The last few days I have been bombarded by articles that give me the top phrases to say (or not say), the top three things to do to keep volunteers, the top five things my church needs to change, the top ten things I most need to make sure my children hear from me, and more.
I have read most all of them…you never know where a nugget of inspiration might come from…but this morning as I saw on Facebook that the majority of the reposts by friends were these lists I was struck by a truth.
The allure of these lists is that it makes it easy. Someone who knows something is telling us what the top things are that we should do to be better. Heck, even when they are nobody who knows nothing we cling to these lists like a log in a vast ocean.
We do not want to work hard to learn these truths. We do not want to go through the pain of learning the hard way. We do not want to take the time to discern, to think before we act or talk, to think more about the person in front of us than we think about ourselves. We just want someone to tell us exactly what to do or say in a moment so that we will not do or say the wrong thing.
Now don’t get me wrong. I like a good “top ten” list as much as the next person. The lists I have read are thoughtful and true and have the kind of sage advice I would get from my grandmother. But I wonder if they are not ruining us.
They make it seem like all this should be easy. They make it sound like all churches, all communities, all people have the same fix. We just need to get it together.
On the face of it they sound good. For example, I strongly dislike the phrase “it was in God’s plan” or something to that effect. I have worked really hard for a long time to not say that phrase. It is not my theology. I am pumping my fist, saying “yeah we need to get rid of that phrase” when I see it on a list of things Christians should never say.
But there are times in ministry when someone needs me to say “it was in God’s plan.” That is where their faith is. That is where their understanding of God resides. I can only know who and when to use this phrase when I have built a relationship with the people I am in ministry with. I can only discern when I need, yes need, to use this dislikable phrase, when I am fully engaged with the person in front of me. I cannot judge that their theology should be different or try to force them to see as I do.
I believe that people come to a relationship with Jesus Christ through different means. I am United Methodist because being United Methodist enables me to be the best follower of Christ I can be. I do not believe being United Methodist somehow gives me an edge up on any other Christian. One of my dearest friends is Southern Baptist. She will never have a female minister and I am okay with that. I know she loves me. I know she loves Jesus (and for the record, I know she knows I love Jesus too!) Her relationship with Jesus is expanded because of her experience in her church. She supports me in my walk as a United Methodist ordained clergy, even traveling many hours with her family in tow to stand with my family as I was ordained. She knows I could not live out my faith as a Southern Baptist.
We are all different. Some of us feel glory when we are at the mountains edge, others inside a room in front of a computer screen, others in the midst of a crowd dancing to loud music. We do not have the same tastes, the same likes, the same ideas about the world. We do not experience God in the same ways.
I have never known anyone out there whose lives have been transformed by reading a “top ten” list.
Transformation comes through relationship. Through understanding. Through love. It comes when I respect your journey and support you in it even when it is not my journey. It comes through hard prayer and discernment. Through pain…so much pain. Through abundance of grace. It comes when we are willing to become not like everyone else expects us to be but when we are willing to become more fully the person God created us to be.
This is true of individuals. It is true of communities. And dare I say it is true of each church. We have to stop relying on some quick and easy solution that we can train ministers to implement in every broken church and start training clergy to know how to be in relationship with their churches. Only when we start to see that each community of faith is uniquely created by God for God’s glory will we ever have a chance at seeing a revival of the Holy Spirit.
I’ll probably keep reading the lists…we all need a hobby, right? But I am mindful that they cannot save what is so deeply broken. Only Jesus saves the broken and even his lists require more than being able to say or do the right thing at the right time.