Church people have this odd, split personality way of looking at the calendar. The Christian year begins with Advent; by the time December 31 comes around, we have already been celebrating for, like a month, and New Year’s Eve feels more like the end of a season than the beginning. But then January first dawns, bringing with it a calendar full of empty pages, waiting to be filled with resolutions, hopes, dreams, exciting initiatives and the dividends paid by the lessons learned last year.
Like this one.
But here’s the thing: no matter when we resolve to change things, the questions we ask have a profound effect, not only on the direction, but on the very success of that change.
How do I lose weight?
This is a question people like me ask of ourselves and the world – the catalyst of a twenty billion dollar industry devoted to weight loss programs and supplements.
Why? Because THEY REALLY WORK.
Of course, the answer never changes, and it’s always free: DIET & EXERCISE.
Welcome to the desert of the real.
What I should be asking is, how can I be the healthiest version of myself? And while the answer no doubt includes the shedding of an entire person’s worth of weight, it would entail much more – a moderate exercise regimen, but also more time in prayer and reflection, more work on behalf of others, more intentional relationships with those close to me.
How can I get rich?
Likewise, this question is a perennial favorite, and one can find answers everywhere, from TV ads for personal injury lawyers to one’s Spam folder: MAKE MONEY ON EBAY®! MAKE MONEY AT HOME!! MAKE MONEY ON ALPACAS! AAALPAAACAAAS!!!!!!
Step one: write a book about raising Alpacas.
And when the Powerball® tops a billion dollars, it can be tempting to skip a car payment and buy a couple hundred tickets; but what are the odds?
Actually, I know the odds: One in 292,000,000. Two hundred ninety two million. For the sake of useless comparison, you were nine times more likely to be killed by a mountain lion than you are to win the Powerball.®
Believe in something bigger!™ – like my incisors.
Instead of trying to figure out how to get more money to pay for more stuff -or pay for the stuff I already have – I should be asking, how can I live well with the money I have? The answer to that can cover a range of things, from addressing wants versus needs, to a critique of our disposable society, and the consideration of a simpler lifestyle.
Simple, schmimple; It just so happens I really like Matchbox™ cars.
It’s the same in the church. The questions we ask about vitality and growth dictate both the direction and success of our attempts to bring change to the community of faith. A few examples:
How can we increase giving?
There are lots of individuals and organizations just itching to sell their foolproof stewardship programs to church boards. And make no mistake, they are selling; they charge hundreds, if not thousands for a box of magical materials – DVDs, scripts, workbooks, etc. Take the folks at stewardship.com:
That Dave Ramsey certainly is a handsome fellow.
These products could be great; they could be a waste of money – heck, I don’t know. What I do know is they might be answering the wrong question.
What if, when considering a budget we ask, what is the mission and ministry to which God is calling us? And what if, instead of basing that budget on the amount of money we raised last year, we shared our mission and ministry, interpreting it as we lived it out, and then trusted the Lord to provide?
The platitude is not really mine. Neither are the feet.
And then there’s this one:
Why are our Sunday School rooms empty?
When it comes to Christian Education, we have gotten used to the Litany of Lament:
The Litany of Lament
Leader: What has the world come to?
People: Everyone is so busy.
Leader: Both parents work.
People: Children are so busy.
Leader: It’s soccer. And baseball.
People: It’s football. And gymnastics.
Leader: Families are so busy.
People: It’s camping and skiing.
Leader: It’s cruises and Disney World®
People: Attention spans are short.
Leader: Entertainment is so sophisticated.
People: How can we compete with sports?
Leader: How can we compete with video games?
People: How can we compete with the busyness?
Leader: What has the world come to?
But instead of lamenting, how about we ask, What does our community need to know about God? What are the fundamentals of spiritual development – what are we called to learn, to teach, to share? How can we do that in the 21st century?
And finally, there’s the $64,000 question:
How do we get more people to come to church?
Ironically enough, $64,000 is about what my pastoral compensation costs the church, what with salary and pension and health insurance. Oh, and Alpaca feed.
Some churches give stuff away.
I can’t make this stuff up.
Some churches have ‘seeker sensitive services,’ with next level audio and video; they have praise bands playing rock music, country music, hip hop music; they have conversational sermons, with film clips and PowerPoint®; they have valet parking; they have coffee bars.
I’ll have an extra shot cappacchino with extra foam, a half squirt of sugar-free vanilla and a half squirt of sugar-free cinnamon, and a half packet of splenda; oh and good sermon, preacher!
But what if the question really is,
How do we fulfill the Great Commission?
GO, THEREFORE and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
Matthew, chapter 28
Notice the key verb.
Maybe now, in the Year of Our Lord, Two Thousand Sixteen, it is time for us to resolve to start asking the right questions.