Earlier in the week we were having technical problems with our printers. Since we use these on a daily basis it can be very frustrating when they don’t work right. After several hours of getting nowhere we finally did what we should have done in the first place, ask for help. We are fortunate to have a high school student who is a computer junkie. He has come to our rescue many times before. He stopped by the church after work and solved our problem.
This is just one example of how the church depends on the skills of the congregation to maintain the integrity of our mission. The professional and support staff cannot possibly do all the work of the church alone. We have to draw upon our volunteer resource base in order to do all the work of the church.
In southern Ohio, we have a new church that is struggling. I attended a meeting where we were trying to determine how to provide funding and resources to enable them to grow. We discovered through an evaluation process that the minister is doing all the work by himself. He is the worship leader, preacher, pastor, bookkeeper, custodian, marketing director and fund raiser. Unless he is willing to empower members of the congregation to assume some of the responsibilities the church will not survive.
As Paul said, “There are many members, yet one body.” The ideal church is made up of a variety of different people providing different functions. Each is unique but they are all connected. Paul illustrates this by using different parts of the body. “The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you, nor the head or the feet.” Each member, though different is dependent on all the others.
Whenever you have a group of people you have many different personalities. Inevitably there will be someone you don’t like or one who is quite different than yourself. This leads to discord and problems. This was the case of the Church at Corinth. There were folks there who thought they were better than others. They were not inclusive and as a result the love of God was not very visible. Therefore, Paul was reminding them that although they weren’t all the same, they were still the body of Christ. The only way they could be the body of Christ was to be united.
I remember the very first Sunday at the three rural churches I served when I was in seminary. The churches shared a pastor and since each had a worship service on every Sunday it was impossible for the pastor to be on time for every service. They compensated for that by having worship leaders who led the hymns, made announcements and took up the offering. This was a practice I was not used to since I group up in a large urban church. One of the churches had a man who was a bit obnoxious. His personality and mine clashed. But a few months later I had a problem with the parsonage and this same man was the one who came and repaired it. As it turned out he was very supportive of my ministry and I grew to appreciate his gifts.
Just as the church needs unity to survive so do the other areas of our lives. The people in our families are not all the same. Those we work with are not all the same. This is true in school, in our places of recreation and the neighborhoods where we live. So then, how do we maintain unity and be different at the same time?
How do you get people who are suspicious of each other – if not downright hostile – to work together on change? David Berdish, 42, an organizational-learning manager, has spent the past eight years wrestling with that question at Ford Motor Company. In his role as a change-agent at Visteon Automotive Systems, Ford’s parts-manufacturing company, Berdish helped usher in production and manufacturing changes that helped turn the division around – from $50 million in losses to $175 million in profits. But it took five years. And he didn’t do it alone.
He had to get engineers and accountants, and union and nonunion factory workers, to stop flinging accusations at each other and start solving problems. He had to get them to start trusting each other. “Trust equals speed,” Berdish says. “Once people have stopped worrying about what the other guy’s agenda is, you can make changes much more quickly. But building trust takes time, especially in a company as big as Ford, where there are a gazillion years of baggage associated with where you’re from, what you look like or what you do.” (“Trust for a change,” Fast Company, December 1999, Homiletics-January 2001).
So the way to bring unity to a diverse situation is to get people to trust one another. But, trust takes time. Before you can build trust you must get people together. To often times we live our lives in a vacuum. We go somewhere, do what we have to do, then leave. We resist opportunities to mingle, to encounter other human beings who we do not know. I wouldn’t expect us to build a trust relationship with someone we are riding with on a elevator for a few minutes. Nor, is it possible to relate to everyone we encounter at the places where we shop. The church, however is the place where we come for fellowship, enhance our faith and be in mission with others who share a common tradition and/or values.
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Intentionally, we schedule coffee hours, meals, and events that give people the opportunity to know others of the faith. Our annual meeting today is yet another opportunity to be together in a gathering other than worship. To avoid these is to live in isolation. It is a way of denying the church a very important resource; ourselves.
We’ve just experienced how important a few votes can be in a presidential election. It is no less true in the church. It is essential to hear from every voice, to acknowledge every idea, to be inclusive of everyone who connects to this congregation. Sometimes the greatest ideas come from those we least expect. To exclude them or deny them an opportunity to express themselves only holds us back and inhibits us from seeing a greater picture or broader vision.
Our society is changing. It is becoming more and more diverse. For the last five years Lin and I have had neighbors who are Japanese. The influx of Japanese companies in our area has increased the population of residents from Japan. In nearby Miami County there are migrant workers from Mexico. Many do not speak English. At the local hospital we have doctors who are from India and other Southeast Asian countries. The once predominantly German immigrant rural areas of Ohio are changing into a more diverse population.
Diversity forces us to embrace cultures and customs that are foreign to us. It challenges the customs and traditions we are accustomed to. It is much easier to remain in cozy, familiar circles than interact with people who are different from us. But, change is inevitable. To resist it is to remain in isolation from a world that is full of opportunities and creativity, full of people who have gifts, talents and wisdom to offer us.
Last Wednesday evening we said goodbye to our neighbors who returned to Japan. AJ, our neighbor, is an engineer with Honda and has completed his five-year term. They are returning home with a new son, Matthew, whom I had the opportunity to perform a “dedication” ceremony. Their daughter, Eri, returns as a bilingual speaking 4 year old. Their house is now empty and it saddens me that this warm, friendly family has left.
Its the same sadness I experience when we lose a member of the church. There is an emptiness, a void, a loss of talent and presence. The church is repeatedly challenged with bringing new folks into our midst. They won’t stay, however unless they are given the opportunity to contribute their gifts no matter how different from our own. But, this church like any church will remain strong and vital in its mission as long as we believe that everyone counts.