Here is What is Creating a Disconnect in our Churches and Why So Many Leave (Leadership & Ministry Lessons Part 6)

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I have been writing a series of posts on leadership in ministry based on the book Combat Leadership by Captain Adolf Von Schell. This sixth post is probably the most important one yet. So important, that I changed the title in hopes of getting more response out of this one. Please read the whole post, especially if you are in church leadership.

In chapter 6, Von Schell reminds the reader that training for war and real war are two different things. When you are training, everything goes just right but it is never like that in the real world. Here is how he put it,

“In our peacetime map problems, war games and field exercises, we have simple situations. There is no uncertainty, nothing goes wrong, units are always complete. Every company has its appropriate number of officers. Every battalion has its commander…Long written orders are published and in an unbelievably short time, reach the individual to whom they are addressed, who promptly carries them out. Every man has his map and compass. He knows that the attack will be pushed forward in the exact direction of the 179 1-2 degree magnetic azimuth.”

What he is saying here is that up to this point in history, combat training assumed ideal conditions where ideal orders are given, everyone is present, communication is perfect and everyone has their map and compass pointed the right way all the time, every time with more precision than you would be able to do with bullets going over your head. He goes on,

“In war it is quite otherwise. There is no situation that our imagination can conjure up which even remotely approaches reality. In peace we have only grammar school tactics. But let us never forget that war is far more advanced than a high school. Therefore, if you would train for the realities of war, take your men into unknown terrain, at night, without maps and give them difficult situations. In doing so use all the imagination you have. Let the commanders themselves make their decisions. Teach your men that war brings such surprises that often they will find themselves in apparently impossible situations…Every solider should know that war is kaleidoscopic, replete with constantly changing, unexpected, confusing situations. Its problems cannot be solved by mathematical formulae or set rules…All armies of the world learn, in peace time, how to write long, beautifully constructed orders. I believe that it is correct to learn to think of everything and to forget nothing, but we must never lose sight of the fact that, in a war of movement, our orders must be brief and simple.”

His point is that training must reflect the realities of what you are training people for. When you look at publications that tell you how to run a specific ministry, do evangelism, discipleship, or any of a number of things this is too often true. We are presented and trained for ideal circumstances where your staff has every gift imaginable and where life never seems to get in the way. How do we train people in ministry “in the trenches” rather than just sitting at desks in a classroom? How do we train Christians in ways that are real and relevant to the world they live in? Often Sunday seems too disconnected from Monday. We train for the ideal but the world will never be ideal. So why do we keep training like it is?

He continues,

“There is a tendency in peace time to conduct training by use of stereotyped situations which are solved by stereotyped solutions. In war, however, we cannot say, ‘This situation is so and so and according to the rules which I have learned, I must attack or defend.’ The situations that confront one in war are generally obscure, highly complicated and never conform to type. They must be met by an alert mind, untrammeled by set forms and fixed ideas.

In our peacetime tactical training we should use difficult, highly imaginative situations and require clear, concise and simple orders. The more difficult the situation, the more simple the orders must be. Above all let us kill everything stereotyped; otherwise it will kill us.” (p.63-64)

Kill the stereotype or it will kill us. What is he saying there? He is saying that in the classroom, there are perfect formulas that work every time but step away from your desk and onto the battlefield and those same formulas no longer look as relevant. Here it is, I am convinced that what Von Schell is saying here is one of the most important lessons we can learn in ministering in the 21st century. The culture we live in is no longer predominantly Christian. People are getting shot at all the time. Then they come in on Sunday or Wednesday and get trained for a world that exists only in the classroom and only in the mind. There may be application but not necessarily for the world they live in.

This is why there is such a disconnect today, especially with young people. What Von Schell is saying here is perfectly describing the disconnect young people especially feel in the assembly. In order to address it we have to change our tactics. We have to change our training. We have to understand the real world and understand how Christians can live in it and support one another through it, much like soldiers huddled together in a war zone. As I type that I am reminded of what Mike Breen wrote in Multiplying Missional Leaders,

“Sending people out to do mission is sending them out to a war zone. When we don’t disciple people the way Jesus and the New Testament talked about, we are sending them out without armor, weapons or training. This is mass carnage waiting to happen. How can we be surprised when people burn out, quit and never return to the missional life (or to the church for that matter?) How can we not expect that people will feel used and abused?” (p.12)

Have you all experienced this? How have we missed it?

For those who want to read more reflections on Combat Leadership, here are the other parts to date:

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3
  4. Part 4
  5. Part 5

7 Responses

  1. Your post confers my suspicion that we’ve put too much emphasis on the western model of education which lies more in gathering people together in a class than walking side by side in the day to day. The people we are “training” need to see us (leaders) in these complex situations, they need to see us not always or even usually get it right (if we dare to be that transparent), they need to see that we’ve arrived where we are only by a reliance on God’s grace which gives us missional resiliency.

  2. One topic that comes to mind that I have been wrestling with that has been creating a disconnect between me and my current church is Romanticized Christianity. The language of everything is “kingdom changing,” everything is “restoring,” everything is “redemptive” that we are doing. While in some aspects that may be true, not everything is romantic. War is war. It is not pretty nor glamorous. Romanticized Christianity=Consumeristic Christianity which has little depth and won’t last. Give me straight talk that is deep and real. That offers hope, strengthens feeble bones, and prepares me for dealing with the trenches.

    1. Jonathan,

      People want hope and so they are looking for how the kingdom of God is shining through here and now, sometimes ignoring or glossing over some very harsh realities of the “already” part of the eschatology equation (if you know what I mean). I think you are on to something here…it is easy to romanticize things and stay on the surface for too long. But like you said, war is not romantic and we are clearly in the midst of a war, at least according to the apostles Paul and John we are.

  3. I remember the old Jewel Miller filmstrips. Knocking doors, bus programs. A lot of poor doctrine and legalism. But we were in the trenches then like the JWs and LDS still are. There are areas where “street evangelism” is still practiced. But sadly it seems the softer(in a good way) our message has become the less we get out to share it. We use to teach church and maybe touch on the Gospel. Now many truly teach Christ and Him crucified to the “choir”. There has been a lot of change for the better, but does the “world” know? The reputation of the coC won’t go away overnight, but if we don’t “re-evangelize” the reputation won’t change. That and we also have to face the reality that some loss of folks is due to the change in attitude. Many may not feel comfortable with an instrument. But they won’t condemn another for believing it is OK. MI person leaves the coC for the Christian church. Both now see each other still as brethren. But if a bunch in a congregation takes the same stance, although they may not be leaving Christ, it would show as an overall decline in the census for a congregation or churches of Christ as a whole.

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