E-pistle January 29

The Toyota-izing of the Church
If you follow the news, you know that Toyota Motors has temporarily shut down all its U.S. manufacturing plants and is recalling nearly 5 million of its recently produced cars to fix a potential problem with a sticky gas pedal.  Like you take your foot off the accelerator, but the car keeps going.  If you own a recent model Toyota you may be wondering if your Camry or Corolla is safe to drive. Of course, the problem appears to be isolated and rare and the company seems to be doing the right things in being extra cautious. 
The pundits who write for the business pages are asking, “what happened?” Until about a year ago, Toyota had held the top spot in car quality surveys for years.  Everyone knew you couldn’t find a better car than a Toyota.  But suddenly Hondas, Fords and Hyundais are looking like a better buy. 
The Wall Street Journal has printed an analysis of Toyota's woes in a story with a headline that may say it all, Toyota: Too Big, Too Fast”. Here’s how the article puts it, Toyota is suffering from trying to get too big, too fast. In the early years of this century the company sensed weakness among its Detroit rivals in the American market, and also opportunity in China and other emerging markets outside the U.S. So it began a headlong expansion spree around the world.”
The story tells how for decades, as Toyota built its well-deserved reputation for quality, it would never build a brand new model in a brand new plant with brand new workers.  When it built new factories, the first cars to be produced would be cars already being built somewhere else so that quality control could be maintained.  But in a drive to unseat General Motors as the biggest car company in the world, Toyota began to abandon this core principle. The company is paying a high price for placing a higher priority on sales growth than on car quality.
The church knows all about the high cost of misplaced priorities.
At LPC we have been talking about simplifying our lives and simplifying our church.  That means knowing who and what God is calling us to be and keeping our priorities straight.  It means clearing the clutter and making decisions based on those priorities.  It means all of us agreeing on where we’re to go and working together to get there (mom and dad and the kids; elders, program leaders and the folks in the pews).  It means saying yes to the best and no to the rest.
Simple to say and hard to do.
Yes, the churches have been way ahead of Toyota in misplacing priorities.

  • Some, Toyota-like, have made growth – mega buildings filled with lookalike people – a higher priority than discipleship. 
  • Some have made allegiance to rigid doctrinal standards a higher priority than ministering the grace of the gospel to broken lives; and some have made making sure everyone feels good a higher priority than speaking the truth of the gospel in love. 
  • Some have made protecting their people from the world a higher priority than sending their people into the world to infect it with the love of Christ; and some have made reforming society with no mention of the cross a higher priority than proclaiming the power of the cross to remold lives in the likeness of Christ.  
  • Some have made the glib preaching of the danger of hell a higher priority than bringing the gospel to those who live in the hell holes of their community and world; and some have denied the possibility of hell rather than risk the scorn of those who live in the high places of their community and world.   

Yeah, we’ve got Toyota beat when it comes to misplaced priorities.
The Apostle Paul was always aware of the danger of misplacing his priorities. He told the Romans and he reminded himself that he was not ashamed of the gospel for “it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.” (Romans 1:16) He told the Corinthians and reminded himself, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  (1 Corinthians 2:2) He also told the Corinthians and reminded himself, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Corinthians 13:1)
Oh, Jesus had something to say about getting your priorities straight, as well.  One day someone, an expert in the law of Moses, asked Jesus about priorities and Jesus asked him what the law of Moses taught.  The man answered, “'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
Jesus replied, "You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live." (Luke 10:25-28)
The experts on the business page say that if Toyota can get its priorities straight it may yet be the biggest car company in the world. Jesus says that if we get our priorities straight we will live – forever.
Simple life. Simple church.  Easier said than done, but well worth the doing.