I grew up in a car family. I am a car guy.
I know the difference between a carburetor and a catalytic converter, and I know that I prefer vehicles that do not use torque converters.
My first two cars, a 1969 Pontiac and 1991 Jeep are the kinds of vehicles that are driven, diagnosed, and maintained mostly by instinct and feel. There are no computers or check engine lights in these cars.
When I started driving, I was taught that the warning lights on my dash were called “idiot lights,” because “if you waited for the light to come on in order to acknowledge that something was wrong, you might be an idiot.” Thirty years ago, such an opinion was acceptable because the health of a car was managed by knowledge, experience, and intuition, not a bunch of sensors connected to dashboard lights.
Recently my 2006 Honda Element has entered in an “on again, off again” relationship with it’s Check Engine Light. To fix the intermittently triggered code P2646, the dealer proposed we “Check and Replace the Sensors.”
You have probably had a sensor or two replaced on your new vehicle, so you know the drill. Though your car runs fine, when the check engine light appears, your next oil change and sensor replacement cost $250 instead of the usual $50.
In contrast to the safety issues 40 years ago, an occasional sensor replacement is a small price to pay for today’s reliability. Modern sensors help us avoid the horror stories our parents and grandparents tell of their Plymouth Valiant and Ford Fairlane failures. Unfortunately, modern problems stem from becoming too loyal to state-of-the-art sensors.
You see, when replacing a sensor fixes the problem, that means there was nothing wrong with the engine. The failure was in the sensor, right? It is quite possible that P2646 is not an engine problem at all, but a sensor problem, which the dealer loves because there is lots of money in replacing sensors. Swapping sensors is quick and easy. When that little light stays off everyone feels like it was money well spent.
In the world of church coaching, consulting, and the health of congregations, there are many things that act like Check Engine Lights. You do not have to look far to find prognosticators who want to make our church’s dashboard look like it is ready for the holidays. There are countless books, articles, tweets, blog posts, and even professional speakers who talk about the problems of the local church. I am sure that you can ask Google, Cortana, or Siri to find you someone who is ready to tell you that, “Yes, as a matter of fact your church does have a problem, but I can help!”
The thing is, some of the loud experts are great at running quick tests and changing sensors. But do all of them really see the church clearly enough to know when a sensor is bad and when there really is a problem? I suspect many churches are more healthy than not. The right diagnostician may reveal that only a few tweaks need to be made before the church’s engine runs smoothly again. Yet in other churches, things might feel rough, bumpy, and out of sorts, but, “all the new sensors the church consultant guy sold us say we are fine, so let’s roll.”
There is a major difference in a bad sensor and a big problem. You know this and so do the the coaches and consultants of the Center for Healthy Churches.
The CHC’s coaches and consultants know health and know when something really needs work. We work hard to be the kind of ministers, coaches, and consultants who drive, maintain, and diagnose by feel. We are not beholden to a single metric or a limited set of tools and sensors. We also know that God’s power is continually at work through the church, so we feel confident in saying that we want to be the opposite of your local auto repair, sensor-swapping station. Instead, we want to work alongside you and get a feel for what is really needed. Given the premium placed on everyone’s time, energy, and resources, we see no need to overhaul something that just needs a quick sensor swap. Also, we have no interest in masking greater issues by providing a new set of sensors when a full overhaul is necessary.
In life outside of the church, I have come to grips with the fact that my check engine light is here to stay. I hope P2646 is not. But I also know that simple sensors never tell the whole story.
Inside the church, lights and sensors cannot tell us everything we need nor everything as it fully is. So, let’s be careful with our sensors and let’s not be afraid of a little time, instinct, and intuition when it comes to looking at our problems. Because, while all the new sensors around us are here to protect and help us, becoming too beholden to them will leave us just as frustrated as our Grandfather when he got stranded two towns from home in his 1967 Nova.