False Profits

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?”

Jesus wept.

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.

11 replies

  1. Yes we have people in our own denomination who could help us with some of our structural issues. They are second career pastors. Unfortunately the hierarchy of the church doesn’t want them to bring their own special gifts and talents to The Church. The Church wants these individuals to turn from who they are and become some definition of clergy that has phenomenal ideas and some magical ability to get congregations to say, “Ah yes, we have been waiting for this one to lead us.” I seem to remember from my MBA studies that there are two ways that organizations can form: (a) Top down, “I have a vision, follow me”, or (b) Bottoms up. I think in the latter the “leader” asks two questions, “What is your passion and how can I help you achieve it?” And, “If you don’t know what your passion is how can I help you discern it?”

    • Excellent observations Michelle.
      There are excellent resources/talent available to help with the structural and organizational issues. It is encouraging to see some of those talented individuals engaging in this dialogue.

  2. Glad to see another life long disenchanted Methodist. It does me good to check in with “other voices” out there. I am in a position within my church about all I can do is pray, pray, pray for both the local congregation and the UMC at large.

  3. What is really sad is that the many mistakes in the Call to Action are likely to lead to nothing being done. If you identify “trust” and “distance” as two of your biggest issues, you don’t resolve them by creating a whole new structure that is even further from the people in the pews that pay the bills and basically says, “Trust us!”

    We should be “focusing” on the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. Or, to paraphrase Curly Washburn, “One thing. Just stick to that.” The general church should be resourcing the annual conferences. We don’t have the luxury of regulatory agencies like GCRR and GCSRW who make sure how the pie is distributed because we need more pie. Spending millions on high-level ecumenical activities isn’t going to bring any mergers.

    Passing resolutions and tweaking the Social Principles is not the same as “thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” So, limiting General Conference time to one day on the Book of Resolutions (which should go online) and the Social Principles would show some stewardship of our time and resources.

  4. I hope you are lining up others to speak to the issue on the floor of Genera Conference because, with the reputation you are building, the chances of you getting the microphone will be very small. The presiding bishops will protect their turf.

    • Oh, yea! This General Conference will be interesting — I don’t know that my square-peggishness has ever encountered such a round hole before!

      • Sticking with the hole metaphor, I believe the hole has a big lid covering up the true problem. Do the people in the pews really know what is going on? Or, has apathy set in to the point where the ones who are still there don’t care?

  5. As we enter Lent today, I appreciate your attempts to return us to early Christianity trying to find ways to assist folks to move toward Easter baptism and discipleship within diverse communities of faith.

    I look forward to additional remembrances of Bob such as, “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!”

  6. A take-down doesn’t stifle the truth/prophecy of the say-er……..and I do believe — deep in my lifelong Methodist being — that despite any pressure there will be no take-down or change of thought/course to the end RENEWAL in the true, authentic Wesleyan sense, definition, and style of perseverance the movement started that our lifelong faith tradition sorely — no — make that CRITICALLY — needs.

  7. Are you crazy? This is fantastic and is going to cause a tempest in a teapot. Could you have been any more on the nose? I have already forwarded this to all my friends because I am assuming you will be pressured to take this down ASAP. You got guts, I’ll give you that.

    • I am sure you are right. Many people will not find ANY humor in this at all. It really isn’t my intention to insult anyone or make this personal. There is nothing here that I haven’t said before, so I am pretty sure that the people who agree with me will think this is good and those who disagree with me will hate it. But, hey, it’s a blog in a public sphere. I gave my opinion and I want anyone and everyone to share their opinion as well. I keep raising the issues and concerns because I WANT us to be talking about them and wrestling with them as we move to General Conference. I hope my feeble attempt at humor doesn’t get in the way and make conversation harder rather than easier. Sometimes trying to be provocative backfires — and I can see how this might be one of those times.

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