Chaordic Age

Occasionally I read a book which excites me – inspires me – and compels me to drive others crazy talking about it.  Last year is was Hilary Clinton’s autobiography.  My family affectionately advised me that if I told them one more story about the Clintons, they’d disown me.  This year it’s Dee Hock’s account of the birth of VISA International called Birth of the Chaordic Age.

Perhaps you’ve noticed; these days I cannot enter into a conversation about the church and its future without at least mentioning the book once.  More likely, I end up buying you copy.  Why this fascination with VISA and its founder, Hock?  Because, I believe the church can relate to the challenges Hock faced as he successfully transformed the banking industry, and, more importantly, we can learn from his techniques, theories, failures and successes.

When asked by the National Bank of Commerce to head up the launch of its BankAmericard franchise, Hock had no idea of the depth of innovation he would soon be required to summon up in himself and in the people working with him.  Innovation comes only after you have a good handle on the general principles which will guide you into the future.  For Hock, it was his belief that VISA ought not to be about making money, but about the transfer of value between people and peoples of differing cultures, nations, ethnicities, etc.  Hock had a vision of the card being more than a credit card, but a transaction card.  Today VISA international is owned by 22,000 member banks, and it transfers $1.25 trillion a year across hundreds of national borders and across currencies.  In order to help move the traditional banking industry into a new world, Hock had to envision an organization which was not hierarchical, tyrannical, or highly controlled, but one he calls chaordic.  That is, a self-organizing structure in which each part is guided by the internal DNA of the whole.

Those same principles are important for leading the Church through the transformation God is calling us toward as we face a new multi-cultural, post-modern world.  For starters, we need to be absolutely clear about the principles which guide us.  You may call them your core values, or bedrock beliefs, or mission statement, or vision.  Stan Ott calls them the defining vision and defining practices of the church.  What is the ultimate goal, the reason for being church?  Find your answer to that question, live by it, and the programs and “doings” of the church will more readily birth themselves.

Hock’s book is filled with many other ideas and stories that will shed lots of light on the transformation of congregations.  Throughout the chapters he highlights “MiniMaxims” – short pithy sayings which tell challenge us to think about leadership in a new era.  Let me end with two which I think have real meaning for transformational ministry:

Only fools worship their tools. (p.44) 

Life is a gift, bearing a gift, which is the art of giving. (p.45) 

Hock, Dee. Birth of the Chaordic Age.  Berret-Koehler: San Fransisco.  1999.

Printed in the April 2005 issue of Connections, a publication of the Presbytery of New Covenant.