Thursday, October 19, 2006

A New Axiom for Ministry

I think I may have another axiom for ministry. It might go something like this:

“Everyone is busy – deal with it.”

The reality behind this axiom: In general people live full lives, and young families especially spend much of their time negotiating the complexities, so you can’t be too upset when it seems they don’t have much time/energy left to give to the church. It’s not that people don’t care, or don’t want to, or are lazy slackers or anything. The hours of their day and the days of their week are so full of living life, what they need most is Sabbath rest, not more activities, no matter how holy they might be!

Our Director of Youth uncovered this axiom in trying to plan for a weekend he would be away. He happened to hit a weekend where four or five families had something else going on, and so he was not successful in finding a substitute to lead fellowship time. However, in a marvelous little good news/bad news twist, we only have four or five families involved with our youth ministry right now, so he actually didn’t need a substitute, because everyone is going to be busy! (Don’t you love that?)

People are busy in big churches, too. But the larger numbers of people mean that the overall ministries can absorb their individual busy-ness without feeling it too much. Four or five families might be busy, but there are a dozen more who will be there. In a smaller church like ours, though, having four or five families gone exhausts our youth group, as it would several other ministries here, as well.

However, the axiom is still true: Everyone is busy – Deal with it. We can’t chastise them for not giving of themselves to the church; at the end of their week, there is just not that much left to give. So maybe the church can offer Sabbath instead of more busy-ness. Maybe one way the church can “deal with it” is to allow people to slow down a bit rather than hurling ever more new and exciting activities their direction. Maybe we ought to go deep rather than go broad.

The term “balance” keeps coming to mind. If the church throws too many activities at the people, the balance will tip toward busy-ness. If the church doesn’t have anything going on, we get lethargic. The balance point is somewhere in between the extremes.


Anonymous said...

So true, Andy...I think we fight the idea that we need to have lots of programs or people won't "buy into" our churches...but what most folks seem to be looking for is relationships & least that's true out here on the left coast!

sparklesax said...

Balance is good, but priorities always seem to be part of this equation too.
Too often church is only “just another activity,” not the place where we are restored and sent out in service. If we're too busy to even prepare ourselves spiritually for life then how are we ever going to be able to find time to share the Good News?
Setting priorities (translated: making choices and—gasp!—learning how to say no) is the fundamental way to begin to find balance.

Larry B said...

It's an interesting point.

I forget which radio show host has the tagline that "money isn't the most valuable thing we have, time is." It's so true that once time is spent, we can never get it back.

The church does a fair bit of talking about spending our money wisely and usually even offers programs to help us with that, but not very often do we hear about how to spend our time wisely. (which reminds me I need to get off the internet pretty soon here :))

One of the things that impressed me about one of the mega-churhes (willow creek) was their concept that in our day and age, people come to the church more out of brokenness needing to be fixed before they can even go out and serve (and genxgirlrev points this out too in her post). If they come to a church and are confronted with a dizzying array of more activities to do, then
they probably just become all that much more bewildered.

I like your idea of going deep rather than broad and maybe illustrating in a better way how to spend "quality" time, which in my opinion is important in a hurried life. We might miss a burning bush in the desert if we're to busy to turn aside.

David said...

It is interesting to read your post, and the comments of others, just at the time when the lectionary for this AM is the message to James and John that the way to greatness is measured in service.
Certainly there is the need for the church to serve the people, possibly best done through providing sabbath. And yet this is challenged by the very question of how they might serve God too.
Good ponderings for today....thanks.

John said...

Maybe the professionalization of church work (e.g. paid praise singers instead of members volunteering) isn't, then, such a bad thing.

John F said...

This is an interesting discussion.

I attend a larger church, and getting people free from their other activities to participate is a real challenge.

We are what our ministry team calls a "low commitment" church.

The approach seems to be trying to have the staff handle the chores and creating space to invite laity to form small groups that provide the fellowship and community that might have been formed by more institutional laity activities in the past.

There are small groups that range from fairly spiritual in focus to those that are purely about shared activities - cooking, travel, etc.

I don't know if these small groups - or how many - are forming disciples. I don't know how much you need to force that agenda, or whether it will grow up on its own.

It is an interesting problem to think about.

Anonymous said...

I had intended to respond to this post but did not have time. JB

John said...

This is an excellent post and I have just quoted it in a seminary paper.