Right or Wrong? Burning platform syndrome

Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform on fire in 2010. (Wikipedia Commons Photo)

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I’ve heard the term “Burning Platform Syndrome” used in business. What are the implications for this concept in churches?

“Burning Platform Syndrome” stirs both application and warning in its use among churches. The phrase typically is attributed to Daryl Conner’s book, Managing at the Speed of Change. The expression conjures an image of a fire on an oil-drilling platform, leaving workers with a life-or-death decision. Do they jump into the cold, debris-filled waters and face the risk of death, or do they remain on the platform and encounter certain death? The analogy challenges organizations to understand clinging to the status quo is greater than the risk of diving into change.

Alarm bells

In some instances, this image is appropriate for the church. Alarm bells clang repeatedly, warning the church about the necessity of change. To remain significant or perhaps even to survive, the Bride of Christ must recognize changing congregational needs, contexts, priorities, concerns, methodologies and pursuits, just to name a few. Truly, the ethos in which the church exists in the 21st century places it on the precipice of irrelevance.

The church simply is no longer the “platform” through which a dependent society seeks energizing resources of spirituality. The world no longer flocks to the church because attendance is the societal norm, or because the family of believers is the center of community life, or because the pulpit is the perceived authoritative source of truth. That platform is on fire. The danger of remaining the same is greater than the peril of change.

The “Burning Platform Syndrome” absolutely suggests implications for the church’s existence. However, the analogy certainly has its limits, as well. While the platform may be burning and change is necessary for survival, the message of the church must never change. The church cannot alter the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, no matter how intense the heat. The significance of the church may rest in its willingness to change its methodologies, to address real issues with which congregants struggle and to spend its energy, money and time on matters of consequence. However, the core of its faith is not up for change.

Approach change in the right way

Another warning in the midst of all the fire alarms is the motivation for change must be approached in the right manner. Christ served as the model change agent for the church. He surely introduced the most significant change in the history of mankind. The church must remember Christ ushered in change through love, not fear and through losing his life, not saving it. While jumping from the burning platform may illustrate the urgent need for change in the church, the impetus for such change should mimic the example of Christ.

The church rests precariously on a burning platform, but how it jumps into the waters of change may well determine its future relevance as much as if it jumps at all.

Allen Reasons, senior minister

Fifth Avenue Baptist Church

Huntington, W. Va.

If you have a comment about this column or wish to ask a question for a future column, contact Bill Tillman, consulting ethicist for “Right or Wrong?” at btillman150@gmail.com


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