Transformational Church is an Oxymoron
by Steve Dines
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Many people “at the top” are talking about the need for transformation. Government, health, education, business, the non-profit sector and church organisations are talking about the need for transformation.
What many people fail to understand is that if true transformation of an organisation occurred, the people that led the transformation would probably be out of a job and their organisation would have ceased to exist. This is because transformation is more than improving or getting better at something, transformation equates to a “metamorphosis”, like a tadpole becoming a frog or a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.
Therefore, the organisation that experiences true transformation is no longer recognisable in any way; its structure and purpose, features and functions have radically changed.
A typical church organisation is, in many respects, not that different from any other kind of human endeavour, it organises and operates according to a system:
• Power and authority associated with position.
• Routine or mechanistic ways of working.
• Predominance of one-way communication.
This way of organising people and getting things done has been around for millennia, from ancient civilisations to modern day corporations. The system has been highly successful, such that it has become our paradigm; the pattern we willingly default to when faced with a task, a problem, an opportunity or a crisis. The beauty of the system is this, it is the best way for people to organise and operate efficiently. The system is the best way of getting more done with less.
But in the late 20th century and first decade of the new millennium, our system has begun to run into difficulties, cracks and faults are appearing. Multitudes “at the bottom” and many “in the middle” are no longer participating in the profits and benefits of the efficiency model.
The gap between those “at the top” and everyone else is widening and those that have most to gain from participating in health and education programs are often the least likely to get involved. What the system gets done efficiently is not always what people need. Often times, the system is efficiently ineffective. Try cancelling a phone plan or moving your bank account.
To cope with the demands of the 21st Century, effective communication, teamwork and problem solving are an absolute must, but the system does not readily facilitate these kinds of soft skills, in fact it stifles them. The system also has the tendency to kill innovation and creativity.
So today we have governments with an alienated electorate, businesses with a disconnected workforce, schools with disinterested children, communities with disaffected youth and churches with dwindling congregations. Hence the clarion calls for transformation in all types of organisations, including the local church.
Here is the problem. Trees produce fruit after their own kind; a baby becoming an adult is not transformation, but maturation. An organisation that becomes better at what it wants to do without changing what it is has not been transformed, only changed.
The local church that earnestly desires to fulfill the plans and purposes of God is stuck between a rock and a hard place. How can it metamorphose and still exist?
The eternal plans and purposes of God include:
• A wife for the Son.
• Sons for the Father.
• A house for God’s spirit to live in.
• A city where God is King.
If the Holy Spirit is at work in the heart of a person, there will be an innate desire to be transformed by the renewing of their minds, conformed into the image of Christ and be part of His body, thereby fulfilling the plans and purposes of God.
To be in Christ means becoming a completely new and different creation not just a cleaned and tidied up version of the original.
A person cannot serve two masters and you can’t put new wine in an old wineskin. Watch what happens when a local church tries to undergo transformation. The name can change, the building can change, the leadership can change, the songs can change, the musical instruments can change and the decor can change along with the layout of the furniture. But the system still remains and many people want it that way. The system is where they are most comfortable, people prefer the old.
People sometimes suggest that I should join a local church and be part of the congregation there, but I am out of the system and determined not to return. It wasn’t so much that I one day I decided to leave the system; it was more like the church system chewed me up over a period of years and then spat me out.
So now everywhere I go I talk about transformation in the body of Christ. This is because I am totally convinced that God is not at all interested in the efficiency of our human efforts, but the effectiveness of Christ.
If Jesus wanted to be efficient with His life he would have been born in a palace and become an earthly king. He would have recruited and trained the very best university graduates for His leadership team and instituted a systematic education and training for all staff. He would have lead meetings at the temple in Jerusalem and issued royal requests with corresponding punishments and rewards.
But Jesus didn't do things based on the efficiency model, just the opposite.
God worked in a mechanistic way from the top-down with Judaism, but with His body, Jesus works from the ground-up organically.
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