Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Power of Habit in Societies

habitsignA few days ago I finished listening/reading to The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg.  While overall just an average, common sense read, the chapter about Habits of Societies: How Movements Happen stuck out to me. This chapter first shares the story of Rick Warren planting Saddleback Church. It then traces the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement by telling the story of Rosa Parks, the Montgomery bus boycott, and the recruitment and involvement of Martin Luther King, Jr in all this.

As the bus boycott expanded from a few days to two months, the  commitment and enthusiasm of the local black community surrounding the young Dr. King began to fade. But one evening a bomb explosion in front of the Kings’ house galvanized the community and its extended web of relationships, transforming it almost overnight into a self-organizing  movement learning and implementing new habits.   They began to take greater ownership of their movement.

According to the author, movements don’t emerge because everyone suddenly decides to face the same direction at once. They rely on social patterns that begin as the habits of friendship, grow through the habits of communities, and are sustained by new habits that change participants’ sense of self. (p. 244)

As I reflect on this statement in relation to my work the last five years  as a church planter amongst the traditionally conservative working class peoples living along Taiwan’s western coastal plain in south-central Taiwan I can make the following observations:

1. We have correctly been prioritizing relationships and relation-building. We’ve gotten to know a number of people and while perhaps not all that many are true friends, we do have many acquaintances.

2. We have seen limited success thus far in empowering our small church community take ownership of the work. Like Dr. King who wrote in the days leading up to the pivotal bomb blast: “Complaints began to rise. From early morning to late at night my telephone rang and my doorbell was seldom silent. I began to have doubts about the ability of the Negro community to continue the struggle.” Likewise, we've been seeing people renege on commitments we thought they had already made to Christ. We have yet to see phenomenal success in helping our friends to establish new habits of faith.

In his book Career-Defining Crises in Mission, Paul Keidel writes of the believers who endured persecution in the early church: “Their faith belonged to them and no one could take it away. Their believe was so real that it fit in the culture through their habits. (italics added).  May God’s Spirit continue to lead and to guide along the western coastal plain of south-central Taiwan.

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