There’s s a certain bit of irony: thinking intently about the importance of certain actions when you have no intention of actually doing them. Like watching a gourmet cooking show while eating fast food; watching the PX90 infomercial while in the midst of junk food splendor. There are always commercials we watch advertising certain important actions. Often we are about as likely to heed their call as we are to sprout wings.
Specifically? I’m thinking about weekend television I watched as a kid. I remember watching baseball, basketball, NFL, occasionally NHL, and “spanning the globe…the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat…Wide World of Sports.” On weekends, that’s when you would have the opportunity to get: a) lots of chores done; or b) watch a lot of sports. And for the most part choice a) and choice b) were mutually exclusive. Usually choice b) wins.
With marketing to men during sports programming, I remember the classic Fram oil filter commercials with the tag line, “you can pay me now or you can pay me later.” What struck me as odd or ironic was that there were these guys on the TV telling us to do some simple maintenance on our cars, but we were watching TV sports and we not likely to get up off the couch. Sure, we might have some fresh oil and some filters out in the garage, but that didn’t mean we’d do anything with it. At least not now.
We’d get around to it…eventually.
Fortunately, I had parents who got things done. I remember being raised with a sense of timely intervention. Little problems were dealt with so that they would not become bigger. Small disciplines were carried out daily in order to prevent a pile of work needing to be done later. I think I was raised with a Fram sensibility, i.e. “you can do a little now that is simple, or you can wait until later when it will become a hassle.” However, as I consider my screen door needing repaired, the long to-do list on my car, and the work on the lawn, I realize I have not fully incorporated the wisdom of Fram.
Getting Around to It
The Fram wisdom came to mind over the past couple weeks. I have worked with superintendents, bishops, conference ministers and presbyters. I have worked with congregations in transition, in conflict, and contemplating growth and mission. In most of these cases, I have had the privilege of helping them chart passages and identify hurdles along their way. Most of these churches were not in all out danger of collapse; they just needed some maintenance, attention to aspects of their life together that had gone unaddressed. However, with the experience of the Great Recession, most of the independent church consultants I know have not had a lot of work. Many of us have landed in other jobs. The reason has not been a lack of need, but a perceived lack of funds or lack crisis from our former clients. There are always opportunities to help congregations learn new things, engage in meaningful self-reflection, to prepare for difficulties, and create lead time for new opportunities.
One of the heart breaks I have witnessed both as a pastor, and simply as someone trying to see what’s going on, there is sometimes a sad recognition: when a problem is noticed, it may already be too late. Counselors and therapists know this. They often speak sadly of the couples ending in divorce whose relationships are beyond repair. “If only they had come in earlier.” There are the cardiac surgeons who would love to tell patients, eat right, exercise, get regular checkups. But by the time they come into a hospital with chest pains, it is too late and the bypass surgery is just around the corner. Most of the time, people know they are in jeopardy of destroying their health, their relationships, their businesses, but they feel hemmed in by limited budgets of time and money.
Over the past month, I have been contacted by former clients and been informed of congregations in crisis. Some have to do with conflict, many of the issues arise out of faulty discernment practices, there has been poor communication, and accountability has been skewed from sharing burdens to seeking blame. What a mess. While I never would want to tell them, “I told you so,” many have noticed that if they had worked on these problems earlier, this crisis would not exist now. Or, more realistically, if these problems were really inevitable, then at least one could have been more prepared for them.
Changing filters is easier than changing an engine. Changing congregational practices and creating lead time is easier that changing entire boards, committees, clergy, and other leaders. Changing practices may be tedious, your knuckles might get scraped and your hands get dirty, so to speak. But the results are longer lasting. They are less prone to be quick fixes with a short shelf-life. They are less likely to be focused on problem-solving limited by a narrow, though painful, focus. Rather, simple practices, third-party consultations, learning new discernment practices are more fruitful when the engine is still working well. What kinds of investments are needed in your community to make the whole, “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later,” warning more meaningful?
Let’s get to work!