Overwhelmed

The local church caries value. It provides (or should provide) in various ways for its community. Many times the result of the efforts of the local, established church is an inward focus, but that’s not the end of the world. We are all inwardly focused in one way or another, and to suggest constructing an organization called a church only to say it needs to deconstruct and be in the community is an interesting take. More on this later.

For now, however, is the topic of how the church overwhelms, and not always in a good way.

People who work in the local church (generally) believe that what they are doing is good for the people they serve. People need programs (children’s ministry, youth ministry, men’s ministry, women’s ministry, small groups….the list goes on). So, we provide them, and I know “need” is debatable. Some churches go above and beyond, providing counseling and other professional services, as well. These are all good things. But whether or not they are good is not the only measure of whether or not they should be done.

People who attend these local churches believe they need something more in their lives. Or they believe that attending a local church is an obligation they should fulfill. Or they have no idea why they attend a local church. This is yet another topic altogether. But for now, let’s assume people attend a local church because they believe they need something like it in their lives.

So we attend and we’re offered, at some churches, a myriad of communications (verbal, email, web, social media, signage) relating to births, deaths, baptisms, events, classes, prayer requests, the upcoming series and more. Sometimes all of that happens on one day. Let’s assume a worst case scenario, based on a true story.

A couple wakes up in the morning. They’re unsure if they should even go to church. It would be easier and better to just stay in bed to sleep or lay in bed with the iPad and watch the next episode of Orphan Black. (You know this is somewhat appealing already). This couple is questioning whether or not they want to stay married. They get ready and roll into the worship gathering five minutes late, but who cares. They made it. They made it just in time to hear the seven announcements – the new baby, the two new members, the new members class, the new Wednesday class lineup (they don’t attend Wednesday night because they both work nights), the Halloween event for which they’re encouraged to buy candy (they don’t have kids) and the new sermon series “Happiness is a Choice.”  This takes 13 minutes, and it takes every ounce of effort to stay. Next, the preacher announces that he has flowers for a couple that has been married for 60 years. They’ve made it 6 and that seems like a miracle. Finally, there’s a video that talks of the goodness of God, how he rescues and saves, and how you can learn more about this if you attend the new Tuesday morning Bible study. Books are available for $10 each and class lasts 11 weeks.

How do they keep track of all of this? How does the staff keep track of all of this. The answer to both: they usually don’t.

How do they keep track of all of this? How does the staff keep track of all of this. The answer to both: they usually don’t. The staff booked two events on the same day, seemingly competing ministries that didn’t communicate their event schedule. Once that was sorted, they realized that they didn’t tell the creative director about the new class that needed artwork, nor did they write up the summary for email (the email is sent to the entire church membership 3-5 times each week so that no one forgets any of this, but somehow they still do). This couple received those emails. They read one while they were waiting in line at Starbucks. Well, “read” is a bit much. They scanned it because it’s one email in a list from work, then there are the two from mom asking about dinner this weekend. Some of these announcements sound familiar. Maybe. They Bible study sounds good but 11 weeks? That’s quite a commitment and agreeing to it and then missing two classes leads to another guilt trip and wondering if the next class will be different for them.

Why does this matter? What’s the point? The point is that church staffs are overwhelmed and they overwhelm people who are overwhelmed. A vicious circle. Instead of participating in the simplification and clarity discovery of the lives of the people they serve, churches (and not all churches, by any means) can actual complicate things. One clue – if they can’t keep things straight during the week (did you forget an event or forget to get something on the website?), how can they expect their people to keep up? Is it likely that all of that information is simply too much?

It’s possible to change this, but requires a commitment to follow a different path of leadership, communication and structure, one that brings clarity and simplicity to the way churches operate and then clarity and simplicity to how they lead their people and their community. If we, as church leaders, complicate the lives of our people or community we have failed in how we lead. Poor communication is the result of poor leadership and planning, but it can be different. If we cannot keep up with our own work, if we fail to effectively and simply communicate major or minor events, we have failed those we serve.

But it’s ok. We can change this. We can stop wondering if we’ve communicated well, and we can lead people to a better relationship with their local church, regardless of their level of commitment, and we can lead people to a guiltless start (or restart) of their relationship with Jesus.

Later: how to lead people well through simplified, consistent communication.

Perspective

I’m convinced that humanity could advance well if we could do two things:

– Troubleshoot – Troubleshooting isn’t learning how to fix your car. It’s learning how to learn how to fix your car. As a great next step, fix your car.

– Gain a new perspective on many things, including God/Jesus, the Bible, the purpose of the established church, our neighbors and the world…anything that we think we’ve figured out.

There’s a great scene in Dead Poets Society. Robin Williams’ character (John Keating) asks his students to follow his lead and stand on his desk. Why?

“I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way. Just when you think you know something, you have to look at it in another way. Even though it may seem silly or wrong, you must try.”

This is true about the Bible. It’s true about Jesus. It’s true about God.

But just as John Keating said, looking at scripture from a different perspective from what we have always known may seem silly or wrong (in other words, it’s fear). But we must try. For the sake of the progression of human thought, for the sake of those around you, and for the sake of your own heart, try. It can be uncomfortable, it can be unnerving, and it can be freeing to your soul.

The mystery of God and all his name brings with it is not something unknowable but something infinitely knowable. How great is that?

Grace

There is a challenge in my heart in regards to whether or not I should dislike people for what they say, for example, when they are running for president. The latest craziness is how we should ban muslims from entering the United States. I read about this on the same page that mentioned Pope Francis and the Year of Mercy. Hmmm.

My reaction is to hate the reaction. But just as violence gives us violence, I’m afraid reaction gives us just another reaction. We seem to dislike not having an opinion on something. They’re bad. We’re good. It’s an easy way to go.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, nor is it desired by Jesus, in my opinion. And it’s the consciousness of Jesus that I want to go after.

I quote Richard Rohr often, probably because he’s one of my kind of people. Meaning, he leans towards the mystic way of perceiving the universe and follows in the steps of Saint Francis. I love that the current Pope chose that name, and I love that we can choose to participate in a Year (or life) of Mercy. What bothers me is the reaction to candidates, the Pope, refugees…pick a headline…by many of my fellow Jesus followers (and me). But just as I weep for the lack of compassion or the snide remark about how letting in refugees will lead to our downfall, I also weep for my response to them, which is often one of anger mingled with a condescension, something in my mind that writes that person off as an idiot. They may very well be an idiot, but such thoughts remind me of one of my favorite Jesus stories.

In the Bible there’s a book called Luke. He tells about Jesus telling a story, or a parable. It’s a way to teach.

He says that two men went to pray. One was a Pharisee (very smart, righteous, Godly men) and the other a tax collector. Tax collectors, especially if they were Jewish, were not popular with the people as they collected taxes for the ruling Roman empire (and possibly pocketed a bit for themselves).

The Pharisee was standing by himself. He said, “God, I thank you that I am not like the other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give 10% of my income away.”

Then, the tax collector, who wouldn’t even lift his head, beat his chest and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Now, here’s one lesson. If you read this story and thought, “I sure am glad I’m not like that Pharisee. He’s a jerk.” Not only would you be correct, but you would also be the Pharisee in this lesson.

Don’t think badly about this guy. He’s doing what he’s supposed to do. He’s glad he’s got it right. We all think this way at some point or another, or just about every minute.

What can I do, then? There’s little that works for me to try to explain this, but here it goes. Grace. Offer people, including yourself, grace. It’s incredibly difficult, especially when you consider I’m talking about Donald Trump, terrorists, that person who fired me, and anyone else who I simply disagree with or by whom I am threatened. Grace is the pillar on which all hope stands.

Peter, a follower of Jesus, speaks quite a bit in the Bible. The book of Acts tells the story of the start of the movement of Christianity. After several chapters of some pretty amazing stuff happening to him, Peter takes the stage one last time. His final words in this story, after a long time of just trying to figure things out, are these: “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

Then he’s done. It’s the last thing he says in this story, and he summarizes life beautifully. It’s grace. For everyone. How can you offer that to yourself and others today?