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Fluorescent Bulbs, Wild Onions, and the Good News of Jesus Christ

At the beginning of this mythical season called a “ministry year,” those of us who are called to lead others into deeper discipleship need to re-check our bearings. . . . We need to make sure we’re looking for the right markers to gauge our effectiveness.

I admit it. I’m German. I like a clean house, a tidy church, and beautiful liturgy. And I’m more than happy to do my part to help make them that way. My office is rarely cluttered. I leave at the end of (almost) every day with a clean desk and my “to do” list for the next day ready to go.

We have an old church building. Other adjectives are also very appropriate—beautiful, peaceful, welcoming, embracing—but the reality is that we are the stewards of ½ an urban block of 1925 era bricks, wiring, and greenspace in the historic district of our old suburb/“village.” We also have a highly overcommitted congregation (young by mainline standards) which, combined with an increasingly needy facility that is in use 18/7 most weeks, means that we don’t always have the place showing in first-rate Teutonic splendor. On any given day you may find a burned out light (or 12), wild onions showing up amid our hosta—and some people in some room growing in their knowledge and love of Jesus.

I love it!

I’m learning, slowly but surely, to chill: to laugh at the miss-matched replacement fluorescent bulbs, pull the dang onions on my way in the door and, most of all, to praise the Savior for the reality that we can be useful to him in sharing and showing what an “alternative community” shaped by the gospel can be.

I’m also a liturgy geek. I like well-crafted and well-led worship. I long to give people a reason to slow down, an experience of transcendence, an opportunity to sing and to pray about the things that matter, a clear and compelling message from God’s Word, and a challenge to be the people Christ redeemed us to be in the hours and days ahead.

In reality, our worship can be a little like our building. We’re not always polished, but we’re unflinchingly sincere. There are the days when the projection has a mind of its own, when the non-air conditioned sanctuary gets well beyond toasty, and when the baby being baptized starts saying something that sounds for all the world like “No! No! No!” in response to the words, “All this he did for you, little one . . .” But just about the time I begin to fuss about any of these things, the Holy Spirit calls me out—something along the lines of, “HEY—you got a problem with that??”

Nope—not me.

Because week in and week out, our pews fill with (comfortably dressed) people who are patient when the tech goes goofy, chuckle when the baby does an improv, and thrilled to sing, pray, interact with the Word, and be selfless with time they don’t have in order to share in fellowship with one another and reach out in compassion well beyond our little ½ block of Creation. An alternative community, formed by the gospel, is coming together, week by week, right in front of our eyes.

At the beginning of this mythical season called a “ministry year,” those of us who are called to lead others into deeper discipleship need to re-check our bearings. Where is our focus? What is preoccupying us—keeping us awake at night and/or a little miffed on any given day? We need to make sure we’re looking for the right markers to gauge our effectiveness. Are we seeing the fruit of the Spirit? Are those we lead following Jesus more closely? Growing? Flourishing? These are our greatest and most enduring responsibilities. The music, the liturgy, the tech, even the light bulbs and the hosta beds are important but not life changing. The good news of Jesus is.