‘System Failure!’

A recent headline to an article by Paul Kelly of the ‘Australian’ newspaper caught my eye. It read-

“Broken System Can’t Fix the Nations Problems

Of course Kelly was referring to what he calls the “failure in Australia’s political system”. However I think paraphrasing Kelly’s title a little to “Broken System Can’t Fix the Churches Problems” provides a very appropriate statement in regard to our chronic lack of missional fruitfulness.

The statistics on church decline are well documented. In the case of my own Anglican denomination they include a now longstanding trend of decline in converts, a decline in the number of youth in our congregations, and a steadily and inexorably rising age profile. I have proposed many reasons for this on the ‘Unbounded Church’ website. Of particular importance is what I see as the total failure to grasp that we need to engage in ‘Pagan’ mission, that is mission to a culture more like a pagan Borneo than the Christendom culture our ‘system’ is designed for. With acknowledgment to an unknown blogger who wrote, “When we can’t fix the broken bike, it’s time to look for another form of transport”, I think that we are at that point. We have an ecclesial (church) system failure that I do not believe can be fixed.

Adopting an “Unbounded Church” concept (and it is a concept not a model) would allow forms of ‘church’ to be created in the kaleidoscope of micro-communities that now make up Australian (Western) society. And there is the problem. It seems to me that as the good ship ‘church’ heads towards the iceberg, as the ‘trends’ indicate that we are, and even though the final ‘collision’ may yet be a way off, there is no real attempt to change course. There seems to be an overwhelming deafness to the old adage-

“If you keep on doing what you have been doing,
You will keep on getting what you have been getting”

And we are, keeping on getting what we have been getting i.e. decline. It is as though the documented trends are some sort of illusion, a bad dream from which we will awake, a mirage that will fade with the dying day. In fact the reality is that we are sleep walking into the iceberg.

There is a lack of critical analysis of the statistical trends that would reveal to us that the ‘bike’, our ecclesial system, is broken and can’t be fixed. In fact what we need is a new form of ‘transport’ for the gospel, a paradigm shift to a truly missional church, one that can travel into, and embed itself in, the parallel universe where the ‘pagans’ live. Rather than that however we see a number of things-

• An almost complete lack of truly missional thinking i.e. Entrepreneurial, creative, left field thinking. Indeed thinking that really does promote actions that are ‘all things to all people’.

• A clinging, more in wishful hope than certainty, to a ‘More and better’ approach to mission, that is to keep on doing what we have been doing but ‘more and better’. This despite the fact that this strategy has been failing for at least 20 years.

• An apathy to the serious implications of the documented trends on parishes, denominations and dioceses, which manifests itself as a “she’ll be right” lack of radical action.

• A failure to recognise a serious ‘elephant in the room’ and that is the ‘captivity of the clergy’. What are the clergy captive to we might ask? The answer is the ‘system’.

The fact is that church leaders have to spend so much time on just ‘running the show’ i.e. the largely Sunday-centric Christendom model, that they have no time, energy or resources left for missional creativity, certainly to the extent of implementing anything that would be a manifestation of the ‘Unbounded Church’ concept. This captivity to the ‘system’ is attested to by countless conversations I have had with senior ministers.
To sum all this up, in relation to my title “System Failure”. We will fail in mission to the Australian culture, despite the efforts of large numbers of godly, faithful, hard working church members, because-

• We continue to use an anachronistic ecclesiology (Church model) which is well past its use by date.

• We devote nearly all of our resources to sustaining a failing Sunday-centric model designed for a ‘Christianized’ culture which is but a fading echo.

• We have fundamentally failed to grasp the nature of contemporary mission, it is pagan mission. Therefore, a totally new mindset is needed to develop appropriate missional communities as the vehicle for the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus to the millions stumbling in darkness.

Finally, we have not acknowledged an extremely painful reality, which is that while we can posit many related reasons, the very basic and largely unaddressed cause of our missional weakness and the greatest challenge we face is an ecclesial ‘System Failure’. This will inevitably result in an ongoing and deepening missional failure unless and until we take the radical action required to address it.

The reality is that a “Broken System Can’t Fix the Churches Problems”

2 thoughts on “‘System Failure!’

  1. I agree with you that the Sunday service-centric model is a poor one, but I think there is another associated problem. The church (most denominations these days) is largely run and controlled by clergy, and this leads to a number of outcomes.

    It is mostly clergy who are trained in Bible, but not a lot else (and a particular way of interpreting the Bible at that). They often lack the training and the skills to do lots of other things that are necessary to do mission (understanding culture, ability to mix with “normal” Aussies, being an entrepreneur, community welfare, etc). They focus on Sunday services and sermons (in the Anglican church), because that is what they have been trained to do, and that is what the laity have come to expect.

    So we have a passive laity looking to be made to feel good by a minister preaching a sermon that studies show mostly won’t be remembered or acted on, but will be “enjoyed”. The clergy get their need for self esteem met this way too. It is a vicious circle. Few are motivated to break out of it, and they can be seen as dissidents.

    The church needs to motivate and equip lay people, and this needs to be done by a clergy that doesn’t control the laity out of fear of something breaking out, but works together with lay leaders in a corporate eldership based on gifts – at all levels in the church hierarchy e.g. we should have lay bishops).

    The unbounded church meets some of these requirements very well. But further radical thinking is needed. (I know you are a clergyman, and I don’t mean these comments to reflect on you personally, but on clergy generally.)


    1. Hi,

      Thank you for your comments. They are appreciated.

      Yes, I think there is a skill set deficiency with many (but certainly not all) clergy. This due I believe to inappropriate selection criteria and a training model that equips clergy for a role that is not the one they should be filling, that I believe needs to be the e role of “mission leader”. However I see this as another example of System failure, the system not responding to the ‘missional crisis’.

      Not sure whether my congregation would say my sermons “make them feel good”! I’ll have to ask them!

      The equipping of laity etc is always an issue, Unbounded Church expressions depend on it because it has to be a lay movement. I only attend about 10% of CrossNet cells and fellowships, less in terms of attendance numbers.

      Again, thanks for your input.



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