Sick of Lists

I’m sick of lists.  

I’m sick of those handy-dandy, 7-simple-steps-to-nirvana lists.  10-things-you-should-never-do-if-you-want-clean-hair lists.  15-foolproof-ways-to-determine-if-you-are-saved lists.  I have colleagues who are forever posting these things on Facebook, usually related to congregational life, ministry, and the very hard work of being the people of God called the Church.  
We all love lists.  We all love the idea that by following the equivalent of a cake recipe, we can change who and what we are and even some of what we do.  But at least for me, these lists have the opposite effect.  They set out to judge me, and so I defensively begin picking apart their criteria.  How wonderful it is to have people who have all the answers so willing to share their dismissals of other groups of people they’ve never met.  
Of course, that’s a harsh assessment on my part.  But I just finished reading this list, posted by a colleague on Facebook.  Both the author and the poster mean well.  I’m just not convinced that either one of them are actually helping anyone, let alone themselves and their own congregations.
And I proceeded to write a whole post about this list, but then just deleted it.  If you have some thoughts on the above-linked list, let me know.  I think it focuses on evangelism as too much a me-oriented thing instead of a Holy Spirit thing, and I think it oversimplifies the distinction between intellectually knowing how I should be and actually being that way.  Not to mention his recommendation on how to design a worship service makes no sense.  But, in his defense, he has a post that is much more helpful here, at his web site.
That being said, I listened to a clip from this past Saturday Night Live.  I don’t watch the show any more, and I think it misses far more than it hits.  But this one quote from a really lousy sketch caught my ear and convinced me to delete everything else I had written.
I love the quote because of how appropriate it is to the Christian life.  I talk with guys every week that are asking questions about how to practically make the changes that their minds and even their hearts want them to make in Christ, but they don’t know how.  I feel I’m categorically unprepared to answer that sort of question, yet there I am, week after week, trying to help them (and therefore myself) make sense of it.  
Watch the clip above if you don’t mind wasting a few minutes for no laughs.  But the quote comes near the end.  Two brothers and musicians audition to provide new theme music for the show NBC Sports.  However the interviewers only want the music written by the one brother, not the lyrics written by the other brother.  The brothers erupt in rage, producing tiny hammers with which they smash all the breakable objects in the office.  One brother douses the keyboard in gasoline, prepared to set it – and the high-rise office they are in – on fire.   At the last second, his brother comes to his senses and knocks the lighter out of his brother’s hand.  They begin attempting to calm down the situation, trying to salvage themselves in front of their would-be employers.  
Dave:  Look, we did not want things to go this way!
Mr. Lavender: Then why did you bring little hammers and a can of gasoline?
John: Cause we thought it might go this way, yeah.
This pretty much sums up who we are as people, and why change is so hard.  The line between what we would like to see happen, and what we expect to happen, is hard to cross over, particularly because what we do is so ingrained that it continues to operate even when our brains and hearts want something different.  
If you want to really reach the unchurched, you need to figure out what the hammers and gasoline are in your congregation and in your life.  Note – hammers and gasoline are not bad things, in and of themselves.  But in this context, they represent the destructive tools that prevent us from being a community of faith that welcomes others, or a community of faith that goes out to others.  I suspect it is this latter issue – the issue of going out to others – that is particularly frightening to many congregations.  Going out to others may mean leaving behind things and places that we love, that are comfortable, and that we have drawn great personal strength and meaning from.  But those attachments can become little hammers and gasoline.  We want something different, but we carry those things with us and fall back on them when things are not immediately successful or rewarding.
Maybe lists can help you identify the hammers and gasoline in your life or congregation.  Perhaps you can identify them, you know they’re dangerous, but you still find them with you even as you seek to do and be different.  There’s help for this condition, but it comes from the Holy Spirit, not a list.  It  comes from suffering and sacrifice and a God-infused resolve to not allow habits that are no longer helpful to begin harming yourself and your ministry.  
I don’t think there’s a list big enough or long enough to encompass all that might entail – you have to work it out for yourself.  

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