I’m writing this on the road after a great experience at Mo-Ranch (where – I’m told – God lives.) Driving through the back roads in Texas from Hunt to Austin, I observed a colorful array of roadkill: armadillos, possums, deer, squirrels and raccoons. Among the living fauna along the road were buzzards (eating the dead armadillos), wild turkey, horses, Belted Galloways, Long Horns, goats and elk (roaming somebody’s ranch.)
I saw a lot – A LOT – of dead armadillos.
Armadillos are not speedy animals although they can be trained to race. (!) They inherently jump up when startled – rather than immediately run forward which means they often don’t make it when a truck is speeding down the road . . . except apparently for those who race.
Although their armor gives them the appearance of being tough guys, armadillo bellies are soft. Their claws are sharp and their tongues are sticky – all the better to dig deep and take nourishment easily. Best of all, Nine Banded Armadillos – in spite of their propensity to get hit by traffic – are the treasured State Small Mammal of Texas.
Metaphor alert: Sometimes I see roadkill in congregations.
While some church members are treasured, they also get run over if they become startled by changes or if they don’t move fast enough. I’ve known curmudgeonly members who seem as tough as armor, and yet they are actually quite soft inside. They have worked hard – sometimes for the sake of survival – but they are easily nourished spiritually, or at least they seem to be. They have been attending church Bible studies forever and those classes seems to feed them well.
As the institutional Church is swiftly changing, it’s easy to hit them and keep going. This is unnecessary.
An elegant elderly gentleman wearing the pale yellow suit once asked me “what we could do to encourage men to wear suits to church.” This happened immediately after I had taught a class in his congregation about the shifts we need to make if we hope to be a 21st Century Church. Frankly, it was tempting to say:
Did you not hear a word that I said? The days are over when men wear suits to church. God doesn’t care what you wear to church.
But instead the Spirit opened my mouth and more generous words came out than I would have naturally chosen:
It sounds like one of the ways you honor God is to dress up in a suit on Sundays and I hope you will keep doing that. But other people honor God in different ways. Some – especially children – honor God by making the effort to come to worship before or after a soccer game which means they are wearing their soccer jerseys. But they are honoring God by showing up in the best way they can. Others might be dressed more casually because they are headed to a picnic or maybe they are headed to work and they’ve dressed accordingly. But I believe God would rather have us come together – whether we are wearing uniforms or play clothes or dress clothes – than not gather for worship at all.
It’s easy to become impatient with those who are slow to move. I am often one of those impatient people.
I want people to get with the program. I want them to move faster. But I’m missing the point if I run over them and leave them wounded on the side of the road on my way to the 21st Century Church.
It takes time to make these important shifts. Some of us will be the latest of latecomers and the reign of God will not be slowed indefinitely. But we are called to respect even those who are slower to make changes. If they have indeed been nourished spiritually by the church of their youth, then they will be spiritually mature enough to recognize that we need to be a different Church for different times. Relationships matter. Church roadkill is unnecessary and – ultimately – destructive to the Bodyof Christ as a whole.