Monday, April 26, 2010

Churches Eat Their Young

That’s going to end up as a sermon title. I just heard it during a conversation with a church member who was calling, among other things, to see if I was back to my normal, peppy self. I am; thanks for asking.

We were also chatting about the possible next steps regarding the Triplet adventure and other “visioning” processes that churches go through. I’ll be writing more about that for the quarterly newsletter, due out next week. But for today, this quote that has moved me to break my months-long blogging silence is certainly worth talking about. What my friend meant by “churches eat their young” was our tendency to load all of the work of the church on the few we deem are most capable of doing it. You know who I mean: younger, able-bodied people who may even still have that “new Christian smell” to them. And of course by “eat them” we mean we exhaust them.

It’s one of those lines that are funny because they’re true… only it’s not that funny. It happens all the time and not just in churches. It’s the 80/20 rule: 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. It’s why rooms clear out like scurrying roaches in a truck-stop bathroom when the lights come on whenever someone starts “looking for a little help in setting up next week’s bake sale.” We know that if they get us for this, then they’ll get us for everything else that follows this and in three months we’ll be in charge of this for the rest of our lives.

Can I get an “amen?”

I know plenty of people who have left churches for exactly this reason. And why not? We don’t join congregations to be in charge of them. We join a church because God has done something in our lives that compels us to be there. Although at first we are eager to respond to God’s leading, doing everything was never part of the deal. But even though it is wrong for churches to expect the faithful few to carry the weight of the many, our initial eagerness to serve still remains the right response. However unfortunate it might be that we can eventually find ourselves being chewed up by our churches, doing nothing was never part of the deal either. The Risen Jesus is a game-changer. By his life we are not the same and avoiding eye-contact with the people who are trying to live out Christ’s ministry is not what Jesus had in mind for the church.

And so, herein lies our dilemma: Jesus calls us to action in and through the church. The problem is, not everyone seems to have gotten that message. And so, those who do get the message wind up doing more than their share.

From my perspective, there are three ways churches deal with this problem:

  1. Do nothing. This is a very popular response. Let the 20% continue to do next to everything, expect that eventually they will burn out, and hopefully some fresh meat will turn up before it’s too late.
  2. Do less. Nurture the 20% to do only what they can handle and if the other 80% doesn’t care enough (said in your mom’s most guilt-inspiring voice), “I suppose the work of Christ is going to have to take a back seat to whatever else they’ve got going on. Oh no, don’t worry about it; you run along. You’ve got important things to do. Jesus will make do somehow.”
  3. Do more.

Do more, but stop letting someone else tell you what Christ’s ministry ought to be. Avoid volunteering and strive for Calling. Theoretically, volunteering is doing something that helps in someone else’s calling. That’s wonderful in short-term bursts of service; it’s rewarding and much appreciated. But Calling is where the real fun is. Calling is all about Christ at work in and through you. It’s about the person God has uniquely created you to be and the ways only you can serve him in the world. Calling is about volunteering because you know it’s for something you’ve been created to do or not volunteering because you know God has put you on another job.

In short, if you don’t want to be eaten by your church then do more of what Jesus calls you to do. Enjoy it, let others celebrate it with you, and never stop listening for what Christ might be calling you to next. And if you’re not sure what you might be called to, come by and see me; it’s one of the things I’m called to do.