For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 1 Corinthians 1:25
It is cold and dark, and my December schedule is very full. So I have been daydreaming of riding my motorcycle. There has not been time for a relaxing therapeutic ride this month. So I do the next best thing: meditate on the lessons I have learned on such rides.
The one I want to share was a late afternoon ride that I was taking on dirt roads outside of town. I was about 30 miles out of town when I decided to turn back and take the state highway home. I got up to speed, and I noticed a lack of power. I was certain there was something wrong with the engine, to keep the speed at 75 (or so) with the throttle all the way open. There must be something wrong with the engine the way I was losing power in a consistent and steady way. I decided I should just limp to town on less power.
I then saw a small country gas station and had a desire for a cola, so I lifted off the throttle and rolled onto the dirt. I dismounted and saw my back tire was going flat from large puncture. I was wrong. I was so wrong, that if I went on my assumption further the tire would have started shredding. I was very glad I was wrong.
Many churches (or individuals) are very certain they know what is wrong. For example, I was having coffee last week and overheard a group from a church talking about what they needed to do to attract younger people. I had heard every suggestion that I have heard before at the various churches I or friends have served. Most of the ideas were not new, but they were certain that they would work if they could implement them correctly. I do have to admit I could hear the tire shredding when one said, “We could attract young people if we change the time of the Board meeting, we should ask them what time.” Oh yes, I start following Jesus, but it is because of the Board meeting’s time that keeps me from a particular church. I see the ditch coming quickly.
I was certain my lack of horsepower was due to the engine, but because I listened to my gut, I stopped (and I was thirsty). I did not really know until I stopped. I avoided the ditch, and I was very happy to be wrong.
As I took off my helmet, I had no idea how I would get home. I went into the country gas station and bought the cola. The clerk at the counter looked for a plug and came out to see if we could plug the tire. He only had one and it was certainly for a smaller hole. However, with a little work with the reamer, a lighter, and the last plug he had, we got the hole filled. Once pumped up the tire hissed slightly, and I pulled out onto the highway.
I must admit I was nervous as I got up to speed. I made sure I observed and checked that I was making progress. Sure enough I got to the motorcycle shop in town. They came up to the bike and before they saw the makeshift patch they could hear hissing tire.
Often churches add programs to what they had been doing for years, as if these programs will draw people in not just for that new program but to fulfill what they know as church. My motorcycle lesson suggests we need to stop, and see where we are wrong, before we end up in the ditch. If we figure out what we do not know and where we are wrong, we can perhaps with the help of a consultant or other observer, we will continue on the journey. We may not be confident it is safe, nor should we be, but our success is found in our ability to share vulnerability.
Most churches end up attempting to jump the shark, with all their baggage weighing them down, rather than doing the hard work down on your knees in the dirt with a lighter and a plug, new friends and a lot of faith and vulnerability, to bring the Gospel to town.
I am pretty sure Jonah and Paul were not motorcyclists, but both had been shown by God that they were wrong. It would be wonderful if we could have such certainty, but honestly I believe it is because we cannot not see or hear over our own certainty of being correct. However, will we respond as Jonah, or as Paul? Will we whine about losing our own construction of God, or will we enjoy being wrong for God.