The pattern is predictable. A few thousand young church leaders gather at a warm climate resort for two and a half days to have a “life changing ministry experience.” They shuffle into the hotel’s main ballroom, bags of complementary goodies in hand, where their internal organs are realigned by the worship band’s bass-thumping remix of How Great Thou Art. After which the speaker, usually the pastor of a large church or ministry expert, will fire up the audience with a call to “change the world for Christ,” “impact a generation with the gospel,” or “spark a revival in the church.” Convinced of their destiny, the twenty-somethings will head off to breakout sessions where they will learn the skills necessary to impact the world—usually from other twenty-somethings.
I say the pattern is predictable because I’ve been to a fair number of ministry conferences, and like most church leaders, I’ve gotten used to hearing the drumbeat of revolution. I call it the Daisy Cutter Doctrine: “Change the world through massive cultural upheaval and high-impact tactics.” Daisy Cutter is the nickname of the largest non-nuclear bomb in the military’s arsenal. In our age of laser guided “smart” bombs, the Daisy Cutter isn’t dropped to destroy targets anymore but to intimidate the enemy. When impact is more important than precision, there’s nothing better than a 15,000 pound Daisy Cutter for the mission. Likewise, the Daisy Cutter Doctrine is an approach to ministry that values high-impact and visibility above all else.
The shock and awe approach to the Christian life is extremely appealing to people shaped by consumerism. It taps into our consumer-oriented desire for big impact and feeds the assumption that large equals legitimate. The psychological appeal is never explicit but always present: by making a huge impact you can convince the world of God’s legitimacy as well as your own. That is an enticing promise particularly for younger leaders, many of whom have yet to establish their legitimacy and may have latent feelings of inadequacy.
But there is a less incriminating reason why we are attracted to the Daisy Cutter Doctrine—a big mission seems to logically demand a big strategy. Jesus has given his students an enormous task, “go and make disciples of all nations….” It’s a mission that matches the scope of his own cosmic agenda. When Christians with a consumer consciousness try to wrap their imaginations around such a large undertaking, they will automatically think about products or corporations that have impacted the world and emulate the same methodologies. So we ask, how does Coca-Cola impact the world? How does Disney impact the world? How does Starbucks impact the world? And we forget to ask the only question that really matters: How does Jesus impact the world?
We have incorrectly made the scale of our methods conform to the scale of our mission. We have assumed that the magnitude of the ends should be proportional to the magnitude of the means. And in the process we’ve revealed how captivated our imaginations really are to consumerism. One pastor has pointed out the error: “We are to transform the world. That’s the call. But the way you do it from a kingdom perspective is very different from the way you do it from the world’s perspective.”
Failure to understand this has scarred the church throughout history. For example, in centuries past the church in Europe employed conventional (worldly) means to advance its spiritual mission. This resulted in the gospel being spread by the sword. We now look back at the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the slaughter of native peoples in the Americas mournfully. Centuries removed from those atrocities we wonder—how could people do such things in the name of Christ? Did they not see how inconsistent those methods were with the ways of Jesus? At the time, of course, they did not.
Today, we consider ourselves more enlightened, but are we? We may no longer use the sword to advance the church’s mission, but the sword is no longer the predominant instrument of cultural power and influence. Today the church emulates the methods of corporations and business, and many of us never pause and ask whether such tactics are consistent with the ways of Christ. Like the Crusaders, we seem content to leave such judgments for future generations with vision sharpened by history.
We’ve fallen into the conventional thinking that a big mission demands big tactics, but we forget that in the economy of God’s kingdom, big does not beget big. It’s precisely the opposite. The overwhelming message of Jesus’ life and teaching is that small begets big. Consider, God’s plan to redeem creation (big) is achieved through his incarnation as an impoverished baby (small). Jesus feeds thousands on a hillside (big) with just a few fish and loaves (small). Christ seeks to make disciples of all nations (big) and he starts with a handful of fishermen (small). Even Goliath (big) is defeated by David with a few stones (small).
This pattern is also repeated in Jesus’ parables about the nature of his kingdom. He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
All of this affirms the counter-intuitive nature of God’s kingdom. The wisdom of God will not be grasped by those captivated by conventionality. It requires a far larger imagination. As Paul writes: “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?…God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”
Phil Vischer, my podcast co-host, came to embrace the counter-intuitive wisdom of God after losing his Daisy Cutter dream. He now advises other followers of Christ to embrace a mustard seed approach to changing the world: “I am growing increasingly convinced that if everyone of these kids burning with passion to write a hit Christian song or make that hit Christian movie or start that hit Christian ministry to change the world would instead focus their passion on walking with God on a daily basis, the world would change…. Because the world learns about God not by watching Christian movies, but by watching Christians.”