"No one can serve two masters." – Jesus
"The most productive people and groups of people, who have any kind of mission, are those who jettison their weightiest cargo." – Your Truly, inspired by Honore de Balzac
I may be in the worst shape of my life because of this shoulder injury I took in a BMX race. Because of it, I haven’t been able to hike, wrestle kids, play softball or basketball, run, swim, lift or anything else that might bounce or jiggle my screwed up shoulder (and I mean that literally, my shoulder has a screw in it). The doctor has only released me to ride a stationary bike, so I’ve been going across the street to the Town Club, doing that, desperate to be in shape. But yesterday I decided to make a "big move" to the Stair Master, a bit tougher workout for sure, but still safe for the shoulder. It felt good.
But that’s not why I’m telling you this.
I’m telling you this because the Stair Master is right next to the balcony that looks down over the gym. And down in the gym, I saw something happening that I see happening in a lot of churches, if not most. For sure it is happening in the one I’m blessed to be a part of. And for sure it is happening inside of me.
There was a volleyball game going on. Four students on each team. And there was a half-court basketball game going on. Four more students on each team.
The problem is, there’s not room for both to be going on, at least the way they are designed to. Because the courts overlap.
That’s not to say they weren’t trying. They were trying to each enjoy the game they were playing. They were trying to be kind and respectful of each other. They were trying to stay out of each other’s way without compromising the quality of their chosen game. But, alas, they were trying to do so in the same space.
Needless to say, eventually…and repetitively…they got in each other’s way. A guy drove the lane, then zipped the ball out to the top of the key which is well into the center of the volleyball court, and just as he was taking his wide open shot…bam!…the volleyball whizzes into the back of his arms. A guy spikes the ball that get’s blocked, so his teammate rushes aggressively to the back corner of the court to keep the ball in play and…smack!…right into a basketball defender’s legs as he jumps to make a block.
It wasn’t working. They all knew it. But no one was addressing it. No one was trying to get agreement on what sport to play. No one wanted to offend anyone else. No one addressed it. They just kept on playing their half-games as if everything would just work out. Oh, you could see some sarcastic looks among the volleyball players to each other, and hear some disgruntled murmurings from the basketball players among themselves, but they weren’t addressing each other. And neither was able to do their thing well.
They kept playing, but it was so maddening for both, that I wondered if one group would finally either blow up in frustration, or just quit because it wasn’t worth the battle anymore.
For you church folks…sound familiar?
Watching the growing tension, I found myself eager for some Town Club authority to come in and expose this dilemma for them. No, not expose it, they all knew it was there. Address it. Forthrightly and openly, with a conscientious mind for a solution. I wanted for someone to discern some options for these guys that would allow one of the games to be played well. I couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t disappoint at least some of the folks, but I could think of plenty of things that would acknowledge the problem and then invite everyone to be a part of the solution…even if it called for some of them to sacrifice doing things "their way".
Allow me to take the analogy a step further. This gym is in a health club. Presumably, you come to this gym to get exercise in order to improve your health. While you can play basketball or volleyball in it(or dodge ball, or chase, or roller hockey), it’s not made primarily for basketball or volleyball. It is made for exercise. Both the volleyball and basketball players could’ve gotten exercise by joining the other group in their sport. But they weren’t there for exercise, and even if initially they were, they ended up making it about playing their desired sport, and didn’t mind sabotaging the effectiveness of the other group’s game (and exercise) to get it.
You following me here?
Let me take it further. A younger group of folks came in looking to play something as well. They saw what was being communicated non-verbally by the group(s) in the gym, and didn’t give a second thought to picking up a basketball and starting another game on a side basketball court that overlapped BOTH the other groups. There was no mistaking it, it was downright imposing and rude.
But what could the ones in there first say? "Can you kids not see that you are interrupting our game?" Nope. They couldn’t. It would have made them accountable to explain either (a) why they weren’t confronting the other group as well, or (b) admit they were doing the same thing.
So…they all just kept running into each other, ruining each other’s games, unable to really enjoy it, and not any of them doing any of it well.
I can’t resist…let me take it a little further. When I finished my stair-climbing, I took a cool-down walk around the small running track, which took me to the other side of the gym. From there, I could see the other sideline, hidden from my Stair Master view. There, I saw a 3 on 3 soccer game trying to be played between the wall of the gym and the volleyball court line! It was pitiful. Determined…and I respect that…but pitiful. An interrupting and interrupted game as much as the other 3.
But that’s not the worst of it. There were at least a dozen kids down there sitting and standing along the wall. They were watching it all…some looking like they wished they were playing something, some looking intimidated by the chaos, some apologizing for getting in the way of the soccer game, some looking like they didn’t want to be there but their mom or dad is working out and they can’t leave, and (this one’s my favorite) some laughing at the collisions and passive-aggressive conflicts taking place out on the floor. And in the few seconds I watched, a few kids stepped in the doors, looked around, and shaking their heads walked right out. They wanted nothing to do with what was going on in there…partly because there was no way to imagine where or what they could join in with.
Now…if a manager from the Town Club did enter the scene with a mind to figure out how to improve what was happening, what would you imagine he should do? What questions would he need to ask? And of whom would he ask them? Who get’s the priority here? Is it based on who was there first? On what sport can involve the most people? A democratic vote?
Is it based on what the manager comes in and dictates? On what he likes best? On who he likes best in the room?
Is it based on who’s family contributes the most to the Town Club financially? On who gets the most upset? On who has the strongest will out there? On keeping as many people happy as possible so they won’t leave the Town Club?
If I’ve done a good job making it seem like a hard situation…then I’ve accurately described why I think what I saw happening on that gym floor is happening in a lot of churches.
I doubt the Town Club would solve it this way…but I think churches need their God-fearing, prayerfully discerning, Christ-focused, disciple-making leaders to come to conviction from God on that one thing that they should do well…and then invite everyone who wants to be associated with them into that particular game.
At our particular church, one game being played is the game of "making disciples of Jesus Christ through relationships". And another game being played is "let’s base our worship practices on the 1st Century church’s worship practices".
Both games are being played, and both are trying to be respectful of the other, but they are overlapping and occupying the same space. They are each determined, and I respect that, but on occasion, it is pitiful. That’s not to say we aren’t trying. We are trying to each enjoy the game we are playing. We are trying to be kind and respectful of each other. We are trying to stay out of each other’s way without compromising the quality of our chosen game.
But, alas, we are trying to do so in the same space. Needless to say, eventually…and repetitively…we get in each other’s way. One group has a class about legalism, trying to address the other. The other has a small group discussion about how far we’ve departed from the Bible’s clear teaching, trying to address the other. But a lot of this amounts to sarcastic looks and disgruntled murmurings among each group, rather than healthy dialogue between each group.
Now…let me be clear…I think both groups are motivated, at least initially, by love. And if it was just about these two groups, and no one else, I might be fine with a church just doing the best they can in this situation. Give each group the freedom to play their game, and deal with the emotions and relationships between them only when they and their values bump into each other in an offensive way. I’m not sure I would, but I might.
However, it’s those doggone kids sitting on the side of the gym that puts me over the top with zeal for some kind of decision to be made about which game will be played in this gym, followed by a bold and practical application of it. It’s the people of the world, watching us. Some of them are just wishing they could be a part of something. Some of them are intimidated by all the chaos. Some of them wish they weren’t here, but their parents or spouse or kids make them come. Some (these are my least favorite) are just laughing at all the collisions and passive-aggressive conflicts going on between us.
It’s those people out there in the world, the one’s Jesus said he came to seek and save, the one’s he said God loves so much he sent him to die for them, the one’s he said he came to give life to the full to, the ones he said would know him because of our unity around loving them, the one’s that look at us and then walk off shaking their heads because they can’t determine what or how they might fit into this with us.
It all makes me desire that some Spiritual Authority would come in and expose this dilemma for us. No, not expose it. We all know it is there. Address it. Forthrightly and openly. And with a conscientious mind for a solution. I want for someone to discern some options for us that would allow one of the games to be played well. I can’t think of anything that wouldn’t disappoint at least some of the folks, but I could think of plenty of things that would acknowledge the problem and then invite everyone to be a part of the solution…even if it called for some of them to sacrifice doing things "their way".
I don’t mind confessing to you all that I fall unapologetically on the side of playing the "making disciples of Jesus Christ through relationships" game, for the simple reason that winning the lost to worship a certain way on Sunday mornings won’t save anybody from anything, but teaching them to live like Christ will save anybody in every way they need to be saved.
I know our church is not alone. The games being played may be different, but the dilemma is the same. Anyone have any real, practical, compassionate, effective recommendations or thoughts?