The other night I was putting my son to bed. A mundane moment suddenly blossomed into a memorable one, rich with the whimsical wisdom of a 12-year-old boy. The conversation, as best I can remember, went something like this:
"How many appointments will you have this week, Dad?" (He'd seen his pastor-dad on the phone that Sunday evening lining up visits for the week.)
"About twenty, I think."
"Doesn't it get kind of old just visiting folk all week then preaching at them on Sabbath?"
"Yeah, I guess it would if that's all I saw in what I was doing. But there's really more adventure to it than that."
"Well, my goal is to reach this community for Christ through these church members."
"It's going kind of slow isn't it? Do they know that's what you're trying to do?"
"Yeah, in one way it is going slow. But just think of the people from the community who have come to Christ and begun attending church recently." (We ticked off the names of several families.)
"I see what you mean. But do you think the members really get it? Do they know what you are trying to do? I didn't know. Why don't you just tell them, like you just told me?"
"I guess I thought I had."
"No, I don't mean with lots of flowery words or complicated explanations. Just tell them: 'My goal is to reach this community for Christ through you church members.'"
"I guess I could do that."
"Maybe you could just record yourself telling me so it would come out right. (Slight animation flickering through an impish smile.) Then next Sabbath I could stand up and say, 'Everybody, my dad has something to tell you, but it's easier to understand it the way he told me. Listen while I play it for you.' Then I'd just push the button. Think that would do it?"
"Maybe it would. (Bit of chagrin on my face.) You know there's another goal I'm working for in this church."
"I'm trying to build leaders. I want the church, eventually, to take responsibility for its own care and building itself up. I want to equip leaders for that. That's why, for example, I always try to take an elder or someone else along on visits."
"That's going even slower, isn't it? Why can't you just tell them once to go do it?"
"It's a process, kind of like parenting. How long has it taken me to teach you to roll up the hose after you play with the sprinkler or to wipe the stove after your noodles boil over?"
"Yeah (sheepish grin) but that's not because I don't know how. Its because I really don't like to do those things. I guess I need to learn to want to."
"It's exactly the same with people at the church. My goal is to introduce and connect people to God and let Him motivate them."
"It still seems to be going kind of slow. It seems you ought to be able to do it with a simple, 'Mr. Church Member, this is God. God, this is Mr.Church Member. Take it away, God.'"
"I wish it were that quick and easy! I wish instilling values in you were that quick and easy. It would have been nice if Mom and I could have just tattooed our values on your chest when you were a baby."
"You would've needed to do them upside down so I could read them!" (grin).
"I suppose you're right. But it still probably wouldn't cut it. Values like honesty, purity, the worth of people, hard work, responsibility, and the others we've been trying to build into you take time. Ultimately, they have to be something you choose for yourself and know how to apply in real life. That's the real reason tattooing them on your chest wouldn't work."
"If it's taken you twelve years to get as far as you have with me, shouldn't that tell you something about the church?" (Sigh).
"Maybe you should discipline them. It works with me (another grin). You know, like my $1.00 fines for sassing you or Mom. Or maybe telling them they couldn't come to church or something." (My imagination began ridiculously freewheeling to pictures of consigning church members to chairs in corners or assigning them time outs!)
"Son, there are some differences between parenting and pastoring."
"I guess so."
"The church is a voluntary organization. People don't have to be there. They choose to belong. My goal is to cooperate with God, to draw them to Christ, build them up, teach and lead them, and pray they will internalize Christ's value. And now, you'd better go to sleep! Come on, let's pray."
"Father, it might be nice if You could just tattoo onto our brains the things You want us to think and be. But You don't work that way. You want us to choose freely the things You value. Help us to see that. Help us to admire and choose Your ways. Help our church. Thank You for being so patient with us. In Jesus' name, Amen."