the daisy cutter doctrine

here’s another great piece from the guy who is quickly becoming my favorite christian thinker, skye jethani.

We’ve all gotten used to hearing the drumbeat of revolution; how we are going to change the church, change the culture, change our generation, and change the world. I call it the Daisy Cutter Doctrine: “Change the world through massive cultural upheaval and high-impact tactics.” The Daisy Cutter, if you don’t know, is the nickname of the largest non-nuclear bomb in the military’s arsenal. In this day of laser guided “smart” bombs, the Daisy Cutter isn’t dropped to destroy targets but to intimidate the enemy. When impact is more important than precision, there’s nothing better than a 15,000 pound daisy cutter for the mission.

Likewise, the Daisy Cutter Doctrine is an approach to ministry that values high-impact and visibility above all else. This explains why most presenters at ministry conferences are leaders of big churches. Their ministry’s size is valued, and in some cases envied, by those in attendance who have come to learn how they too can ignite their full potential for maximum missional impact.

This shock and awe approach to mission is extremely appealing to leaders in our consumer culture. It taps into our consumer-oriented desire for big impact and feeds the assumption that large equals legit. The psychological appeal is never explicit but always present: by making a huge impact you can convince the world of God’s legitimacy as well as your own. That is an enticing promise particularly for younger ministers as many of us have yet to establish our legitimacy and tend to carry latent feelings of inadequacy.

Sadly, the church has so accepted this idea that it is often the very reason we are drawn to ministry. We tell people, implicitly or explicitly, that “full time ministry” is what really matters, and other callings are somehow less vital to God’s mission in the world. We create an atmosphere in which young people may be attracted to ministry roles not out of a genuine calling that emerges from their communion with Christ, but out of a desire to be significant and valued by a community that honors missional effectiveness above all else. We draw them to pastoral ministry from a shadow desire for significance, honor, prestige, or ambition rooted in self rather than Christ. And once they enter ministry the pattern continues. Now that they’ve chosen the “right” vocation, they have to prove it by having a big impact.

But what concerns me is that a Daisy Cutter view of ministry leaves no space for failure. It cannot tolerate a theology of ineffectiveness. So what is a pastor not having an impact supposed to do? How do we reconcile are desire for impact with our failure to produce it? If my legitimacy is linked to my impact, does a lack of impact mean I am an illegitimate pastor? A misfit minister?

These questions tap into the core of our identity, and when it comes under attack we will do nearly anything to protect ourselves or nurse our pain. Why are we seeing an epidemic of pornography and other addictive behaviors among church leaders? Why do ministry families struggle so deeply and secretly? Why do so many of us struggle with anger, jealousy, and resentment in our church roles? There are many causes, but I don’t believe these outcomes are accidental. We have created a system that attracts us to ministry for the wrong reason, motivates us with the idol of impact, and then leaves us bloody and wounded when we fail to produce it. As Dallas Willard is fond of saying, “Your system is perfectly designed to produce the results you are experiencing.” Our church culture is designed to attract, consume, and eject pastors. It is built for failure, but ironically it refuses to give us a redemptive theology of failure in the process.

What is the answer? I suppose one option is to get out of ministry, and maybe out of the church altogether. It’s an options more and more people are choosing. But running away is not the way of Christ.

We must learn to separate our identity from our impact. We must learn that who we are is NOT what we do. I’m reminded of the Prodigal Son parable in Luke 15. If you recall, the older son rooted his identity in his faithful service for his father. “All these years I have served you,” he argued. But he was not getting the reward he expected. The father responds by taking the focus off his son’s service, and places it upon what he valued most–his son’s presence. “You are always with me, and all I have is yours.” For the father it was not his younger son’s disobedience that mattered most, or the older son’s obedience–but their presence. This explains why he embraces the prodigal when he returned, and why he entreated his older son to come in and join the celebration.

Until we understand this truth about our heavenly Father, we will be incapable of escaping the damage inflicted by the Daisy Cutter Doctrine. God isn’t primarily concerned that we accomplish great things FOR him, but that we learn to live every moment WITH him. And very often we are drawn into his presence though our failures, not our successes. Only a theology of a life with God, rather than for him, gives room for a theology of failure.




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