Infusing a Bit of Rogue Upstart in a Venerable Institution: Old First E-pistle 02.02.12

Looking to take his corporation public, Mark Zuckerberg outlined, in a letter to potential investors on Wednesday (no, I didn’t receive this letter personally!), five core values of Facebook’s business operations. As opposed to white shoe firms and sedate, tweedy Fortune 500’s, Zuckerberg sketches a rogue upstart of a company.

I wonder if covenant ministry hasn’t been about coaxing us from being cautious and slow, like most congregations, towards being a little like a new church start that’s more effective in our contemporary world? Zuckerberg implicitly critiques the self-preserving, risk-adverse, slow to change, stratified, impenetrable, and arcane aspects of established institutions. He offers an alternative in more fluid, open, direct, responsive, fast-paced, and service outcome-oriented communities.

The church has become in many respects the ultimate establishment institution. But it began as a daring movement critiquing and undermining the social, political and economic conventions of its day — almost an underground guerrilla operation. (Hint, a major turning point was Constantine making Christianity the law of the land). How then do Facebook’s edgy core values speak to us?

Focusing on Impact — unlike many companies that duck the tough questions, Facebook is committed to honing in on its greatest problems in order to solve them.

Moving Fast — trying more things, creating more things, the company learns faster. Their motto “Move fast and break things” gives permission to make mistakes. Facebook hopes to maintain this start-up pace to maximize opportunities, rather than slowing down for fear of missteps.

Being Bold — Building great things involves risks. It’s scary. However, in a world that’s changing so quickly, you’re guaranteed to fail if you don’t take any risks. Another of their mottos: ‘The riskiest thing is to take no risks’ encourages bold — even if sometimes completely wrong — decisions and endeavors.

Being Open — An open, transparent and undivided world is a better world because people with more information are empowered to better decisions that have greater impact. Everyone at Facebook has access to as much information as possible about every part of the company.

Building Social Value — Facebook exists not just for itself, but to make a difference in the world, namely making it more open and connected.

Of course, we’re not Facebook! Which is good, because their constant iterations leave me feeling like I’ve been victimized by some Orwellian Big Brother. But Facebook has created a revolutionary service whereby people are being connected in new ways and our culture is being transformed…

And covenant ministry has been about asking Old First to try something new: innovation in hopes of creating a direct route to learning how to become more responsive and effective in a changed and changing world.

As a congregation, we ushered in the first evaluation our revitalization at the end of last Sunday’s Annual Meeting. Beth, Marjorie and Jill offered us “a little appetizer,” foreshadowing deeper reflections this spring. But as you consider Zuckerberg’s core values, ask yourself:

How has covenant ministry changed our operations at Old First?

What has it taught us?

What have we accomplished? How have we failed?

What’s our revitalization experience suggest is next?

See you at church,


If you or someone you know would like to receive these E-pistles electronically each week, please let the church office know.