Can We Get Some Help Here?: Old First E-pistle 12.06.13

Can We Get Some Help Here?: Old First E-pistle 12.06.13

One of you was at wit’s end last week: frustrated that folks want everything done for them at church, without pitching in and giving a hand. Much less considering they might just do it for themselves!

As a pastor, I know that frustration. Remember how many times I asked people to step forward to help form a creche’ ministry team this fall? A large part of a pastor’s job is asking people to do things!

People often say, especially when they come back for Christmas or to get married at the church, “it’s great that the church is always there.” But are they unaware or unwilling to get involved with all it takes to maintain that presence?

As our community grows, many more people are helping out than a few years ago. Think of our hospitality efforts alone: before we asked everyone to take on the ministry of hospitality, Jackie, Rochelle and Jean pretty much handled fellowship hour each week. Some Sundays the hospitality team captains still know their teams are a bit thin. But now at least more people than not provide food, greet or handle set up and clean up. Still, admittedly, some end up doing much more than others…

Likewise, we are much closer to a full complement of leaders for our mission and governance structure. There is still a smaller group within our community that bears the lion’s share of the responsibility and work. But drafting leaders for the bigger, more demanding roles is much, much easier. Now we don’t have just a few people trying to keep all the balls in the air!

But raising volunteers to do all the work — big and small — around church is and will continue to be a challenge. Especially the inglorious jobs. And there’s always more we could do if we had more workers.

I tell younger pastors that as part of their training for ministry, “If you are going to survive as a clergy person, you better get used to not being able to accomplish as much as you would like, or as much as you think you should get done. In ministry, needs always outstrip your resources. And you have to rest sometime. And have a personal life too.”

The same dynamic happens in the congregation too. If we really tune-in to all that God is asking of us, expecting of us, can we possibly not feel “there’s no way we’re going to get that much accomplished.”

And sometimes we’re even left without help with basic jobs: decorating for Christmas; ushering; folding bulletins…

We ask for your stewardship generosity for the same reason. Cynics complain “the church just want’s your money.” But at our best, we ask for your financial support because the money allows us to do more, get nearer to what God wants us to accomplish. Of course, as well, generosity is its own reward. (Which reminds me, if you have not yet made a pledge for the 2014 year, you can do so here.

I tried to reassure the frustrated person: other congregations struggle with this too. People are busier, working longer hours. Church commitments, in a number of ways. are different, weaker than 20 years ago. As a downtown congregation — where hardly no one is “just around the corner or down the block” — such dynamics are exaggerated for us.

And member hours and dollars committed inevitably follow after, lag behind new people’s arrival in the community.

There are some cultural shifts going on too. The generation formed by World War II had a deep understanding of civic engagement, the personal commitments and hard work needed to build communities and a bigger world. Sociologists point out that later generations have been less publicly-minded, more individualistic, with consumerist attitudes leaving them more like customers expecting service.

One of you passed this along to me. Someone named Eugene Cho wrote:

“Dear Christian: Make a commitment to your local church. Be a host rather than a guest. Don’t just consume. Serve. Engage. Give. Pray. Love. Not only will it impact your local church, it will impact you.”

Do we have too many people seeing themselves as guests when they are to be hosts? Is that a peculiar challenge for the church today?

It sounds harsh, or a bit in your face. And of course in some sense, we are all God’s guests at church. But maybe it’s better to understand ourselves as guests, visiting family for the holidays, where sooner rather than later we’re expected to pitch in! That’s what we hope the all-church Hospitality Ministry begins to teach.

Finally, isn’t our Christian faith trying to inculcate a set of values that may be foreign, even counter-cultural? Remember, Jesus, when he washed the disciples’ feet, said, “I came to serve, not to be served.” He went on tell his disciples that they are to be servants of all. He was also the one who came up with “It is better to give than to receive.”

Church introduces us to a different sort of economy. You might think of it as a “Reign of God reverse economic system.” It’s not about how much you can take. But about how much you have to give.

Of course, the church is responsible for figuring out how to effectively teach us these lessons. We need to figure out how to ask effectively for help. How to make room for people to serve. How to provide people with experiences of the rewards found in giving.

Volunteer development and cultivation, they aren’t just a means to an end for our church. They are an end in themselves. We are about producing a different kind of people.

To that end, may I ask you to do some introspection: How really do we receive more in giving? And could you get better about acknowledging humbly that you need to receive THAT kind of help?

I often challenge people: if you want the most out of your experience at church, try investing more. Come to church more often. Get involved in the community. Build relationships among us. Pray for us. Learn more about your faith. Roll up your sleeves. Help out.

But even that can be understood as an argument of enlightened self-interest: if I give more, I will receive more. Closer to God’s truth is “I have already been given so much, the least I can do is share generously.”

Ask yourself, “How do I understand the church community?”

Is it something I count on always being there for me, and I can go back to it when I’m ready and need it?

Some people see the faith community as sacrificial– where they can take and take and take…

Is the church community something I’m putting off or saving for a rainy day?

Some people see the faith community as where they can borrow from others, e.g. when I am weak, I can lean on someone else’s strength.

Or is church a community that I’m investing in for a different future — for myself and for all the others it can affect?

Some people see the faith community as where they offer what they have that others might be blessed.

See you in church,

Michael