Archive for ◊ July, 2012 ◊

• Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

I am not, by nature, a very athletic person, but my teenage daughter, whose sport is horseback riding, convinced me to take a trail ride with her in Vermont last weekend. They gave me a lovely, well-trained horse named Mickey. I liked him right off the bat when he stood still for me to get on! A few steps later, however, I was feeling very awkward and more than a little apprehensive experiencing the movement of this huge animal beneath me. The trail guide told me I should relax, but the trail guide was a 17 year old and I had nearly 40 years on her — “relaxing” was not an option!

Still, I did my best to hold the reins lightly and not stiffen my body everytime there was a slight tip in one direction or the other. Even so, I was not what anybody would ever decribe as relaxed, especially as we went up and down hills and my daughter and the guide kept insisting I lean this way and that. I kept trying to guide the horse and tell him where he should go. I was holding onto the the horn of my western saddle as if it was the only thing that stood between me and my own destruction.

I spent the whole first half of the trip looking down at the back of Mickey’s head and not appreciating any of the beauty around me. Until, suddenly, the guide instructed us to stop and take a moment at the top of the hill. I looked up and saw that we were surrounded by the mountain peaks of Vermont. I heard the birds chirping. There were daisies and other wildflowers. The sun was shining brightly and the sky was an extraordinary shade of blue. It suddenly dawned on me that I might appreciate this ride a whole lot more if I looked up once in a while. I realized that Mickey was a trained trail horse, surefooted and easy-going. It occurred to me that if I stopped trying to tell him what to do and if I could trust him to go where and how was best and safest for him and for me, then I could actually relax and enjoy the ride.

It will come as no surprise to you that I spent most of this trailride praying for my own safety, BUT when I let go of the fear and stopped trying to run things, I actually began to really enjoy the trip.

It occurs to me that this is a struggle many of us go through on a daily basis. Do we trust God to lead us in the right way, as individuals and as congregations, or do we spend most of our time scared stiff and trying to control every little thing that happens? Do we remember to look up from the struggle and recognize the goodness of God flowing around us? Do we remember to ask for God’s guidance? Pray for God’s wisdom? Open our selves to God’s compassion?

If not, we need to consider handing the reins to God, relaxing into the saddle and trusting that GOD knows what to do and where to go.

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• Monday, July 09th, 2012

Do you know the Pareto principle (also known as the 80-20 rule)? For many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

Now what does that have to do with a bi-weekly blog about churches in transition!? Well, consider that the Pareto Principle is also called the law of “the vital few.”

When it comes to involvement in a church’s leadership and activities, only about 20% of members get the work done. That dedicated 20% does 80% of the church work. If you’re a regular attendee at your church, you’ve seen this in action. There’s that core group of people who always step up to the various leadership roles; who can always be counted on to “get the job done.”

Churches survive thanks to that committed 20% who often will step out of their comfort zone to take on tasks that others avoid. Run the annual Stewardship campaign? “Well, if no one else is interested, I’ll do it.” Clean the oven after the church supper? “Ugh – but, since it needs to be done – sure.” Organize the high school kids car wash? “Sure, I’ll handle that.”

Sadly, sometimes that hard working 20% is under appreciated and even criticized. “Look at that Sally – always has her hand in on everything.” But the truth is that if the Sallys did not step up, a lot of important church activities would simply not get done.

So what’s this mean to the majority of church members who observe the involvement of others and might even feel a small niggle of guilt about not doing more? If you’re a church member who sometimes feels that you’re on the outside looking in, it may be your own fault.

Churches thrive and grow when members are passionate about their church and their church family. Showing up only on Sunday and sitting in a back pew may be enough church for you, but it may not be enough of you for your church. A church community is built by the community itself. A church may have a gorgeous building and an eloquent pastor, but it can’t go forward and grow without strong underpinnings. The behind-the-scenes church leaders – the Deacons, the Stewards, the Sunday School teachers and so on – have to be in place and strongly committed to their tasks.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if instead of 20% of the church members doing 80% of the work – 80 to 100% of a church’s members worked together faithfully to make decisions and grow their religious community. What a church it would be if everyone said: “Sure – I’ll do that.”