I just didn’t know there was another way. Once I knew there was another way, I was resistant. What subject do you think I’m talking about? It should be obvious. Staplers, of course!
Decades ago, I bought a small metal stapler for my church office. It seemed like most of the staplers provided for me didn’t work very well. This stapler has traveled with me from one office to another. I’m quite fond of this stapler. This stapler now sits in my home office. As I’ve started organizing coins in 2”X2” cardboard flips (they have a cellophane center where the coin is located), my stapler has come in handy to staple each edge. In anticipation of stapling a lot of flips, I bought a new box of staples. Then I found out it is better to use a stapler that leaves the staples flat on the back of the flip. My immediate reaction was I’m not going to change my stapler!
Why do we have reactions like this? I have a hard-to-explain emotional attachment to my stapler. I’m pretty sure it’s not rational! There has been special meaning in using it for my coin-collecting hobby. Yet I could see my coin flips were not fitting as well into the coin pages. In some cases, they caught and ripped the pages. I’m pretty sure the staples have played a role in breaking several “welds” in the coin pages, ruining the page. Wednesday night while I was still at The Gathering (our pastor’s retreat), I ordered a new flat cinch stapler. It was waiting for me when I arrived home on Thursday.
Do we ever have similar experiences in our churches? Over our Christmas vacation I was thinking about a subject I would hesitate to bring up at any church I pastor. I was wondering why many of our United Methodist churches still use wooden pews. This question was especially on my mind at the Christmas Eve service at a UMC in Maryland. My back was hurting for most of the service, and I was quite uncomfortable. I’m suspicious pews do not overwhelm people who are new to churches.
I compared this experience with going to two different Maryland movie theatres. Both theatres had individual recliners. They were obviously focused on comfort! At one point it appeared to me movie theaters might go extinct. Now I’m thinking some of the theaters have worked hard to make the movie-going experience more attractive to people.
If movie theaters are focusing on comfort, what are churches focusing on? I’m hoping every church can say they are focusing on helping people to become disciples of Jesus Christ. If this hope is true, each church needs to analyze if anything we are doing is a barrier to our discipleship efforts. There are some things we have made sacred that Jesus would likely not care about.
With some trepidation, I will take the comparison with movie theatres one more step. They are able to sell food at exorbitant prices because they encourage people to eat while watching movies. I’m not encouraging us to get into the concession business, but I have noticed many churches have signs saying, Emo“No food or drink in the Sanctuary”. How do we respond if a visitor brings coffee into the Sanctuary? Are we so concerned about stains in the carpeting we are willing to miss an opportunity to deepen a person’s spiritual life?
I’m really not looking for hate mail from people who are pro-pews, or acclamations from people who are pro-recliners. I want to encourage us to be willing to question how we “do church” together. Sometimes we become emotionally attached to ways of doing things that hinder our ability to make Christian disciples. Those of us in the church who have already received the gift of Christ should be willing to be less comfortable if it makes it easier to share the gift with those who have not yet received Christ.
Your brother on the journey, Mark