You can’t see the forest for the trees. Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. And my favorite: Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?
These familiar, bizarre contrasts are about the trap of fixating on one thing when there are much bigger things to worry about. Sort of like the way we think about fixing whatever is wrong with the church….
People write often about all of the ways that the Mainline church is in trouble. However, there is an alternative narrative.
In spite of the many leaders who seem to be paralyzed with fear, there is a Spirit, an energy in our midst, that directs a few courageous souls to forward-moving action.
In his recent book Beyond Resistance: The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World, UCC General Minister and President John Dorhauer calls these inspired leaders to rise up:
Who among us has the vision to see beyond the time of grief, beyond the horizons of pain to what lies on the other side? This is about perceiving.
Transformation begins in perceiving.
Here are some real world examples of the deception of skewed perception:
We don’t have enough people in Wednesday night Bible study. Let’s add something to Wednesday night to make more people come out.
Our giving and fundraising do not meet church expenses. Let’s cut ministry activities and spend some of our endowment.
These true-to-life examples represent genuine, troubling concerns of local church life. The challenges are real, but they are symptoms of the malaise. We can relieve symptoms but the larger issues elude simple solutions.
Maybe we can get three, four or 10 more people to come to church on Wednesday night, but does that address the greater challenge of faith formation in a post-church, post-religion, over-scheduled, electronic media-focused society?
Cutting ministry activities and using long-term savings may be the only available options for a church to meet current expenses. But how does that address the larger issue of discerning God’s call to mission and ministry in a changing neighborhood, or grappling with the imminent possibility that a particular congregation may be approaching the end of its useful service to God and community?
Shouldn’t the church be accountable to manage its finances to advance mission close to the end of its life cycle, or even when the church is closing and it assets are sold, transferred or otherwise disposed of?
As people of God we must see with Holy Spirit inspired vision. It is about seeing every mountain and molehill; perceiving both the forest and every tree. It is about developing strategies to remove specks, logs, grains of sand, or even boulders from every eye. Better still, it is about creating an atmosphere in which every eye may see in ultra-high definition. In these painful and exciting times let us hear God’s words spoken to the ancient prophet:
For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
The Reverend Doctor Patrick Garnet Duggan is a native New Yorker, the son of a Jamaican cabinet maker and a New York attorney. He serves as Senior Pastor of the Congregational Church of South Hempstead UCC and Executive Director of the UCC Church Building and Loan Fund. He loves writing, preaching, teaching, helping church leaders with difficult building projects, and talking about how the church can use its resources to change the world. Twitter: @revduggan1