November 9th, 2014


Worth it

It's 5:05 a.m. and the ham has been prepped and put in the roasters over at the church. Good ham on the bone takes patience. I have some quiet time now. I could go back to bed, but I've got to get Deanne up at 6:30, so I think I'll just stay up. As I got up this morning, I had some thoughts about Doing the Hard Thing, which I think I'll share with you.

The church is doing its Consecration Sunday dinner (brunch, this year) today. It's the conclusion of the annual stewardship drive. According to the program, this is supposed to be a catered dinner, something nice and professional that the church hires done as a thank-you banquet for the whole congregation. It is NOT to be a pitch-in, or done by a church group. If we do that, then it's not special, and it'll get to be a drag, and then people will start to say, Wouldn't it be easier . . . and then before you know it, you're eating beanie-weenies and nobody can figure out why we beat ourselves up just to do a dinner. And then people stop coming and nobody cares much about the challenge of the day, etc. etc.

Our Scouts have catered the dinner for several years now. They're an in-church group, but just "outside" enough to not have members feel burdened by having to prepare a fancy dinner. And in order to make up for any deficiencies, any lack of professionalism, in the food, the Scouts compensate by doing tableside service, in uniform. So this is not some throw-it-out-there buffet, this is an occasion. It's worked pretty well. The congregation gets a kick out of having the Scouts do the dinner, and the Scouts make some money off it (we pay them as much as we would an outside caterer).

Since we've been doing this, I have been the prep cook most years. I lead the Scouts the day before in making what can be made ahead of time. This allows me to fill the role of host and pastor on the day, where the congregation expects me to be. The one time I wound up filling in as head chef on the Sunday itself is the only year in which I have faced any serious griping about the amount of time I spent with the Scouts. This was entirely a matter of perception, not reality -- but then, I wasn't where I was supposed to be when they observed me. I have been careful to be at the head table, wearing a suit rather than a uniform, ever since. So all but that one year, Deanne has been the head of the kitchen team on the Sunday itself.

Well, she said to me recently, "You know, I've never heard a Consecration Sunday sermon." Which is not exactly true, but yeah, we've spent several years doing this deal. I think Deanne wants to give it up. I think it's time I did, too, and let the the other Scout leaders take it over. The reason I didn't just pitch it to them when we first invited them to cater the dinner is because I was afraid they wouldn't grasp the standard we wanted them to come up to -- not because they couldn't do it, but because they wouldn't see what the big deal was. Now, having set the standard where it is, we can probably give it over to them.

But this is the thing I want to point out: There is an ever-present temptation in the church to make do. I've seen it over and over throughout my career. Oh, a whole week of VBS is such a hassle. Why don't we do it over a weekend? This eventually becomes, Why don't we just do two nights of it? and then we quit doing it altogether. People are pressed for time, so they keep cutting corners -- on holiday programs, on VBS, on Sunday School, on fellowship events. They think they're being clever in their time-management, but cleverness can wind up just being slovenly. And their results from those various activities become so poor, they can't imagine why they should spend even more effort on something which yields so little.

One sees it with attendance, too. Busy people fool themselves into thinking they can miss more and more worship and still get the same inner rewards when they do show up. Then they wonder why church seems so lifeless these days. The choir struggles to keep enough members to lead the congregation musically. Committees only get enough people together to get something done when there's a crisis. "A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest" (Prov. 6:10) seems our due, but the result of that attitude is inevitable.

"Make it easy on yourself" is the death knell of the Church. Some things are not meant to be easy; some things are meant to be good, which requires effort. Our high school band just won second place in the State competition yesterday. I gripe about their obsession with practice and other competitions as much as anybody when it impacts the kids' participation in church, but I acknowledge that they don't reach the level they're at by allowing a casual attitude toward showing up. When you make a proper effort, it means you value what you're doing; you value the people you're doing it with; and you value him to whom you offer your efforts. Conversely, when you just phone it in, you're not valuing what you're doing properly; you're showing that you don't care about the people you're supposed to be doing it with; and you show how little you value the one you do it for.

And yeah, God loves us just as much as he ever did even when we have to make do. But the problem is, will we love God as much as we did, once we get used to offering him the least we can crank out? "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Mt. 6:21). The results speak for themselves.