Welcome to “VUCA world”

A healthy congregation will try to live on two levels at once: the overarching and future-oriented, and the basics of doing day-to-day ministry.

In the Church Wellness Project, we focus on the basics and the implementation of “best practices” in critical areas like Membership Development and Leadership Development. We believe that tending to this “infrastructure” will enable the congregation, especially its leaders, to cast wide nets and bold eyes into embracing the future. If the basics aren’t being handled well, the congregation won’t have a future.

It isn’t enough to handle only the day-to-day. As the Institute for the Future said in an important study for the Episcopal Church, the world’s future “will be characterized by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.” This “VUCA World” will require skills that we should be developing now.

One is an ability to “manage dilemmas” (problems that can’t be solved) rather than perpetuating a former, engineering-based approach (problem-solving) — name it, dissect it, analyze it, fix it.

Another is an ability to “create common ground,” where people ask “discerning questions” and hold a faith that “lives in the space between judging too soon and deciding too late.”

When I shared these concepts with a friend of mine, a bank executive who is deeply engrossed in the worsening financial crisis, he said, “That’s exactly the work I am doing.” Managing dilemmas runs counter to many desires for definite solutions, but it’s the only rational approach to a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous situation like the now-global financial meltdown.

Religion has much to contribute, especially those progressive traditions that have avoided the hyper-righteousness and certainty of religious extremes. For we live in the realm of ambiguity, even welcoming a healthy doubt as essential to a deep faith.

In these columns we will continue to focus on the basics, because they need to be done well before any future can be embraced. But I commend to you the work of the Institute for the Future, based in Palo Alto, Calif., found at Their $10 booklet called “The Book of Provocations,” prepared for the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes, would be a good place to start.


Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus,” and the founder of the Church Wellness Project.