Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Three-Mile-an-Hour Church

Ever heard of the Japanese theologian Kuyama’s old book, The Three Mile and Hour God? I’d like to rephrase that title and talk about the Three Mile An Hour Church. Dr. Koyama wrote years ago that the reason God moved so slowly was not because he/She was old and tottery but because God’s people have always been moving at about a three-mile-an-hour pace. He used the Moses narrative to make his point. It took God’s chosen 40 years to travel 400 miles. So—Koyuma figured that’s about the speed God’s people usually travel.

Finally getting everyone in the car for vacation, about ten minutes down the road the kids would say: “Err, are we there yet?” We all know that it takes a while to get there. But the three-mile an hour pace seems pitifully slow and always has to this retired Reverend.

People quit the church or move their membership to another place hoping the church will pick up the pace. After a while they might just look around and realize that the church everywhere moves slowly—even the places with screens, banners and tambourines.

Why do we move so slowly? Many reason, of course. Kuyoma’s book helps me here. He wrote that one of the reasons is embedded in the Moses’ story. Remember how the people spit and clawed and griped at their leader sometimes, wistfully remembering how they thought it used to be in Egypt. Egypt? My Lord, did they forget the chains, the misery and the nightmare of slavery? Moses understood those complaints. We read in that story where he was furious with himself, his resistive people and the Lord God himself. Like them he often wondered if there would be enough water or manna or other resources to carry them through. I do not know a Pastor anywhere who does not identify with his doubts and complaints.

Moses and his rag-tag band both were responsible for that journey that should have taken just weeks at the most. Pastors and people today are the culprits in our present-day church. Everywhere I go Pastors and church members are wringing their hands. Everything seems down and sometimes flat. Attendance, Church school and of course—money. One main line Denominational figure said at the rate his denomination was going there wouldn’t be a single member left by 2025.

If I knew the solution to this problem I’d be a household name in the church—sorta Joel Osteen without the hair. But neither he nor I really have any real answers to the church’s dilemma today. But after reading Anthony Robinson’s “Five Habits of Healthy Congregations” which is also entitled: “How to Follow the Leader”—it set me to thinking.

We know that one of the reasons this nation is in such a mess is that after we have elected a President the not-so-loyal opposition set about to tie his hands and feet and made the deliberate decision that they would make sure he did not succeed. Maybe they think they are helping their country—but we are moving at about a three-mile an hour pace nationally these days. Whoever is President—and we have covered this ground before—cannot lead this country unless he has some committed followers. Not to the President particularly—but to their country.

No Pastor can succeed without a cadre of people that stand behind him or her. In the Moses’ story the leader would get weary and a group of people held up his hands on the mountain. As long as they that—the battle Israel fought would succeed. When they dropped Moses’ hands—they found themselves losing the battle. One of the things the church needs are people that are willing to hold up the Pastor despite his or her weaknesses.

Reuel Howe told a wonderful story years ago about a Pastor that a church called. But early in his tenure many shook their heads. They began to murmur: “He just can’t preach.” The official board called him in for a conference and told him how many in the congregation felt. Heart-broken he offered to resign. But a wise laymen in that group stood and said, “We don’t want you to resign. We want you to stay. And if you stay we will stand with you and pray for you—and support you. We called you—and we have a responsibility to make your ministry work.” Howe said that when the history of that church was written some of the richest chapters in that book were the years that man had served as Pastor.

I know there are some losers out there behind the pulpit. And I know some Pastors should be shown the door. But I also know healthy churches really do follow their leaders. They don’t ignore his/her frailties or applaud their every effort—but they do stand by and support. Often they give the Pastor hard feedback—but they really do speak the truth in love. They buy into a big vision of what they want their church to be. They take risks together—and when some of those risks fail—they move on to something else.

I keep thinking about Moses and his weak hands. And I remember that he never would have made it without those that, in time of need, really did hold up his hands. It may have taken them forty years to get there...but they would have never made it even then without one another.

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