This week marks fourteen weeks since my mother was first admitted to the hospital. Since February 15th, she has been in the hospital, in rehab, in a nursing care center, back to the hospital and now back in the nursing center. She is battling infection … and recently we heard that she is undernourished, dehydrated, and otherwise weak. She has been infused with severe antibiotics through her IV every six hours since she arrived at the hospital 14 weeks ago. The doctors are treating each symptom as it appears, they adjust medication, and they try to keep a balance between side effects. But on her last hospital admittance they were focussed on food and water: the basics.
What’s frustrating for me, besides being 1685 miles away, is that treating the symptoms can be so time consuming and weary … and we’re still not dealing with the fundamental disease. In my mom’s case, we’re not sure what the fundamental disease is or if there really is one. It’s a highly complex combination of diabetes, arthritis, hypertension, asthma, chronic immune deficiency and more, none of which is likely to be “cured” but managed. And then, in the middle of managing … we realize the basic needs of food and water had been neglected.
I am always surprised by the way life’s themes repeat themselves in so many different contexts. For me, my mother’s disease is a metaphor for the challenges of life in the church today. I’m aware that so many of our congregations are consumed with treating symptoms: building maintenance, declining membership, budget issues, finding volunteers for committees, paying the pastor, etc. And I wonder if we are, like my mother’s doctors, trying to keep things balanced and well enough to get through another day or another week or another month … while we avoid talking about the longterm prognosis and/or don’t realize we are under it all … starving and thirsty.
The underlying issues of the church are complex, layered, and interwoven: Aging membership, declining membership, changing culture and demographics, etc. What if today, though, instead of being consumed by all the symptoms, blood tests, and medications, we focus primary on the basics: the bread of life and the living water … prayer, engagement with scripture, authentic community, inspired worship. If our congregations are too busy managing symptoms and prescribing more programs … are we so busy we forget to drink from the well or nourish our souls. My friend and colleague, Stan Ott, says that the leadership of the church needs to spend time “being the people of God” before we can “do the work of the people of God.”
Does your session spend time engaging the Scriptures together? Do you pray for each other, your church and the world? How much of your meeting time is spent in “being the people of God” before you “do the work of the people of God”?