I had cancer once — Thyroid cancer. I had no symptoms. Well, except for the tennis ball sized lump in my throat. Of course, it didn’t start as a tennis balls sized lump, and the lump, itself, was not cancer at all. It was a goiter; my thyroid was growing, not malfunctioning, just growing. I didn’t even notice it until a member of my church who DID have thyroid cancer said that it had started with a lump in her throat on the side of her neck. I felt my own neck and said, “everyone has lumps in their necks.”
Well, they don’t. Healthy people don’t have walnut sized lumps on the left side of their necks. I had never noticed. My goiter was growing so slowly and without interfering with my swallowing, breathing, eating or singing I never noticed it. Luckily, I went to the ENT and had it looked at. At that time, there was no cancer, but it was growing. I put off the surgery for a few years … it wasn’t interfering with my life, so we just kept an eye on it.
In 2001 the goiter had grown to the size of a tennis ball. I was still not having problems with breathing or swallowing, but we thought it would be good to remove it. Another routine screening was done for cancer which showed a possibility of cancer, so we removed the whole thyroid. They tell me the thyroid did have a small cancerous growth in the right hemisphere. So … I’m a cancer survivor who never knew she had cancer until it was removed.
I tell this story because I believe many churches are like me … there’s a cancer growing, but it has grown so slowly and we’ve managed to adjust. We change to a little different sleeping position to enable better breathing, and we don’t even see the tennis ball sized lump in the side of our necks. If we can live with the symptoms, sometimes we never see the disease.
For some churches it’s a cancer of leadership, for others it’s a cancer of membership decline or aging membership. For some it’s a cancer of financial sustainability, and for others it’s a cancer of spiritual atrophy. Having cancer is never a good thing, but it’s rarely our “fault.” Even when it is caused by years of smoking or poor eating habits … it’s a consequence exacerbated by certain behavior, not a moral failure. Cancer is made much worse, though, if we deny our symptoms, are ashamed of our symptoms and/or delay screening and doing something about it.
So how do you screen to see if your church has missional cancer? I’ll put that in my next post titled, “Your Church May have Cancer if …”