Saturday, April 30, 2016

When you can't see the change that is the problem

I posted my thoughts on an article about the problem of averages. You can read it here.  As I have thought through how the US Air Force approached the problem of the sharp increase in crashes. Even when they had 17 crashes in a single day, they believed it was pilot error because the planes were found to be in good working order. The trouble was, though the planes were functioning, something was fundamentally different. 

As they had transitioned from the age of prop planes to the age of the jet, there was an assumption that because the fundamentals of flight hadn't changed, pilots and the way they flew didn't have to change. The controls were still the same, the principles of lift, drag, airspeed, pitch and yaw still held true. The problem was, a jet simply went so much faster that a pilot had to be able to have an unobstructed view of his instruments and be able to make split second control changes. The high speed of jets also left much less margin for error as any error could quickly compound itself. The bottom line was, something fundamental had changed around them but the air force leadership didn't see it and kept doing things the way they always had.

I couldn't help but think through the parallel to the church today. The fundamentals of the Gospel have not changed. We still preach the same Word, believe in the same God and hold the same hope but something fundamental has changed around us. Our culture has shifted in an incredible way but many churches haven't changed. We are now in a place where the churches does not hold the level of influence and authority it once did. At the same time we have entered and age where information travels faster and wider than at any other time in history. These realities mean that we need to re-evaluate how we do ministry, becoming more agile and flexible in how we do while remaining committed to the fundamentals of our faith. 

Just as the air force found that the principle of "individual fit" in the cockpit drastically reduced their crash numbers and became a guiding principle for equipment throughout the armed forces, so to, I believe our churches should adopt the same approach. As I wrote in my previous post, this can be applied to how we search for leaders and draw up job descriptions. I believe it applies to how we do church as a whole. Every church is different because every church in a different place and context. As time moves on, the people in our churches and the neighbourhoods around them will change as will the broader culture. The question is, will we recognize our new reality or will we continue to do things the way we always have and lay blame on those charged with executing the status-quo?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Review: The Heart of Revelation by J. Scott Duvall

Duvall states in the introduction that there is two common approaches to the last book of the Bible, those who shy away from it because it is just to weird and difficult to understand, and those who dive in and try to work out every detail and interpret every sign. He asserts there is a third way, a way that reads the book in its context so we can see how we are to live in light of its message. Right there in the introduction I was sure I would enjoy this book, and I did.

I used to be solidly in the first camp when it came to Revelation. I had read it and of course affirmed it as part of God's word but I had seen people debate for hours on end about how this sign or that sign was being fulfilled. I remember at some point in learning church history it was pointed out to me how the predominate view of how to interpret Revelation is often tied to whether society was improving or going downhill. Then in seminary I started to see how Revelation was dripping with imagery and that much of it came from the rest of scripture. Once one can see the themes that permeate this rich book you can see it through the eyes of the original audience. Once we start to see this book at it was by the first hearers we can hear its message and how it applies to us today. 

Duvall helps us to just this but walking us through ten significant themes the run through the book. By walking through these themes, we can start to put together a road map to guide us through the book. By walking through the themes of the book, themes that are found throughout the Revelation we can pick up those themes as we read through it. This thematic approach is very helpful to the modern reader. The end of each chapter also includes a list of key passages found in Revelation, a reading plan and a list of study questions for individual or group study. 

This book is well written, and accessible and a valuable tool for understanding this important biblical book. Duvall has also written the Revelation entry in the Teach the Text commentary which I'm sure would be good companion to this book.

(I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

When the ideal you are looking for doesn't exist...

I recently read an article title "When the US air force discovered the flaw of averages" which talked about a key development in aircraft development, namely adjustable cockpits. As the jet age dawned in the 1940's the air force began losing pilots at an alarming rate, once losing 17 in a single day. 17 pilots in a SINGLE DAY. The investigations consistently concluded pilot error because the planes were found to be in perfect working order. Pilots however were convinced that is wasn't their abilities or errors that were resulting in so many crashes, so what could it be.

The article goes on to tell how the air force had standardized cockpit design based on the average measurements of hundreds of men selected to become pilots. These averages determined the dimensions of and distances between the of the various elements of the cockpit. The idea being that each pilot should fit comfortably into a one-size fits all cockpit, especially as those selected to be pilots already were considered to be of average size. The air force in 1950 undertook to update the average measurements by measuring over 4,000 pilots on 140 dimensions to determine the most accurate average they could. As the article describes, it was a young medical researcher who was tasked with measuring pilots who had the inkling the average didn't exist. With the data on hand, he sought to find how many of these 4,000+ were average in only 10 of the dimensions and found exactly ZERO. Even using only 3 dimensions he was only able to get 3.5% of the pilots to fit.

The eventual outcome of these findings was that there was no one size fit all and this led to a revolutionary change to cockpit design. Cockpits had to be adjustable to fit pilots in the 5% - 95% range of the key measurements. Aircraft manufactures protested but fell in line. The new principle of individual fit was eventually applied to equipment throughout the armed forces. This new paradigm caused crash rates to plummet as pilots were no longer wedged into a cockpit that fit no one.

The article is worth a full read but I've been thinking about how these principles apply to the church. We often have an idea of what church should be, of what every church should be. I heard a speaker say once, we like to think the church should be like a balloon that stays a uniform shape as it grows with every side expanding in sync. The reality is, there is no average, there is no set of metrics that apply equally in all cases. Every church is different which means there is no formula for that will fit every dimension of your church. No curriculum, conference or method that worked at a church across the country or across the street will have the same outcome in your context. That is not to say you discard everything that worked elsewhere, it means you need to find the individual fit for your church right now, where it is. This will mean taking what other

I believe too this applies to our pastors. The article also goes into to how the same pursuit of "average" was used to create the "normal" female form. A contest was run to find a woman who fit the criteria created by combining the measurement of over 15,000 women. Just like the pilots, not one woman was found who matched every measurement.

Now, as one who has been on both sides of the search committee table I've seen this played out. Often a church will approach the process with a set of ideals and assumptions based on where they believe they are at and what they need to fulfill the role at hand. They put together a picture of the ideal pastor based on the skills and strengths. This ideal can be based on a number of things. Usually it is based on a collection of criteria seen to work in other churches or even in their own in the past. Consciously or not, often the weaknesses of the last pastor end up being important strengths sought in the next.

Too often search committees (or boards after they've hired) run through multiple candidates because they don't fit all of the numbers they are looking for. I fear too many churches are looking for the one person who like, the air force was, fits an impossible number of criteria that should seem "normal" only to find they don't exist. Instead, I believe we need to be willing to look at adjusting our criteria and let our pastors and ministry leaders be in places they fit, rather than forcing them into an impossible combination of expectations. Perhaps looking at how expectations can be adjusted for better individual fit will result in fewer crashes as we have fewer pastors and leaders wedged into slots that don't fit.

The US Air Force went from a peak of 17 crashes in one day to becoming the more formidable armed force in the world by adjusting their expectations and setting their pilots up for success. Perhaps if we look at individual fit for our ministries and our pastors we can see a revolutionary change as we cut our crash rate and set them up for success.