Monday, December 19, 2016
Recently, our family has been investigating the possibility of getting a pet. Because we are renting in Southern California, a "smallish" indoor dog seems the best option (Can you say - "Labradoodle?") Our quest for a canine companion, however, has caused me to cast my memory back to some of our best pets we had growing-up. We had a West Highland Terrier named "Macky" that had been sort of neglected by its previous owners. Mack was a little bit "nippy" when we first got him, but after a couple of years of nurture, he became more docile, and good natured. We had an African Grey Parrot named "Kiki" that had been tormented by its previous masters by hitting it with a broom handle. Whenever we would broom the kitchen, the bird would go crazy for fear that it would be hit again. So, we broomed less, but we nurtured more. The bird calmed down after time. In both cases, some of our best pets were animals that others had discarded, or mistreated for whatever reason, but made huge transformations simply by being:
This notion of the transformative nature of being "Cared For" is true not just of abused pets, but it is true of a lot of other things. It is true of houses, it is true of children, it is true of businesses, it is true of spouses, it is true of plants, and yes it is true...even of churches.
About ten years ago, I was asked to consult on a church near me that had declining growth in attendance over the past several years. There was a lack-luster attitude, in general, about almost everything in the church. In front of the sign to the entrance of the church were weeds that were growing up above the letters. The church office was piled high with garbage from many years of disregard. The church yard was unkempt and sprawling with weeds. The large cross out in front of the church was weathered and paint was chipping off of it. In short, the church just did not look cared for.
Not just the building, but the congregation itself seemed un-cared for. Many of the shut-in members had not been called on in years. When people got sick and went to the hospital, nobody followed-up or prayed for them. Many of the staff at the church did not even have their own work-space or computer terminals to do their work in. The congregation were not cared for.
When, I was asked to give my "expert opinion" on what steps this church could take to help it to grow and come back to life, I felt torn. Because I was hired as the consultant, I sort of felt tempted to come in with some big theological concepts about how this church could grow. I was tempted to talk about "Missionalism" or "Simple Church" or "Total Quality Management". But I knew that none of these concepts was the "magic bullet" of what would help the church, at the end of the day. What this church needed was to be:
I said; "Ok, to start with, someone needs to get out there are pull some of those weeds in front of the church sign. And then, we need to clean up this office. And the cross out front needs to be re-painted. And most important, we need to get to the nursing home and see some of those who are there, who haven't had visitors in a long time." My advice was basic, but over the next several months it proved that it was helpful. The church began to grow again, there was positive spiritual-energy in the church where there had been waning activity.
Caring for a thing (or person) that hasn't been cared for is not only about giving that thing (or person) long needed attention. It is about that. But it is also about giving that thing (or person), long needed worth. By taking time and caring for them, you are helping that thing (or person), also to take stock in themselves. You are causing others around them and say, "Wow, I never noticed you before, you are beautiful." And what I have learned is that this worth-giving dynamic, of Caring For something or someone is what is at the heart of the Christian gospel.
All For Now,