Friday, June 19, 2009

on shifting sands

yesterday talked with a former colleague about the shifting role that sertoma plays in the disability community. when sertoma was founded in 1976 many of its participants were transitioning out of state institutions and into group homes and other supportive community settings. organizations like sertoma rose up to provide job training for these individuals so that they could make their way in the marketplace just like they were learning to make their way in the local communities.

from facility to facilitation
sertoma was able to help some individuals transition into the workforce, but a number, perhaps even a preponderance, of others were allowed and/or encouraged to spend their career working in sertoma's packaging, cedar shim production and recycling businesses. transitioning out of separate institutions and into the community is no small matter, so it is not surprising that many individuals were encouraged by family persuasion, state funding and/or personal choice to go for the gold watch at sertoma.

however, now it is 2009 and the sertoma employees who initially transitioned out of the institutions and into the workshop are either retired or on the precipice of retirement and younger individuals with disabilities have never known anything but integrated disability or rehabilitation services. as a result, the government has reaffirmed their commitment to integrating people with disabilities into the workforce and they are restricting or removing long-term subsidies for individuals who work in workshops like sertoma. this transition makes sense for younger individuals with disabilities, but it is understandably threatening for individuals who have logged 30 years cutting cedar shims and are now wondering whether sertoma's businesses will survive the funding shift and, if not, what role they will play in the marketplace and how they will spend their days.

in response to these challenges, organizations like sertoma are shifting their emphasis from being an employer to being a resource that provides health and life development supports for individuals with disabilities. traditionally, sertoma integrated elements of the institution such as case management, nursing supports, etc., with the elements of a business such as the opportunity to participate in real work, earn a paycheck, follow employee guidelines, etc. in a sense one could say that sertoma is transitioning from an institution - that tries to provide comprehensive services for individuals with disabilities - to a network or a hub that will help connect individuals with disabilities with the employment and life development opportunities as well as the personal supports that they need.

my friend reported that some of the staff members are navigating the transition from the institution to the network well, while others are finding the shift difficult. she said that many of the support staff have worked at sertoma for such a long time that they are as unsettled by the shift as the participants with disabilities are. others, especially the younger staff at sertoma, seem to be making the transition well. but, whether people like the transition or not, my friend said that the "writing was on the wall," and change was coming to sertoma whether people liked it or not.

unexpected revelation
somewhere in the midst of the conversation, i think when my friend was talking about the transition from an institution to a network, i felt the shock of revelation and i literally cradled my face in my hands. since sertoma is no longer the quasi-institution that it once was, the staff needs to find out how to network the individuals they serve with the diverse, individualized services they need. sertoma's future is not in building the institution but expanding the network.

in a similar way, my role to play in the church, that community of people who have been called out by God and inclined towards his Kingdom, is not to build the institution but to expand the network.

my role is not to build the institution, although i was trained to do just that by becoming the engaging preacher for a local church that was committed to providing more and better services so that we could build a bigger congregation, expand our real estate and help buttress our brand.

my role is to expand the network, by loving, listening to and collaborating with other Christians and seekers of any stripe so that we can embody the gospel, serve the inheritors of the Kingdom and reflect the awe inspiring unity and delightful diversity of the Three-in-One who was, and is and is to come.

my job is to expand the network. others have noticed this long before now. hell, pastor phil has directly told me on an occasion or two that, whether i realized it or not, one of my great gifts is networking. others, tasked with building up the institution, have noticed it too, and so have parted ways with me and gone off to serve. i'm not going to lie, the separation from the institution builders has been painful for me, since we love the same One and are called to assist, encourage, exhort and accompany the same body. fortunately, this recent, shocking revelation of our divergent roles has served as a bit of a salve for my wounds.

new metaphor, new world
i love those who for almost 40 years have built up sertoma and i can see why they grieve the transition of their beloved institution. but, in all honesty, i resonate more with the individuals that are envisioning sertoma 2.0 and expanding the network of resources that individuals with disabilities will need to live a holistic life in this integrated world.

in a similar way, i love those who have built the Christian Churches, Churches of Christ and i acknowledge that without their dedication to the gospel shaped institution, i probably would not be following Jesus, who is the greatest joy of my life. however, my role is not to buttress the institution, but to build a network of diverse individuals who are seeking, expressing, embodying and exclaiming the Kingdom that is here and somehow is yet to come.

i realize that this metaphor shift is simple and something should have realized long ago. however, though i'm late to the show, i cannot fully explain how surprised and blessed i have been by this revelation.

i'm starting to suspect that if you change the metaphor, you change the world.


Anonymous said...

"however, my role is not to buttress the institution, but to build a network of diverse individuals who are seeking, expressing, embodying and exclaiming the Kingdom that is here and somehow is yet to come."

I definitely see that as being one of the things that God's created you to fulfill in his work of his kingdom. Additionally your ability to establish community with others is another strength and I was definitely blessed by that and miss that relational strength since we have moved.

g13 said...

thanks for the kind words jason.

cool new blog, btw.

g13 said...

for an interesting story in a somewhat similar vein read:

i really resonate with thomas' story of taking the gospel of Jesus out to the margins. the only thing i would encourage him to do would be to keep one foot in a local church so that he can encourage, cajole, prophesy and hopefully implement mission alteration in a local christian community.