And once you eat this meal, no one can ever again be expendable. Once you sit at this table, there are no more untouchables.
No more hating people, just because society tells us it’s ok to hate them. No more ignoring people different from us, just because we have laws that allow us to do that. No more being silent when the voices of hatred and fear are raised against our friends and neighbors. No more looking the other way because we’re not affected . . . because we are affected, just as long as any of our human family are affected.
By Derek Penwell
Since we've just passed the one year anniversary of the Haj-Alis arrival in the United States, I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about Syrian refugees, and the response to them by many in the U.S. The push to refuse entry to Syrian refugees on the part of so many politicians who are otherwise so publicly Christian strikes me as profoundly problematic.
Let’s say you’re walking down the street and you see a man unconscious in the middle of a busy intersection. He looks lost and helpless, unable to move out of the path of oncoming traffic. What do you do?
Well, you have a few options:
- You could initiate an especially aggressive background check to make sure he’s a man worth saving, and then, as a condition of his safe rescue, require him to sign a statement swearing his intentions toward you are innocent.
- You could await confirmation of his country of origin, in order to ensure that you don’t save the wrong kind of person.
- You could seek to ascertain his religious affiliation, promising to help him if his religious commitments align with ones you find acceptable.
- You could decry the general state of lawlessness that produces situations in which people are abandoned in less than safe conditions, vowing to write a strongly worded letter to somebody in authority, or to vote for someone who speaks about these kinds of situations with the requisite forcefulness.
- You could feel sorry for him, but remember all the other responsibilities you have that would prevent you from taking action to save him.
- You could argue that there are many more people in dangerous situations that you’ve already walked past, and that if you help this one guy, it would be tantamount to turning your back on the imperiled people who (let’s be honest) you’ve already turned your back on.
- You could argue that helping this man in trouble would set a bad precedent, only incentivizing the kind of lax oversight that allowed him to be abandoned in the middle of a busy intersection in the first place.
- You could go on cable T.V. to convince the world that with all the other things we have on our plate, saving stranded people is a distraction we can’t afford.
Or, you could get him out of harm’s way, and then worry about getting the other stuff sorted out—trusting that the system in place for screening imperiled people, which has an almost flawless track record for getting it right, will do its job.
Of course, if you happen to follow Jesus, you’ve already bumped into a similar scenario in Luke 10—the Good Samaritan. Part of the biting commentary implicit in the parable of the Good Samaritan is that the religious leaders in the story—which is to say, the people who, as a function of their faith, have the biggest responsibility to set aside their own fears to help the abandoned stranger—are the ones quickest to ignore the man lying exposed in the street.
So, here’s my question as I reflect on the current Syrian refugee crisis: How it is that some Christians can so unselfconsciously bear to reenact the parable of the Good Samaritan, having apparently learned all the wrong lessons from it?
Jesus tells the story of a Samaritan coming to the aid of a stranger in answer to the question: Who is my neighbor? The final answer to that questions turns out not to be the religious leaders who ignore the abandoned man’s plight, but the despised Samaritan. I imagine Jesus didn’t get a lot of amens after telling that story. Too radical. Insufficiently censorious of a person everyone knew didn’t have any rightful claim to God’s favor.
The reason Jesus’ story was so scandalous when it was told was because it contrasted the self-serving neglect of the religious leaders with the compassion of a Samaritan—a group of religious rivals to whom Jesus’ listeners would have reflexively felt superior.
A few things emerge from this parable that seem especially appropriate to remember as we decide how to treat Syrian refugees running for their lives:
- No matter your religious credentials, the test of your faith is not your doctrinal purity, but how you treat others—especially those who are most vulnerable.
- Regardless of the nature of your fear, the primary responsibility of those who follow Jesus (especially leaders) is to care for the powerless.
- Christians don’t get to assume as a result of their faith commitments that they possess some kind of superiority to foreigners of “dubious” religious pedigree.
- In short, when in doubt, embrace your fears and help anyway.
I’d like to suggest to you that Matthew sets up the story of the feeding of the 5,000 intentionally as a feast, a party hosted by Jesus, a life-giving party in which those who have nothing receive everything they need. But this party that Jesus hosts contrasts sharply with the party hosted by Herod just verses before—a party for those who already have everything they need—a party complete with extravagance and excess, all for the benefit of those who know nothing but benefit. But instead of giving life, Herod’s party deals in death. Just ask John the Baptist.
Matthew shows us something about the way the rulers and the powerful of this world usually operate: there’s often more than enough for everybody to enjoy, but somebody always ends up dead. But when God gets the world God wants, though scarcity seems to rule, there’s more than enough to give life to everyone.
When we say 'reign of God' in church, it sounds like good news. It sounds like the voice of justice clamoring against discrimination faced by our transgender neighbors. It sounds like the voice of compassion raising the alarm about kicking people off their healthcare. It sounds like the voice of those who shout in solidarity with all the women looking to make their way to the clinic without being harassed. It sounds like the voice of a river whispering to be spared the devastation humanity has wrought in its pursuit of progress. It sounds like the voice of an African American man unjustly accused crying out for justice in a world that has too often withheld it. It sounds like the voice of Malala resisting the Taliban. It sounds like the voice of Jesus challenging all the unjust systems that attempt to thwart the new world God has in mind.
When we say 'reign of God' in church, it sounds like good news. But to Caesar, to the powerful, to the people who always come out smelling like roses, to the people who benefit from a nice, orderly system that they alone control and benefit from—it doesn’t sound like good news at all. It sounds like the end of everything that has consistently given them advantages that most people will never enjoy.
God is determined to see the world God intended at creation, and God’s choosing up sides. And, for whatever reason, God chose you to change the world. I don’t pretend to understand God’s draft day strategy, but God’s decided to put you on the team with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Not a sterling start, I think we can all agree, but that’s God for you. God chose a skinny, no-name Galilean carpenter to build the franchise on. In God’s crazy way of looking at things, you make all the sense in the world.
The story of Jacob shows how God is busy seeking to disrupt, to turn upside down the world that the people in charge find comfortable—a world in which it’s taken for granted that the first shall be first . . . and the last shall be last. A world in which the powerful and the favorite sons assume that God uses the wisdom of the wise to shame the foolish, and the strength of the strong to shame the weak.
But in God’s vision of the way things should be, those who’ve been born with the deck stacked against them are now the ones God seeks to make whole.
Those who’ve always been too easy to ignore, too easy to exploit occupy the places of honor.
By Derek Penwell
Taking everything into consideration, the Bible was written mostly by losers for the benefit of other losers.
That’s not a value judgment, just an observation.
Think about it. The various authors of the texts we call Scripture, both the Hebrew and Christian versions, generally occupied the less aspirational end of the socio-political/economic spectrum. Much of the Hebrew Scriptures (which includes the Torah, the Prophets [Nevi’im], and large sections of the Writings [Ketuvim]) were written by people who were defeated and living in exile, or about to be defeated before adopting their new identities as exiles, or having just got back from a semi-extended stay in the Hotel Exile.
And not one writer of the Christian Scriptures (from Paul to the Gospel writers, to the authors of Revelation and the General Epistles) composed their work from any ancient Near Eastern Oval Office on a burled walnut desk with a Mont Blanc in hand. Each of the Christian writers labored in the shadow of the Roman Empire, a form of reverse exile in their own homeland.
In other words, the Bible was mostly written by the folks everybody endures their misspent youth trying to avoid winding up as—that is, losers. Bottom-dwellers. The wrong lunch table crowd. (Again, not an evaluative statement, just reporting.)
So, when I hear mostly white middle class Americans like Lawrence W. Reed, president for the Forum for Economic Education, offer up Biblical interpretations that sound as if they were merely Jesus-y versions of Atlas Shrugged, I get cross. Reed advances the argument that progressives have lied for years about Jesus when they suggest that Jesus would have supported “redistribution to help the poor.” Jesus requiring people, as a function of following him, to give up their wealth to help the poor? An obvious “canard.”
According to Reed, “It may disappoint progressives to learn that Christ’s words and deeds repeatedly upheld such critically-important [sic], capitalist virtues as contract, profit and private property.” He goes to great lengths to discuss passages in the Christian Scriptures that seem to touch on the issue of money, in the process painting a picture of a Jesus much less concerned with the “have-nots” than with making certain that no one takes anything from the “haves.”
But it’s hermeneutically dishonest to contort the Bible into a narrative that sees the fine folks on the low end of the power/wealth scale (i.e., the ones who gave us the Bible) wasting a whole lot of time writing a book meant to ensure that, above all else, rich people get to keep their toys from the hands of the predatory poor and their agents—the government.
The Bible was written by people the rest of the world would call losers to empower those who've been systematically dispossessed; it was written to show them that God has a special place in God's heart for the people everyone else has historically been willing to write off. People who've always taken for granted that they're God's A-team can't help but see this as threatening. But if you're among those who feel forgotten or left out, the Bible is good news indeed.
Keep this in mind when you bring your children to church: You may not be prepared for the consequences. It can be dangerous to have your children hang out with Jesus because, if they do, someday they might just hear his voice. They might drop their nets and follow him, and then one day head out into a world that doesn’t want to hear what they have to say about how God wants to see the world work.
They start talking about things like loving gay people and trans people the same as everyone else, and looking out for poor people (even the ones everyone else says don’t deserve it), they start talking about things like refusing to be silent when black men and women die in the streets—just because of the color of their skin, and not cooperating with authorities who want to split up the families of undocumented immigrants . . . they start talking about stuff like that, stuff they hear in this place in the middle of Sunday morning worship . . . and take it from me, they’re going to run into people who don’t like it. They’re going to make respectable people uncomfortable. They’re going to make the people in charge nervous.
By Derek Penwell
I remember those times when I would get an email from my dissertation advisor, telling me that she had finished marking up another chapter. It’s difficult to describe that feeling, that strange mixture of dread and hopeful anticipation.
Why did an email give me such anxiety, you may ask, dear reader?
It was all that blood on the page. And don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about either. Everybody (even little kids) fear the dreaded red pen—the one that announces to the world what an abject failure you are. You’ve harbored secret doubts about your abilities all along. Then you see a cataract of red ink washing over your work, and your incompetence is reified—a reminder that you had no business ever presuming to do something so clearly out of your league.
You know what I’m talking about, right? You look at the red marks, and all you can see is defeat. Writer’s instinctively fear the editor’s pen. Nobody likes to be judged; and editorial corrections feel like the incarnation of judgment. You produce something you care about, and along comes a critic to help remind you just how limited your gifts really are.
But, you see, that’s where I have to stop myself, slow my breathing, and take a step back. Generally speaking, a professional editor isn’t the same thing as a professional critic. An editor’s job is primarily constructive, an attempt to make your work better, whereas a critic’s job is help determine the value of a piece of work in relationship to a larger tradition of work.
Editors care about making something better; critics care about letting an audience know whether a piece is worth further attention, relative to other pieces of the same genre or medium.
That’s why I feel both dread and hopeful anticipation when I receive news that my work has come out the other side of the editing process. My first thought is that I’m being judged a failure. (My first attempt wasn’t good enough.) It’s difficult for even the most seasoned author not to feel defensive in the face of all that red ink. But after all this time, I know that the red ink is an attempt not to humiliate me, but to help me see how I might do my job as a writer more effectively. And it’s offered up by someone who cares about my work. (If not, I need to find a new editor.)
Every writer needs a good editor—if only because writers are, at best, too close to the work to look at it objectively, and at worst, writers are amazingly adept at lying to themselves. Good writers understand that good editors make their work better. Full stop.
Therefore, what looks initially like failure to a writer is actually an opportunity to do better work. If all you can see is judgment when you get an email from an editor, your work will never improve. In fact, many people who might have developed into fine writers quit trying altogether because they fear—what they wrongly assume is—judgment. But failure in writing usually has more to do with being too afraid to try than with trying and coming up short. Every writer comes up short; that’s why the editorial process is so important, and why it’s essential that the writer get comfortable with the fact that good writing almost always requires revision.
Art can’t be produced on an assembly line, because assembly lines require precision and replication. Art requires the freedom to regularly try something different—even if it may not work the first time.
Many congregations are also afraid of failing, of trying something that doesn’t turn out quite right after the first draft. These congregations labor under the sad conviction that they don’t really have that much to offer anyway. So when they finally do try something and it’s not immediately successful, they seize up with fear—taking their failure as a commentary on themselves and not as a prompt that they need to revise their work.
Some congregations take the need for course correction as further proof that they didn’t have any business getting wrapped up in something so obviously out of their league. Stick to what you know. Don’t get too far out on any particular limb. Otherwise, you just open yourself up to criticism. (And who needs any more of that?)
But congregations, like writers, need revision. They need to be able hold on more loosely, to see failure simply as information about what not to do next time. They need to face the fear of having someone point out that not everything went as planned, but that success is more a function of perseverance than perfection.
So, here are a few thoughts for writers and congregations:
- Don’t give into the fear of failure by not trying new things. Lean into it.
- Learn the difference between constructive correction and destructive criticism.
- Actively seek out editors who can help you do better work.
- Avoid expending energy on critics who believe their job consists only in telling you what you did wrong, without offering any insight into how to improve.
- Learn how to embrace failure as an essential part of doing good work.
- Laugh at the voices that seek to shame you, to keep you from daring to do something creative, different, interesting.
Ministry, like writing, is art—not industrial production. Editors are the friends of creative endeavor—not supervisors on an assembly line.
I’ve spoken with Christians who’re convinced that it’s not politically expedient to call for a beloved community that protects African Americans and LGBTQ people, that includes our Muslim neighbors, our refugee neighbors, our immigrant neighbors—even though this constituency recognizes, as Dr. King reminds us, 'the natural impatience of people who feel their hopes are slow in being realized.' These timid folks believe that taking any kind of a stand will be heavy-handed and disruptive, while failing to realize that, if the Holy Spirit is in our midst, heavy-handed disruption of the existing unjust order is not the thing we wait for the right time to pursue, but the very thing we lead, empowered and emboldened by the Holy Spirit who breaks in on us with an apocalyptic mini-tornado, the one who sets the shape and trajectory of our ministry.
The prophet Joel says to all the people made prophets by God's Spirit: 'And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.' And there’s nothing politically expedient about that."
Apologies for the sound hiccup.
We live in a world where people of color need someone to stand up and take some blows for them from a world that has too often focused its violence and hatred on their bodies, where undocumented immigrants need someone to stand between them and a system designed to devour their families, where Muslims need people like us to stand arm-in-arm around their mosques to keep out the forces that want to consume them, where LGBTQ people need someone to stand by their side as they seek to make their way through a world that too often would rather they just go away, where people need all of us to stand up for their children and their parents with pre-existing conditions.
You want to know what the Holy Spirit looks like? You want concrete instead of abstraction? Look for the advocates.
But I would like to suggest that it is impossible to live the Christian life correctly without making any enemies. In fact, if I’m a Christian and I haven’t made any enemies, maybe I’m not doing it right.
Why do I say that? Because we’re struggling against the powers and principalities. The very existence of a people who serve the Prince of Peace in a world defined by its ability to wage war puts us automatically in the cross-hairs of those who have a vested interest in promulgating war as a way of achieving peace.
In a world that specializes in putting locks on doors to keep people out, we cannot but appear to be threatening when we go to the doors, tear the locks off and invite everybody to come in.
By Derek Penwell
Saying that budgets are moral documents, though a commonplace, is still instructive. Where you spend your money is how you signal your priorities. Or in the words of Jesus, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart also be.”
That whole budgets-are-moral-documents thing came to me as I listened to a summary of on of the recent budget proposals offered to congress. Cuts to the EPA, to HUD, to international economic development, to the arts and public broadcasting, to scientific research. But the thing that really exasperated me were the cuts to services for the most vulnerable among us—the poor, the elderly, the unemployed. School lunches? Meals-on-Wheels? Community development block grants? Legal aid? Seriously?
And when you add that dramatic budgetary gut punch to the stunningly generous tax cut for the wealthiest Americans masquerading as healthcare reform, to the mean-spirited crackdown on immigrants and refugees, to the hate-mongering against Muslims, to the targeting of hard-won civil rights for African Americans and LGBTQ people … well, the picture is grim—especially if you happen to be a person who takes Jesus anything like seriously.
But in the midst of my despair, looking for a little spiritual and ethical insight, I ran across a set of documents I didn’t know existed—which is saying something, because I try to keep up on that sort of thing. But there I was, poking about the dusty corners of the Internet and I happened to run across an ancient manuscript.
Now manuscript dating is not my area of expertise, so I won’t attempt to put a date on this one. All I’m going to say is that it looked really dang old. (I realize that lacks a certain amount of academic precision, but you’re just going to have to trust me on this one.)
So, I blew the digital dust off these files, broke out my Greek lexicon and went to work. And what I discovered, I think, provides a bit of insight into our current situation.
Here for you, for the first time translated into English, is the manuscript I found, entitled, Things Jesus didn’t say.
Things Jesus didn’t say:
”Love your friends, bless those who bless you … and screw everybody else.”
“If you had the faith of this mustard seed … you wouldn’t need all that fancy ‘affordable health care.’”
“Blessed are the racists, for they will rise to great heights in the new administration.”
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? I mean, look at all these liberals, and their un-Christian ‘caring for widows, orphans, and the stranger.’ Why can’t they care about Christian stuff, like the 2nd amendment or school prayer?”
“Go, sell all you have and give it to the richest one percent.”
“Blessed are those who hate immigrants in my name, for they shall inherit all the jobs white people don’t want to do.”
“Follow me and I will make you fishers of … people who look just like you.”
“Give unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and give unto God only what you can’t hide on your 1040.”
“Let the little children come to me … unless they’re in Head Start or need help with school lunches, then cast them out into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of their tiny little teeth.”
“Come unto me all ye who are weary and heavy laden … and I will make sure you have no union to watch over you.”
“Go ye therefore into all the world … and make sure everybody hates Muslims. Because obviously.”
“My God, my God, why do women not see that men should have the last word about what they do with their bodies?”
“You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery, but I say to you … unless she’s a lot younger, prettier (like a model or whatever), and you’ve had enough foresight to sign a prenup.’”
“You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, but I say to you … what the hell? They’ve got it coming.’”
”You have heard it said that healthcare should be a right for everyone, but I say to you, ‘If you can store up for yourselves another new Benz, even though it comes from money meant for poor people’s chemotherapy, then you should totally do it.’”
“You cannot serve God and mammon … which is why it was important to have the Supreme Court rule favorably in Citizens United. Helps us keep to keep who’s who straight.”
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven … but if you have a suitably large investment portfolio, that definitely won’t hurt.”
“If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” (Marginalia—“This only applies to People of Color and women in abusive relationships.”)
“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but I say to you … just kidding. That’s for suckers!”
“And I, when I am lifted up, will draw all straight, cisgender, middle class white guys unto myself.”
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep … except refugees. They definitely do not count.”
“So therefore , none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” (Wait. Actually, he did say that, but he probably shouldn’t have.)
The church has been inhospitable to a wide range of folks over the years, excluding people because somehow they aren’t right the way some church folks figure right ought to look.
But it’s not right. If there’s one thing following Jesus teaches us, it’s when strangers and wayfarers come among us, we’d better make room at the table. Because it’s in those acts of hospitality—the sharing of food, the loving embrace of those who’ve been turned out, the kind word to the one whom the world has beat down, the hand on the shoulder of the grieving—it’s in acts like these that we can finally see Jesus for who he really is. It’s precisely in these welcoming gestures that we find Jesus.
Jesus, as God did back in Genesis, breathed and brought forth new life—transformed lives, no longer in need of worrying only about existence and comfort and survival, about success and wealth and fame, about avoiding the hard demands of the presence of God . . . but about truly living—about being there for others, about binding up the wounds of the sick and the dying, about going out into the world and feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, liberating the oppressed, and finding those who’ve been forgotten and cast aside.
'As God has sent me to give you new life,' Jesus says, 'so I send you to give new life to the whole world.'
The emphasis in Matthew’s Gospel seems to be less on what happened than on what happened next. That’s why Matthew has Mary and Mary burning up the road, not sitting around talking about it.
What work does the resurrection achieve? Victory over death. Freedom from fear. Salvation from sin.
However you want to talk about it. But the real question to us is, 'Now that you’ve got this shiny new resurrection, what are you going to do with it? Are you going to hang out with it, set up a shrine to it and serve lattes, thinking all the work’s been done two thousand years ago? Or are you going to realize that the freedom the resurrection brings is the freedom to back out of the tomb, walk down the road, and get back to work?
So, you’ve done your homework. You’ve looked up DBCC on the Internet, went to our web site, poked around the FAQ and About Us pages, Facebook stalked us. And maybe you’ve thought to yourself, “This seems like an odd and interesting group of people,” and decided to check us out in person. Maybe you’ve heard about us in some other way, but you’d like to know a little bit more about us—who we are, what we’re passionate about, what kind of role we believe we play in making the world a more peaceful and just place, or why we think the Marx Brothers are superior in every way to the Three Stooges. (Sorry, the last thing was a bit of editorializing. ~Derek)
Well, we’d like to buy you dinner and a drink, and answer your questions. We’re going to have a “Get to Know DBCC Thing.” The first will be on Sunday, April 30th at 12:30. The second will be on Wednesday evening, May 3rd at 6:30, downstairs in The Commons. Bring your questions and your appetite. And if you don’t have either of those, come anyway and meet some pretty great people.
By Derek Penwell
“What’s the one thing you’d like to do before you die?”
That’s what I asked them. Five of us sitting around a table in a bar after a wedding. You know how those conversations usually go. Besides my wife, I hadn’t met any of the other people until the day before. But having learned that one woman was a marathoner who expressed no interest in running another one since she’d already accomplished her goal, it got me to thinking. I wondered if she had other big-ticket items on her life to-do list. So I asked everybody what big thing they’d like to accomplish before shuffling off this mortal coil.
One person said, “Play the piano.”
Another said, “Do a hand stand in yoga.”
Still another said, “Be published.”
All of these seemed like reasonable aspirations—not outrageous, like becoming an astronaut or becoming a pediatric neurosurgeon (which aspirations aren’t outrageous either, unless you happen to be on the downward side of middle age). “Doable,” I thought.
So, we talked in a meta-way about accomplishing goals—about how hard you have to work, and how consistently you have to show up. Generalities. It was a bar conversation, after all.
But if it had been in another setting—one that didn’t include a long day, a night of dancing and drinking—I probably would have said, “Ok. So, how are you going to accomplish your goal?”
Look, I’m nobody’s life coach. But I know how this stuff works. Having a goal and accomplishing a goal are the same distance apart as fireflies and fire.
Usually, when I ask that question, “How are you going to accomplish your goal?” what I get is the econo-size box of hesitation. “Um … well … ”
So, the next step (there almost always has to be) is to ask, “What’s the first thing you’d have to do to achieve your goal?”
More hesitation. People find abstraction much more comfortable to live with, since it doesn’t really cost anything to think big thoughts. “Well, I guess, I’d have to … um … well … “
Simple. Just keep it simple. Practical. What’s the first physical thing you’d have to do to start following through on your goal?1 If you’re going to learn to play the piano, what’s the first thing you’d need to do?
“Find a piano teacher?”
How? You need to be specific. Ask a friend? Call the local music shop?
“Call the local music shop.”
“On the phone.”
You’ve got the number of the local music shop on speed dial?
“Oh, I’d have to look it up.”
How? In the Yellow Pages? Google it?
There you go. If you’re going to learn to play the piano, the first step is to Google the phone number of the local music shop.
Now, you think I’m a pedantic twit. You’re not alone. Believe me.
But until people get that specific, they’ll never learn to play the piano. Because playing the piano is hard. You learn step-by-step, day after day. Most people know that, which is why they either put it off, or they keep the idea of learning to play the piano conceptual (which might just be the same thing).
Congregations are really good at abstraction. What would your congregation like to accomplish?
“We’d like to grow.”
Without getting too deeply into what you mean by “grow,” how are you going to accomplish that? (What congregations mean by “grow” will generally be evident in their answer about how they intend to grow. Usually, they mean something having to do with bodies and cash.)
“Um … well … we could get some young families.”
How do you propose to “get” these young families?
“We could hire a young minister.”
What do you suppose your “old” minister would say to that?
“Good point. We could have more programs that appeal to young families.”
Ok. What kinds of programs? Vacation Bible School? Upward Bound Soccer League? Day care?
“A family movie night. And we could invite people from the neighborhood.”
Now we’re cooking with gas. What would you have to do first?
To show a family movie?
“Fine. We’d need to decide on a movie.”
“The fellowship committee.”
I would think choosing a movie wouldn’t need a motion in a committee meeting, but it’s your church. How are you going to get the committee to decide on the movie?
“I guess I could just email them and ask.”
So, at least in this person’s mind, the first physical act necessary to help your church grow would be writing an email.
I know that sounds overly fussy, but ideas (even good ones) will remain ideas until somebody bothers to pick up the phone, or send out an email, or shop on the Internet. Worthy aspirations are even worthier if you actually pursue them. And to pursue them you need to break down a big idea into manageable actions.
The larger point, though, is that congregations are notorious for keeping things vague. There’s safety in vagueness, in never starting. It’s difficult to fail at something you never actually try.
The secret: If you’re ever going to do anything interesting, personally or corporately, you’re going to have to plod through the valley of abstraction and set up camp in the world of actual work, where practical things like attending to details actually matters.
- Just so we’re clear, I’m not an organizational genius. I get this “first step” thing from David Allen’s, Getting Things Done. Do yourself a favor, and read it. It’ll change your game.