Some time ago I was at a short conference at St Stephens Richmond titled, Open Space Technology. When the advertising first came out I had rejected it simply because of its title; not that I am opposed to technology, in fact, I love it. However, it was the Technology bit that confused me. I tried to explain the conference to my colleagues at Deanery and the word Technology got in the way.
Having been at the conference I am more able to appreciate that Open Space Technology has less to do with the design of office space and more to do with group communication processes.
An Episcopalian, that is, Anglican, priest in the USA, Harrison Owen, noted when he was undertaking consultations within businesses, organisations and churches, the most significant and beneficial conversations happened naturally over tea or coffee or when people were having a meal. Having undertaken research into this he developed a process to naturally inspire conversations that would lead to action. Because it was observed and researched he called the process Open Space Technology.
A part of the Open Space is idea that the leader or organiser only acts a facilitator of the process but not a part of the process. In this sense it is not consultation at all.
The important aspect of Open Space Technology is that it enables, through asking the right questions, those things that people are passionate about to be discovered and doing something accordingly.
I had the privilege of having breakfast with the conference convenor, The Reverend Michael Wood, Chaplain to the University of Western Australia; we were the only ones staying in the motel. As I spoke about the work we were doing in here at St Stephens through our House Groups and Parish Community Growth Meetings and we realised that we were intuitively doing a rudimentary Open Space Technology. Always encouraging when those things happen.
The most important aspect of Open Space Technology is the intention for it connect with the gifts and passions of the members of the congregation and have those gifts and passions expressed in mission and ministry. We have all heard the saying, ‘The person with the vision gets the job,’ to which there is some truth. The missions and ministries that are sustainable are those that are driven by our own desires. One of the reasons that many mission activities fail, or lack endurance, is because it was the bright idea of the Vicar and we are being forced to do it. The point here seems clear to me; it is not what we do in ministry and mission that honours God, it is why we do it.
There is something of this in the readings from Ezekiel and Matthew today. Can I quickly make reference to the difference between the two stories of the sheep. In Matthew there is a clear distinction between sheep and goats. However, in Ezekiel both groups are sheep. For Ezekiel he is talking about all God’s people, but there are some of God’s sheep who are oppressing others of God’s people. So we have fat sheep, the oppressors, and lean sheep, those who are oppressed. Ezekiel is addressing the injustice that is taking place amongst God’s people.
Is the Matthean Jesus reinterpreting this story? Certainly the parable of the sheep and the goats is also concerned with justice and injustice. Those classed as sheep are those who cared for the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigner, the unprotected, the oppressed and the sick. We are told, they will inherit the kingdom of God. Those classed as goats, however, are those who did not do these things, and they would not inherit eternal life.
We need to be careful here about how we interpret this story. If we say we have eternal life because we do these things, then we are saying we are saved by what we do, and we know this is contrary to the good news of Jesus.
Firstly, it seems to me, this is saying these things will happen where the kingdom of God is present. If we are in the kingdom of God and the kingdom of God is in us, we will do these things.
Therefore, it must be saying that it is not what we do that makes our mission and ministry acceptable, it is why we do them that makes them acceptable. It is our motivation for what we do that leads our ministry and mission to be the things of the kingdom.
Why do we undertake mission and ministry, why do we think that every person deserves the same that we have? If we know that God loves us and what God has done to express that love through Jesus, then we will know that God loves all people and wants the same for them that he wants for us. This, for me, is the foundational motivation.
There is, however, a secondary motivation. That is, God has created you and me with gifts and purpose and has given additional gifts for different times and seasons. It is who we are created to be that gives rise to our passions and when we undertake the ministry and mission according to those passions we are energised by what we do. It seems to me those who are sheep are those who are actively expressing the nature of who they are as God created them to be and these things will be consistent with God because we are created in his image and likeness.
The work of Open Space Technology is a process that is designed to help us to tap into our passions and, where those passions are shared with others, to work with them in implementing ministry and mission. A part of the task of our house groups is just this; working out what we as individuals, or as a house group, are being called to do for the building up and expressing God’s kingdom as ministry and mission.