The 21st century church system, what most people refer to today as, “The Church” is like Noah’s ark because it has fulfilled a purpose in the past. The Body of Christ must become like a “spaceship” compared to the ark so that it can fulfill its purpose in the future. The reference to purpose is of vital importance, it’s a matter of life and death, because Noah faced a flood but we face a fire.
It was about four years ago that I first began using the term, “Noah’s ark paradigm”. A paradigm can be thought of as a generally accepted mental model (way of thinking) as to how things are, how things work (get done) and how to be successful in the future. A paradigm might also be thought of as a “stronghold” in our minds; it is so powerful that only God’s power can break it down, very much like the city of Jericho in the Book of Joshua.
In this article I will argue that although the “Noah’s ark paradigm” has worked well for us in the past; it is not able to help us be successful in the future. Quite the opposite, I will argue that if we hold on to this particular paradigm it will lead not only to failure but also our destruction.
The subjects I have chosen for this article include:
· Traditions from the past.
· The “appliance of science”.
· Traditional relationships.
· Traditional thinking.
· Consequences for the future.
Traditions from the past.
History is said to be a key factor in shaping current culture and from our history it is usually our past success that, by nature, we want to hold on to. Our human reasoning tells us, “What has worked well for us in the past, will give us our best chance of success in the future.” What is it that has worked well for the church system in the past?
· Hierarchical relationships
· Formal use of power and authority
· Routine or mechanistic ways of getting things done
· Predominance of one-way communication.
These traditions have been with us for millennia, they span human history, from the Pharaoh’s to modern day corporations. The 21st century church system is no different.
I am convinced that these traditions have come to us from the spiritual realm, the way that men organise themselves and get things done on earth is the same way that spiritual beings, created by God to serve Him, are organised and get things done in the spiritual realm. But how does God work with His people in the New Covenant? How does, “His kingdom come” and “His will be done” on earth?
When we belong to Christ we are placed in Him, seated at the right hand of the Father. We don’t have to “go to the top” to get to God, we are “at the top”. There is no hierarchy.
When we belong to Christ He does not refer to us as “servants” but “friends” because we are intimately acquainted with and involved in the Father’s business. We are called to become willing participants in God’s work, “partners” if you will, as “heirs and co-heirs with Christ”. With God, there is no use of formal power and authority in the human sense, there is the exercise of spiritual wisdom, power and authority in the heavenly realm.
I once heard it said that, “When dealing with people, Jesus never did the same thing twice”. Amazing, all our training and programs revolve around learning a “system” or a “way” of being successful, and repeating it over and over.
Finally, how often in scripture do we see God telling people what to do but not listening? Dare I say that God is the only “Boss” who is more willing to listen to us than we are to talk to Him!
It is my firm belief that within the Body of Christ there is no hierarchy, no formal use of power and authority, and an absence of both repetition and one-way communication. This is why angels are looking at the Body of Christ to see what God is doing; they have never seen anything like it, not in heaven nor on earth.
The “appliance of science”.
All you 50-somethings from the UK, please forgive me for stealing this tag line from the Zanussi washing machine ads from the 1970’s. I am trying to push home the fact that “the system” which has been around for millennia was given a scientific stamp of approval about one hundred years ago by FW Taylor.
Taylor’s work, “Principles of Scientific Management”, was adopted by business in the Western world to great effect. Taylor was driven by a passion to see improved efficiencies in every area of life. To this end, he promoted the idea that jobs should be broken down into the smallest possible tasks, with people recruited, trained and rewarded to perform that one task as efficiently as possible. “Bosses” should do all thinking, planning and decision making leaving workers just to do as they are told so as not to disrupt work flow. The production or assembly line thinking developed by Henry Ford grew out of Taylor’s work. As efficiency improved, company profits increased, as did wages. However, the downside was a breakdown in human relations. The classic “us and them” divide became entrenched in people’s minds.
In my opinion, Taylor succeeded in justifying “the system” to the point where finding, “the one best way” to perform a task became a philosophy that has now been adopted everywhere, business, government, health, education and social services, the non-profit sector and churches. “The system” is now fully legitimised in the minds of men because of Taylor’s “appliance of science”.
Now, there is the perception that there is no other way of working, of getting things done. All human endeavours are now constrained by the hierarchy, use of coercive power, routine and mechanistic practices and a predominance of one-way communication. Even when people say they are “out” of the system, the “system” is still in them. Let me give a couple of examples.
Between 2003 and 2006 I worked in local government, evaluating the effectiveness of social programs connected primarily with health and education for children, young people and their parents. This is what I found:
1. The people that had the most to gain from these programs were often the least likely to get involved (learned helplessness).
2. People need time to respond to the efforts of the system (people need time to implement change) but the system demands results quickly (during the time of the program is the ideal).
3. The system often lacks the will and always lacks the resources to change and adapt to a new environment.
These things were happening even though new legal requirements, new government policies, new planning frameworks, new strategic partnerships, new working partnerships and new funding streams had been introduced to break people out of their traditional ways of doing things. I have to give credit where credit is due. The Welsh Assembly Government did just about all they could to further the interests of children, young people and their families. But the system was so entrenched in everyone’s mind I am afraid it was a case of “all change” yet “business as usual”. This is the power of the paradigm at work.
Here’s another example of what I am trying to communicate about the power of the paradigm at work. Recently I attended an all-day Bible study/seminar held in a local school. I guess about 150 to 200 people attended. There were four of five main speakers who introduced each session and set the stage for comments and questions. Any man who was a recognised part of the church group could participate (that excluded me, the freeradical!) Out of all the men there, about a dozen participated and it was the “senior” men who did about 90% of the speaking. No one asked a question. What is interesting is that this group are known for distancing itself from the church “system”, they say they have no hierarchy, no clergy/laity divide, and there is a forum for open discussion. That is the theory, but I didn’t see any of it happening in practice, not until the coffee break.
In the same way that “Taylorism” has given credence to “the system”, “meritocracy” has been used to justify “the hierarchy”.
Meritocracy can be thought of as a belief system. It is the belief that people achieve their place in society, or in life, on the basis of merit. Their “success” is believed to have occurred because they are worthy, implying they possess the knowledge, skills and attributes required for their position and the associated benefits (e.g. recognition, respect and reward). Over the last few years however, more people are beginning to question the concept of meritocracy, is it just a myth? Here’s an example from the heart and sole of Canadian identity, professional ice hockey.
“Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell describes an investigation into why things happen outside of the boundaries of “normal”. He asks questions like, “why are some people so much more successful than others, why are planes from certain airlines more likely to crash?” He introduces his work by describing what happens in professional ice hockey in Canada.
Gladwell noticed that most professional ice hockey players raised in Canada are born in the first few months of the year whereas there were remarkably few born in December. Gladwell then observed the procedures and processes of the Canadian Junior Hockey League, the vehicle used to spot young talent and develop it towards maturity. The “system” was based on age. Consequently, at age 4, 5, 6, and so on, the children born at the beginning of the year often had a physical advantage (e.g. height, weight, strength, speed and motor skills) over children born later in the year. Gladwell then observed the “unfairness” is compounded when a child is selected for special treatment; the best coaching, the best resources and opportunities are afforded to those chosen within the “system”, resulting in those “left behind” by the system finding it almost impossible to catch up. Gladwell’s work challenged the belief that the Canadian Junior Hockey League was founded on meritocracy.
So what are the implications for leadership within the 21st century church system? We can start by questioning the following:
1. The recruitment and selection processes for leadership training and development (e.g. academic requirements).
2. The time and financial costs involved.
3. The recruitment and selection processes for ministry positions (e.g. eloquent speaker, years of experience, academic qualifications).
It seems to me that the 21st century church system has a leadership system justified by “spiritual meritocracy” and that God’s people are submitting themselves to a hierarchy (believing it to be the will of God) that is of human origin at best and demonically inspired at worst. Where we find ourselves today is that the Pastor, the Priest or dare I say the home group leader is effectively operating as a mediator between people and God, justified by the myth of meritocracy at work our minds.
The clergy/laity divide in the 21st century church system is becoming more widely recognised and subject to closer scrutiny than ever before.
I have visited Uganda twice, in 2003 and 2006. On both occasions one of the thoughts uppermost in my mind was that Christians there should not make the mistake of copying what we have done with “church” in the West, that is, putting up buildings and holding meetings and services inside them. I see this as part of the “Noah’s ark” paradigm.
When Noah completed building the ark his “outside” work was effectively finished. He became busy “inside” while waiting for events to unfold “outside” and come to a conclusion, events that he had no part in. Noah was busy “inside” while God was working “outside”. Can you see where this is heading already?
When I first started working in a small “church” on the outskirts of Swansea in the UK, the congregation were coming into the building and locking the doors behind them. Every meeting they came under siege from local youths who threw stones at the building and shouted obscenities at the people inside. My point is this. The church system has been successful in the past by putting up a building, getting busy inside and waiting for God to finish His work outside. Now, the 21st century church system is passive in its local environment, waiting for God to, “send people in” to hear the good news. “Go into all the world” is now “come and hear!”
Anyone reading this with more than a couple of years experience of 21st century church system has probably seen first hand what happens when people get busy “inside” a building; gossip, rumours, malicious talk, accusations and character assassination. Sometimes it seems that “all hell” has broken loose, that is because it has! God is not at work in the building, people are. In the Book of Acts we see people afraid to join with the believers because God was at work amongst His people. Now, we have buildings with a “spiritual” health warning posted above the doorway, “Danger! Men at Work!”
Consequences for the future.
As I write this I am totally convinced that God is giving the 21st century church system over to delusions. God has been striving with it long enough so now Jesus is leaving the 21st century church system building for good. Not that He ever lived there; I think He would visit now and then to see what was going on and how his people were doing. Today His people are not doing well at all and enough is enough; it is time to leave. I am going to end this article with reference a chilling event that took place January 2008 in Kenya, and the warning it brings for the future.
In various parts of Kenya outbreaks of ethnic violence lead to many people fleeing for their lives, in one incident about fifty people ran into a church building hoping to find a place of safety from a mob that wanted to kill them. However, the building could not protect them from the fire that was started by the mob, and they were all killed. The tragedy is that people ran into a church building in the hope that it would keep them safe, but it could not save them from fire.
I am not saying they were running to God, I don’t know that from the accounts I have read, I am saying they were looking to the physical building as a means of escape. I believe this tragedy acts a warning for those who are currently ensconced in the 21st century church system.
The Book of Revelation talks about “the woman the rides the beast”, a spiritual “harlot” who has raises “harlot daughters” and “sits as a queen” in the earth. Believing herself to be invincible she is deluded by grandeur. This spiritual body of people will be destroyed by the world system she helped come to power. God puts an end to this “woman” by placing it the hearts of world leaders to destroy her. Her death will be swift, dramatic and a calamity such that the world has never seen before, she will be “widowed and orphaned in one day”.
Who is “the woman who rides the beast”? She is Satan’s counterfeit Body of Christ and she exists today as the 21st century church system. I imagine her fate will be something like this. A command will go out from the leaders of the end time world system.
“Issue an edict against all the religious people, then let them run into their churches where they think they will be safe. Wait for them all to get inside, then lock the doors and set fire to the building. Let’s see if their god will save them!”
Noah faced a flood, but we face a fire.
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