fatigue2Everyday as I’m scrolling through my Facebook feed I see all sorts of shared posts about “The 10 Things The Church Needs to do to Survive” or “8 Ways That the Church is Missing the Mark” or countless other stories in the same ilk. I’m not surprised, and in fact I’ve been as guilty as anyone of spreading those stories and driving up the page views which spurs authors on to creating new versions of the same thing (can anyone say Carey Neiuwhof?). Don’t get me wrong — I’ve enjoyed these stories and they’ve spurred much thought (especially Carey’s regular lists). Yet more and more I find myself thinking that we are spending too much time talking about the church rather than getting on with the work of being the church.

Yes, I admit that I am suffering from church talk fatigue. That’s a problem of course for a guy like me because I’m a partner in a company that creates websites that talk about the church. I’ve been an analyzer and a commentator, and contributed my own words about what my own United Methodist Church should do. It’s great fun for someone like me to deconstruct and sometimes even reconstruct in idealistic and hypothetical ways about where we’ve gone wrong and where we need to go from here.

And yes, I confess that I even do it in my own ministry. The fact for many of us is that we ARE serving churches that have experienced numerical and energy decline over the years, and we’ve been tasked to figure out the special sauce that will stem that decline and turn those congregations on the road to vitality. That is, I think, what we all want to do, and in the midst of that challenge it’s easy to spend much time navel gazing trying to figure out how we got here so that we can head in the opposite direction, and we end up developing all sorts of theories and practices about the things that will move us forward.

But my fear is that in all the analysis, all the navel gazing, all the lists on leadership and preaching and hospitality we are talking ourselves to death.

Look, I know all the challenges the congregation I serve faces.

I know that our surrounding community is in decline and filled with much poverty and despair.

I know that we have far more building than we probably need and that we are going to have to find creative partnerships so that the physical plant doesn’t sink us.

I know that our signage is inadequate, that the congregation is aging, that we struggle at times to be truly open and inviting, and that we fail to embrace the diversity that surrounds us.

I can spend all my days analyzing what we are doing wrong and coming up with the hundred things that we need to do to turn things around.

Or…

I can spend my time simply being a Christian and leading the church that I serve to simply be the church, that is a community that is rooted in the Great Commandment of love of God and neighbor, a community which is engaged in connecting people to God, one another, and the world in profound ways, and a community which lives out the teachings of Jesus in the real world.

Maybe it’s time to spend our time being the church instead of talking about what we should be?

Maybe we need to be engaged in the practices that make the church the church — prayer, worship, sacrament, study, and the belief that God is in our midst and offers hope to the world?

Maybe we need to stop talking about how one or the other of us falls short in our sinfulness and brokenness and instead simply need to acknowledge that we all are broken and in need of God’s grace?

Maybe we need to simply acknowledge that our places of power and privilege in the broader society are simply no more and will likely never come back so that we can be focused on offering love and grace rather than trying to build programs and empires?

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying that we should think about vitality or even church growth, but I am saying that those are by-products of a community that is focused on being the church, not talking about what the church should be.

I don’t know . . . maybe all this talk about the church is helpful.

But I’m finding for me more and more it’s getting in the way of my ability to simply be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

How about you?

A Eulogy for Daddy Joe

January 28, 2015 — 3 Comments

JaneJoeFather Abraham had many sons
Had many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them
And so are you
So let’s just praise the Lord

Abraham, the father of three of the major streams of faith in the world, is known in scholarly circles as a patriarch. He was, as the dictionary defines that term, a man who was revered by those of his tribe who followed him. Patriarchs are the rulers of a family — sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad — but they are honored for their position in the family, and more often than not they are respected for their wisdom and their management of the household. Their legacy is seen in the many children they leave behind (…many sons) who identify themselves with the tribe of the patriarch.

Joe Sadler (Daddy Joe) was the patriarch in my family. He was not the oldest child, but he was the one that the rest of the family turned to again and again as difficulties arose. He was my mother’s older brother, and throughout my years he was the rock who kept our family sane and functioning in troubling times. When I was a stupid punk of a teenage kid, he bailed me out of the mistakes I made along the way, and I am sure that I would not be the person I am today without his influence in my life.

Last night, my Uncle Joe’s body finally gave out, and he passed from this world into the world to come. Joe had been a walking miracle, for he had survived lung cancer (with the removal of part of a lung), heart disease, and a variety of other ailments in the past many years. The ability to push through those challenges and continue on made him almost appear invincible — and it’s been a struggle over the past couple of years as it became more and more clear that his body was wearing out. It’s hard to know how to respond when a patriarch becomes human and frail, and our family will mourn this loss deeply.

In Genesis 25, the author of the book tells us about the death of Abraham:

Altogether, Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people.

Daddy Joe lived 81 years (his birthday was this past Saturday), and last night he breathed his last. He too was a good man and full of years. And now, we have confidence that he has been gathered to his people in a place with no more sickness, death, and sorrow. He has been reunited with his beloved Evelyn, his brothers Bill, Don, and Ray, and his sister (my mom) Jane.

His legacy will be lived out in those of us left behind. He taught us wisdom and compassion, pragmatism and faith, and the belief that family ties are not easily broken. More than anything, he taught us that we should never give up in the face of adversity. Joe survived and made the best of life . . . and he wanted his “many sons” to do the same.

Good bye Daddy Joe. You are fiercely loved, and will be profoundly missed.

Daddy Joe had many sons
Had many sons had Daddy Joe
I am one of them
And so are you
So let’s just praise the Lord