P is for Paradigm Shift (or How to Take Somebody a Casserole in the 21st C. Church)

CasserolesAfter making my “P is for Paradigm Shift” pitch at a retreat last weekend, one thoughtful church leader asked, “I understand that we have to do it.  But can you give an example of how we do it?


Take casseroles, for example. Congregations have organized the sharing of consecrated casseroles for decades.  If you have a new baby, if you are recovering from surgery, if you are new neighbor – and you are part of a church community – chances are that somebody will bring you a casserole.

To be perfectly honest, it may not be a casserole these days.  It could be a pizza from a local restaurant or it could even be a gift card to Panera.  But the casserole is classic.

I know a church that found itself in a paradigm shift over casseroles and it went like this:

  • The older ladies wanted to take casseroles to moms with new babies in their congregation.
  • The new moms were grateful for the gesture.
  • The older ladies baked those casseroles (and side dishes) using their best heirloom china because that’s how their generation expressed lavish hospitality. You serve your best recipes in your best dishes.
  • The new moms were extremely anxious that 1) they’d break the heirloom china and 2) they’d have to wash the serving pieces and then pack up the baby with the heirloom china and then return the heirlooms to the donor.  Imagine the added anxiety if mom had given birth to twins and there were two babies to get into car seats.  With heirloom china.
  • The older ladies believed that the new moms felt isolated and so they often stayed for an hour or so, during which they offered tips to the new moms on how to clean their houses and take care of themselves and the baby.
  • The new moms felt too tired for a long visit.  And housekeeping/self-care/baby-care tips made them feel judged.

An intervention was required.

After some friction between the heirloom china ladies and the new moms, someone approached a church leader to ask if the new moms might come up with a list of helpful suggestions for anyone volunteering to provide a meal for future new moms or families in need.  “Great idea!” said the church leader.  And so they did:

  • Please call before dropping by.
  • Please ask about allergies or food restrictions.
  • Please bring meals in disposable containers.

Some of the older ladies felt hurt and angry.

  • They dropped off meals when they were out running errands and they didn’t know exactly when they’d be stopping by.
  • They don’t understand what’s up with all these peanut allergies and “nursing mothers should be eating meat.”
  • They thought disposable containers were tacky.

This is perhaps an extreme example of generational changes in assumptions that require honest conversation and grace.  When the culture shifts, it doesn’t mean that the old ways were bad; it’s just that things have changed in terms of convenience and norms.

And the point of sharing meals with those in need is that it’s about those in need, right?  It might make us feel good to offer this service, but it’s not about us. Another paradigm shift:

It's not about you

And another one:

Be the Church

We make cultural changes not for the sake of making changes.  We make cultural changes and paradigm shifts for the sake of others:  the ones not yet with us, the ones with the most pressing needs, the ones who are new/hurt/on the fringe.

21st Century Church leaders do not focus on the ABCs (attendance, building, and cash.)  We focus on the NOPs (the neighbors, organizational structure, and paradigm shifts.)  Yes, this is old news in this year of our LORD 2015.  But we still need little reminders.

Get out there and be the church!  And consider taking somebody a meal in disposable dishes.

15 responses to “P is for Paradigm Shift (or How to Take Somebody a Casserole in the 21st C. Church)

  1. true apart from the disposable dishes (so ’80s and so terrible for the environment)!


  2. The best part of this post…ask them! So often we “think” for others without asking what would be helpful.

    I still get the sense that the denomination/mothership is still focused on the ABC’s and all I hear in that is the word survival.


  3. This post is brilliant.


  4. My son was in a serious accident 10 years ago. So many and much appreciated food deliveries from our church friends. The one I remember the most was a full meal (with sides and dessert), all delivered in assorted rummage-sale dishes. The family who delivered it said they try to help the environment by not using disposable things, yet dishes not meant for a hassled return to owner. Rather from a local Goodwill store, refilled at another needed time for the next family in need. A pay-it-forward kind of thing. Brilliant and so helpful. More importantly, the church was moving through the dishes and the hugs of the people who delivered them. We got the words delivered on Sundays in person!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love this idea – so people can be mindful of the environment and health but also mindful of the hassle and stress returning good dishes etc. causes. Brilliant.


  5. An analogy for so many things…


  6. This is not a casserole story… but nevertheless a great cross-generational pastoral care thing that was so NOT my idea: The 29-year-old moderator of the deacons and self-proclaimed news junkie developed a friendship with a seventy-something homebound NPR lover. The homebound member has become increasingly lonely in a nursing home where no one else shares his love of current events. The deacon got the diaconate to spring for a Samsung tablet and took it to the nursing home this afternoon when we brought communion. The real sacrament was watching these two guys together as they downloaded apps for NYT, NPR, etc. and made a plan to connect on-line. No casseroles, but we were all fed.

    Liked by 1 person

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  9. I bring “casseroles” in disposable containers with the instruction that I don’t want the container returned. Even so, a family member will wash it, dry it, and return it at the next church meeting. (I’m 77)


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