Why don’t we farm zebra?

There are in fact very few of the world’s animals that have ever been domesticated, and those that have all share a set of characteristics. They are easy to feed; grow at a reasonable rate; breed in captivity; aren’t too bad tempered; don’t panic at the slightest threat; and are socially tolerant of each other.

This would rule out the great majority of animals. Elephants grow very slowly; hippos are extremely aggressive; pandas don’t breed easily and only eat bamboo, etc. People have tried to domesticate zebras, but they are wilful and bad tempered putting the farmers at risk. Conversely they thrive in the harsh African savannah where horses do very badly.

This is an example of the Anna Karenina principle that starts Tolstoy great novel.

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

This describes an undertaking where a deficiency in any one of a number of characteristics dooms it to failure.

Can we apply this principle to Church? Are all happy churches alike, but unhappy churches each unhappy in its own way?

This would mean that for a Church to be successful it must be successful on each and every one of a range of criteria e.g.: worship, mission, outreach, pastoral care, membership. Failure on only one of these counts leads to unhappiness (lack of success or failure). Thus there are more ways for a Church to be unhappy than happy, that is to fail rather than succeed.

This seems to me to set an impossible, and even unreasonsable, standard. We can’t do everything perfectly but can recogise our weaknesses and seek ways to be the best we can; and crucially, work with others, both Churches and organisations, to support us in areas where we need help. For me the clear message is that we cannot do this alone but can only succeed together.