Saturday, January 23, 2010

New Things

As I sit in the pastor's office on a Saturday morning, things are typically silent in the church. The halls are empty. The classrooms sit cold and dormant. The sanctuary is still. The thrums and wheezes of our heating system and the staccato clacking of my Mac's chicklet keyboard are the usually the only sounds. It can feel like a hollow, empty shell of a building, a brittle egg with no yolk and no white.

Today, though, the church bustles and hums with life. One of the folks who is joining the church tomorrow had the vision and desire to restart a culture school for adoptive parents of Korean kids. Our church had hosted a similar program years ago, but it waned when the agency we worked with changed hands and lost interest. But one eager and entrepreneurial soul was enough to get it rolling again. The church gives her the space and our encouragement and our prayers, and suddenly, there's sound and laughter and footsteps here again. I had the pleasure of offering up words of welcome to the group on behalf of the church this morning, and it was a delightful thing.

For a small church, there are three things to carefully avoid when you start up a new thing.

First, we need to avoid viewing new things as a distraction or a threat to "how things are." Many fading churches are desperate to revitalize, but only understand revitalization as "doing what we've always done but with more people." That is the path of decay and death. Life means dynamism and change and openness to the new. Vibrant and successful churches both nurture and celebrate newness. They encourage the gifts and hopes and aspirations of every soul who gathers with them. I think we've got this one down. Folks here are willing to embrace change, and my little leadership cadre has made that an explicit part of our congregational vision.

Second, we need to avoid being physically territorial. Whenever there is change in the life of a church, sometimes folks bump up against other folks. We try to coordinate times and spaces, but sometimes..well..things get moved. Or a room isn't quite exactly the way you left it. Or someone chasing down a child forgets they left a half-consumed cup of coffee on your desk. Given our not-so-distant remove from other higher primates, it's easy for human beings to get all pissy about picayune stuff like this. I know I can be that way sometimes. But that petty material gracelessness can be a surprisingly impressive impediment to renewal. For little groups who are used to everything being theirs, the whispering and puckered-lip disapproval over their use of our space and place can hamstring efforts to welcome in new opportunities for joy. I think we do OK at this about two-thirds of the time. I commit to doing it better, and to lovingly kicking the butts of folks I see falling into this trap.

Third, and this one is the hardest, we need not to be grasping. As any new program comes into being, particularly ones that serve others, it's really really hard for churches not to seize hold of them like a panicked drowning person. Every person who comes SIMPLY MUST JOIN US! We need you here! Pleasepleasepleaseplease! In our desperation to be moving in the right direction, we view every new opportunity as something that should serve us.

This gets it exactly backwards. Every new opportunity is an opportunity for us to better serve others. I know we don't have much time, and things are tough. But we need not to grasp and cling and cry out and have our future drown with us as we claw it under with us. Be calm. Don't panic. Celebrate the moments as they come, and keep ourselves open to the moments of new possibility that will arrive.

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