It must have been about 15 years ago that Rev. and I showed up to a bar on speed-dating night. The waitress offered us a table, and we were laughing as we moved the number out of the way.
Leslie: SO! I’m in medical research………. what do YOU do? (wink)
Rev: I’m a regional rep for one of the world’s largest non-profit organizations.
Yeah. I swooned a little bit at that line, too, and I wasn’t even interested.
I thought of that moment this morning when I read the New Testament reading in The Daily Office. In one reading, the entirety of an arts organization is summed up. You may think that this is a bit strange, but I see churches as arts organizations because they’re reflections on the divine in thoughts, words, and deeds (in the words of the BCP). Worship is art- music and creative writing and stunning images, none more than the ones that dance in your minds as you read, hear, take in the experience around you…. walking out to share that experience with others.
Churches are also bound to altruistic dedication taught to them by Christ, because one vision feeds the other. The more that people experience the feeling they get inside the worship space, the more people are willing to believe that your organization is capable of feeding them…… and if they believe that, they, in turn, feed altruistic dedication by funding it. Let’s face it. Not everyone is willing to go into the roughest parts of town to hand out bread. But they have no problem giving huge sums of money to people that will…. that will use their money for a truly worthy purpose- feeding the people who can’t feed themselves.
This is the central conflict at issue today in the Book of Acts.
The church is growing at an enormous rate, and on two fronts….. the Hellenists and the Hebrews. They do not get along. For instance, the Hellenistic widows are being left out when the Hebrews make rounds to give food. Luke records that the Disciples call a meeting where they express that they are being limited from realizing their vision because they have too many people to serve. They have the ability to love this many people at once, but not the time…. because as you’ll notice, infatuation is easy. Starting a new church is infectious. The idea is overwhelming. Then growth explodes and conflict starts to make your head pop off. Love is hard. The disciples cannot serve food all the time if they have to read and research to be the preachers Jesus asked.
The reason that love is hard in this instance is that I have no doubt that saying they needed more time to read and write seemed extraordinarily selfish, and yet necessary to the survival and growth of the Hellenist/Hebrew unification.
Hear Luke’s recollection of the resolution:
They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
The resolution to the problem was to get both sides to agree on their own administrators, so that both sides could have their grievances aired and work toward change. It is called “The Choosing of the Seven,” because that’s how many were appointed to the original “board of directors.”
To take the theological into the personal, who is your board of directors? Who are the people you choose to put in charge of your administration? It should be all the people in your life you are willing to let parent you because you know you’re helping raise them. It is not parental in nature by force, but by an honest to God choice you walk with daily, because these are the people that you cannot walk away from. To lose them would be to lose a piece of yourself because a lot of history would go with them if you closed the door.
I heard something on the news that I wasn’t familiar with and had to look it up. Are you familiar with the term “attrition rate?” It’s basically “turnover.” Looking at it from a friend perspective, I realized that I was excellent at making friends, not so much with the keeping them. I get too frightened and run away. When I made the connection that my own attrition rate was low and falling, I started to do something about it.
To take the personal back to the theological, as churches, sometimes we’re not very aware of our own attrition rates. We tend not to notice the decline over years, which is researched in national trends but not so much by congregations themselves. We just wander around and mutter what happened to Mrs. So and So?
We still wonder where you are, but we haven’t done enough research on how to get you back. Once church members are offended, just like in personal relationships, they tend to walk off and say, “I’m done.” Blessed are The Seven, just as every vestry in the world, because they are the ones that have to stay when you walk off. Have to stay no matter how bad it gets. Have to stay and cry it out until someone finally looks at everyone and asks them to remember who they are and who they serve.
As a Christian, your most revolutionary act is your willingness not to walk off. Your contribution is that when times got hard, you gave more than you thought you could in more ways than you thought defined the word. Your light is your ability to get angry, think about it, remember what should have guided your actions instead of what did, forgive yourself, and move on so that conflict doesn’t cripple you or the people working around you to achieve this enormous goal.
Health in an organization starts with looking at your own behavior.
But what do I know? I’m just a regional rep.