Were on a mission…
Posted On March 21, 2023
When the space shuttle is prepared for a mission, there is a ton of planning. Lots of people are involved. There’s a heavy investment of time, money, and Human Resources. And there’s equipment of course – without the structure and equipment of a shuttle, you aren’t going anywhere after all.
The shuttle takes off and it’s a beautiful sight. Attached to the shuttle is the external tank holding tons of fuel needed for the take off and pulling away from the gravitational pull of the earth. And the booster rockets. There are literally rocket scientists who study this stuff and dedicate their whole lives to the missions of the space shuttle.
Once the shuttle takes off and reaches a certain altitude, the rocket boosters separate from the shuttle. According to NASA’s website, they are jettisoned and fall back to the earth so they can be assessed and reused if possible.
The External Tank stays on longer until it is just about empty, helping the shuttle finish breaking through the rest of the gravitational pull and when it has served it’s purpose, it is then jettisoned at a “preplanned trajectory” where it burns up in the atmosphere. It isn’t reusable, apparently.
The jettisoning of the boosters and the external tank are important so that the shuttle can complete its mission. The boosters and the external tank did their job – they fulfilled their purpose. They were good. And when they had fulfilled their purpose, they were let go of because if they had been held onto longer, they would have put the entire mission in jeopardy. It is a fact that you can’t bring a shuttle back safely to earth with an external tank and booster rockets still attached to it. No matter how cool it might look. No matter how much you like them. No matter how great they worked in the take off. They don’t help with the landing – they are actually a hindrance and frankly a danger. They aren’t designed for that portion of the mission.
NASA is really good at keeping an eye on the importance of the mission. It’s not just going to a location, but also returning back safely, if it involves astronauts. In order to complete the mission fully, there is thoughtful consideration to how the equipment will change along the journey. Some of what you have will have to be jettisoned because it won’t be useful after awhile. It will have worked great for its purpose, but then the situation changes. It will become clunky and a hindrance to the mission. It will become dangerous to the mission and won’t allow for the successful completion of the full mission. Some of the equipment has to be jettisoned. That’s what you do to complete the mission because the mission is what is most important. The external tank and the rocket boosters are large tools attached to the space shuttle. They exist to help complete the mission. And when they serve their purpose, they are set aside. The tools exist for the mission, not the other way around.
Now apply this to the church. Because the church has a mission that it has been given from Jesus. And the church is like the space shuttle with lots of parts and tools and equipment. What is the mission and what are the tools and equipment to complete that mission? As the mission is going, how does the situation change and what tools need to be jettisoned for the sake of the mission? If we don’t jettison some of the tools, how are we endangering the mission? What can be reused? What needs to be jettisoned on a preplanned trajectory where it will burn in the atmosphere because it can’t be reused? How are we confusing the mission with the tools to complete the mission?
I’ve heard that change is hard for some people. Especially in churches. There are people who will resist change in church, trying to hold on to the way it was, or is, or the way they remember it, or maybe the way they imagine it. So much of this has to do with identity after all. According to Daniel Shapiro, author of “Negotiating the Nonnegotiable” he says that the five pillars of Identity are: beliefs, rituals, allegiances, values, and emotionally meaningful experiences. (Pg. 17). These touch on the very core of who people are.
And I think part of our challenge as church is that we think we have two sides who are in opposition to each other – those who are trying to maintain the status quo and those who are trying to change it. We envision that these two sides are fighting each other like a tug of war. Maybe for control? That’s a recipe for everyone losing. And it’s certainly not a focus on the mission. Did we forget that we are supposedly all on the same team? That we all have the same mission? Or did we confuse the tools with the mission?
One of the current challenges of the institutional church is between those who want to hold on to the status quo (or the past) because losing what we have is costly and those who see that the status quo is not sustainable and is costly as it is. Do these two sides realize that they are on the same side? That there is cost. Or are we so locked into getting all of what we want, the we are willing to sink the entire mission because we don’t get our own way?
For those that want to hold onto the way it is, or was, or the way you imagine it, I have to ask – are you willing to have 0% of the church if you aren’t willing to let go of having it your way 100%? Because the reality is that things have been already changing regardless of your desire and your resistance. And maintaining the status quo is not working – based solely on the numbers of the last several decades. If we maintain the status quo, there won’t be anything to maintain eventually. Sure, there might be something small that looks familiar, but it won’t be anything close to what it currently does. And the question is, will it be able to fulfill the mission? Because that’s what is most important.
The alternative is to work with those who are calling for adaptation and change and transformation because, surprisingly or not, they want what you want – to keep the church going, only differently. To keep the mission going, fulfilling it. It’s not about change for change’s sake. It’s about jettisoning things that have served their purpose that were good in the past, but don’t make sense given the current situation. It’s not a judgment of these things, or you, or your identity. It’s about completing the mission and we need you as part of the team. You have much to offer.
The situation has changed and the eye needs to stay on the mission. The Shuttle doesn’t get discarded in these missions. And those that are calling for needed change aren’t saying scrap everything either. The mission is what is most important. The question is what tools and equipment are needed to fulfill the mission and at what point in the mission do you use them and when do you set them aside? The tools are just that – tools. Don’t confuse the tools with the mission.
We are on a mission. All of us. We need to work together.