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Don’t just do something!

February 20, 2013

This past Sunday night my church was in an open forum session at our quarterly congregational meeting and we started to discuss plans for ministry in 2013.  A number of projects were put forward as things we could do and a lively but polite discussion ensued.  Should we do this or that?  Do our project ideas fit into a comprehensive vision?  How can we be sure we have discovered what God wants us to do?  Which projects are the most effective?  Can a small church over-reach?

As in most cases where such free-flowing discussions get going over time the discussion gets a little ragged.  It soon becomes clear that forming a consensus in the next few minutes seems pretty unlikely.  The ideas and input were good but getting them into an understandable box was not going to happen in the next 15 minutes.

If we were a larger church we’d have probably taken the standard evangelical cop-out of forming a committee to come up with ideas.  But with a small group, had we taken that route, there would have been too much of a chance that you’d end up on the committee.  So we did the next best thing, we sent the project list back to the originating body, the elders, and told them (Or us, as I am one of the elders.) to try again.

I have been pondering this discussion for the last few days and I’ve gradually begun to wonder if the discussion had a flaw from the start.  All our discussions centered on the word “do”.  Was this the right place to start?  It certainly is the all-American way to start.  We are a land of action, of doing.  We admire those with a can-do spirit.  We’ve come to equate leadership with inspiring us with the right things to do.  This is so common that I once heard someone say that we ought to call ourselves human doings and not human beings.

American churches are infused with this mindset.  Our churches encourage us to evangelize, to change the world, to make a difference for Jesus. If you look at an average church calendar you will see it filled with things to do.  Bible studies, small groups, mission trips, fellowship meals, outreach events, discipleship courses, teen ministries, senior ministries, men’s ministries, women’s ministries, singles ministries, young adult ministries, left-handers ministries.  OK, maybe not that last one but you get the picture.  They all focus on things to do.

This, of course, is better than doing nothing.  There is no reason to believe that we Christians should simply sit and do nothing.  But is there a third way?  Is there some other option between doing nothing and frantic activity?  All activities in our churches need volunteers and staffing, how do we manage them all without burning everyone out?

A cursory view of the book of Acts seems pretty do-centric.  The apostles, in particular Paul, seem to always be doing something.  In Acts 15 you see Paul “after some time” in Antioch proposing to Barnabas that they ought to do something.  You can almost envision the way he seems to be getting fidgety.  So is this our model?  Is Paul proof positive that we all ought to be doing something all the time?  I can find a lot of voices that say he is.  We should refuse to do nothing.

But I am not sure that doing nothing is the only, or even the only reasonable, alternative to being entirely do-oriented.  Indeed, there are many questions in my mind about doing.

–          Are my “do” projects more effective in making me feel good about myself than actually helping?

–          Am I falling for the American obsession with quick results?  Am I thinking that if I do “X” then “Y” will happen?

–          When I am doing something for someone, have they asked me to do it?  Is it actually helping them?  Does my help make them better or does it make them more dependent?

–          Does a “do” obsession, coupled with a results-oriented mindset, lead to overwork and/or discouragement?

When I think about the book of Acts I realize that there are dozens of people who are named, and an untold number who are unnamed, where their do-projects are not listed at all.  There are clear indications that these folks were not idle, were not doing nothing.  But there is no reason to believe that they were all carbon copies of Paul, always running around doing special outreach projects either.

Perhaps they give us another model to follow.  Perhaps they spent their days with the same people, doing the same things, over a long period of time.  Perhaps they listened as much as talked; were helped as much as they helped; formed lasting friendships and built mutual trust and respect.  Perhaps, over weeks, months or even years, they had opportunities to share the “hope that they had” in them with people who actually wanted to understand where it came from.  Perhaps their “do” projects flowed out of their relationships and they were able to assist the church in joining a community-inspired effort.

Perhaps our call is to develop relationships, make close friends, listen to others, spend time with them, and simply live with them in the messy world of everyday life.  Perhaps unconditional love and irresistible grace are not theological terms we discuss but calls to a lifestyle we live.

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From → Christianity

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