God does not want your money, but God does want you to be a church! Thoughts on the church as community in a world often without one.

God does not want your money, but God does want you to be a church!

During this year’s stewardship campaign, we have emphasized that God does not want our money.

God has no need of it.

What God does want is us.

God wants us to worship.

God wants us to go out in mission.

God wants us to do ministry.

But God wants us to do something else.

God wants us to be a community.

A community that supports and nurtures and cares for each other, in good time and bad.

Where do we see that kind of thing in scripture?

In the Acts of the Apostles where Luke describes the first church.

Lots of people were showing up.

Why?

Once there, what did they do?

Luke describes it.

Acts 2: 42-47

42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

From 1982 to 1993 one of the highest rated TV shows was “Cheers”.

It was a show about a group of people who met every day after work in a bar.

The concept of the show was highlighted in its theme song:

Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you got
Taking a break from all your worries
It sure would help a lot
Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You want to be where you can see
The troubles are all the same
You want to be where everybody knows your name

You want to go where people know
The people are all the same
You want to go where everybody knows your name

That was not a new concept, was it?

And its still true, isn’t it?

Don’t we all want to have a place like that to go to?

Where is your place?

Cheers was followed by another show with a similar concept.

“Friends”

From 1994 to 2004, Friends was one of the highest rated TV shows.

It was about a community of six markedly different people living as a small community of friends in Manhattan.

Its theme song also highlighted that show’s concept.

I’ll be there for you
(When the rain starts to pour)
I’ll be there for you
(Like I’ve been there before)
I’ll be there for you
(‘Cause you’re there for me too)

That was not a new concept, either, was it?

And it’s still true, isn’t it?

Don’t we all want to have people like that in our lives?

Who are your people?

This week I listened to an episode of the podcast, “Hidden Brain”, a podcast that discusses patterns of human behavior.

The episode was about the difficulty men have with loneliness, but I think it has a much broader application that just men.

The people on the podcast talked about a legendary Harvard University study that followed 268 students from the mid 1940’s throughout their lives to analyze what made some successful and some not successful.

The study is still going on.

The current director of the study is Robert Waldinger.

He said that from the beginning, the study paid attention, in part, to the subjects’ social and emotional health.

He said that one of the questions that the subjects answered over the years was this:

Who would you call in the middle of the night if you were sick or afraid?

Think about that one for a second!

It had to be someone other than their spouse or family member – in other words some kind of close friendship or social network.

Partly from the answers given to this question, the study found that men who had someone like that to turn to were happier with their lives and their marriages.

Waldinger also said there was a correlation between the men’s answers to that question and their physical health.

That was one of the surprising things that began to emerge in our data in the ’80s, [Waldinger said]. We found that people who had warmer, closer connections lived longer, developed the diseases of middle age [later in life] and had better health longer on average than people who didn’t have warm, close relationships.

I think this part of the study’s results tells us why shows like Cheers and Friends are so popular.

The depict a life we want to be a part of.

The relationships we want to have.

Closer, warmer connections to other people.

A place:

Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came

With people:

[Who’ll] be there for you.

Someone you can call in the middle of the night when you are sick or afraid.

Such a place and such relationships can make us happier and healthier!

So …

Where is our “Cheers”?

Who are our “Friends”?

Who do we call in the middle of the night when we are sick or afraid?

A neighbor?

A co-worker?

One of the parents on your kid’s soccer team?

Who is on your speed dial?

A common answer nowadays is – no one.

We have a hard time identifying such places and such folks these days.

Maybe the church could be such a place.

It should be, right?

Luke seems to think so.

Luke describes a church as a place where everyone knows each other, shares with each other, hangs out with each other, eats with each other, and worships with each other.

The church is Cheers full of Friends!

And more and more people keep showing up to be a part of it.

But in Luke’s church, people were not gathering.

They were interacting.

Nick Epley, behavioral science professor at the University of Chicago, describes an observation he made while using the Chicago metro system.

We happen to be one of the most social species on the planet who seem to get a lot of happiness and satisfaction from our connections with others. And, yet, every morning on the train, and over and over again in public spaces where I’d be out and about, I would see people standing cheek-to-jowl next to each other or sitting cheek-to-jowl next to each other and ignoring each other.

Epley decided to study what would happen if he sent people onto Chicago trains with the assignment that they were to talk to people sitting next to them.

He says this:

… People reported being happier, less sad and having a more pleasant commute when they connected with the person sitting next to them than when we randomly assigned them to a condition where they were asked to sit in solitude.

And then there was this:

As far as we can tell

[from a study]

, the actual percentage of people who would be willing to talk to you is much closer to 100%.

Just gathering does not make people a community.

We need to interact.

And when we do, we are happier and healthier.

As I was thinking about this all week, I started to wonder if that is what it might be like in some churches.

I was talking a while back with a guy who distinguished between being welcomed in a church and being included.

He told me that almost all churches believe themselves to be “welcoming”.

You show up for a worship service and you get a lot of people coming up to you and saying hello and welcome.

But then we become like the Chicago train passengers, he said.

We sort of distance ourselves from people we don’t know.

Why?

We have trouble starting the conversation.

We don’t know the best way to get to know each other.

We are uncomfortable doing that sort of thing.

I’m willing to bet that it was no different in the church Luke describes.

When someone new showed up, I suspect there was a period of time that went by before that person felt at home and included.

It was not something that happened in a moment.

It took time and energy and a bit of insight.

It’s no different today.

I mean we are all different in our personalities and social needs.

Here is what I mean.

At some point in time in about every organization I have ever belonged I have gone through the Myers Briggs Personality Inventory.

16 different personality types!

Do you know yours?

Here are just a couple parts.

Are you an extrovert?

If so, this is you, according to Prevention magazine.

Common extrovert traits

  • Have large social networks
  • Enjoy being the center of attention
  • Tend to think out loud
  • Make quick decisions
  • Gain energy from being around other people
  • Outgoing, enthusiastic, and positive
  • Thrive in team-oriented and open work settings

Matt?

I think that’s you.

If that is you, we need you hear.

Are you an introvert?

If so, this is you, according to Prevention magazine.

Common introvert traits

  • Enjoy spending time in solitude
  • Don’t prefer to be the center of attention
  • Value close one-on-one relationships
  • Think before they speak/not as talkative
  • Need time alone to recharge and reflect
  • Prefer working in quiet, independent environments
  • Deeply focus and think about specific interests
  • Can be seen as reserved

According to the MBPI, I am 75% introvert.

If that’s you, we need you here.

We as a community need to honor who we all are to include everyone in this big community we call JMPC.

Just because we come to church does not mean we are all the same.

Roy M. Oswald and Otto Kroeger wrote an article, “The Case for Becoming a Type Watcher” that said this:

To presume that [people coming to your church] have the same spiritual/ psychological needs that you have is to make a basic error. We make the same mistake parents often make. We try to change our “children” into our type. [People coming to your church] don’t want us to change them into who we are. They need [us to understand and appreciate] them for who they are.     

I think it would be really cool to have every member of the congregation to take the MBPI, learn how each of the 16 personality types works and then, along with our names, have our MBPI identity as well.

“I am an introvert.”

“I will act like one.”

Today we have received three new members.

Since 2015 we have received 56 adult new members and 21 confirmands.

We did not make any of them take the MBPI.

So, maybe a conversation starter might be about their personality type?

OK, if that is not something you want to do, take the time to walk up to someone you do not know (they might be members) and say to them, “I’m glad you’re here!”

And, “I hope to see you again soon.”

And, if they are new, “Would you like to sit with me?”

And, “Can I show you around?”

You know, start a conversation?

Nearly 100% of folks will be happy you did.

You will be happy you did.

When we make JMPC a place where friends meet, we become a community.

A church.

Christine Pohl says this in her book, “Living into Community”.

When folks enjoy being together, share celebrations, and walk through hard times with grace and love, the beauty of their shared life is deeply compelling. Human beings were made for living in community, and it is in community that we flourish and become most fully human.

When we do these things, our shared lives will be deeply compelling, and it is then that we flourish and become most fully Christian.

When we understand each other better we might become a place full of friends with different personalities who we can rely on in the middle of the night when we are sick or afraid.

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