The Daisy Cutter Doctrine

On Wednesday (09/09/09), Leadership Network and Catalyst hosted an online event called “The Nines.” It featured 9 hours of 9 minute videos posted by church leaders each answering this question: “If I had nine minutes to share one thing with church leaders across America, what would I tell them?”I was invited to participate in The Nines, and I chose to talk about the issue of legitimacy and something I call “the Daisy Cutter Doctrine.” I’ve gotten a number of emails and Facebook responses to the video. And some colleagues have reported some Twitter activity about it too. (I didn’t actually see my video air or the Tweets because I was taking my son to his first day of pre-school at the time.)

I guess the organizers of The Nines are planning to eventually post all of the videos online, but until then I though it would be helpful to provide some expanded thoughts on the Daisy Cutter Doctrine. Below is an excerpt from chapter 9 of my book, The Divine Commodity, which deals with the issue. I hope it’s helpful. And thanks to everyone for your kind messages.

(BTW, the end of this excerpt includes a quote from my friend Phil Vischer. Ironically I was sitting in his office, at his desk, when I filmed the video for The Nines.)

The excerpt:

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 marquee speaker, usually a Baby-Boomer pastor of a large church or published 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.”

Throughout the stump speech, the presenter will wax eloquent about the fate he or she foresees for the new generation of church leaders in the audience. “Your generation will do what mine could not.” “The young leaders in the church are leading the way by throwing off what’s come before.” “You will be the generation to change the world.” Convinced of their manifest destiny, the twenty-somethings will head off to breakout sessions where they will learn the skills 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 I’ve led my share of breakout sessions, and like most church leaders I’ve gotten use 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 mission that values high-impact and visibility above all else. This explains why most presenters at ministry conferences are leaders of big churches. Their ministry’s size is valued, and in some cases envied, by those in attendance who have come to learn how they too can ignite their full potential for maximum missional impact.

The shock and awe approach to mission 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 legit. 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. Gregory Boyd points 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, through much of its history 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 not use the sword to advance the church’s mission anymore, but the sword is no longer the conventional instrument of power and influence. Today the church emulates the methods of corporations and business, and most 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 whose vision will be sharpened by history.

The Daisy Cutter Doctrine has plagued the church for centuries. We’ve fallen into the conventional thinking that a big mission calls for big tactics. But, as Boyd said, the ways of the world differ from the ways of the kingdom. 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 David defeated Goliath (big) with a few stones (small).

This pattern is also repeated in Jesus’ parables about the nature of his kingdom. He says, “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 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…. So why do I believe a thousand kids walking with God will have more impact on the world than one kid making a hit movie? Because the world learns about God not by watching Christian movies, but by watching Christians.

Excerpted from, The Divine Commodity: Discovering a Faith Beyond Consumer Christianity (Zondervan, 2009)

The Nines

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  • Brian

    Wow – thanks for this.

    I am busy with a study of the book of Acts. One of our initial questions is, “What strategies for church growth can we learn from the leaders of the Acts church?” The startling answer is, “They had no strategy!”

    The church in Jerusalem went from a few hundred fearful members to over 3000 in one afternoon, and no one had planned anything – except a prayer meeting. The story of Acts is not about the Apostles, but about the Holy Spirit unfolding a revolutionary, unprecedented plan for the Kingdom of God.

    For the most part the leaders were just trying to keep up! Their preconceived ideas were being changed almost daily. But as the Spirit empowered them to use their gifts, what they did was lead and guide the church structure so that more people could hear the Gospel and respond to the Spirit.

    Likewise, we ought to follow His leading and not attempt to make everything happen our way. We measure success by the wrong criteria.

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