“Hey, what are you doing?”
To be honest, I didn’t even hear him the first time. He continued, “You kinda weirded me out. You were just sitting there staring off into space. You ok?” I chuckled and nodded my head. “Yes, I was just thinking,” I replied. “What were you thinking about?” he asked. I should’ve told him what I was thinking. I wanted to be thinking about the topic for this week’s Christian Echoes article. What I couldn’t stop thinking about were all the folks with whom I had been involved over the past few days.
Several weeks ago, I started planning a new sermon series. We have an interesting situation at First Christian Church. Our weekly attendance has declined, but our monthly attendance has increased by over 30%. That means we have more people coming less frequently. Statistically, our congregation has about 540 unique individuals who attend at least once per month. That is up from about 354 per month five years ago. Because of this change in attendance patterns, we have been thinking and praying about how we can best disciple the increased number of people more effectively with less time.
I recently rediscovered a book on Christian practices I read a few years ago entitled Practicing Our Faith by Dorothy C. Bass. This rediscovery spurred me to begin drafting a new sermon series, Practice Makes Perfect. In my preparations, I had read several sources but kept coming back to Bass’s book. In the preface, Bass recounted how she wanted to write a timely book that would relate to all kinds of people in encouraging readers toward a deeper spirituality.
Today is the day I write my article. It takes several hours of research, thinking, writing and editing to get it where I want it. Unfortunately, my plan for today didn’t unfold as usual. It has been a day of one situation after another. Some of the people into whose lives I was thrust are members of our congregation and others are not. I worked with two families who lost loved ones over the past few days, a working homeless couple, and an addict trying to get treatment. Before I knew it, the day was gone. And still, I had not written my article. I made my way to a local coffee shop and sat down, opened my computer and stared at a blank screen. I picked up Bass’s book and began to read the preface again and noticed that she was sharing about her time in a mountain retreat center. I read about the problems that are all too common in my life and, most likely, your life as well. She talks about juggling athletic practices, children’s schedules, friendships, household chores and frustrations at work. She concludes: “We yearn once again for a way of life that is whole, and touched by the presence of God.”
In working with all of the different folks today, I got caught up in the immediate needs. Most folks weren’t dealing with soccer practice, ballet class or water cooler gossip. Most were more interested in a place to stay before the coming rain storm hits or looking for a place to shower before going to work, reluctant to use services at The Neighborhood. One just wanted a few moments when his hands wouldn’t shake as his body screamed for another drink.
What was I thinking? Good question. I was thinking about how to speak the Gospel to a world with vastly different immediate needs. Some suffer from self-loathing or grief, and although they have a home and job, they are begging me for answers to make the pain stop. Others suffer from addictions and extreme poverty and are begging me for answers to make the pain stop. Is one pain worse than the other? Rich or poor, addict or temporarily down on one’s luck, I agree with Bass. I believe the answer is a life “touched by the presence of God.” But, what does that look like? Whatever your situation, I pray you’ll gather with us over the next four weeks as we are reminded that Practice Makes Perfect.