Newsweek's feature on the phenomenal number of Israeli Nasdaq companies (Nov. 23, 2009) credits the Israeli Army for its role in contributing to the rampant innovation and ongoing success of Israeli entrepreneurs. I was struck by the fact that nearly everything in the article has profound implications for the Church in our time. Here are a few things that stood out to me:
The article poses the question: "How does Israel attract, per person, 30 times as much venture capital as Europe and more than twice the flow to American companies? How does it produce, for its size, the most cutting-edge technology startups in the world?"
The answer the writer poses credits, in part: "...the Israeli military's role in breaking down hierarchies and -serendipitously- becoming a boot camp for new tech entrepreneurs".
The stated mission of Vineyard at Home, our house church network, is to "empower everyday people to take the ministry of Jesus to everyday place". One of the fundamental components of such empowerment is to break down a rigid church hierarchy in order to equip believers to truly own the ministry themselves. While spiritual authority is a reality, it is evident that it is also fluid -- defined by mission and the requirements of servanthood -- as Jesus kept reminding His disciples (Mark 10:44).
The article continues:
"Innovation" is hardly the first word most people associate with the military. "improvisation" is even less likely to come to mind. And "flat" -- as in anti-hierarchical and informal -- would be completely counterintuitive. Yet these are exactly the attributes that employers have come to expect from young people emerging from their stint in the Israeli Defense Force."
Do our churches, seminaries and other ministry training environments empower innovation and improvisation or are they, by and large, bounded by traditional hierarchical modalities that feature a limit number of "job descriptions" within a top-down system? The article continues...
"Talk to an Israeli Air Force pilot and you will see why. "If most air forces are designed like a Formula One race car, the Israeli Air Force is a beat-up jeep with a lot of tools in it".
Most churches would be ashamed to describe themselves as "beat-up jeeps" loaded with tools rather than svelte and fine-tuned systems. But I am convinced that the mission of God needs more and more "jeeps" in our day if we are to break out of the missional quagmire.
"In the Israeli system, almost every aircraft is a jack-of-all-trades", the article continues: "You do it yourself," one pilot noted. "It's not as effective (as the complex American-style waves of air infiltration), but it's a hell of a lot more flexible".
Israeli soldiers, battling for the very survival of their tiny nation, appreciate flexibility, innovation, seat-of-the-pants decision making and broad-based empowerment given the fact that they will never outnumber or intimidate their enemies by sheer force. Is this not the position the church finds itself in, in these times? We are in need, it seems to me, of modes of empowerment that keep simple and focused ministry outreach and discipleship rolling out. We tried grasping after all the levers of power in American society and that strategy failed us. Maybe its time to move the ministry of Jesus into the everyday, grassroots, real-time/real-life quadrants of society.
The article goes on to describe the IDF as "a unique space within Israeli society where young men and women work closely and intensely with peers from different cultural, socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds. A young Jew from Ethiopia, the son of an Iranian immigrant, a native-born Israeli from a swanky Tel Aviv suburb, and a kibbutznik from a farming family might all meet in the same unit".
Bonds forged under such conditions create relationships that transcend the normal comforts of social compartmentalization. Danger, mission and active duty forge new alliances. The learning curve is high and the price of failure unthinkable. Is this the attitude we have in our churches? Or have we settled for them to function more as social clubs that gather homogeneous pods of people together in their quest to hide away from all the ugly stuff "out there" in the world?
The article describes the unique and remarkable way these military associations, experiences and disciplines affect reservists as they return to working society. "Rank is almost meaningless in the reserves," he (a lawyer quoted by the writer) says. 'A private will tell a general in an exercise, 'You are doing this wrong; you should do it this way.'"
Do our "generals" in the church work closely with the "privates" in the rank and file in order to maximize the impact of our gospel calling? Are our generals truly and available and open to feedback from the "troops" along the lines of "You are doing this wrong; you should do it this way"? What would happen if we truly opened the feedback loops and ownership of ministry resources (time, talent, treasure) to "the ranks"? Has this not been the net effect of reformation and revival movements of past times? Do we really need to wait for the crisis to reach so high of a peak before we reconsider what we are really structured for in the Western church?
"Israeli soldiers are not defined by rank: they are defined by what they are good at." Now there's a notion the church might do well to embrace!
"Innovation often depends on having different perspective. Perspective comes from experience. Real experience also typically comes with age or maturity. But in Israel, you get experience, perspective, and maturity at a younger age, because the society jams in so many transformative experiences when its citizens are 18 to 21 years old. By the time they get to college, their heads are in a different place than those of their American counterparts."
Lots to think about and, better yet, incorporate into our present day philosophies of ministry, mission and church structure -- wouldn't you agree?