A Testimony of Cultural Messiness In Their Own Words
“We can’t be creative if we refuse to be confused”, Margaret Wheatley
Background: The following conversation began in a local bar where the exec committee and pastor were meeting to discuss upcoming events of the church. At one point the conversation turned to recognize a challenge they were seeing in the congregation. This challenge primarily dealt with the fact that many of the older folks who had been involved in ministries and committees for years, were not being replaced by the younger generation. Dan, one of the members of the exec committee said, without malicious tone or intent, “I just don’t think that people at the late service really understand that traditional service does more for the church than the late service, because a lot of the older folks at the early service have been doing stuff for years. With disruptive interjection, “Tina” said, “wait a minute this makes me feel uncomfortable. I feel very called to the church, but I’m just not committed to the things that the older folks have been doing, I’m committed in my own ways. This doesn’t make me any more or less a part of the church.”
The following email exchange extends the exec team’s reflections on the matter.
The Email Exchange: “Dan”: The last few days I have been thinking about the previous discussion with “Tina” on the perceptions that people may have. I had aha moment. Our church, and probably other churches in general, has done service events the same way for many years. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, it has led us to get “comfortable” in doing ministry to the community in a certain way. And we, like other churches, have been good at addressing the immediate crisis at hand -i.e., provide food, shelter, or clothes for that day or the next. While it is a good thing to do and is needed, it only addresses part of the overall needs. How do we address the long-term needs of people? It’s the old saying – give a person a fish and he can eat today; teach a person how to fish and he can eat for a lifetime. I think people understand this but find one easier to address.
My aha moment is that it is more convenient to address the immediate needs than the long -term ones. It is convenient because I can quickly buy clothes or food and not interrupt my day too much. It takes more time and thought to properly address the cause of a person’s condition. It’s messy because it requires conversion about (1) local, state, and national policy, (2) attitudes and beliefs, (3) education, (4) power and money, (5) what it means to be a good neighbor, etc.
Where I’m going with this is our congregation is struggling with change. Ministries/ programs are forming around how we effect long-term, meaningful change (teach a person to fish). Some or many members in our church want to engage in the messier stuff. The existing ministries/programs don’t necessarily work for some people in how they want to engage. This may be viewed by some as not wanting to actively participate in the church. In other words, people may want to engage but they find it hard to do so under existing programs in the way that they want to.
Of course, there are other things at play, such as the felling, “am I going to be doing this for the next 30 years” if I say yes to it.
In short, I had two revelations. The first is that we sometimes give of our time, talent, and money out of convenience versus meeting a person’s needs. The second is that we may unconsciously want others to engage in ministry the same way we do.
Response from an exec committee member: “Barb”: I think your insights are spot-on and are something we should pay attention to. There is a change happening towards deeper (“messier”) ministries such as the Justice team and for some people that is what they are drawn towards; it addresses that deeper need that gets at the root issues. Our more established ministries focus more on the immediate needs you describe. For some people, that may be where their comfort level is. There certainly could be a disconnect happening as we are evolving.
It will be interesting to dive more into LL and pay closer attention to our community/ neighborhood and who we are serving.
My thought is that we may end up somewhere in-between. As you said, there will always be a need for areas like emergency food, diapers and shelter. And there will be some people who don’t (or can’t for various reasons) go deeper than sending a check.
However, as we get to know who our neighbors are, some of our programs may change to reflect that more meaningful connection you talk about. It is my hope that through more conversation we make discoveries that can broaden and deepen how we approach serving the needs of our community. Hopefully that attracts a new group of people at our church who want to participate in a model that feels more authentic to them.
Response from a third member of the exec committee: “Tina”: Dan and Barb, very thought provoking. I am happy this conversation continues and I’m thankful Living Local is bringing us there. I did not “get it” at first and the type of change we are seeing and feeling is difficult to measure, but I think you both captured some of the change with your words. Your thoughts about some of our generational differences make me think about our youngest generation; our recent speakers a few months ago, and what I am watching both of my daughters at 9 and 13 feel and write passionately about. Finding meaning across the generations in doing God’s work together.