Communist Russia utilised the ideology of the ‘Five Year Plan’ to promote economic development, beginning in the late 1920s. Fulfilling each current plan became the watchword of Soviet bureaucracy. Over the years there were thirteen five-year plans. The first five-year plan spanned the period from 1929 to 1934. The last five-year plan for 1991 to 1995 was not completed because the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991. It was all a house of cards, a large ‘ponzi scheme’. Team leaders and sector bosses falsified production figures to give exaggerated accounts of progress. Each person’s career within the Communist Party depended on such falsifications. A contemporary comparison can be made with the wrong intelligence advice given to Vladimir Putin about how easy it would be to invade Ukraine and conquer Kyiv. In Russia they still play the same game of self-deception and mendacity.
In 2021, against a background of falling minister numbers, a decline in membership and a drop in income both nationally and locally, the Church of Scotland General Assembly tasked local churches with creating five-year mission plans that would ensure that congregations are properly equipped to share the Good News of Jesus. Accompanying this the stated ‘Five Marks of Mission’ were said to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom, to teach, baptise and nurture new believers, to respond to human need by loving service, to seek to transform unjust structures of society and to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth was more ambitious. It formed a Ten Year Plan. ‘We have set out to develop a plan for the next 10 years for the Diocese, which is a major undertaking that, by the time it is completed, will have taken us the best part of two years to shape through much listening and discussion and we want as many people as possible to be part of the journey.’
The Church of England's management speak is even more remote. ‘Strategic Development Funding supports major change projects which lead to a significant difference in dioceses’ mission and financial strength. It is only available to dioceses and the projects should fit with their strategic plans. The funding has supported many transformational work programmes. The Church Commissioners have released the money which is used for Strategic Development Funding. The Archbishops’ Council is responsible for deciding the principles for its use. The Council created the Strategic Investment Board to decide on grant applications among other things. We want to learn from projects as they develop and we have therefore introduced monitoring and evaluation processes. This will help to ensure that we capture and share learning with dioceses and the Church more widely.’
National democratic governments have time spans of four or five years to implement their manifestos. The general assessment is that most governments fail to deliver and are less than competent at reacting to crises and ‘events’ as Harold MacMillan called unforeseen emergencies.
These time conditioned plans are meant to encourage hope and possibility, adopt a positive agenda and give the impression that something is happening or at least, is hopefully going to happen. Their purpose is to give the appearance of control and competence, activity and ambition. Whether in politics or government or in the churches, the same strategies are applied time after time. It is artificial forced management like the fertilisers introduced to crops to gain higher yield. Some of this is successful but there are disadvantages and drawbacks to the environment and human well being. Thus the ORGANIC MOVEMENT came into being.
Organic means relating to or derived from living matter. It is used most often in the context of food production without the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals. In commerce and industry, if a company experiences organic growth, it develops its own business instead of buying other companies.
Christianity’s origins and early development were organic in nature. They were made possible by devoted people inspired by their relationship with the Risen Jesus Christ and the gift to them of the Holy Spirit. Islam in contrast was an organised religious/political/military entity from its beginning and spread by way of armed conquest. It is still doing so as the current history of Africa clearly shows.
Institutional churches are not organic. They are superimposed on the members whose faith and belonging maintains them. Hierarchies and bureaucracies proliferate and make decisions on behalf of the people they say they serve. Thus there are Five Year Plans. These are not organic in nature. They are forced, top down impositions. They are hoops for members to jump through, targets for them to reach, visible material quantifiable successes to be achieved.
Christianity can survive in congregations if it is organic. If it is the living expression of Christian Faith that is the basic organic compound. If the content of Christianity is sufficiently pure to produce fruit and harvest. The collective understanding of congregations is the measure of possible survival and growth, or of inevitable decline and closure. The Christianity of most parish churches is a mixture of inarticulate expression and nominal practice. Hot-housing the same understanding and mentality to do ‘mission’ is self-defeating. Schemes and organisation and plans will not work.
Jesus said, ‘Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.’ (Matthew 6 : 28 – 29) Organic Christianity is the way forward. Starting from where we actually are and finding our future from here. Authentic Christian lives and living are the bases of organic growth. So it was in the beginning, so it can be again.