Coping with Chaos
by Pastor George Van Alstine

This morning I came across a book, semi-buried on my desk, entitled Coping with Chaos. I thought, “That’s interesting; it describes not only my desk, but also my life and most lives around me.” So I gave the book another look. I had forgotten where it came from, but a label inside the front cover identified the owner as Jean Bouchebel, and this reminded me of why he gave it to me. As part of his position at World Vision, Jean had attended a workshop designed to help people in corporate management handle conflict in a more constructive way. It was there that he ran into this book, whose author, Glenda H. Eoyang, argues that we need to see a large company not as a machine, but as a complex organism. What appears to be “chaos” is really the organism’s way of functioning and growing. The conflicts among people in the management structure should be seen as “growing pains,” rather than as obstacles. Handling them creatively can enhance a healthy company’s output and future development.

This really made sense to me, so I began to apply it to the church. Many of the concepts were very helpful in seeing how the church functions, and some of the principles the author suggested will become part of my way of working with ABC’s staff and its various boards and committees. Certainly, the idea of seeing the church as an organism comes right out of the Bible (Romans 12:4-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31), and attempts to run a church as a machine always fail.

But there are a couple of ways in which the church is different. The first is that this organism’s “head” is not a human being we can treat as part of a team, but the Lord Jesus Christ whose primary address is heaven (Ephesians 4:15-16). The other major difference is that the church’s output is not a tangible product or service, nor is it a bottom-line profit. It’s goal is to do God’s work on earth, and this has several aspects, ranging from winning lost people, building up believers, caring for human suffering in Jesus’ name, and glorifying God through worship. This output can’t be measured by counting people or adding up dollars. In fact, only God can measure it, and he won’t do that until the church’s work on earth is done (1 Corinthians 4:5). So, in the church, we’re still left with considerable “chaos” that can’t be completely explained by any management theory.

Our personal Christian lives involve the same ambiguities. Even the most mature and “together” follower of Jesus is in the dark about many important questions, so “coping with chaos” is a daily challenge. But it should be reassuring and liberating to remind ourselves that God doesn’t expect us to be in control of the management of our lives. That’s his job. Only he sees the whole picture, and only he has a clear vision of his “corporate goals” for each individual’s life.

Well, if we’re not in on the big picture, and if we can’t even know how to measure the output of our lives, how can we know what to do? How can we know God’s will? How can we know we are indeed serving him? A passage from the prophet Isaiah answers this question:

“Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction [chaos], your Teacher [Manager] will not hide himself from you . . . . When you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.'” (Isaiah 30:20-21)

So, whether in the church or in our individual walk as believers, the Manager doesn’t lay expectations on us that we’re not capable of handling. But he does expect us to listen to the “voice behind” us and to follow his directions step by step through the apparent chaos. If we don’t, we’ll create some real chaos!