Monday, December 7, 2009

Principles of War

I have this odd aversion to pastorly books. Pastorly books are that particular sub-genre of religious publishing that are intended to give "best practices" to today's pastors. It's a nice little cottage industry, and I know there's some good wisdom in there. I read a whole bunch of them there books in seminary, and got a great deal out of it.

But for some reason, I like to branch out a bit. Take my own congregation, for example. We're in a life or death battle to revitalize and renew ourselves. It's a struggle, a conflict against organizational demise and the tensions inherent in making the seismic changes that we need to make to survice. Most times, it feels like a battle, a whirling, savage martial conflict against the forces of apathy, fear, mistrust and brokenness that rule over the human soul.

There's a ton of stuff out there on congregational revitalization and new church development. There are how-to books by pastors who have done this before, who have taken little churches and turned them around. There are New Church Development conferences and Small Church Revitalization seminars.

They're all quite useful.

Yet in the context of the struggle, I've been finding inspiration elsewhere. Like this last weekend, when I spent some time studying some of the writings of 19th century Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz. Heck, if it feels like a war against the forces of brokenness, then dagflabbit, maybe I should know more about military strategy.

While his discussion of the disposition of infantry and cavalry aren't really apropos, some of the bon mots from Carl seem to resonate with the battle I'm in. Like, for instance, this little section from his essay "Principles of War:"
Let me sum up once more the last two principles. Their combination gives us a maxim which should take first place among all causes of victory in the modern art of war: 'Pursue one great decisive aim with force and determination.'

If we follow this and fail, the danger will be even greater, it is true. But to increase caution at the expense of the final goal is no military art. It is the wrong kind of caution, which, as I have said already in my "General Principles," is contrary to the nature of war. For great aims we must dare great things. When we are engaged in a daring enterprise, the right caution consists in not neglecting out of laziness, indolence, or carelessness those measures which help us to gain our aim.

There's something about that sense of mortal urgency and intensity that resonates with the needs of a renewing church. There's a tendency for communities that are attempting to reverse decline to be complacent, or to get sidetracked, or to become overwhelmed with the impossibility of it all. "Let's just do what we've always done." "Let's argue about the carpet or the music or anything that helps us not grapple with the problem at hand!" "We're tiny! We can't possibly do this!"

But the ferocious and relentless pursuit of a vision doesn't permit any of that [poopy]. If we see ourselves radically and personally committed to bringing about joyous change, then you put your whole self in. It's a mortal conflict. It's war.

Yeah, I know, we Jesus people are peaceable folk. Our weapons are not the weapons of the enemy. Not at all. But that doesn't mean we're not fighting.