In their seminal book on organizational success, Built to Last, authors Jim Collins and Jerry Porras write of the importance of getting past the “tyranny of the or” and embracing the “genius of the and.” 

Their research into successful organizations found that those who thrived over long periods of time found a way to live with seemingly contradictory forces or ideas at the same time.

You can have change OR stability.

You can be conservative OR bold.

You can have low cost OR high quality.

You can have creative autonomy OR consistency and control.

You can invest for the future OR do well in the short term.

You can be idealistic (values-driven) OR pragmatic (profit-driven).

Their research found that instead of being oppressed by the “tyranny of the or,” highly visionary and effective companies liberated themselves with the “genius of the and.” In essence, they had the ability to embrace both extremes of a number of dimensions at the same time; instead of choosing between A or B, they figured out a way to have both A and B.

Most leaders are aware of “tyranny of the or” tensions. What is less discussed is that we must not only live with that tension, but let that tension drive us not to one extreme or the other, but to a “genius of the and.” In other words, let the tension drive us to a resolution that allows an embrace of both dynamics.

It’s not simply a need in business; it’s a need for the church.

Here are eight, in no particular order, where this process is a necessity:

1.         Relevant and Orthodox.

2.         Contemporary and Traditional.

3.         High-Tech and High-Touch.

4.         Multiple Locations and One Church.

5.         Topical and Expositional.

6.         Evangelism and Discipleship.

7.         Growth and Assimilation.

8.         Vision and Reality.

The importance of each of these cannot be underestimated. For example, let’s look at the first one on the list. We must be culturally relevant and remain doctrinally pure. We are trying to bring the message of Jesus to our world -- but not just to our world, but to our nation, in our city, in our time. This means that what we say and do must make sense to the person experiencing it. The apostle Paul had a deep commitment to this, once writing that he became "all things to all men so that by all possible means" he "might save some" (I Cor. 9:22). The message of the gospel is unchanging, and must remain so; the method of communicating that gospel must change according to the language, culture and background of the audience. 

If you fall into the "tyranny of the or" on this dynamic, the results are catastrophic. If you give yourself to cultural relevance at the expense of orthodoxy, then you fall into heresy. Further, you have nothing to offer the world it doesn’t already have. If you give yourself solely to doctrinal purity and hold cultural engagement in disdain, then you betray the missionary mandate inherent within the Great Commission.

So this isn’t simply the “genius of the and.”

It’s the necessity of it.

James Emery White

Sources

James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.

 

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president.  His latest book is What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary (Baker).  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.