Well, the news today carried the report that Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning at 7:23 AM. As such the people in PA will be facing six more weeks of winter. It seemed pretty cloudy there to me, as I watched him yanked from his cozy home, but I suppose the hundreds of camera lights made the shadow visible.
I remember trying to explain Groundhog Day to a group of Sri Lankan friends when I lived there. It took me quite some time to convince them that I wasn’t making up a ridiculous tale just to mock them; that it really was something of a mid-winter tradition here. Of course, there was no such thing as winter in that tropical land so that was part of the problem.
Here in central North Carolina we have our own groundhog. He goes by the moniker “Sir Walter Wally” and will be making an appearance at noon. It seems that North Carolina groundhogs like to sleep in. Other than that, the tradition is the same as the PA folks, which goes without saying as we shamelessly stole the idea from them.
Groundhog Day is not the only time we steal traditions. On New Year’s Eve we have an acorn drop in downtown Raleigh as a crowd gathers to ring in the New Year. Of course our crowd is slightly smaller, about 1/20th the size of the NYC crowd if we are having a good year. But it seems as if we’ve realized that borrowing ideas from elsewhere can be pretty good business.
Churches have figured out the “borrowed idea” plan too. We hear of some outreach method that had success in Church A and before you know it churches B, C, D…. are doing the same thing. In fact, it has gotten so common that the various “Church A’s” of the land have seen that writing a book about what you did is a good way to make some money spread the Gospel.
Several years back I was in a church that relentlessly sought out sure-fire ways to reach others and grow the church. Again and again the pastor or someone would share some exciting new outreach ministry they had heard of and off we’d go to copy it. Oddly enough, when I got to my current church I found that here too we were copying many of the same ideas.
On the surface this seems like a good idea. I mean, if someone has a good plan of evangelism or church growth why not borrow it? And I suppose there is nothing actually wrong with it. Sometimes ideas become so common that it is almost amusing. The idea of doing “service projects” at schools has become so widespread here in the Bible belt that many school districts are now drafting policies on how to use all the volunteers from churches.
*** Breaking News *** I am back from church and have learned that Sir Walter Wally has also seen his shadow and we too will have six more weeks of winter. Had he gotten up at 7:20 like Phil there had been a dense fog and we could have had an earlier spring. Drat! *** Breaking News ***
But, as I was saying, we churches copy ideas with the best of them. I think this tendency comes from our American obsession with methodology; our belief that if you do the right things in the right order results are sure to follow. “If you build it, he will come.”
Sadly it doesn’t always work. For some reason the wild success stories of explosive church growth or hoards of converts seem hard to duplicate. God seems to show up only on His timetable and in places He wants. Methodology seems not to matter to Him.
Happily this is true both ways. I’ve seen the loopiest outreach methods work. People report great results with things that I not only would never think of but that horrify me. I’ll never forget my friend’s “holy headlock” evangelism; his strategy of getting people into positions where they absolutely have to hear your pitch for Jesus. He was always sharing stories of success. I am sure that, had I tried it, all I would get was punched in the nose.
I guess the take away is that God is not in the least interested in methodology. He just wants us to be who we are and love him as we do. I am encouraged that the Bible assures me that I need to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” It seems that He plans to be in charge of the methods, all I need to do is wait till He opens the door.