Anyone who reads this blog knows that I have little patience for attempting to run churches by business principles. That’s been weighed in the scale and found wanting every time it’s been attempted.
Last evening, as I was prepping for an interview I was to conduct with a supply chain expert for one of the world’s most notable companies, I brushed up on William Edward Deming.
Deming had a handful of adherents here in the States, but he was practically deified in Japanese corporations. While his ideas on efficiency and productivity were toyed with elsewhere, the Japanese latched on and rode Deming’s ideas to the top. Acceptance of Deming is why Toyota has thrived, while rejection of his principles is epitomized by GM execs groveling on Capitol Hill.
Deming’s theories include 14 main principles, all of which are intriguing. To me, none grabs like this one:
Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.
Translation: If the system is broken, it’s a waste of time asking more from the laborers. Instead, fix the system.
I look at this statement of Deming’s not as a prescription, but as an astute observation. Therefore, we can learn from it as Christians without trying to run our churches by it.
When I watch the American Church in action, what passes for leadership is little more than slogans, exhortations, and targets tied around the necks of people who cannot possibly meet leadership’s criteria because they labor in a broken system. Yet who is tackling the broken system? Who is that brave?
You would think Christians, of all people, should be, right?
I believe the singular failure of Evangelicalism in our lifetimes can be tied to its leaderships’ inability to speak to broken systems. Those leaders did not address economics, justice, relationships, work, politics, or anything else from a systemic perspective. As a result, despite the fact that our God is a consuming fire, we have brought His powerful Truth to bear on the fringes, not on the core presence of wicked systems. It’s like using a sword to clean under one’s fingernails, or wielding a napalm-based flamethrower to toast marshmallows. The sword and the flamethrower are intended to do battle with dire enemies, not with a clod of dirt or the raw middle ingredient of a s’more.
The culture wars are one example of the resulting massive failure. For instance, teen pregnancy is a serious issue, but have we addressed it systemically? Or have we fought it with slogans, exhortations, and targets?
Sadly, our leaders neither waged that battle on a systemic level, nor did they even bother to ask the right questions. (Why? Because those tough questions beg for tougher answers, ones that may ask much of the askers.) In the case of the teen left unsupervised at home after school, why not question why both mom and dad are working? Or ask what it is about the way we work that may make for more children born to teens? Instead, unwilling to tackle the systemic issues of why our society labors as it does, Christian leaders opted for the path of least resistance—and least success.
I have always enjoyed reading Schaeffer because he tried to speak to the Church about more than just eliminating defects in the individual or boosting spiritual productivity. He understood that Christians must address broken systems. Unless the Christian brings truth to bear on systems, most larger changes will be superficial—or nonexistent.
Kingdoms are built on systems. The world has its kingdom system and God has His. In the clash of kingdoms, systems must be overthrown for one kingdom to displace the other. Yet where are the Christian leaders who are waging war against systems? Where are the Schaeffers of 2009? It’s been nearly a quarter century since he died, and as far as I can tell, he’s had no successors. And the Church continues to suffer for this lack.
Want to truly change the world for Christ? Start asking tougher questions about the way the world systems work, then bring the Gospel light to bear on the very heart of their darkness.
About 18 months ago, I wrote a post called “The Two Christianities.” That post sparked a minor furor in the Godblogosphere and spawned two followups. As the days count down to the upcoming election and our country hurtles toward the Final Day, I thought revisiting that series of posts would be helpful:
The first link offers the theory, while the third provides a side-by-side comparison of the worldview differences between Externally Motivated (EM) Christianity and Internally Motivated (IM) Christianity.
The thing about politics is that it inevitably brings out the EM crowd, and it’s a shrill, pleading crowd at that. Funny thing is that the IM group typically has little to say around election time. They keep doing what they were doing all along, with the election just a blip on the radar screen.
What strikes me this morning is that one of these groups of Christians is going to be sorely disappointed some day. And it won’t know what to do with its disappointment. I think as the world gets darker that folks in the EM camp, who are used to God, Mom, Apple Pie, and Chevrolet are going to lose it when their apple pie is made in China with tainted milk, GM goes under, and mom croaks. Their interpretation: God has abandoned us. And many of them will reciprocate.
I guess it all depends on which kingdom holds your trust, the earthly one or the heavenly one. Where our hearts and treasures align, we’ll receive the rewards of that kingdom. But there’s kingdom and then there’s Kingdom. IM Christians side with the “big K” Kingdom nearly all the time. It’s a place of more lasting rewards.
So get ready for disappointment, EM Christians. There’s a sound of inevitability, that while coming from a trumpet with an indistinct sound, is ushering in an age where the courts will not be helping Christians evangelize, keep up nativity scenes, or maintain other Christian activity (whether genuinely Christian or not).
Here’s the thing: We can’t put our faith in governments. We can’t put our faith in legal codes. We can’t put our faith in our own tenacity. We put our faith in God alone or else we face assured, brutal disappointment.
Because the IM believer can’t be disappointed in events because his or her faith is in God—and in Him, the one who owns all the riches worth valuing, there can never be disappointment.
I hadn’t intended to post on today’s topic, but a friend sent this and told me it was essential viewing:
The Bible says this:
Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. —1 Thessalonians 5:20-21
I do not despise prophecy by any means, but I do test prophecies against Scripture and by the Holy Spirit of God.
So that is what I will do.
God’s chosen people called for an earthly government in 1 Samuel 8:
When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba.
Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice. Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD.
And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”
But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey their voice and make them a king.” Samuel then said to the men of Israel, “Go every man to his city.” —1 Samuel 8:1-22
The chosen people of God were hard-hearted toward Him. They were not satisfied with His Kingdom; they desired instead an earthly, geopolitical kingdom. One that would be like their pagan neighbors. How they longed to be just like those who did not know God! And so this is what God gave them.
Do we remember that this led, in part, to God’s chosen nation going into exile? To the destruction of their way of life? To untold suffering?
When it comes to commentary on people’s dealings with geopolitical systems, this is about all I could recall of direct commentary by the Lord Jesus during His earthly ministry:
[The scribes and the chief priests asked Jesus,] “Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” —Luke 20:22-25
When asked of his political intentions, Jesus gave this answer:
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” —John 18:36
He also said this:
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. “ —Matthew 13:45-46
When you sell all that you have to gain the Heavenly Kingdom, there is not much left over for earthly pretenders.
Paul didn’t say much about geopolitical systems, either:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. —Romans 13:1-8
Paul didn’t say that Christians should live in fear of whatever party may come into office, but should instead fear God, who takes out His holy vengeance against those who fail to live a life that is pure and holy.
We see this in ancient Rome. What earthly kingdom could have had a more anti-Christ bent than Rome? Yet without one vote, Christians led to the toppling of the Caesars. They did this through the sacrifice of their own martyred blood in the Colosseum, the ministry of the Gospel among the disadvantaged of the city, their care for the sick, the hungry, the naked, the widow, and the orphan. Indeed, in their allegiance to one Kingdom above all others, the only lasting Kingdom, they brought down one of the most powerful earthly kingdoms in history.
And this leads me to the invoking in the video above of an Old Testament passage that many Christians love to pull out and dust off every four years. In case many of us don’t remember, some Christians have been invoking this passage for at least 30 years, and probably more. Like the boy who cried wolf, every four years Christians pull out this passage to ensure that the faithful understand that “This Election Is the Most Critical One Our Nation Has Ever Faced.™”
The passage in question:
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
—2 Chronicles 7:14
God speaks this to Solomon after the completion of the temple in which He would dwell.
Consider then that today God does not live in a temple constructed of human hands by flawed kings. Instead, He made us and filled us with Himself. We are His temples.
Consider also that we live under a New Covenant that is better than the Old Covenant.
Consider that the Kingdom of God that is better than any earthly Kingdom is now among us because the One True King has come.
Do you know how God heals the land now that the True King has come? That King told us how. He showed us, the temples of His Holy Spirit, the people of a better covenant, the ones who are a part of an unearthly Kingdom, how God heals lands:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” —Matthew 28:18-20
When Christians repent of their sins and distractions (including political distractions), when they humble themselves and cast off their mistaken notions of power, when they pray to stay true to the focus of the only genuine Kingdom, then God will heal their land through their sharing of the Good News with the lost and the making of disciples. When Christians live out the high calling of the Gospel before earthly kingdoms and shame those unworthy imitations with their service to the only True Kingdom, then God will heal their land.
But when Christians look to earthly kingdoms, when Christians take their focus off the Lord and put their faith in power systems rooted in sin and compromise, they will wind up off course, off message, off purpose, and ultimately disappointed. God does not heal the land through man’s elections but through Christians living out their allegiance to Christ’s unearthly Kingdom by concentrating on making disciples and serving the least of these no matter what government is in power.
The Christians in Rome understood this, but for all our supposed modern enlightenment, we do not. Nor do our “prophets.”
I want to end with that statement. I have some additional thoughts I’ll add in the comments. Please feel free to add your own.