from the Gospel According to Bob, Chapter 11, verses 15-31; Original Old Prophetic Scripture In English (Oopsie) Version
— (this is satire and parody; I am fully aware that these things AREN’T really in the Bible… but thanks to those who have expressed concern!)
And Jesus said, ‘Beware of false prophets who come advising all sorts of worldly and simple solutions to complex and important problems.
He said this in response to the ancient prophecy, “And there will come a day when Towers Babel, Inc., will be hired by the high priests and Pharisees to tell unto God’s people what they ought to be doing, since God’s people will have forgotten and become verily confused. (which in itself was prophesied, ‘the people who walk in darkness will either turn to prayer and the light of discernment or they will stop and ask directions from strangers,’) And on that day, there shall be downsizing and branding and a hunger and thirst for best practices and dashboards,
But I say unto you, identity is not to be confused with image; meaning shall not be reduced to marketing; and the Spirit shall not be confused with structures. For it is written, ‘Those who cannot discern shall count heads, and those who have no witness shall advertise, and the first shall be lost as false prophets share vision that has little to do with God’s will.
The follower known as Robert, also called Bob, inquired, “Should we then form a task force to survey our target audiences, monitor our results on a dashboard, and dissect all the work that has thus far been done by outsiders to offer alternative proposals and petitions?”
Jesus responded, ‘I am THIS close to smiting you! The time for talk is through; we must be doers of the Word and not reduce the Word to ‘words’ in reports and recommendations to endlessly discuss and debate and destroy. Until we remember who we are and why God needs us here, there is little else to discuss. Before we make decisions about structure and processes, we must first recapture our identity and purpose!”
Then Bob asked, “So, is this then a ‘Calleth to Activity?’ O Lord?”
Don’t just sit there, do something. If I hear one more person defend our current denominational studies with the dismissive, “we gotta do something; something is better than nothing; we don’t have a choice,” argument, I am going to explode. I received an email this week from a pastor explaining to me that “the church IS a business, and we have been running it very poorly. Hiring the best secular consultants has been a brilliant idea, and we are finally going to start being competitive and profitable.”
I understand this is simply a difference in defining the nature, vision and values of what it means to be church, and to a certain degree I acknowledge that “the church is a business,” but I maintain it is a unique kind of business and the reason we are failing is that we have tried too hard to be a business instead of a church. We have created a system and structure that is never going to be effective at discipleship without a total overhaul. The machinations we are exploring at the moment with our suggested downsizing and church growth gimmicks and leadership credentialing gymnastics are individually and collectively inadequate to foster systemic change. They will not create a new system, merely weaken the existing system and speed up the consequences currently on the horizon.
I was talking with one of my university colleagues who teaches organizational theory and critical thinking. He reflected, “there are too many variables not being taken into consideration and way too many gaps in logic. What has been identified as core issues have not been verified, and the recommended solutions don’t actually solve the problems being addressed.” It was nice to receive confirmation from someone who really understands this stuff. His other observation was, “Are you telling me that in a denomination as large as yours, there are not resident experts within the church who could have provided the services you’ve paid exorbitant amounts of money for? Why are you paying people who don’t understand you to do for you what you are fully capable of doing for yourself?” I have asked a version of this question many, many times.
My last rambling thought comes because I have been reading some books by Peter Senge, Peter Drucker, and Thomas Sowell. Each reminds me that downsizing is a lousy path to growth, saving money is not the same thing as profitability, safety nets are not the same as stable foundations, and form that fails to follow function doesn’t lead from good to great, but from good to gone. We, indeed, have serious challenges ahead. We have got to take decisive action. We have squandered the luxury of time and have backed ourselves into a corner. But I disagree that doing something is better than nothing — doing the wrong thing is not better. There are signficant, long-term implications that must be addressed (like our missional priorities, intended outcomes, leadership concerns, lousy fiscal stewardship including unfunded liabilities and escalating debt resulting from our greed and lust for more, and our global identity and relationships — to name only a few) before we make reactive decisions about structure and the creation of a power elite. The potential long-term damage is too great to settle for short-term benefits and false profit.