconnectedness of our tiny parts that the kingdom of God is massive.
From Dwight about this essay:
Here, rather than presenting a classical ecclesiology, I have offered complexity's theory of scale-free networks as a hermeneutic of structural relationality. Proposing that the kingdom of God is a vast network of relationships under God's relational reign, and churches are dynamic clusters centered on Christ.
The idea of dynamic clusters contains so many concepts that we can incorporate into our thinking about church, gatherings, and community. One of my hopes for church is that it could become less boundaried, proprietary, fixed, or stagnant. In trying to define what ekklesia should look like for me, this dynamic, organic concept describes exactly what I want to see. I want to see us begin to view our church as more than just the like-minded group we fellowship with. I also want to see us learn to see the incredible potential we have for creating missional connections in the sphere we live in.
Dwight goes on to describe a believer with a variety of connections in various church organizations and other relationships:
Looking at her life through a lens of solid modernity, her "church" experience appears to be fragmented; however from a scale-free kingdom perspective, she is embodying a oneness in Christ that crosses theological and organizational boundaries. She is clustering with those in her affective community centered in the person of Christ. She has multiple links knitting her firmly in a kingdom network. In this paradigm the question of her "actual" church membership is blurred. Her church becomes a socially constructed Christ-cluster. From an instituional or solid church perspective she may appear wayward, or at the least uncommitted, but from a scale-free perspective she is interlaced to Christ and to a meaning-giving cluster of other Christ followers.
To understand churches as Christ-clusters is to be immersed in a radical fluidity. Churches can no longer be seen as "once for all" organizational structures to which people come, attend, or join in any formal sense.
That would shake some concrete. But it's already being shaken, isn't it?
A few thoughts about leadership:
Whereas leadership within the institutional church relied in part, on titles, positions and hierarchy to maintain its authority, the scale-free kingdom self-organizes around hubs that give away their authority. Christ-clusters are formed around hubs which provide nodes with the connections they crave.
In this way, leadership is based upon one's willingness to serve and provide others with connectedness in the kingdom.
The cellular functions of Christ-clusters such as pastoring, teaching, preaching, equipping, discipling, and any other ministries or "offices," have never been limited to clergy at any point in human history. Though the institutional church has rhetorically limited these functions to certain individuals based primarily on orthodoxy, ordination, gender and education, it has only really been able to impose limits in abstraction. Functionally, anytime Christ-followers cluster, these "offices" are informally engaged.
Organically, the five-fold ministries and spiritual gifts would function according to who is actually serving the body in that capacity, regardless of titles or positions.
In this emerging paradigm titles and positional authority carry little meaning; the more important leadership question has to do with one's "hubbing" service to their nodes of connection.
To me, that is the very nature of ministry described in the new testament. Men and women, living out the anointing and calling on their lives in the context of the people they know, unhindered by false limits, increasing and expanding the kingdom of God.