Americans want to succeed. That can be a good thing, don’t get me wrong. It is far better than wallowing in apathy. In our search for success it is only natural to search the landscape for people or organizations that have, in our opinion, already reached that utopian place called “It.” Success. The big time. You know, “It.”
We laud the successful as demigods and flock to their seminars, read their books, scour their blogs, and take note of their processes that led them to “It.” No industry is immune from this practice. Artists copy artists. Musicians listen to musicians. Businesses follow other businesses models.
It is not a bad practice. In fact, it is mandatory training for a young artist in Europe to copy the masters as part of their basic training. There is great wisdom in copying those who have gone before us and made the mistakes and learned the lessons.
There is one area of life that gives me pause for concern, however, when I see copying take place. The Church. Many church leaders see a mega-church that is bursting at the seams and say, “That’s It! I want what they have.” So they go to the seminar, read the book, copy down the 5 points or seven steps, and transplant the methodology to their home church.
It’s a clone.
Do you know how a clone is made? DNA is extracted from a healthy adult and implanted into the unfertilized egg of a host mother. The egg is just a shell, a neutral husk, and the host mother has no genetic bond to the child. The copy of the healthy adult grows inside the host womb; present, yet detached. The idea is that the process of gestation happens, but the outcome of the birth will be completely expected.
That is not the natural process of creating life. True life happens when a father and a mother contribute equal parts of genetic matter and implant it within the genetic host of the mother’s body. It grows and develops organically, the outcome of which is a continually unfolding, unique creation.
When a church copies the refined methodology of another church – which, by the way, took years of mistakes to discover – they are essentially extracting the mature DNA of that life form. The body of people to which the leaders bring the DNA are the host womb, but have no organic attachment to it. The methodologies may grow and form systems within the church, but, more often than not, it lacks the same spark of life found in the original congregation. As if it has no soul.
Why does this happen? There are a number of reasons. One is that the culture from which the original DNA was extracted is usually very different from the culture of the surrogate congregation. Another reason is that these types of implantations usually occur as a top-down strategy from the leadership that is imposed on the congregation.
Perhaps the most significant reason has to do with the idea of success. What is the measure of success? Where is the success in these congregations? Is it really in the large numbers? Or, are the large numbers simply a natural by product of the actual success found in that congregation? For that specific congregation, and the seed God planted there, the fruit was numerical growth. For other congregations, there may be another fruit that God wants to grow; like committed service to the hungry, or outreach to the disenfranchised, etc. The fruit, or the mature body, is not the success. The conception of that body is the success.
Throughout time, whenever the Spirit of God has done something miraculous and brought about great healing and revival, it has always been fresh, vibrant, and unique. The intimacy between God and the willing hearts of people creates a fresh seed that is planted in the fertile womb of a community. Life takes root and develops into something beautiful, organic, and unique.
As church leaders, God does not call us to clone methodologies. He calls us to intimacy. God, our lover, our Father/Mother, longs to plant a new seed of life in each of us. That can only happen when we take time to listen, to struggle, and be open to what God wants to do. We don’t get to pick what the fruit looks like. We don’t get to pick the color of our child’s eyes, or the gender, or even if it is free of defect. We only get to be open to the conception and love the process of new life.
When that happens in a congregation, there will be vitality. It will pulse with the energy of God’s unique creative act. It will have a soul.