Going to the Promised Land

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Bill Hybels went to the promised land…

You may think I am implying that this pastor of Willow Creek Community Church has “passed on” as we say in the south; he has traveled to his just reward.  Of course this common reference comes from the promise that God made to Abraham and the Israelites: they were promised that they would be able to go to the “land of milk and honey.”

No.  When he talks of going to the “promised land” he is referring to touring the children’s ministry of Willow Creek Church.   This is his way of giving credit to all the wonderful volunteers at his church.

If you want to find a place to use your talents, there is no better place than your church.

Not everyone has that attitude…sadly.

I am going to comment on a couple of well-known clichés about church.  One is the 80/20 rule.   Believe it or not, this “rule” is based on a theory by an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of income in Italy was received by 20% of the Italian population. The assumption is that most of the results in any situation are determined by a small number of causes.

The 80/20 rule applies to church volunteerism because 20% of the church is active and 80% do very little except attend.  This attitude is the opposite of what Hybels discovers when he takes his “promised land” tour.   Granted Willow Creek is a large church, a “mega-church.”  In 2011 they reported an average Sunday attendance of nearly 24,000.   In anyone’s estimation that is big.

Hybels saw men, women and teens holding babies, rocking babies and peeking down on babies in cribs.  Walking down the hallway, he saw adults supervising toddlers in a special section of the church just for them.  Keep in mind that this is a big church with a lot of parents with children and volunteers who believe in making the kids part of their church.  Dozens of volunteers work there every Sunday.  He writes of more examples of volunteerism; “shade tree mechanics” who are working on a car to help a woman who needs some reliable transportation, board members who are stuffing Hope Packs to send to underprivileged people on the other side of the world, finance council leaders, prayer team coordinators, grounds keepers, greeters, elders…the list goes on and on of people who step up and do the work of the church every week, free of charge.

Maybe Hybels exaggerates.

I hope not.

There certainly is a lot of work to do in every church.   There is a volunteer role for every church member but sadly some don’t have that attitude.   “Let the staff do the work; they are paid to do it.”   “I did my part; it is time for younger ones to step up and now I get to rest.”  “The pastor only works on Sunday; they have all kinds of time to get things done.”  That last one is the most cruel.  Of course pastors don’t just work on Sunday.  Anyone who has spent time with a good pastor knows they are on the go every day.  I have friends who are children of pastors and they never experienced a full vacation because their pastor parent is called back from time off to take care of a church emergency.

Thom S. Rainer, in his book I Am A Church Member,  understands this attitude very well.  He writes, “We join our churches expecting others to serve us, to feed us and to care for us….God did not give us local churches to become country clubs where membership means we have privileges and perks….Many churches are weak because we have members who have turned the meaning of membership upside down.”

In short, they believe that 80 percent of the work should be done by 20 percent of the people.

I have a pastor who began her first sermon at my church by passing out a piece of jigsaw puzzle to everyone at our church.  Her point?  That everyone in our church has a role.  Together we all must fit together to solve the puzzle.  I Corinthians 12 says “Now you are the body of Christ and individual members in it.”   Some will be able to mow the yard, some will be able to teach, some will be able to visit people who are home-bound.  Others can chair the church council, sing in the choir, or serve as prayer warriors.  The point is that there is work for all of us to do.   Church needs you to be a functioning member.   If you are an eye in the body, that is wonderful.  If you are an ear, that is wonderful.  If you are a hand, that is wonderful.

Keep this is mind.

Together we are the body of Christ.

Let me close by quoting Pastor Hybels on volunteerism in his church: “There’s nothing more inspiring than a person who transforms something he just can’t stand into a kind of positive energy that advances restoration in this world.  This is what’s at work every time a person steps into a church with an ‘I’m here to serve attitude’”.

He writes so much about “holy discontent”, the idea that motivation comes to people who choose to do good in the world because there is something wrong in the world and they can’t stand to do nothing.  They want to make things better.

What a perfect place for positive energy…your church.

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