Perfectly Designed

“Our system is perfectly designed for the results we are receiving.”

This was the repeated phrase at a lunch I recently attended where author Alan Hirsch was presenting.  The room was full of Chicago-area church leaders, and the room quickly fell silent as Hirsch began critiquing the current state of affairs in the Western Church.  While he had some apt critique, he wasn’t all sour – he was just as ready to point to fresh perspectives and examples of the church engaging and subverting the culture in America.

He made it clear that only the American Church, unlike the church in Europe or Australia, stood a real chance at re-interpreting the Gospel for the West in a way that could thrive in the post-Christendom era in which we now live.

But his strongest words were the line  he dropped half a dozen times throughout his talk: “Our system is perfectly designed for the results we are receiving.”

Think on that for a moment – how much weight can you bench press?  Only as much as your body’s system allows – and the way things are in your body are perfectly arranged for you to lift exactly what you’re capable of lifting.  Want to up your max weight?  Change your system! Try adding more protein to your diet, and less sugar.  Head to the gym 2 extra times a week.  Read about lifting techniques.  If you want to change the results, change the system.  Its amazing how we constrain our imaginations when it comes to the systems in our lives.

“Oh, that’s the way things have always been, and always will be…”  Give me a break.  You’re talking “equilibrium,” and to biologists, equilibrium is another way of saying, “you’re stone dead.”  Change = life!

The Church in the West today is spending 3 times as much on facilities as it was 10 years ago. 3 TIMES AS MUCH AS A DECADE AGO!  And numbers are in decline.  Leaders are getting harder to come by, as congregations are expecting more and more from their church leaders.  Sure, there are more and more mega-churches dotting the American landscape, but for every mega-church that breaks 1000 attendees, how many congregations had to shut their doors?

It has been said of the American Church, “The front of the parade is becoming more and more impressive, and no one is noticing that the line is getting shorter and shorter.”

The question is – can the church…your church…change its system? It is interesting how quickly we have come to expect the inevitability of the mega-church as the ONLY form of ecclesiological success.  Like the industrialized food system in America, the mega-church has only emerged in the last generation or so; and yet we see it as the only box God can work in.  I for one simply refuse to go along with that.  What ways can we keep the Gospel close to our chest, and yet experiment wildly with the form?  Let’s change the system – let’s take ourselves a little less seriously, and let imagination become our modus operandi!

Don’t do it out of fear that “God’s Church is depending on you,”  Do it because prophetic imagination is central to the story of God.  Do it because the Gospel is ALWAYS changing its clothesthe “word” is always “becoming flesh” and “moving into the neighborhood.” (John 1:14)

We’re perfectly designed to get the results we’re seeing across America today.  If we want more of the same – keep doing the same thing you’ve always done.  Otherwise, get out there and break the mold!


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