Ethos captured by the ‘GYRE’

15 Apr 2019

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Dear Friends, Colleagues and Churches,

Some of you will be aware that I enjoy researching lighthouses, visiting and photographing their unique properties and admiring their locations and positional properties.

The photo here (which I didn’t take) is of the famous Bell Rock Lighthouse Staircase, off the coast of Scotland and built by entrepreneur-architect Robert Stevenson. The Bell Rock Lighthouse is renowned as a significant engineering accomplishment– built on a submerged reef off the Angus coast between 1807 and 1810; its masonry has not been replaced in over 200 years. 

Inside the lighthouse, the staircase flows as a ‘gyre’  – a spiral staircase which progressively becomes higher and narrower.

The ‘gyre’ is an engineering marvel: steps progressively getting smaller and narrower the higher one climbs the tower. The ‘gyre’ as a metaphor is profoundly helpful when discussing ethos and the differentiation of your church community. 

We often discuss the difference between vision and ethos, both critical elements in charting strategic direction for churches. While vision shapes a vital future, ethos grounds your community into a unique context for mission. Ethos, similar to culture, determines those elements that define or differentiate your church. Ethos is the character or spirit of your church community.

So how is the ‘gyre’ helpful to this conversation? We become capable in ministry and mission, to the extent that we obediently pursue or consistently practise discipleship and leadership. Sometimes it feels like we are circling around and around, having to relearn lessons and reinforce our understandings of God and His creative order.

Despite the ‘gyre’ also helping our wellbeing and resilience (we take less time to circle around and vital lessons are learned from mistakes), the ‘gyre’ helps us consolidate, clarify and reinforce those elements that define our ethos. The more we visit, re-visit and climb higher, the sharper our aspect becomes as we take time to reflect on our actions, and what we have learned. Ethos cannot be borrowed, assumed or franchised; it is discerned from the crucible of collaborated learning, action and reflection.

It seems our society is calling the church to clearly reflect the life and values of Jesus. Proverbs 28:26 reminds us: Those who trust their own insight are foolish, but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe.

Wisdom is acquired by walking the ‘gyre’, taking time to reflect and discern those elements that differentiate your church’s mission and identity shaped as a faith community. Wisdom requires energy and acumen – an ability to consolidate, sharpen and broadcast those elements that are vital to Christian living and church functionality.

Don’t ever underestimate what God might be up to in the midst of you feeling like you are going around in circles…


Dr Andrew Ball
Executive Ministry Director