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napster, gnutella, and postmodern church life

Last Sunday, we had two guests at our 9:00 gathering from Germany! I’m always interested in how people find LifePoint — either by word-of-mouth, craigslist, etc. — so I asked them the typical question: “How did you hear about us?”

That’s when they told me they found us at ginkworld, a website devoted to postmodern and emerging approaches to church. A number of months ago (even before we launched), I had submitted our site to be listed.

So … I decided to surf back over there this morning and see what was new. That’s when I came across this article entitled, “Church in a P2P context.” All you former Napster people should sit up and pay attention. It’s a good article and here it is:

Church, in a p2p context:
by john o’keefe

I like the idea of p2p (peer to peer or person to person) in a community of faith. Like in the computer world a p2p relationship in a community of faith speaks of a decentralizing control and allows for a free flow of ideas and creativity in the structure. It creates a paradigm shift in the modern/traditional evolution of the church structure from a unidirectional (television-like medium) into a bi-directional (computer-like medium), collaborative relational structure.

Now, I will admit that it scares the heck out of those who live in, or understand, a more modern/traditional view or the church structure and the way modern/traditional relationships are created. P2p is a “communications model” a “relationship model” where each “peer” (person) has the same capabilities and each person has equal access to the basic structure; no one person is more important then another.

Older modern/traditional models of a church structure/relationships are more in tune with a client/server relationship (a master/slave, pastor/pastored, boss/employee relationship structure model) were one person dictates the actions of others, and “leadership” is found in a central location (mainframe). The modern/traditional model of structure and relationships is less natural and more cultural in its development; being based on a hieratical structure and military model. The modern/traditional structure does not allow for, nor can it encourage, a free flow of information, ideas, relationships and connections. In all cases, giving each person in the relationship the capability to connect in open, honest and transparent ways starts a p2p structure.

In a community of faith a p2p structure is a type of free flowing structure that allows people, or a group of people with the same interests, to connect with each other without central approval; ministries form, deform and reform based on he needs perceived by the people in the structure and not by the central “leadership.” This allows for direct develop in structure and relationship outside of the modern/traditional models of structure within the community of faith.

The advantages of using p2p structure, as a way for people to share lives without the energy involved in maintaining a centralized mandated structure, is that people connect with people and lives are shared, information given and bonds are developed. Let me share some differences between the modern/traditional structure in the church and the way p2p is redesigning then in a postmodern community of faith.

Traditional vs. P2P

Traditional church structure tends to have a static, standalone and self-contained in structure. Everything is centralized and controlled by a body of “leaders” who oversee all aspects of the church. This creates a hierarchy where a select few govern and allow others into that process only upon approval of the other “leaders.”

For example, in most modern/traditional churches a “working class guy” would never be selected as a Board Member. Not because they do not have the ability, but because they do not have the pedigree. So, with few exceptions, most Boards are made up of a rotating selection of a certain group of people, usually those who hold executive positions, own their won business or have an independent source of income. This is true in all modern/traditional churches regardless of size.

Because of this, the “Leadership” becomes self-serving and self-centered. While in a p2p structure a more dynamic relationship is encouraged. In fact, without that dynamic component a true p2p can never happen. It is networked and people based. It is designed more for service then for application.

Traditional churches tend to let information flow in one direction, from the top down. “Leaders” make the decisions and pass that information on to those “under their control.” While in a p2p relationship communication happens in two directions; because of its connective nature a p2p relationship allows information to flow equally in both directions. This relationship empowers everyone equally. A more traditional minded church finds this relationship unacceptable, because they believe that certain people “MUST” be a boss, and others must follow that boss’s directions.

P2p assumes that knowledge flows in both directions and that all people have value and have information worth sharing. The ability to share knowledge is not based on traditional education, position in the community, income, age or anything else. It is assumed that all people have information that can be useful to others in the p2p structure. Which brings us to the next point.

Traditional churches tend to see the role of some as better then others. The “Leadership” see’ themselves as “better” then the others. They believe that the buck stops with them, and that they have the ear of God in all they do. They do not see those outside the leadership circle as anything but “information pods.” Even in a congregational church setting, “Leaders” believe they are to gather information from a select group of members and then to take that information and create a “plan” based on their understanding of the people.

While in a p2p all people are seen as completely equal. It is believed that all ideas are equal, and that while the process seems chaotic it is not 100% chaos, ideas come out and the best will naturally float to the top. It is amazing, but given the power of the Holy Spirit (and trusting in that power) people find common ground, and God’s work gets done.

Traditional churches view people as consumers, and only consumers. In a p2p structure relationship people are seen as both a consumer and a producer. P2p allows people to be creative and allows that creativity to be seen, they can create. It is not assumed that only a select few can be creative, and have that creativity show – some people can sing, while others draw, write, paint, weld, carve, and more – a p2p relationship allows this creativity to occur and encourages its development.

Why not show the creative work of those in the church? Because in a traditional church “singing” and “preaching” are seen as the only valid ways of worshiping God; while in a p2p, any creative art is seen as a way of worshiping God.

Traditional churches tend to create false relationships for long periods of time. P2p allows for short-term relationships based on need. Some relationships can lasts a short time and this relationship can occur among a group or individuals, but it is always based on the fact that each side is equal. In most modern/traditional structures to create a ministry involves a vast amount of approvals; deforming a ministry is virtually impossible. But because a p2p structure is relational it centers on the ability to create and form based on needs.

How to change to a p2p setting:

Change needs to take place in a healthy and supportive environment for a church to move from a modern/traditional structure to a p2p structure. In a modern/traditional church structure model, knowledge flows in one directions, providing a context that lacks any relationships between people. In this directional flow, a p2p is hard to develop because it requires that the top let go of their “perceived power” base and allow for a new way of connecting to form.

I believe that there are several characteristics of the modern/traditional church structure that needs to be changed before a p2p relationship structure can develop and work at its fullest potential. While these can be “forced” changed, when it happens spontaneously, that it is transparent and honest, it flows better and allows for a deeper root of the new structure.

Here are just a few things I believe the traditional church needs to change before a true p2p can be developed.

Develop a comfortable place for change: all “leaders” need to be on board with the desire to change. A “change environment” must be developed for this change to truly happen. To have a “spontaneous” development of a p2p structure one must develop an atmosphere that allows for change; a fertile ground for the birth of new ideas and creations.

A willingness to truly share: people need to be willing to hook up and develop. P2p is connective, by nature and by definition. The environment must allow for people to hook in and see the connections, and develop other connections themselves. This is the hardest part because it removes a “central” command structure and replaces it with a “connective” self-structure.

Allow the spontaneous to happen: don’t fight change let it happen. Sure, some may “lose power” but the true power in the church belongs to Christ, not man. I am amazed at how many times churches claim to “allow” change only to find they truly do not allow it at all, in any level. Remember, change is not moving from red curtains to blue curtains – change is removing the curtains altogether and not replacing them at all – not even with blinds.

Convert from “control” to “connect:” connections cannot be forced, they simply must happen, and for them to happen control needs to be removed. Some churches like to “place” people into “cell groups” based on zip code, and that is doomed for failure – they should be allowed to freely form and freely develop as the people see fit – not as the “leaders” see fit.

Involve as many people as possible: do not limit the involvement in a p2p structure, encourage people from all over to hook in – even new people. By getting as many people involved as possible in a p2p structure people will feel free to connect and create new connections. This will allow the p2p to develop freely and completely and all the time bringing in new connections and new ideas – encouraging growth and creativity.

Occur among peers (all sides are “equal”): a true p2p structure must start and develop among equals. Meaning that no one person or group in the church is above another person or group – equals means equal. People who think they belong to “one class” of people and cannot connect with “another class” need to review scripture to see their place in the kingdom.

P2p is the way of the future in the church. Structure based on connections and not on a military/cultural understanding of leadership is central for the church to reach a new generation, in the communing centuries. If we think we can simply redress the old form and give new names and new titles to “leaders” we truly need to get our heads examined.

“A rose is a rose is a rose” Shakespeare wrote; we paraphrase it as “a rose by any other name is still a rose.” Leadership, by any other name is still control.