A few months ago I was meeting with my new District Superintendent, talking about church planting, missional movements and ministry in the 21st century in general.
As our hearts and minds met on the drastic need for the church, particularly the Church of the Nazarene, to become more innovative he repeated to me what he had heard from someone else who had heard it from someone else who had read it in a book somewhere,
“The church is Wile E. Coyote in a Road Runner world.”
For those of you younger types (like me) who might be tempted to think Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner were names for obscure characters in that Mad Max movie that came out this summer, let me explain the reference. There is this old, actually ancient, Warner Bros. cartoon that used to play on Saturday mornings. It just had two characters. One was a hungry coyote, cleverly named “Wile E.” The other was a rather simple but crazy fast bird named the “Road Runner.”
Every episode involved the coyote coming up with some elaborate, cleverly detailed scheme to catch the Road Runner. And every episode the Road Runner, without so much as a plan or a strategy, just ran right through the scheme. The humor in the show almost always centered around each plan’s fatal flaw. Even though the plan was brilliant and well thought through and cleverly executed, there was always one chink in its armor, one thing Wile E. did wrong, one humorous oversight that let the road runner slip away. In well over half the episodes, the flaw wasn’t a flaw. It was just the world not working like it is supposed to.
For example, there is the now classic scene where the coyote paints a mural of a tunnel on a cliff side, hoping the Road Runner will smash into the cliff. Instead, the Road Runner runs right through the mural into an actual tunnel. The lesson is simple: The world doesn’t work like the coyote wants it too.
And we are the coyote. Our programs, or to put it more religiously, our “ministries,” are elaborate. They are schemed up by outreach committees in 3 hour long meetings. They are emailed to pastors with subjects that read, “the brilliant plan that will save our church.” While we pass the offering plates on Sunday morning, a passionate and dedicated layperson explains them to the congregations. We claim it worked out just great for that mega church in Seattle or that mushrooming church down the street. Our congregants get all excited and we all jump on board.
But they all have one fatal flaw and that flaw makes all the time, money and energy we just spent worthless. Most of the time that flaw is we just failed to understand the world we are living in.
When that flaw manifests itself and our brilliant feat of outreach falls flat on its face, we at least have a number of cliches we use to comfort ourselves.
We say things like:
“Well God doesn’t care about results. God just cares about faithfulness.”
“That’s just the way the world is. God has hardened their hearts so that nothing we say will get through.”
“Well at least we tried. Church of the Baptist Jesus down the street isn’t even trying.”
“We planted a ton of seeds. Go us!”
Some of that may be true and I am all about comfort in the midst of epic failure. After all, comfort is what gives us the means to get up and try again.
But what if our problem isn’t that we aren’t dedicated enough, passionate enough, wealthy enough or smart enough. What if our problem is that we just don’t take the time and energy to understand the world we are living in.
Over the next week I want to write a bit about what I perceive are “Wile E. Coyote” ministries being run by many churches. My hope in this is not to be overly mean or critical but to think deeply about how we spend our time, money and energy in the hopes that we will become better stewards of our callings.
Even more than that, I hope that our mourned failures would turn into seasons of rejoicing as we truly reach the world for Christ.
Until the next post, here are some great articles elaborating on this concept: