Doing it yourself
When I lived in Indianapolis many years ago, I had a couple of funerals with a small funeral home in the city. Like many funeral homes, it had been passed down through the family. The current director was not, like his father or grandfather, a licensed embalmer. So the embalming of those he cared for was done at another facility. And when we got ready to leave for the cemetery, I noticed that he had also rented the hearse from another funeral home. He pulled out a little 3-D nameplate and put it in the window of the hearse: presto! It was now "his" hearse. (And, of course, I did the actual service.) I began to wonder just what, exactly, this funeral home provided its customers.
Time was when many undertakers also owned furniture stores, since they made caskets on the spot. Casket-making is now monopolized by a few large manufacturers (two of which are in Indiana); the funeral home only retails what was made elsewhere. So I guess it's only to be expected that other goods and services should be retailed by a funeral home. But it leaves the question out there to be answered: what, exactly, does this business offer its customers that they couldn't get for themselves, say, by Googling providers?
Well, they offer convenience: you don't have to arrange all this yourself. And they offer relationship: this funeral home did Daddy's service, and Grandma's service, so of course we want to go back there for our next loved one's service. And, so far, that's enough for most people. But I still wonder about a business that simply retails services from others. What is its long-term future?
There are a lot of Christian congregations that are like that small funeral home of years ago. They have been in the business for a long time, and they depend upon people's loyalty across the generations, but what, exactly, do they do
for their participants?
My congregation recently decided not to do Vacation Bible School because, well, we don't have many kids, and there are lots of other churches that do a great job, so we'll just send our kids there. Okay, but that means we're out-sourcing the discipling of our children to other churches. And we could send our youth to the great, county-wide, ecumenical-parachurch youth ministry in town, too. They do exciting things. We could drop our struggling Bible studies and Sunday School classes and send our members to seminars at various mega-churches in the area (there are always plenty available). Instead of doing confirmation class, we could have the Conference do a confirmation camp!
Please note that I'm not disparaging participating in other churches' programs, or cooperating with other churches to do together what neither has the resources to do alone. I'm just asking the question: What do we actually do
to make disciples of Jesus Christ? If, in the end, all we offer is convenience and relationship, but all the actual disciple-making expertise and materiel is hired from somewhere else, is that enough to do the job well? Will it even hold the loyalty of our people? Or will a significant number of them drift off to places where they actually make disciples on the spot, with local trained leaders (lay as well as clergy) who know what they're doing and are doing it with sensitivity and zeal?
No doubt that's not for everyone. Some few will always cling to the tried and true, the old reliable, the place that was there for Daddy and Grandma. But the key phrase there is "some few."
The Main Thing we are to do is make disciples of Jesus Christ. And as the old slogan goes, The main thing is to keep the Main Thing the main thing.
When we give up on the struggle to do the main thing, we falter. The church is supposed to be a place where we make disciples. We
make disciples, not order it done from someone else. That means we need to be disciples ourselves. And we need to become leaders. And then we need to do it. Or else, what are we here for?
We shouldn't settle for merely being consumers of ministry. Nor should we settle for merely being retailers of ministry. The goal is for us to be producers