Thursday, May 11

Be Alarmed

This woman is alarmed
In my previous post, The Beginning of Letting Go, I wrote about my decision to step down from church leadership. Though I was no longer teaching Sunday school, serving as an Elder, or leading the Spiritual Growth department, I was still active at church. I sang with the praise band, volunteered in the office one day a week, created all the slide presentations for the traditional and contemporary worship services, and managed the church website. I also did whatever I could to backup and assist my daughter, who was leading the children's ministry. Her job had previously been done (along with youth ministry) by paid staff who had left for another position.

Things were just going along. I worshipped and worked. I laughed and prayed. I gave and received lots of hugs. I did recognize that I wanted to find a group that prayed and studied and shared with one another. But I didn't have that, so I was just going along. Then the time came for our beautiful, spirit-filled, friend—the time came for our interim pastor to leave. We sent her off with sadness and with love and gratitude. And we began to prepare to receive our new minister.

This minister promised something new to our church. This minister promised that we could grow in numbers and grow in our walk with God. This minister promised to mentor and to coach leaders, so that they might become better leaders and mentor and coach others. There was excitement and hope on the horizon, and a lot of preparation before we would reach it.

DOCKids | Disciples Of Christ Kids |
In particular, the Children's Ministry leader went to work. She worked to establish new policies and procedures for the nursery and children's programs. She developed new branding for the children's programming, along with plans to make the programming sustainable. I backed her up by helping to clean, paint, and decorate Sunday school and fellowship rooms that had not been updated for a very long time. I made signage and bulletin board displays that projected the new branding and advertised the programming that would start in the fall. I worked very hard and she worked even harder.

And our new minister arrived. He brought new ideas and lots of plans. He decided that Children's Ministry programming would be considerably more involved on Sunday mornings. This meant that another space would have to be cleaned, painted, and decorated. It meant that volunteers would have to be recruited. It meant that materials would have to be rewritten, meetings held, worship videos found and created. It meant a lot of work in just a month. So we worked, because we saw hope on the horizon.

I had vowed to say yes to new ideas and changes whether I liked them or not, and I tried to do so. Some of the work wasn't just work; some of it approached fulfilling that desire for a group that needed to explore faith in God in the same ways that I do. I really enjoyed leading a Read & Chat group on Wednesday evenings. I still enjoyed singing in the band. But even though I enjoyed subbing in children's ministry on Sunday mornings, it meant that I couldn't attend worship and sing there. The Children's Ministry leader never was able to attend worship once programming began in the fall, so I couldn't complain.

All those who had been working all along all continued to work, and to work harder. This wasn't a matter of simply adjusting to change, but of actually doing more. I know that I wasn't alone in this, I know that my family weren't the only ones feeling the change. Overworked people were being overworked. Finances were being stressed. Lots of work was being done with little result. It had become busy work to me, and I was worn out.

Still, as much as the church-work environment had changed, the basic church environment had not. Too few people were doing the work, like the Elder chair who was doing more than 95% of the hospital visitations. There was still a large cohort of members who cared only about their Sunday school classes and worship style, who wasn't interested in getting to know the younger adults, but who wanted to see the youth and children in worship, where they wouldn't have to put forth any effort to engage with them. I saw that few adults of any age were interested in true spiritual development. This was not new, but things were sliding downhill. And I was feeling more and more alone.

Let's just be honest about what we want.
Someone told me that a church member had said about his wife, a woman who had done a lot of very good work for the church, that the church would fall apart without her. I understand his view, though I still think that there's a lot wrong with it. It is self-centered and egotistical, forgetting all the others who do so much. Most of all, it's forgetting that all we are doing is serving God, whose church it is. And it's good that I heard that and that I thought it was wrong, because when I started thinking the same thing about my own contributions, alarm bells sounded. Don't you think that when we think about our places of worship that we should hear beautiful bells instead?

Alarm bells were sounding. Be disconcerted when your volunteer work does't leave much time or energy for your family. Be disquieted when you feel without a support group. Be disturbed when you can't find a space for study and prayer and true relationship with others in your place of worship. Be perturbed when limits are put on they way you are allowed to share your gifts (within reason: after all, what if your gift is pole dancing?). Be alarmed when that vision, that place of renewal you spotted on the horizon, turns out to be a mirage. But be prepared, because alarms tend to bring out a response of Fight or Flight. Was it time to fly?