All our iPhones now say 4G. Not because they are faster, but because AT&T changed the name of their 3G network to 4G.Sermon illustration?
— aaronsternke (@aaronsternke) March 8, 2012
I have no idea if this is actually what AT&T did, but it struck me as a great parable for one way that we often try to take shortcuts in leadership: instead of doing the hard work of really building a culture of discipleship and mission, we just re-brand what we currently have.
The renaming shortcut is thinking that if we start using new nomenclature, people will “get it” and change will come. The word “missional” oftentimes gets used this way, when leaders add it to the language of their church without really taking the time to investigate the implications of its theology. Like renaming an existing 3G data network “4G” and expecting it to do the trick. Or renaming small groups “discipleship groups” and expecting disciples to come out of them.
Language does create culture, so it’s vitally important that we use language that creates a discipling culture, but it’s not enough to start talking differently. You also have to start living differently as a leader, because you reproduce who you are, not what you say. You can’t just tweak your lingo, freshen up the logo, and expect any real change to take place. Renaming isn’t enough.
There’s another leadership shortcut we often try to take, I think: being content with rethinking stuff. At the Ecclesia National Gathering earlier this week, Don Coleman (a man I deeply admire) said this:
It’s easy for us to talk about doing something so much that we think we’re doing it.
(He also said, “If sitting in rows listening to someone talk could change the world, we would have done it by now,” and “You say ‘I go to a church that teaches the Bible.’ So what? Go to a church that lives the Bible.'” Which is why I like him so much.)
Coleman points out another leadership trap that we “missional church” folks are especially prone to: assuming that it’s enough to rethink things. It’s easy for us to assume that if we’ve gracefully teased out and deftly articulated our theology that we’ve really accomplished something. But it’s not enough to write a book or cleverly broadcast forgotten truths. We need to put this stuff into practice and see how it plays out in real life.
Beyond just renaming and rethinking, what we’re aiming for is re-forming our churches around discipleship and mission. This will involve the painful work of embracing brokenness and weakness so God’s power can flow through us. It will involve examining our lives and undergoing personal transformation before attempting organizational change. It will involve exploring the assumptions we’ve made and opening ourselves up to new ways of leading.
It will involve not being content with the shortcuts of renaming or rethinking things, but only with a genuine re-forming of structures and practices around discipleship to Jesus and mission in his name.