Here's a devotion I gave at our Church Council meeting. Just to let you know I don't just blab online and then never do anything beyond a computer!
Church Council Devotion, 1.22.2007
When I was in 6th grade, my voice started to crack and although it was not as impressive or respect commanding as it is now, I had facial hair. I was going through what biologists and middle school teachers call “puberty”. This puberty is well documented: hormonal balances changing, brain patterns altering, fuzzy feelings occurring, new odors emerging, all sorts of fun stuff. Some of us were early bloomers, some were late bloomers, which in retrospect didn’t really leave room for just bloomers. That’s another topic altogether.
I survived puberty and went to college. Then after college you’re thrust into “the real world” as biologists and middle school teachers call it. What I’ve found is that most young adults in America suddenly enter a second puberty no body ever told them would happen to them. All through school you’re told to go to college and everything will work out fine: you’ll end up 32 years old, married with a beautiful spouse, with 2 kids, a dog, and a great career. The problem is no body has an outline for how this is going to pan out. There’s no “7 effective habits” to figure out what you’re supposed to do to get through this spiritual and professional puberty. When you’re 13, it’s weird to have hair under your arms all of a sudden but it’s a lot easier to deal with being 23 and trying to answer the looming question what am I going to do with my life?
I was able to identify the call of God upon my life, so please don’t read too much into the paragraph above. You may be wondering…what is this dude talking about, and why have I already heard about his hairy nature so much? Well, I’ll tell you.
Our church is going through puberty. I don’t care what Willow Creek or Saddle Back or Windsor Crossing, or North Point Community, or The Rock (where I went to church during college), or Church of the Resurrection is doing, it’s not the same as here. We have different people in a different context with a unique playground in which God wants us to play. Let’s read books and go to trainings and figure out what has worked elsewhere, by all means! But what WE have to do is figure out how God is calling us to live, to be always discerning how God is leading us to function as a living body of Christ. Churches that are “successful” are not all following some mysterious paradigm we haven’t purchased the rights to, it’s not some model we’re just missing out on, they’re being faithful to how God is calling them to work, in their particular context.
What’s hard about puberty, about growing up, is that it always seems foreign and the other side of it seems unimaginable. Then, years later through a process of experience and learning you see that the changes you went through were good, hopefully. Those folks at Salem-New Ballwin sure were adventurous to plant a church further west. You can go down and see the names on a plaque of the people who built the new sanctuary, I’m sure glad they did. I’ll bet both those groups of people had tough calls to make. But we all have benefited greatly from their efforts in God’s name.
Throughout the New Testament Jesus speaks to us about trees, plants, seeds, fruit-- things that grow. With the possible exception of Chia Pets things that grow take nurture, care, and a lot of thought and even more time. Consider the following scriptures:
Matthew 7: 18, 20…”A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
Matthew 13: 1-9…The parable of the sower.
13: 23…”The One who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what sown.
Matthew 13: 32...The parable of the mustard seed. “Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows It is the largest of garden plants…”
John 15: 1-5…The vine and the branches. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful.”
There’s plenty more, but I’m not trying to impress you with my ability to search biblegateway.com or go through the gospels or concordances. I’m trying to show you that in God’s Kingdom the seeds are planted, watered, grown, and even pruned. So this church council can prune our part of the vine which is embodied in our church. It ain’t always pretty. How many of you have splintered limbs out by the street corner?
Growing is a continual process. Pruning takes planning and care. When a seed is planted, it’s hard to imagine that it will one day be a massive living creature. When your kids went through puberty, I’ll bet it was hard to imagine them being a full fledged contributing member of society. At this point, with our congregation, it might be hard for us to conceive of all the great things God wants to do in us and through is if we remain faithful.
But just like puberty, it’s awkward, not very much fun, and sometimes you start to smell and you don’t know why. There’s no step by step manual for precisely how EUMC transforms into Living Word just like there wasn’t a pamphlet for how to be 13.
Puberty is the name we’ve given the biological changes in adolescence, and I hope this body can lead us through our church’s puberty, through our church’s flowering--with a proper respect and honor for what has been, a commitment to what is, and a healthy enthusiasm for what could be.