The Church Needs Skunk Works

I consider this post as pt2 of the ‘Safety- The Enemy of God’ series of posts that I’m writing to express several threads of thoughts that God’s weaving together in my spirit, a growing conviction. Read part 1 about busting the man, movement, machine, monument cycle.

I want to be a part of a movement, not just an organisation.

The point of a movement is that it’s moving. When Jesus talked about his earth-impacting heavenly kingdom (which was most of the time) he often used analogies from nature- mustard seeds, leaven, fishing, a farmer scattering seeds or ploughing, a vine & branches, a vineyard, a bride, an engagement, a wedding, his own body. Paul used the illustration of a building (traditionally a dead structure) but this one has stones that are alive! These illustrations clearly and overwhelmingly describe the kingdom as something that grows, that lives, that is connected in sap and blood and bears fruit.

The church (as an expression of the kingdom) must never become an inflexible wineskin that isn’t fit to contain the new wine of God’s always-new effervescent life. The kingdom is bigger than any church’s view of it so churches must always be building on the foundation of Jesus, not the foundation of their own traditions. Except for God it’s dead things that never change. To live is to change so we must change or die.

We must keep envisioning the future, but vision is not enough- we must actively venture into it. How do we venture into new vision? I recently read this brilliant little true story explaining ‘Skonk Works’:

In 1943, at the height of World War II, the engineers coming from the same schools being taught by the same professors were not producing the technological breakthroughs that were needed. To get faster and better results, Lockheed decided to try something different. The company selected its most creative engineers and put them all in a tent set up at the end of a runway next to a plastics factory in Burbank, California. The engineers were told to think together outside the box on a specific project.

The members of this group began to push boundaries and try new things. Without all the red tape of the standard business bureaucracy, they were able to get things done much faster, usually ahead of schedule, and often with nothing more than a verbal agreement and a handshake.

They became known as “skunk works” because of the smell of the plastic factory wafting into the tent. The name came from the Li’l Abner comic strip, and it stuck. Today skunk works has become a technical term in research and development and in the diffusion of innovation. It is widely used in business, engineering, and technical fields to describe a group within an organization given a high degree of autonomy and unhampered by bureaucracy, often tasked with working on advanced or secret projects. The original Lockheed Skonk Works (which still exists) is responsible for some of the most notable advancements in technology in aerospace and defense. Such things as stealth technology and smart bombs were developed there. The Macintosh computer was developed in a skunk works project under the demanding leadership of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The first laptop was designed and developed by a skunk works group that was literally kept secret from the very organization that made it and had determined that it was not a worthy investment—Toshiba.
[ source ]

The truth is that the church in the west has needed skunk works for some time.

The church must always be open to formerly hidden visionaries rising from within their ranks, pushing the boundaries of what it means for the kingdom to be incarnate among us. We mustn’t stifle any discontent that is motivated by lack of fruitfulness but must allow it to provoke what’s dead and dying in our churches. The prophetic spirit will always be creatively subversive and must not be confused with cynical, loveless opionionation but must be championed, encouraged and given breathing room by those in positions of official church leadership.

For any new generation of Christians to take the baton of the church they must pay their own price to win it and must have the freedom they need to work out it’s wild and unruly call on their lives. Otherwise we will well-meaningly propagate a halfbaked, mechanised, soon dead church.

In short- let’s pass on a vision, not a blueprint. Let’s allow those with positive vision and initiative about what the church could be to dream their God given dreams and make them reality. It’s less safe but it’s alive and will grow into something we’ve never dreamed of.

I’ve been reading, praying, listening & chatting to co-conspirators. Interestingly a few Skunk Works have been popping up (Jesus Army Action, a Franciscan Southampton trip…) that are pushing the boundaries of mission.

Movement is stirring, a generation is prophetically pregnant.

6 thoughts on “The Church Needs Skunk Works

  1. and also the j gen must be prepared to get their hands dirty when is the last time you have cleaned the gents toilets at the northampton jesus centre when is the last time you helped put the marquee up or down when is the last time you cleaned the toilets at the coventry jesus centre.gorden martin lives in coventry and for many many years worked at tbs at towcester tim firebrand lives in kettering and has worked at towcester tbs for many years you live at honeycombe and work at the farm why should GOD take your words seriousley im sorry if i am coming on strong i am sure you are a good brother bless you

  2. Aidan, really like this … I like the phases “vision is not enough – we must actively venture into it” and “to live is to change so we must change or die”. Empower the visionaries, I say, give them room, give them an ear; I think the innovative, creative, prophetic minority will always lead the way so let’s provide space for them.. One thing I would add to your blog: I feel we need a generation of God-seekers, people who long desperately for God’s ways for today. We tilt down into the natural: natural solutions and discussions. Discussion is great and God’s given us a brain so we can solve issues – I’m all for it, but let it be coupled with a craving amongst many of us to find afresh God and His ways. Let the tide come in … God seeking, craving for God’s new ways – and skunking!I’d particularly love us to explore: new expressions of community, our ’timetable,’ celibacy and expansion of women’s ministry. Amongst people who really love Jesus, we’ve got to overcome the fear of saying what we think and venting frustration. It needn’t be unholy, only if we’re after our own …

  3. Hello Anonymous. Yes, your words certainly are strong!I could address the misguided points raised in your rant one by one but instead I'll just ask you- please reread this blog post with the eyes of faith, not bristly defensiveness.I wrote this post because I love Jesus and his church, which includes you, whoever you are. Please put your name on comments in future.All the best, Aidan.

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