One of my favourite sitcoms is How I Met Your Mother. The overall story is about a guy telling his kids exactly that – how he met their mother. One episode I found quite funny was one called ‘Hooked’, where he discusses relationships where one person keeps the other tagging along in hope of commitment, even though a commitment is never intended. The one being hooked watches for those things that his/her love interest does, like snuggling, eating together and having long talks/spending time. In reality, the person doing the ‘hooking’ (so to speak!) is using the other one and the person hooked refuses to see it. It brought back both convicting and infuriating memories where I had been on both sides of ‘the hook’.
As my churches and circuit (and district) have been thinking about the future, I have thought a lot about this episode. Primarily, how we allow ourselves to get ‘hooked’ on small things that give us hope that the church has finally turned the corner and everything will be all right. I’m not just talking about finding these small things to give us hope that God is moving. That’s what I have heard in lot of clergy gatherings where we encourage ourselves not to measure success by large numbers. On the whole, I think that’s a good idea. But, as my friend Dana said in a post the other day, ‘Like many people who teach, early in my career, I used to say, “If I can make a difference in the life of one student, it’s worth it.” It didn’t take me too long to learn that I actually need a bit more than that.’ As a minister, so do I!
I think a church does, too. It is fantastic when we have lots of people come to our fayres. It helps to see many people in the building when groups have let rooms. It’s wonderful to know at least one person has started coming regularly to Sunday morning worship, or if new young people begin to come to worship, even if only once in a while. I want to celebrate these things – and all the ministries in the church. But I want to go beyond looking for moments to hook onto. That’s what I believe sometimes happens. We see these things and want so badly to see that we are doing something right and that we are just on the verge of better things. We get strung along in these moments. We get hooked.
The problem is that when I say these are not enough, I get shot down as being negative. And I’m not trying to be. I think being on the hook is just blinding us from asking other (hard) questions about ourselves. It ignores the ‘church reformed and always reforming’ (i.e., our need for change). Rather than face the questions, we want to ‘wait and see’ if these little moments will lead onto a deeper relationship. Some of the hard questions we mask are: why do we want people to come to church? What does it mean to be a part of one? What do we do with them once they come? What kind of community are we? What is discipleship? In part, I believe we answer those questions with answers from 20-50 years ago. Back then some of these moments that hook us now might have been true indicators of what was then called a growing church.
I have been meaning to blog about these issues for sometime. I am trying to get some sort of common ground between my churches and I as we discuss our future. Where is the place of these moments in the scheme of things? How do I get us to look beyond them and think through hard questions without seeming like I disregard what actually is good? How do I get us off the hook!