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06 April 2010

monkeys, a banana, and a fire hose

I'm sure I should have heard or read the following analogy before, but I hadn't until a friend e-mailed it to me earlier today. You may find, as I did, that it's a stunning parallel to the modern church. This particular version of the story comes from the blog of Tim Wang.

You build a nice big room-sized cage, and in one end of it you put five monkeys (yes, yes, the photo has six monkeys). In the other end you put the banana. Then you stand by with the fire hose. Sooner or later one of the monkeys is going to go after the banana, and when it does you turn on the fire hose and spray the other monkeys with it. Replace the banana if needed, then repeat the process. Monkeys are pretty smart, so they’ll figure this out pretty quickly: “If anybody goes for the banana, the rest of us get the hose.” Soon they’ll attack any member of their group who tries to go to the banana.

Once this happens, you take one monkey out of the cage and bring in a new one. The new monkey will come in, try to make friends, then probably go for the banana. And the other monkeys, knowing what this means, will attack him to stop you from using the hose on them. Eventually the new monkey will get the message, and will even start joining in on the attack if somebody else goes for the banana. Once this happens, take another of the original monkeys out of the cage and bring in another new monkey.

After repeating this a few times, there will come a moment when none of the monkeys in the cage have ever been sprayed by the fire hose; in fact, they’ll never even have seen the hose. But they’ll attack any monkey who goes to get the banana. If the monkeys could speak English, and if you could ask them why they attack anyone who goes for the banana, their answer would almost certainly be: “Well, I don’t really know, but that’s how we’ve always done things around here.”

This is a startlingly good analogy for the way lots of [churches] do things: once a particular process is entrenched (and especially after a couple rounds of [leadership/member] turnover), there’s nobody left who remembers why the company does things this way. There’s nobody who stops to think about whether this is still a good way to do things, or whether it was even a good idea way back at the beginning. The process continues through nothing more than inertia, and anyone who suggests a change is likely to end up viciously attacked by monkeys.


Tony M said...

Out of curiosity (playing devil's advocate here; hey, anyone else notice that "Devil's Advocate" and "District Attorney" have the same initials?), just re-reading this, if you're still standing around with the fire hose, even though the monkeys have never been sprayed or even seen it, isn't it a good thing that the "process" remains entrenched to keep them from going after the banana? It keeps the monkeys from ever having to learn the fire hose lesson.

What if the fire hose is automatic, based on a motion sensor? Then, even if the original hoser is dead (heh-heh), the bad result still remains from the potential action.

I fully understand the point - that we should be careful not to stick to a process simply because "that's how it's always been done." But, regarding this example, there are (were, could be?) consequences from the action that everyone in the cage is now trying to stop, preemptively. Perhaps no one fully understands the "why" of the method that was set in place long ago, but simply breaking out of the method for the sake of going after something tempting might bring back the original "bad thing" that was avoided by setting up the method being questioned.

As I said, just playing DA here (take your pick of what DA means).

Dean Lusk said...

"...there could be consequences from the action that everyone in the cage is now trying to stop..."

I think that "could be" is the important phrase.

This could be one reason that the Baptist church has in the past (and now, for many fellowship) discouraged or prohibited dancing. It could lead to sex outside of marriage, among other things. Positive references to dancing are made all throughout the Old Testament, and Jesus apparently had no problem with dancing as a form of expression when he talked of the celebration after the prodigal son returned home (obviously this doesn't sanction every form of dance, but it offers evidence that Jesus didn't think of all dance as a form of debauchery). 

What about the format of the typical Sunday morning worship service? Where did that come from? The Bible? The only New Testament passage that comes to my mind that resembles a modern worship service is in Acts 20:7-12, and it's not a prescription for what the church is to do when it meets. Instead, it's an account of a group of people meeting because Paul happened to be passing through town. It's so easy to offer the "If it ain't broke" statement regarding the standard worship service format, but few are willing to even question whether or not it may, indeed, have some "broken" elements. Some of you reading this comment (not you, Tony!) have already mentally rejected my whole comment now because you think there's no need at all to examine this. If you've done that, you've taken a step toward proving the point of the post. 

I'd also be willing to bet that the great majority of people who would "go to the mat" for the modern service format have virtually no idea why they'd be arguing for it other than the fact that they've never known anything different and very intelligent and Godly Christians endorse it, so it must be right. Oh, and everybody's doing it!

I want to offer up the flat earth analogy, but it's over-used.

Then there are the wise saying like, "If you never fall, you'll never learn how to get up." Some things are best (or maybe even exclusively) learned through experience. That can't be given as a blanket statement, of course, but often it's very important to know why we're doing (or not doing) something. I'd say that this applies in almost every nook and cranny of how the church lives. We are representing the perfect and holy Creator of the universe on a daily basis.

I was guilty of rambling there, and probably of offending people. Apologies in both cases. Feel free to tackle the above comments however you'd like.

Tony M said...

Regarding the worship service format, I agree that there's likely little "impending disaster" from altering the format (and I agree on the Baptist dancing thing - that's likely a battle that should've been fought in the trenches on a case-by-case basis, and more along the lines of parents educating and holding their children accountable and discipleship and so forth than a blanket ban on dancing). However, I don't know that there's intrinsically any higher value to "change for the sake of change" than there is to "doing it the way we've always done it." Granted, I like to mix up the worship service format simply for variety, and mixing it up may in fact help prevent it from becoming stale - but, if it's becoming stale "because of" the format, there really are likely other, deeper issues that need to be addressed, as the format of the service shouldn't be what determines what we get out of it.

Anyway, there may be a benefit (to "change for the sake of change") of discovering some new, awesome way to do things; then again, there could be the drawback of discovering a horrible, awful way to do things that actually is damaging in some way (wasteful of resources, distracting someone from the perspective of the service format to the point of missing what the Spirit is trying so speak) - hopefully that would only happen the one time, of course. But, as I said, I don't know that "change for the sake of change" carries any higher intrinsic value than "doing it the way we've always done it."

Knowing that 1) you have a unique perspective on "modern church" (from your varied positions in your church history); 2) there are likely several worship leaders who are readers of your blog (and may pick up on this discussion from your comment sidebar); 3) there are other blog readers who probably have or know worship leaders (ditto on the sidebar), I wonder if you have any specific bananas out there regarding the worship format that may be being left untouched by all the monkeys in church? (Note: not trying to be patronizing - I'm really looking for suggestions & recommendations, ways to improve things, and hopefully readers of your blog are the ones who might actually be willing to try to take some of the ideas and run with them).

So... any bananas out there? I'm initially directing the question at Dean, but obviously anyone can comment. (Personally, I'd like to see "offering" handled by putting the plates or coffers or whatever up at the front and allowing people to bring their tithes & offerings to the storehouse - why do we have to go out of our way to make it "easy" to offer to God? I think there would be some personal benefit - effect - of actually rising from your seat, bringing your offering to the front, and placing it in the offering box on the altar - during the preaching, during the singing, during a prayer when you are prompted by the Spirit; I understand the potential drawbacks of the "look how much and how often I put money in the plate!" mentality, but I think that danger is worth the benefit of the potential effect that actually bringing your offering to the table would have to God's children.)

Dean Lusk said...

To speak directly to the statement/question in the last paragraph, "Personally, I'd like to see 'offering' handled by putting the plates or coffers or whatever up at the front and allowing people to bring their tithes & offerings to the storehouse - why do we have to go out of our way to make it 'easy' to offer to God?" Because as I understand it, statistically this is likely to bring in the most money; at least, this is the prevailing mindset in many churches (I have no stats on this). Because of this kind of thing, consideration of the heart of the giver is often not considered.

I'm not the only one who's thinking along these lines. I've found it frustrating to try to put everything into words because I never seem to have the time to sit down, put my thoughts on paper, and then organize it all into something that is laid out well.

However, I've recently read an excellent article online by a guy named Steve Atkerson, and several others that are similar, to be great summaries of how a modern church meeting can reflect the spirit (and Spirit) or the early churches, yet be quite "relevant" to culture and society without being selling out to them (I'm not suggesting that all church fellowships have sold out to culture and society, nor do I believe that).

Here's the link to the article:

Dean Lusk said...

I meant that I'm not the only one thinking of church meetings in "new" (which I'd argue are old) ways.

I made a poor transition from money collection into the next topic in that last comment.

Tony M said...

Ha, yeah, I know that's 'why' on the offering thing (or at least likely why). I think perhaps that's one of the ways that 'modern' church has gone too far in catering to 'modern' ('lazy'? 'American'?) Christians.

In driving this afternoon, I thought of this example of why change can be bad: suppose a car manufacturer decided to avoid the pattern of putting the gas on the right and the brake on the left... What kind of effect would that have? Perhaps, for some, the 'modern worship format' is a safe environment where freedom of worship is available, whereas alternate formats may bring a level of discomfort that hinders worship. Should it be that way? Of course not. But maybe, to some, 'the way it's always been done' is their 'not eating meat' that Paul says we should not look down on.

I don't know, and I don't know anyone's heart or mind outside my own (although I feel at times I have a decent grasp on some people's, usually those that either I'm very familiar with or that fit particular stereotypes, which of course is a dangerous mold for me to use to interpret people).

All in all, I know this: I don't have the answers, but I'm certainly not against trying new methods or ways, especially if there's a goal in sight. And I'm also amenable to variety to keep things fresh, and definitely open to following the leading of the Spirit, even if it breaks a prescribed flow in a worship service. And I'm not arguing to be arguing or, really, even to defend the status quo (as Dr. Horrible said, 'the status is definitely NOT quo.' - is it wrong to quote him here?).

And (I know I should not start a paragraph with 'and' - but there's lots of grammatical mistakes in this I'm sure, so what's one more?) I still am interested in any bananas you see out there, and I think that 'my church' might be open to seeking some of the bananas, too.

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