Pathwork: School vs. Church Model

In reading The 3 Colors of Your Spirituality by Christian A. Schwarz, founder of Natural Church Development (NCD), I was struck by a statistic he quotes.  Of all the converts to Christianity, within a year of their conversion only 1 to 15% are (still) affiliated with a local church. “Why,” he asks.  His book builds on his findings and provides for interesting reflection for me as my Sevenoaks Pathwork community enters 2010.

First Christian summarizes results of his many years of helping churches grow through his NCD organization.  His organization has found that church growth is not a result of its “entertainment” style or its powerful marketing strategy, etc., but rather due to its quality.  And by quality he does not mean the professionalism of its programs, teaching methods, etc.  Rather, he means the quality of its people — its leaders, students, members.

He has developed 8 measures for quality and works with congregations to build quality where there are weaknesses.  It has been an effective program in many churches, and in any case creates healthy introspection for churches to consider. His 8 aspects of quality (modified to fit a Pathwork framework) are: 1) Empowering Leadership, 2) Talent-based Service, 3) Passionate Spirituality, 4) Effective Structures, 5) Inspiring Weekly Gatherings, 6) Holistic Small Groups, 7) Need-Oriented Sharing to Attract Newcomers,  and the last aspect: Loving Relationships. His organization works with churches to assess and build these quality aspects.

The first question that arises in me with our Sevenoaks Pathwork Community is “Who are we?” We do not seem to be a church with an active membership.  The most obvious block to this even as a possibility is our disbursed population; physically we could not begin to meet weekly for an “inspiring gathering.”  I do note, however, that there are an increasing number of virtual churches building up via the internet, so this could be a possibility, but it is not yet a reality for us.

Perhaps more fundamentally is our basic structure.  We are not organized as a church but rather as a school. Students come for workshops, process groups, and eventually some enter the 5-year Pathwork Transformation Program. Organizationally we develop and operate these programs. It is not uncommon (nor unusual for such programs I would imagine) for half of these students to drop out during the 5-year program.  It would be interesting to ask why.   And to see where they are today.

After graduating from the Transformation Program, some, actually a relatively large percentage, go on to enter graduate-level Pathwork programs — teacher training (Advanced Pathwork Studies) followed by Helper Training.  Why do folks continue? It is generally true that many if not most enter these graduate programs not necessarily to become Pathwork Teachers or Helpers but rather to just keep up the experience they grew from in the Pathwork Transformation Program. And after graduating from Helper Training, some go on to actually become Pathwork Helpers.  This is all school-oriented activity.

But what about the hundreds of students who have graduated from the Sevenoaks Pathwork Transformation Program and not gone on with their training?  What is the infrastructure to keep them engaged, especially when they are disbursed widely across the globe?  Such are the challenges of our current structure as a school.

A church model is totally different.   It’s aim is to build a community of spiritually like-minded people.  Yes, within this context there is a kind of school structure to help people continue to grow throughout their lives, but the overarching focus is on the life of the local church.  And here is where Christian Schwarz 8 aspects of quality apply.

Being built on the school structure, our Sevenoaks Pathwork community feels more like an alumni association.  The alumni association mentality says, “I grew through my Pathwork Transformation Program, and I want to make this program available to others.” This is a very different model from wanting an ongoing vibrant spiritual community of some kind where all members get fed and grow and engage. In this chruch-model, new-comers come not because we offer interesting workshops and a powerful transformation program through our school, but because they are attracted by the people in the community, or rather, attracted by the quality of the community as set forth by Christian Schwarz in his 8 measures of quality.

So the question I find myself wrestling with at this time as we enter into 2010, is: are we in Pathwork a church or a school? I find I relate more to the church model in that it answers more of my desires and needs, but I am also aware that we are currently quite far afield from this model.

I have been curious about a similar transformation program founded by Almaas called the Diamond Approach.   It’s organization is set up as the Ridhwan School and they have an interesting website.  I notice that while called a school and the programs and focus are similar to those of Pathwork, their structure is officially that of a church rather than one of a school. They have local on-going groups that meet weekly, title some of their teachers “ministers,” and the training of teachers is done at their “seminary.”   I am planning to explore this with a local friend who is active in their organization.  All food for thought.

And I notice how much energy I have in engaging Christian Schwarz’ material, Ridhwan, our situation at Sevenoaks, and the applications of these ideas to my own spiritual life as well as to the life of Pathwork overall.