I first learned of the “bell curve” as a high school student. Our statistics teacher, an eccentric white haired Irishman, taught us the distribution model that described how a set of results could be adjusted to create a grouping around the average result. In high school, the bell curve became the portal into the wonderful world of “grading on the curve.”
But in everyday life, the bell curve seemed to simply be a description of how things existed in real life. Most of my friends were neither rich nor poor, but somewhere in the middle. A few of our school’s athletes were good enough to play in college, but the majority of us were just average. And in our social circles, the last thing any of us wanted to do was stand out too much from what was considered “normal” fashion or music. In the 1980’s and 90’s it seemed the good life was expected to be found somewhere in the middle.
In the last ten years or so, the bell curve has ceased to be an accurate representation of our society. The majority of people no longer seem to congregate towards the middle. They seem to be dispersed at the opposite edges of society. Economically, the rich are getting richer, while the poor are getting poorer. The middle class, at least in America, is disappearing. There are hardly any moderate candidates in politics any more as our two-party system grows more polarizing each election cycle. Consumers want to own both the giant 72 inch, 1080p television that can hang on their wall and they want to access that same image quality and content in the phone that fits in their back pocket.
The bell curve has given way to the “well curve” (i.e., inverted bell curve) in our society. The majority no longer cluster in the middle, but rather they are often divided into the two extremes.
Jesus lived in a “well curve” culture. A resident of the Roman Empire in the first century was either rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, a Roman Citizen vested with legal rights or simply a foreigner. And yet Jesus refused to limit his ministry to one or the other. He befriended men and women, Pharisees and tax collectors, a Centurion with tremendous power and a leper with nothing to offer society. Even his strategies were both/and in nature. He drew large crowds and he took a few men away to retreat. He revealed his identity to some and concealed his identity to others. One day he preached that he had come to reconcile people and bring peace and the next day he preached that he had come to bring a sword of division.
To minister like Jesus in a binary, “well curve” culture we must have a strategy that embraces one extreme AND the other. This week at CA’s “Connect” staff conference, we will look at how our missional initiatives can reach both religious insiders AND religious outsiders, how we can excel at both gathering the church AND scattering the church, how to bless both people AND places with our activities. This week we will be learning from the missional strategy of Jesus in order to embrace “The Power of And.”