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SGtoDC: Nice Eyes

April 7, 2010
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In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink the author writes about research performed several years ago by psychologist Norman R. F. Maier. In the study Maier hung two long ropes from the ceiling in a room and spaced them far enough apart that you could not hold on to one rope and still grab the other. He filled the room with various objects, tools and furniture and then asked participants in the study to find different ways to tie the ends of the ropes together.

There are four possible solutions and without going into detail I will simply explain that the subjects were typically able to determine three of the four. The solution that most people couldn’t find was the one in which you swing one rope like a pendulum and then grab the other rope.

In the study Maier allowed the individuals to sit and think for ten minutes. After the time elapsed and it was clear that they couldn’t find the final solution he would simply walk past the ropes and casually brush one setting it in motion back and forth. What do you think happened? Exactly. Without fail people who were once stumped suddenly had the final pendulum solution.

You may be thinking, and what do ropes have to do with church. I admit that with me you never know. Here is the kicker. When Maier asked the people how they figured the final solution out only one of them gave the actual reason why, the motion you created gave me the idea.

The rest had all kinds of explanations as to why they finally figured the problem out. Some went into great detail explaining past experiences with ropes and even things they imagined.

Hopefully you understand exactly why I share this story. How many churches explain their success the same way? How many don’t really even know why something worked or didn’t work? When we ask people to explain why something worked we should be warned that they may or may not even know why.

I also hope you can understand why this fact is so dangerous in church. Think about it, something great and powerful happens in my church and people want to know why. I take what I observed, we purchased a new sign or new carpet or we hired a new youth minister. We attribute everything to what we can explain and yet what if it had nothing to do with any of what we can observe?

How many churches are chasing after what some other church did because it worked for them when it really didn’t work at all because they didn’t have all of the information?

How many egg drops? How many church plants in schools? How many coffee bars? I could go on.

Why does this bug me? How many rabbits has the church chased thinking that God did something great when what really happened was we didn’t actually understand what caused the success in the first place? How many churches have invested money and resources because someone shared success but misdiagnosed where that success came from?

Not only that but think about how many course corrections are needed after we follow these false starts. How much conflict comes and feelings are hurt because we read something works but they incorrectly viewed what brought the success?

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Acts 16:6-10

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2010 3:34 pm

    Shortcuts, man, everybody wants a shortcut. When you chase somebody’s success by blindly adopting some of their methodology, you’re cutting out the process of figuring out what the core values were that drive them to take the approach in the first place. You can end up with something that doesn’t fit your church’s core value set, assuming that “success” is your ultimate value. It may or may not be one component of the church’s core value set, but when “success” is out there all by itself, irrespective of other values, you’re really cutting the legs out from both your strategy and your identity.

  2. April 7, 2010 9:26 pm

    Steven, thanks for the comments. Looks like you have a very interesting blog.

    You make a very good point. They are some things I want to touch on later.

    Great points and thanks again for commenting.

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