Zscheile, Dwight. 2014. The Agile Church: Spirit-Led Innovation in an Uncertain Age. New York: Morehouse.
Author: Dwight Zscheile
Assistant Professor at Luther Seminary; Episcopal Priest.
PhD – Luther Seminary
M.Div – Yale
Table of Contents
- Agility and Innovation
- Faith and Spirituality in and Insecure Age
- Forming and Restoring Community in a Nomadic World
- Failing Well, or What the Church Can Learn from Silicon Valley
- Disciplines of a Learning Church
- Organizing for Innovation
Zscheile does an excellent job of framing the situation that the church in North America finds itself in the early 21st century. He also provides helpful, winsome, and provocative ideas for navigating the turbulent water of discontinuous change. He strikes a helpful balance of storytelling–both biblical and contemporary–with academic insight that makes this a must-read book for any church leader.
I find this book especially compelling since I recently completed the PhD program in Congregational Mission and Leadership at Luther. This is the same program from which Zscheile graduated and in which he currently teaches at Luther. This book serves as a helpful primer to the course-work that we covered in that program. I would use this text in a “Missional Church 101” course for sure.
view my extended highlights.
I especially appreciated the “Disciplines of a Learning Church.”
- Cultivate Spaces for Conversation and Practice
- Address Fear and Shame
- Engage Ambivalence and Conflict
- Interpret the Present in Light of the Past
- Discover Open Spaces
- Be Present
- Practice Your Way Forward
Innovation involves learning. Learning is not easy for any of us—it is risky. There is always the possibility—indeed, the likelihood—of failure. It exposes our lack of competence, mastery, and control. It is frequently uncomfortable. There are many good reasons why churches resist learning. Foremost among these is the prospect that learning will involve change, and change will involve loss. (loc. 303)
We come to recognize leadership as less about managing people into the plans, programs, and visions leaders create, and more about accompanying people on the Way of Jesus as we help them reinterpret their lives and world in light of the gospel. (loc. 690)
From a Christian perspective, the greatest apparent failure of all—the cross—is the very means by which God’s purposes are accomplished. (loc. 330)
It might be easy to hear these ideas about God, community, and personhood as beautiful abstractions far removed from the realities we face in a world of broken families, neighborhoods, and societies. But the Christian confession of God as triune, grounded in the biblical narrative we have explored above, insists the opposite. It is a confession that God meets us where we are—that God is in fact “circulating around the neighborhood,” not just off somewhere in heaven. It confesses Jesus not merely as a wise teacher, prophet, or sage, but as “true God from true God,” both sharing fully in the divine life and “born under Pontius Pilate,” a victim of empire, torture, and violence. It proclaims the Holy Spirit as a personal presence who makes God knowable to us in the here and now. It is a far cry from the God of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. The Trinity is the Christian way of describing a God involved in human affairs, who transcends the world in ultimate mystery and yet also enters the world at the most particular and concrete, who is timeless and yet present, powerful, and active even today. (loc. 925)
The Spirit reorients our identities toward a new, shared community. This reorientation involves a decentering of the self, not a negation of individuality and uniqueness, but a restoration of self into right relationships of mutual belonging. (loc. 959)
preachers can preach all they want about how glorious God’s kingdom is, but until church members experience and learn to interpret its coming firsthand in the ordinariness of their daily life, little life change will take place. (loc. 1311)
Leadership in the agile church is about fostering the spaces in which people can learn, practice, and play. It involves creating the holding environment for adaptive work in which people can engage in relative safety with the tough questions for which there are no easy answers, (loc. 1455)
One of the primary roles for senior leaders in the process of innovation is to be public interpreters of the church’s identity and calling in a changing world. Rather than imposing a vision unilaterally (and thus taking the work of discerning a communal vision away from the people), leaders are responsible for engaging people in the work of listening to God, to Scripture, to tradition, to their experience, and to neighbors. (loc. 1980)
Leaders thus serve as architects of communal spaces of conversation, practice, and experimentation. Senior leaders in particular who hold formal authority (such as senior pastors or church board chairs) must remain connected to the full spectrum of the congregation’s constituencies rather than identifying publicly with only a narrow band. (loc. 2000)
Learning and agility involve getting up and going, not just waiting for people to show up where we are. We must accompany them on their journeys, like Philip and the Ethiopian court official in Acts 8, inviting them to articulate their hopes, dreams, struggles, and fears. We are called to relate their stories to God’s story, a story in which we discover our identities anew. We must seek spaces in which to break bread together, even at tables that are unfamiliar to us. In these encounters are often sacred moments. (loc. 2310)
The Spirit frees us from bondage to all that estranges us from God and one another so that we might share in God’s restoration of the world. (loc. 2318)