A sermon preached by The Rev. Timothy C. Ahrens at The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio, January 27, 2002, Epiphany 3, dedicated to Dr. William E. Kirwan and Patti Kirwan for all the ways in which they serve The Ohio State University, our community, state, nation, and world and always to the glory of God!

"Which Way to Prime?"

I Corinthians 1:10-18 and Matthew 4:12-23


Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our salvation. Amen.


The Sea of Galilee is a peaceful place. While terror and war rage south and west of Galilee (even in this day as we worship), Galilee is quiet, timeless and ancient. The Sea is no larger than Grand Lake St. Mary's, here in Ohio. But, with mountain ranges surrounding the lake on three sides and the border with Syria looming just to the east, the Sea of Galilee is vulnerable, as well as secluded and restful. It is no wonder Jesus came to Capernaum of Galilee following the decapitation of John the Baptist - to rest, recharge, establish his home away from home, and begin his ministry by calling fishermen to follow his way.

The fishing town of Capernaum sits on the northern shore of the lake. In Jesus' time, and still today, Capernaum is a place between. Capernaum is between the northern entrance of the Jordan River and the city of Tiberius. It is between settlements of Jewish and Gentile people. And it is between the sea and the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus offered the Sermon on the Mount in Mt. 5-7. And for most of the disciples, Capernaum was their hometown - a place between their childhood and young adult and their coming of age disciples of Christ!

The text in Matthew 4:18-22 tells us that Jesus started his movement in Capernaum of Galilee by forming a team. Visionary leaders form teams. Moses did. Aaron did. And all effective church leaders and CEO's form teams, too. In a team, you can take ideas beliefs, values, intentions, miraculous discoveries, and work with them until they come to fruition. Jesus knew he couldn't change the world alone. So, he called Simon Peter and his brother, Andrew to be the first members of his team. He simply said, "Come and follow me and I will make you fishers of people!" (Mt.4: 19). Then he called two more brothers, James and John (4:21). By the time he was done, there were twelve on his team.

Jesus formed his team with ordinary, working men. He was not looking for super-religious people, although all of them were faithful, religiously practicing Jews. He was looking for those who, (as Socrates said before him) "could be students willing to `Follow and learn.'" He was looking for qualities which these men possessed. Having lived in Capernaum before issuing the call to follow, he knew them to have qualities of good fishermen. They possessed: patience to wait; perseverance to move past discouragements and try again; courage to venture out into unknown territory; the eye for the right moment - when to act and when to hold back; and the ability to keep themselves out of sight - presenting people not with themselves, but with God, in Jesus Christ! But, even as outstanding ordinary followers, the disciples must have been wondering of their leader, which way is he taking us? We came as those who would follow - but, where are we going? In every age - leaders need to answer this question from the lips of followers - the question of "where are we going?"

Today, I begin my third year as your pastor and teacher. (You know what - Jesus only, ever had three years with his disciples). As I begin year three, I have been thinking a lot about our journey thus far and our journey into the future. By the third year, the honeymoon is long gone. The honesty is deepening. The love is also deepening. Yes, I find myself falling more deeply in love - and as a result of caring more, I find myself sometimes getting more frustrated.

Most of my warts and blemishes of leadership are obvious to you and my staff by now. And your warts and blemishes (and my staff's) are also more obvious to me. But, I love you and I feel your love in spite of the deficits of which we are aware. Yes, the honesty and love are deepening as our relationships deepen. A wise woman taught me years ago, "Love doesn't really begin to mean something until you fall out of love. It's what you do at that point that really matters. Do you return? Or do you leave?" As for me, I return!

But, the question remains, "Where are we going?" My answer is - We are headed for PRIME!

In his 1996 book, The Pursuit of Prime, Dr. Ichak Adizes, director of the Adizes Institute of Los Angeles, and retired professor of UCLA's Anderson School of Management presents his methodology for achieving and maintaining organizational health. Allow me to explain (Look in your bulletin, on the bottom of page 7 to follow along). Dr. Adizes believes that organizations, like people, follow definite growth stages - courtship, infancy, childhood, adolescence and Prime. It is in this last stage of development that humans and organizations are at their best.

As you see, from these growing stages, people (and most organizations) pass into the stages of aging. Adizes describes the aging process on the downward slope of development in organizations as stability, aristocracy, recrimination, bureaucracy, and too often death. Unlike people, organizations do not have to die. But, having not taken care of themselves after prime, many organizations do die.

As you look at the chart (without proper tools for assessment I know it is hard to do), I would like to point out that our organization is on the aging side of this graphic. But, I don't believe it needs to be. I believe we are moving toward prime and we are doing so without having really looked at the hard organizational questions in much depth. I believe that we have moved in the last few years from the stage called "Recrimination" to "Aristocracy." In other words, we are moving toward Prime - but we are not yet there. Let's look closer . . .

Dr. Adizes' book opens with these words:

So you've got problems. Well, thank God! Problems come with change, change is a necessary characteristic of growth, and no company ever achieved peak performance - Prime - without changing. The struggle for success, for Prime, is the struggle with problems. Rejoice! Without problems, you'd be dead! (I. Adizes, The Pursuit of Prime, Knowledge Exchange, Santa Monica, CA., 1996, p. 1).

Some problems in our church, as with all organizations are normal. Normal problems come with change. For example: we are trying hard to assimilate new members in our family faith. Having added 221 men, women, and children to a church of 700 folks is like adding 33% new blood to your family in a two year period. "Getting to know you," is the theme song. (Brit and Patti, OSU assimilates at least 25% new people each year. If you have tips on how to do this well, please let me know.) This is a good problem that has come with change and we want good problems!

Some problems are problems we don't want to have. They are abnormal. They stymie change and interfere with growth. I would describe these problems as inflexibility in ways and areas where we need to be flexible. Let's examine the word "tradition" for example. I hear this word used constantly around here. Sometimes it is used in a positive way, sometimes not. In a positive way, "tradition" can mark the places and ways our church practices faith in deep, abiding and significant ways. In a negative way, there are places and ways in which "tradition" means "inflexible, unmovable, stuck, and unwilling to study and implement new ways and establish new practices of faith and life." Where "tradition" blocks inclusivity and our growing vision for diversity, tradition is blocking no less than reality. And that reality reflects, in my opinion, no less than the coming of God's kingdom. Changing from inflexible to flexible is important for growth. As we examine our problems related to growth, we need to evaluate which ones are healthy and which ones are unhealthy.

This reminds me of the story of two tourists on a safari in the plains of Africa. As they are out there, they see a lion approaching rapidly. One the tourists puts on his running shoes and begins to take off! His companion grabs his arm and asks, "Why did you put on your running shoes? You can't possibly outrun that lion!" The first traveler replies, "I am not trying to outrun the lion. I am trying to outrun you."

As First Church heads into our 150th year of life, we have to be honest with ourselves. Which problems are we needing to outrun in order to reach prime, in order to be the most effective and successful church we can be? Remember the good news in this process: we don't need to outrun the lion, only the other guy!

To reach prime, Dr. Adizes says you do not have to worry about your age, your size or your self-control. Many people assume that a larger, older organization is by definition simply bureaucratic and therefore on the downward slope of the aging process. People also assume that because of age and size, organizations therefore cannot respond to change in positive ways. Not so! Using effective assessment tools, all organizations (including First Church!) Can adapt, change, and move toward prime! We will grow (or decline) depending on the nature and health of our external and internal integration and disintegration.

Whereas a developing organization is integrating both internally and externally, an aging organization usually has disintegrated externally (in a church's case this might show in the building and certainly in the decline of outreach mission and ministry) while remaining internally integrated. Internal integration usually shows up in financial systems and internal audits and checks and balances. In other words, internally integrated organizations are good at holding the fort. But, they are not designed to be flexible and reach out into new venues of mission and ministry. Fortress, not flexibility defines an aging organization.

An organization in prime is both internally and externally integrated. In fact, balance is the best word to define Prime. The style, strategies, structure, staffing, rewards for success, planning and goals all point toward balance! Describing stage four in his organizational design, Dr. Adizes writes:

Prime is the stage of life when everything comes together. Introducing and enforcing discipline without losing vision, the company in Prime establishes an even balance between control and flexibility. Disciplined, yet innovative, the organization consistently knows whom it is serving and their changing needs. New infant organizations sprout up and they are decentralized to provide new lifecycle opportunities. The organization is vital and vibrant. But, if the organization does not work on staying in Prime, it will age. (Ibid, p. 11).

In other words, to hold any organization together is a dance! It takes certain steps at certain moments. It may take disciplined steps in some moments. In other moments, it takes improvised and joyful leaps! But, it is process in constant motion. To stop the dance is to die. Jesus knew this. He was the Lord of the Dance! He taught when people needed teaching. Healed when healing was called for. He taught through metaphor, led by example, took his followers into safe places at times and into risky places at other times. Constantly dancing, Jesus was the master of flexibility and control; fluidity and discipline. He was the creative force which started our movement! When he issued the call to "Come and follow," he intuitively knew what he was doing. He was taking his infant movement of which we are still apart, into the greatest dance in history!

My hope and prayer as we head into year three together, as First Church heads into 150 together, and we as Christians head into 2002 together is that we follow the leader - Jesus Christ our Lord! He will lead us toward Prime! I have also written this hope and prayer in the annual report: I hope we build deeper and longer lasting relationships with Jesus Christ and with one another. I hope we laugh more, dance more, smile more, hug more, kiss more, sing more, delight in life more, and simply have more fun on our walk of faith. I hope we take greater risks and accomplish even more marvelous and daring things for God through the power of the Holy Spirit! (I hope we) are not afraid to reach out and to speak out! I hope we remember the martyrs of 2001 and are not afraid to LIVE fully in the light of Christ's resurrection love in 2002!

Many years ago, in a seaside town which sits between then and now, Jesus called his team together! Friends, he calls us today to follow him as he leads us on our return to prime. "Which way are we going?," you ask. The answer is: We are going all the way. Amen.

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