Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Further thoughts on Collapse of Distinction

When Jim Collins published Good to Great in 2001, I have no idea exactly how it impacted the business world. I know that in 2006 when I was in management training with a package delivery company that's not FedEx, a lot of the principles from Good to Great were still in use, and I know from my time in quick-service restauranting that we were bombarded with suggestions based on that book.

What I do know is that Good to Great was quickly adopted into many churches, passed around among church leaders, and led to many questions and discussions within churches. Some of this was constructive. I think that it's healthy to occasionally question your practices and systems.

What wasn't so good is that many of the churches that went through that process were more interested, some of them obsessed, with applying Good to Great to their church, as if we have no other guidelines for church existence. I think that, in reality, a church that compares itself to God's standards will realize that we're not going from good to great, we're going from dead to alive by the power of Jesus Christ.

Instead of recognizing this, we tend to over-adopt business and marketing practices into the church. We see what the world does to get people into a business, we try and copy it into the church. TV shows cater to short attention spans? Ok, we'll hyper-up our church experiences, we'll play to those as well. People need comfy seats? Let's make sure we have them! (Just like people get at sports events...oh, wait...)

Now, along comes Collapse of Distinction. First of all, it's got a great title, one that will play well in church conferences. Why? Because we easily see the collapse of everything else around us. The collapse of morality, the collapse of the family, the collapse of education, the collapse of denominations, all of these could easily be a part of a weekend conference for pastors. The collapse of distinction would fit nicely. Then, the book is published by Nelson Publishers, who publish lots of Christian themed materials, and they share a city with Lifeway, center stage for copy and over-promotion in Baptist life. Roll those factors together, and I expect to find Scott McKain speaking at this year's Southern Baptist Convention in Louisville. (Hold out for next year, Scott, it's in Orlando!)

Why is this a problem? Because we'll apply the principles of Collapse of Distinction wrongly in our churches. We'll start with our smallest levels of behavior, and finish with them. We'll work on distinguishing ourselves from other churches (side note: business models are about doing better than your competition. This on its own should keep us from over-adopting these principles into our churches. We're NOT supposed to be competing) by trivial matters. For example, First Baptist will point out they have stained glass, while Calvary Baptist will identify our comfy chairs! We'll try to make our VBS better than somebody else's by making sure we're first in the summer, or that we're last, when Mom and Dad desperately want to get the kids out of the house! And when we have more kids than last year, or, better yet, more kids than you have this year, we'll call ourselves successful, ask potential staff to read Collapse of Distinction and send our pastor to next year's Collapsing the World Conference.

But the church does not exist to compete with the world, neither do individual churches exist to compete with each other. Our distinction, our high concept to use McKain's term, is that we are the body of Christ on earth. Beyond that, the other aspects of church behavior should be guided first by Scripture, and then developed within the characteristics of what God has put into each church. Then, we should use the distinctives between our churches to strengthen each other.

Case in point: Here in Monticello, we have several good churches. I like to think that Calvary, where I pastor, is one of them. (If you don't think so, send me an email why. Can't hurt to learn.) Another good one is Journey Church. Now, these two churches are quite different. CBC is a traditional, legacy church. We do lots of things the same way that Southern Baptist Churches have been doing them for years. Journey, on the other hand, does almost nothing the same way Southern Baptist Churches have been doing them for years.

But Pastor Jeff Noble and I get along very well. In fact, he and I are working together to plan how our two churches can accomplish some ministry programs in our community. We're combining our efforts with children's ministry on Sunday nights. We're talking long and hard about ways our two churches can, while remaining distinct from each other, work together. Why? Because at the core, our high concept is the same: Glorify God through all we are, proclaim the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to do all these things by the empowering of the Holy Spirit. [ok, they might articulate a little differently.] Will our churches merge? Not very likely, unless we find a structure that allows that much diversity of method. Better still will be 2 churches that are able to work in cooperation but retain their distinctives.

In all, a proper application of the principles in Collapse of Distinction would be helpful with churches. We need to realize that if the church looks just like the world, that if Baptist churches look like Methodist churches that look like non-denominational churches, we aren't really doing anybody any favors.

Meanwhile, I'd remind the leadership of the SBC of the same thing. Many of our 'premier' churches seem to be clones of each other, with pastors guest preaching for each other and programs being remarkably interchangeable. We've also taken 2 of our boards, the Annuity Board and the Sunday School Board, and turned them into Guidestone Financial Resources and Lifeway Christian Resources. Why? In truth, to sell financial and publication products to people that aren't Baptists. Boil away the press releases and fluff, and that's why. We should celebrate our Baptist distinctives. We never limited shoppers at Baptist Bookstores to card-carrying signers of the BF&M, but the non-Baptists that shopped there, that bought Sunday School Board material knew they were getting things with a Southern Baptist perspective.

Let's get back to being different, and then allowing people to see those differences. We aren't competing with anyone here. At least we better not be.



  1. Doug -- First off, I am grateful for your terrific review. It is a real blessing, and I am very appreciative.

    More important, however, is my appreciation for your highly insightful comments regarding "Collapse of Distinction" and the Church. You have very wisely pointed out that in business, we seek to better our competition. And, as Christians, distinction between churches should be about our common goal to touch as many as we possibly can with the Word.

    God made each of us in His image, yet each of us unique and special. Therefore, distinctive approaches are naturally important in sharing His word. Your story about another church and another minister in your town should be the example for every community in our country.

    Again...thank you for reading the book...and thank you for expanding the discussion. I'm grateful.

    Scott McKain

  2. Scott,

    Thanks for taking the time to read the review. I'm glad you feel my comments added to the discussion.



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