Thursday, December 01, 2011

Faith Works 12-3

Faith Works 12-3-11

Jeff Gill


Everyone, have a wonderful Advent



What should everyone do?


Once you get past the Ten Commandments, there's not much agreement on what choices or decisions are right for every-everyone.


We live in an individualistic age (I'm sure you needed me to point that out), and blanket solutions or one-size-fits-all answers are rarely heeded.


Still, we created, finite persons have quite a bit in common. I was doing a program that touched on this subject for Monday Talks, and a good doctor of the community rose to observe that after having performed surgery on all sorts of people with a wide variety of skin tones, they all had the same red blood and general arrangement of internal organs once you got past the subcutaneous layers.


And I've been to three different churches' potlucks in the last couple weeks, and saw almost the exact same assortment of casseroles and desserts at each one, so there's that.


I got to thinking about this because we preachers can fall into the trap of saying, almost as an aside, things about what Christians should do that are heard as "what everyone should be doing," with the implication, intentional or no, that if you aren't or don't, you're not a good person. Or at least not *as* good as those who do.


Which may be more message than we intend, but if that's what people hear, then . . . we have to take that into account.


Take the Bible (please! *rimshot*) – I just read in print a fine Baptist columnist just sort of toss off the observation that every believer should have the practice of reading the Bible through every year. It wasn't his main point, but it kind of stuck out as one.


Should's and ought's aside, I am quite certain that it is a vanishingly small fraction of even regular churchgoers who do this; leaving me to suspect that the vast majority hear such exhortations not as a spur to Bible reading, but as reason for a bit more guilt in their ditty bag of life.


Let me suggest this: every practicing Christian should read a book of the Bible, all the way through, preferably a Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) every year. Yes, some will cheat even on that and go with Ruth or Philemon, but that's their call.


Or prayer – if you read anything that's focused on the subject, you're likely to run into the off-handed comment that a person with solid spirituality spends at least an hour a day in prayer. They're likely to concede that you could start slowly, with thirty or maaaaaaybe twenty minutes a day, and then work up.


Again, I think the bulk of truly striving churchfolk read that and just give up. They don't see it happening, and they don't want to start knowing they'll fail. Can I offer an olive branch to the rest of us? If each of us just made space for five uninterrupted minutes of prayerful quiet, focused on God, at the start of each day, I think we'd all be amazed at what could happen.


Ditto tithing. I know the Scriptural citations, and have preached the sermons, but seriously: most people don't even have a household budget. So what does 10% mean when you don't know what your 100% is? How's this: people of faith, please sit down this very day, and figure out a) what you earn per annum, b) what you take home (pause for a drink when you see what percentage of your gross income goes to taxes), and c) calculate honestly what percentage of your income you give to mission, outreach, your church. That's your total giving divided by your takehome times a hundred.


Yeah, not pretty, is it? So what would it take to push that percentage up by one?


Then there's small groups. They're the catnip of church growth these days, and they are much more important & nutritious than catnip, but it does have the same deranging effect on some consultants. Look, some people just are not comfortable in a small group per se, and making it a universal (let alone accountability groups for everyone) is just an incitement to guilt, and guilt doesn't grow anything, let alone a church.


How about this: every person who regularly worships in a church should be committed to making a personal connection with people they don't already know each year? If it's just one family, one new couple, even one older person you've never talked to before – that could be so powerful.


Four ideas. They may be lowered expectations, but if they really represent what we all could do, and we did them, I think it might leave all the more room for God to do something even greater in our midst.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he has generally found low expectations to be highly rewarding. Tell him to up his game at, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.