Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Last night I caught a History Channel special on how US and Canadian Air-Space was shut down on 9/11. Nothing like it had ever been done before and, frankly, no one was even sure that it was possible. Amazingly, all the planes in the air (which were not already hijacked) at the time of the attacks got down safely. There were some close calls, and some planes were on the verge of getting shot down due to mis-communications, but everyone got down safely.

I'd never caught the end of this special before, so the last several minutes actually surprised me. After 9/11 people decided that they need to have a plan in place in case anything like 9/11 ever called for the shutting down of US Air-Space again. A commission was set up to put together the plan that would guide air-traffic controllers in grounding all the planes in the air which were under their control. If I heard right, over a year was spent researching the idea and formulating the basis of the plan - but in the end the commission declined to put one together. Were they lazy? Were they incompetent? Was the job just too big for them? Nope. As it turned out, the more they studied the issue the more they realized that a written-down plan would only get in the way. Air-traffic controllers have a "hands-on" grasp for the situation in the air under their control, and their training and experience has created instincts in their actions to account for the insane amount of variables they have to deal with in any given day - training and instincts which had already shown were flexible enough to deal with the "nightmare" scenario of grounding every plane in the sky at once. The commission concluded that if the controllers had to consult a book to make all their decisions for them - then things would not have gone as well when the people asked to do the impossible actually pulled it off. In the end, the commission told those who appointed them to actually trust the people who had been trained to do the job - with full confidence that only those people "at the trigger" could make the snap decisions needed to carry out their jobs.

Think about that. These people were commissioned to come up with a plan, and rather than put one together out of fear that they would would be attacked for failing to accomplish their task - the people on that commission had the courage, and humility, to say, "This cannot be done, we will only get in the way. We have to trust the people we put in charge to do what we've called them to do." How often do you see people in a bureaucracy not try to justify their own existence by putting something together?

Churches need more humility, and more courage, of the type that commission showed. Humility to recognize that they'd end up doing more harm than good by presenting the very rules they were told to create, and courage to stand up to potential detractors and abusive critics. We need more people who will submit to the Church in order to develop disciplines, knowledge, and instincts that will be able to shepherd congregations through the various tumults in life - and more people to trust the people whom they called to ministry (Pastors and Lay-leaders alike) to faithfully do what they've been called to do. Yes, we need to make sure people are staying within the clearly-marked boundaries which the Church has laid-down - but the level of mis-trust (not to mention the lack of clear boundaries) that Churches have in their leaders is killing churches - I hope we all learn to develop the same wisdom that the air-traffic commission displayed - 'cause it puts many churches to shame.


Jimmy said...

Watched the same show last night. I was also surprised that gov admitted that the situation was best left as is. With the show and this post from yesterday by Jared. It answers in some ways why the church will not take the same road as the FAA/NAV

wezlo said...

Thanks for the thoughts Jimmy - and for the link to Jared's thoughts.