The Church Needs Skunk Works

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.

A bunch of grapes on the vineI 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.

Mustard seedsThe 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’:

Lockheed Martin stealth planeIn 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.

Skunk Works logoThe 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.

Skunk Works logo on the tail of a stealth planeThey 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.
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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.

If you’ve got to the end of this article and you’re thinking “yes, but…” or “no, because…” write your “yes but” or “no because” in the comments below.

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Tree climber, pancake eater, kinda artist. Trying to keep up with Jesus. I enjoy writing, cooking and roadtrips with friends. At work I'm a webmaster, writer, video maker & creative coordinator thingamibob for Jesus Fellowship Church.

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