The Biggest Elephant

It’s more missionaries we need, without more missionaries we will lose”

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In posts on this site over the last few years I have suggested a number of characteristics of the Australian church which are to various degrees causative factors in the Church’s chronic lack of missional fruit. They can be characterised as the ‘Elephants’ in the rather overcrowded ‘Missions Operations Room’ because they are largely ignored and/or little discussed systemic contributors to the Missional Malaise.

Such systemic contributors are listed in the ‘Something Completely Different’ booklet downloadable from the Resources section of this site, and include issues such as persisting with the standard ‘SIC’ church model as the platform for mission. ‘SIC’ being an acronym for Sunday-Centric, In- Drag (into Sunday services), Christendom-Form (the same centuries old basic form of church); the ‘Dead hand of Apathy’ of most congregations; the use of 90% plus of available church resources for maintenance of the standard church rather than mission; the lack of Cultural Intelligence; repetative use of ‘Square Wheel’ outreach strategies and many more.    

The argument here is that if these systemic issues continue to be denied and unaddressed, as they generally are, they will perpetuate the entrenched missional failure. That means a continuation of the longstanding decline in Church memberships and attendances and, most importantly, the Desalination process (the thinning of the SALT of Matthew 5:13) that is rapidly reducing Gospel influence in society, now little more than a fading echo.

There is also however, in addition to what might be called the ‘lesser Elephants’ mentioned above, another Elephant, arguably the biggest. This is of primary importance, because most of the systemic missional roadblocks are all, at least to some extent, traceable to the primary problem, and that is the ‘biggest Elephant’, namely Leadership. It is the intention of this series of Posts to focus attention on this Leadership Elephant, that is steadfastly ignored.

At this point I need to say that this is an issue I would far prefer not to write about, because it is likely to be very unpopular, and it may also be seen to be a criticism of many colleagues. However, it is not intended to be, for most church leaders are godly, faithful, hard working (often to the detriment of their own health) and want to see the Gospel bear Kingdom fruit. Nevertheless, the stark reality is that, for reasons we will address in coming posts, very few current leaders are missionaries.

This a major reason that it is long past time to engage in some forensic analysis as to the real and underlying reasons for the now decades old Missional Malaise. The reality is that the issue of the type of Leadership required for future, what I call, ‘Quantum Mission’ has been little addressed (I use the term Quantum Mission because it requires a Quantum Leap in our approach to local mission and in the amount of energy applied to it). Yet, difficult as it may be, it is both urgent and essential to the health of the mission of the Gospel in Australia that we do so.

All the evidence is that churches continue to assume, with little dissent, that current leadership paradigms, together with the processes for selection and training of leaders, should stay in place with only minor tweaking. The contention here is that this way of thinking is arguably the primary reason for the longstanding missional failure, and underlies most if not all of the problems of the ‘lesser Elephants’ mentioned above. Moreover, it is a failure that, if there is not radical change to address the problems of leadership, will only worsen in the years to come. The issue of Leadership is the ‘Biggest Elephant’ because it is the only one that has capacity to produce effective change in the areas of the Lesser ones.

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There is a story about Air Chief Marshall Dowding, commander of British Fighter Command during the critical stages of the Battle of Britain in World War 2. Reportedly, an officer rushed up to Dowding one day with what he thought was exciting news regarding the number of the enemy shot down on the previous day. “That’s good”, Dowding replied not quite so excited, “but what we need is more pilots, without more pilots we will lose”. I would paraphrase Dowding to say that in the context of our missional battle, for Quantum Mission “It’s more missionaries we need, without more missionaries we will lose”.

A consequence of what seems to be a widespread ‘Cultural Intelligence Deficit’ in church leaderships, is a systemic failure to recognise the ever morphing Kaleidoscope of socio-spiritual micro-cultures in which the Australian church is now set. The fact is that we are in Athens not Jerusalem, in a pluralistic society where the biblical world view, to the extent that it has not already disappeared from the cultural radar, is just one among a smorgabord of spiritual options.

In our mission context the primary need is for missionaries! I will certainly not deny that the Missionary Leaders who oversee local mission must be doctrinally sound and able to teach the bible well, however that is simply not enough in what is literally a Crisis. It ought to be self-evident that mission needs missionaries, however the reality is that in terms of local mission this, what ought to be, self-evident truth is not at all evident to many.

Given the now catastrophically low level of missional fruit being produced from the largely ubiquitous ‘SIC’ church model and associated ‘Outreach’ and Classic church planting strategies, to continue to produce a flow of graduates from Theological and Bible colleges, the majority of whom see themselves, and indeed in many cases their primary gifting is, as preacher/pastor/teachers (PPTs), is not the need of the hour. What is actually needed and needed desperately are Missionary Leaders, and the fact is that those gifted as PPTs are not necessarily, indeed generally are not, gifted as missionaries. This fact is arguably the ‘Biggest Elephant’ in the Mission Operations Room.

Our current Leadership model remains strongly shaped by the Christendom paradigm, and is primarily suited to what it was originally designed for, which was the maintenance of Christian congregations in a Christianized European society, the building up of the ‘saints’, not mission. However, the person with a missionary heart, the heart that should be a primary requirement for anyone considered for training for the Missionary Leadership of what now must be a new Missional entity, will display distinctive characteristics. These will be fully discussed in later posts.

Tragically however, those distinctive characteristics are not generally what we see.

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The ‘Biggest Elephant’ is to be continued.

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