I love conversations. I am an ‘out-loud’ thinker. Maybe that’s another term for a person who never shuts up!
Anyway, for some reason (I can’t remember now) I was talking to a staff member here at Waratah about how Churches essentially ‘tick’ and how we can maximise our efficiency and effectiveness and just as this person was glazing over I realised I needed a mental picture. Of what? Of what it means when I say that in Churches, we do it together or we don’t do it at all.
Thinking on the fly amidst conversation, a metaphor came to mind and the more I think about it, the more I like it.
It is the humble piston engine.
It works of course by setting flammable fuel on fire in confined spaces, in a certain order so that as the pistons move up and down with each ‘bang’. As it does, little rods connecting the piston to a zig-zagy shafty thing, turn the said shafty thing and hey presto…motion.
It’s worth noting that for the engine to work not all pistons can be at the top, nor the bottom at the same time. In fact they all have to be at a slightly different stage of the cycle in order for them to be in unison. Unison does not mean same. There’s no power without unison, remove the timing belt/chain and you’ll soon end up with an external combustion engine.
With everything working in unison; bits of metal can create incredible levels of power and torque.
Churches are capable of incredible power in their communities when they are in unison. (We do it together, or…we don’t do it at all.)
There’s one thing we’re still missing though: Oil. You can be in unison, but without oil, you’ll soon be in….flames. It’s impossible without oil. So, in keeping with the analogy, what or who could only be as essential to a Church as oil to an engine? The Holy Spirit. This is so important to remember as in my experience one of the greatest temptations for me a s a leader was attempting to be ‘oil’. Smoothing everyone over, trying to be everyone’s best mate rather than calling a spade a spade (in love of course) and entrusting them to the Holy Spirit.
Let God be the essential, Let God be the oil.
But here’s why I’m really loving the analogy.
It helps to explain something that has been bugging me for ages.
That is: just because something looks like it is operating how it should, doesn’t mean it is contributing.
Some thing that is possible in particularly old engines, is that they can ‘drop’ a cylinder. That is, in one out of the, lets say 8, the fuel is either not being injected properly or there is no spark to ignite it. What happens when that is the case? Well, here’s the problem; not much.
The piston still goes up and down as it did before because it’s still connected to the waggly shaft thing in the centre of the engine. But there’s a difference; rather than contributing to power it is subtracting from it. Back in the day before engine computers, the way that this was diagnosed was by drivers who knew their cars, and could notice a slight drop in power. If your church or organisation was a racing car, do you notice slight drops in power?
I think we do, but we are often scared to investigate them. (Btw, investigation doesn’t necessarily equal getting rid of it, it might mean making small changes and improvements.) Why? Because it’s easy to spend way too much time in the fear of man rather than in fear of what Jesus is going to say when we have tell him why we took our ‘5 talents’ and went off and buried them. That’s why we talk so often about how much we are doing. But please notice that an engine with 4 dead cylinders is not ‘doing’ any less. In fact, it’s arguably having to do more, less effectively.
This leads me to question why we in churches are often so proud of ‘how much we are doing’. No one cares. Just cos’ all 8 are moving, don’t mean it’s got power. Maybe before we brag about punching above a certain weight, we should recognize that this can be the biggest turn off to a spiritually exhausted person trying to find a church to simply find thier feet again.
At Waratah, when we say we are doing something together, it’s not an expression of activity but effectiveness, enjoyment and especially worship. It’s not about getting lots done, it’s about doing (maybe less) in unison.
Let’s get in unison for Jesus. When we are committed to his glory even the most basic local church is not a sputtering old 60’s beetle motor but a Ferrari V12.
Your Church is more powerful than you think, just ask the 11 original disciples.