Bernadette Fox finds life, and people, stressful. She hires a concierge service from India so she doesn’t have to deal with the day-to-day details of being a wife and mother. She needs a new extra-strength prescription to handle the possibility of being on a cruise ship, even a small one with only 150 people on board. She and her husband and daughter live in an abandoned Catholic school with vines growing up through the floor. In short, Bernadette is a mess.
And the mess keeps growing. It turns out the concierge service is actually an identity theft ring, and Bernadette has given them the keys to the kingdom, and the bank accounts. She’s accused (perhaps falsely) of running over the foot of one of the helicopter moms that lives in the neighborhood. She falls asleep in the middle of the pharmacy where she’s picking up her prescription. Her husband decides she needs an intervention.
In the midst of all this, she meets a friend (who was also her mentor and former professor) for coffee. It turns out Bernadette was once a famous architect, who moved to Seattle after a traumatic (to her) experience over one of her projects, and as a result of her husband’s company being purchased by Microsoft. She’s spent the last twenty years being a mom and wife and trying to avoid social interaction. After she vomits out twenty years worth of pent-up frustration, her friend/mentor goes straight to the heart of the problem.
People like you must create. That’s what you were brought into this world to do, Bernadette. If you don’t, you become a menace to society.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is a pretty good book and only decent movie (one long Amazon ad), but the former architect professor’s insight is exactly on point. We are made in God’s image (Gen 1:26), and to do His good works (Eph 2:10), and when we don’t do what we were brought into this world to do, we’re the problem, not the solution.
The church in the US has often been compared to a professional football game—twenty-two participants and 90,000 spectators. There are pockets where it might not be completely true, but overall, it’s a pretty accurate description. As with all big problems, there are a lot of small mistakes compounded together over time that got us here, and the size of the snowball now grown to be a two-story boulder can look pretty intractable. But just like small mistakes made the boulder, small improvements can turn it back into a snowball.
It starts, as almost all problems do, with leadership. The people who misunderstand the purpose of a church staff often includes the church staff themselves.
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers…
Great. He gave us a bunch of different kinds of people. But why did He give them to us?
for the equipping of the saints for the work of service… (Eph 4:11–12, emphasis mine)
This is the first needed course correction—pastors and the rest of church staff aren’t supposed to be doing the work, they’re supposed to be equipping “the saints” (that would be the church members) for the work. They’re trainers of doers, not doers. Pastors, if you’re doing something (other than preaching) by yourself, you’re doing it wrong. Everything you do should be done with someone else, to “train them for the work of service.” The King will not judge you by what you got done, but by how much those you trained got done. Who should be visiting the sick? The saints. Who should be planning events? The saints. Who should be raising up leaders? The saints.
“Wait a minute, isn’t that my job?” says the pastor. “I’m supposed to be ‘equipping the saints.’ ” Yes you are. But one of the “works of service” is raising up leaders. Should you be equipping leaders? Absolutely. And part of that equipping is training them to raise up new leaders. Paul didn’t tell Timothy to just teach. He told him to teach teachers. (2 Tim 2:2)
The next correction is in how we choose congregations.1 When talking to someone who’s looking for a new congregation, most often the conversation revolves around one or more of:
- Whether the pastor is “feeding” them.
- Whether their children’s classroom has enough space and enough teachers.
- Whether their youth program is entertaining enough to draw a bunch of teenagers so their teenagers will have friends.
What do all of those have in common? Me, me, me, me, and some more me.
It’s not a pastor’s job to “feed” us. It’s a pastor’s job to equip us for the work of service. If he’s “feeding” us, that means we’re still a baby. If our child’s class doesn’t have enough space or enough teachers, it means there aren’t enough people doing the work of service. And who is it that should be reaching out to those other teenagers? Teenagers, who have been trained to do the work of service.
In short, we should be choosing congregations by where we’re most needed and how we can best serve, and how well the staff is training and equipping us to do that service.2 If you feel comfortable sitting in a seat for an hour and getting “fed” every Sunday, that’s not a pew or theater seat you’re sitting in, it’s a high-chair.
For those already in a congregation, there are a lot of excuses for not serving (“doing the work of service”).
- I don’t know enough of the Bible.
- My job keeps me too busy.
- I’ve “done my time.”
- No one’s ever asked me.
The first one usually either goes back to needing to be fed, or to a vast overestimation of what you need to know. (If you’ve been a believer longer than three years, you know more than the disciples, and they turned the world upside down.) The second one implies that you’re excused from God’s work if you’re too busy doing something else; ask Jonah about that one. (Jonah 1) The third one implies that there’s a time limit on how long we serve; ask Caleb or Moses about that one. (Caleb was 80 when he claimed that mountain, Moses was 80 when he led the people out of Egypt.) The last one implies that whether we do the “work of service” is someone else’s responsibility. It’s ours. The first thing we should be doing when we get to a new congregation is asking where we can serve. If you’ve asked and not gotten an answer, then ask again. And again. And keep asking until God tells you it’s time to go somewhere else so you can serve.
Bernadette wasn’t fixed by an intervention, but by re-discovering what she was made to do and then doing it. It took a trip to Antartica, but she finally realized she wasn’t meant to be just sitting around and avoiding social interaction. She was made to create. And only by creating did she stop being a “menace to society.”
We serve the Creator of everything. He made us in His image, which means we are also creators (albeit lowercase c) as well. We were made to create. The Ephesians verse referenced earlier tells us that we were not only created to do His good works, but that He prepared them for us “beforehand.” Before what? Before we were born. Maybe before the earth was born. He’s had things for you (and me) to do for a long time. They are things that only you can do, otherwise He wouldn’t have held them for you.
Don’t be a menace to society. Find meaning in God’s service.