Years ago, a former colleague of mine said in reply to my frustration with how long it took to get things done around the church that, “The business of the church is not to be efficient; it is to empower people.” And though churches often quack like non-profits and often times act like non-profits, they are not a non-profit. Yes, churches need to be fiscally responsible and even have systems of governance that ensure the democratic process. But the reality of how most churches function would drive anyone with an MBA crazy. Why? Because we are committed to process and inclusion rather than practicality and sharply defined rules and regulations. We value the process over the end product. Relationship will always trump administrative efficiency.
We look to churches to provide a community to belong to, a place where we can be spiritually and religiously grounded. We want them to be places where who we are is affirmed and celebrated. We want to come fully as we are without apology, and at the same time, leave ourselves open to the possibility that if we throw our lot in with this community, our life might be changed. And just as we “seek to be understood,” we are realizing that perhaps the more urgent task is “to seek to understand.” That is what is required of us in a religiously pluralistic community. We are not all on the same page, plane or planet, yet we choose to stay and listen and learn and be challenged and grow.
Another colleague shared this statement from a 15 year old in her congregation: “Church is the place I go to when the world has forgotten who I am.” How profound and how true a statement, not just for a 15 year old, but any of us. For our world often seems impersonal and empty, on fast-forward, unaware of any of us as human be-ings (versus do-ings) of worth. I depend on “church” to remind each of us who we are and what we are called to be.
Father Dan Homan and Lonni Collins Pratt, authors of Radical Hospitality, write that we “help people remember who they are by listening.” Deeply. Without judgment. Some of us intuitively know how to do this. Others of us have to learn and practice this deep listening. It involves making space in our hearts by committing ourselves to “listen for the more that is woven into all that is” beneath and all around the one who is speaking. It means opening ourselves up beyond fear. This is anything but efficient. But it is the work of empowerment, the work of the church.
Are you game?