Thursday, September 24, 2015


The Shortest Route

In CT, Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens, and Dwight J. Friesen, discuss their book in which they analogize the church to a slime mold:
In August of 2000 Toshiyuki Nakagaki made a very bizarre announcement to the world. He and his colleagues had trained a type of brainless slime to solve a complex maze. To demonstrate their achievement, Nakagaki’s team decided to chop up a single slime mold and scatter the pieces throughout a plastic maze. The separate slime clusters began to grow and find one another, until they filled the entire labyrinth. Next, Nakagaki placed food samples at the start and end of the maze with four different routes to the goal. Four hours later the hungry slime mold had retracted its tentacles from the dead-end corridors, growing exclusively along the shortest route between the two pieces of food. The brainless blob became “smart slime,” solving the complex maze.

In a world that trains you to reduce all things to the lowest common denominator, the collective characteristics of slime molds are breathtaking. When food is scarce, slimes that are in the same proximity don’t fight over scarce resources. Instead, they join together in an orderly manner to form a completely new multicellular creature—a type of slug—from scratch. The right context and connectivity releases collective features you could never foresee by observing them individually.

Our book is an exploration of a forgotten, but truly hopeful, possibility. Don’t take this the wrong way, but we think the local church is meant to function like slime.
That is not a bad analogy, really. But there are some factors to be considered. For one the church does not operate on scarce resources, that is unless we fail to tap the biggest resource of all, the Holy Spirit. The second, and most important, is that the slime mold organizes becasue it is presented with sustenance. The church should be the source of sustenance for the world, but it often fails to provide anything remotely approaching genuine sustenance. Like 7-11 it presents spiritual junk food, instead of genuine spiritual sustenance such as you can find at the grocery store.

Yesh, I know, all analogies break down if you press them too hard. That's not the posit I am trying to make. This piece is a sociological approach to a problem that is deeply spiritual. The sociology is helpful, but in the end it cannot resolve the fundamental issue. Until we take seriously the fundamentals of our faith no amount of sociological, marketing, or leadership insight, no matter how right, is going to fix the problem.


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